Commodification of Superficial Spirituality

September 1, 2023

Chapter 42

Commodification of Superficial Spirituality

In recent times, the growing popularity of spirituality and yoga has unveiled a concerning trend towards their commodification and superficiality transforming these ancient practices into profit-driven businesses that often resemble pyramid schemes with an emphasis on financial gain over true spiritual enlightenment. This shift is evident in the explosion of yoga studios, shalas and teacher training classes as well as in the expanding market for specialized yoga products such as intricately designed clothing, mats and water bottles all of which are deeply rooted in ego-consciousness and self-image. While this form of superficial spirituality does offer a sense of purpose and introduces individuals to potentially beneficial practices, its inherent corruption ultimately hampers the depth of spiritual connection one can achieve perpetuating a cycle of corruption that dilutes the essence of spiritual practices and contributes to a broader spiritual depression. Such practices starkly contrast with the principles of true spirituality and the practices of genuine bodhisattvas who prioritize inner development. Consequently it is imperative for individuals to approach spirituality with a discerning mind by seeking authentic practices and teachers motivated by a genuine desire to foster spiritual growth rather than by ego or monetary gain. This chapter aims to explore the various facets of this trend, dissecting its historical and cultural contexts, examining the mechanics behind its commodification and assessing the implications of this superficial spirituality on individuals and the broader spiritual community.

The Hypocrisy of Superficial Spirituality and the Commodification of Spirituality and Yoga in Contemporary Society

In recent years, the surge in popularity of spirituality and yoga has become apparent in contemporary society. From the aisles of bookstores lined with self-help books to social media influencers touting the benefits of mindfulness and meditation, to corporate yoga classes aimed at reducing employee stress, spirituality and yoga seem to be everywhere. However, along with this increased popularity there has been a noticeable trend towards the commodification and superficiality of these ancient practices. Here we aim to dissect this phenomenon by examining the historical and cultural context of spirituality and yoga, the mechanisms behind their commodification and the implications of this trend for individuals and society at large.

Spirituality and yoga boast rich historical and cultural foundations with their beginnings reaching back several millennia. At their core they facilitate a profoundly personal and individualized odyssey towards self-exploration and realization, fostering a deep-seated connection with the surrounding world and the cosmos at large.

Originating from ancient India yoga embodies a holistic practice that intertwines the physical, mental and spiritual dimensions of existence. Its ultimate goal is to forge a harmonious unity of body, mind and spirit, guiding practitioners to a state of tranquility and balanced alignment.

In their original contexts spirituality and yoga were deeply intertwined with the cultural, philosophical and religious traditions from which they emerged and were practices that demanded dedication, discipline and a genuine desire for self-improvement and growth. However as these practices have been adopted and adapted by Western societies they have often been stripped of their original meanings and intentions leading to a superficial and commodified version of spirituality and yoga.

The commodification of spirituality and yoga has manifested in a variety of ways. For instance, yoga, which was traditionally practiced in a simple and forbidding environment has been transformed into a multi-billion dollar industry with expensive yoga studios, branded yoga apparel and even luxury yoga retreats. Similarly, spirituality, which was once a deeply personal and individualized journey has been packaged and sold in the form of self-help books, online courses and workshops, case and point.

The advent of social media has escalated the commodification and superficial portrayal of spirituality and yoga, two realms intrinsically rooted in deep philosophical traditions. Nowadays, influencers, often devoid of formal training, unabashedly advertise the perks of yoga and spiritual practices. This promotion leans heavily towards a consumerist representation, insisting on the necessity of pricey products, services, or experiences for attaining spiritual ascent or bodily wellness.

Such commodification not only erodes the rich, original essence and objectives behind spirituality and yoga but also relegates them to the level of transient consumer goods, eclipsing their profound potential to foster self-realization and a harmonious connection with the universal matrix.

This phenomenon poses significant ramifications for individuals and society. Primarily, it diminishes the formidable transformative power inherent in these practices, substituting a meaningful engagement with a shallow, materialistic approach to self-enhancement and wellbeing.

Furthermore, it fuels the commercialization and standardization of unique cultural practices, thereby erasing their foundational ethos and legacy. This not only belittles and misrepresents the originating cultures but also perpetuates Western hegemony and cultural imperialism.

Additionally, it aggravates societal disparities, making spiritual growth a luxury reserved for the affluent, contradicting the core spirituality and yoga principles of inclusiveness and universal access.

In the contemporary landscape, the hollowing out of spirituality and yoga signals a disconcerting trend with wide-reaching repercussions, including a thwarted potential for genuine personal transformation, a dilution of diverse cultural heritages and heightened social divides.

To counteract this, it is imperative for individuals and societies to undertake a discerning scrutiny of the commodification enveloping spirituality and yoga. This involves pursuing knowledge from teachers and practitioners deeply rooted in and respectful of the ancient traditions, coupled with a dedication to maintaining the accessibility and pertinence of these practices for everyone.

Navigating this intricate landscape calls for a judicious mind and receptive heart, steering towards practices and groups that resonate with one’s innate values and aspirations. Let us foster a culture where spirituality and yoga retain their profound depth, empowering individuals to transcend superficial consumerist narratives and embrace a path of authentic self-discovery and holistic well-being.

The Yoga Industry: A Pyramid Scheme Masquerading as Spirituality

The yoga industry has exploded in recent years with studios, shalas and teacher training classes popping up everywhere. It has become a trend, a lifestyle and for many, a lucrative business. However, a closer examination reveals that this industry operates much like a pyramid scheme where the underlying motive is monetary gain rather than spiritual enlightenment. This section aims to uncover the hidden mechanics of the yoga industry, highlighting its contradictions with true spirituality and the implications for those seeking spiritual growth.

At first glance, yoga studios and shalas appear to be sanctuaries of peace and wellness. However, a deeper dive reveals a structure strikingly similar to a pyramid scheme. At the base are the students, paying substantial fees for classes and workshops. The next level up consists of yoga teachers, who often invest in expensive teacher training courses with the hope of earning a living by teaching yoga. At the top of the pyramid are the studio owners and teacher training organizations, who profit from both the students and the aspiring teachers.

This structure creates a cycle where yoga teachers are incentivized to create more yoga teachers, who in turn open more studios and so on. The focus shifts from imparting spiritual wisdom to generating revenue often under the guise of promoting wellness and spirituality.

The economic dominance and consolidation witnessed in the spiritual and yoga industry starkly contradict the foundational precepts of genuine spiritual philosophies. Authentic spiritual traditions, notably encompassed in Dharmic pathways such as Buddhism and Jainism advocate for selflessness and encourage a detachment from material possessions. These teachings urge individuals to prioritize spiritual enlightenment over financial acquisition, fostering a journey centered around personal growth and transcendent understanding rather than a pursuit of monetary rewards.

True bodhisattvas or spiritual teachers may accept donations for their wisdom but they do not charge a fee for their teachings. Instead, they dedicate their lives to spiritual practice and sharing their knowledge with others often at temples or spiritual centers where the focus is on community and enlightenment rather than financial gain.

The yoga industry unfortunately often endorses a framework where spiritual wisdom is commodified becoming an item available for purchase to the highest bidder. This methodology seemingly aligns more with the energies of the lower chakras which are connected to basic survival and desire than with the higher chakras which resonate with love, compassion and enlightenment. This presents a significant contradiction; while proclaiming to foster spiritual values the industry in practice frequently abides by principles that starkly contradict the very essence of authentic spirituality.

For those seeking spiritual growth the yoga industry presents a paradox. On one hand, yoga studios and shalas offer a convenient and accessible way to engage with yoga and spirituality. On the other hand the underlying financial motives and pyramid scheme-like structure of the industry can create a superficial and commercialized experience that is at odds with the principles of true spirituality. The yoga industry with its pyramid scheme-like structure and financial motives represents a form of superficial spirituality that is at odds with the principles of true spirituality.

The Irony of Superficial Spirituality: Healing or Harming?

Yoga studios and shalas worldwide attract crowds of people seeking solace in the practice of yoga and spirituality. Many such places and their patrons have fallen prey to a pyramid scheme of superficial spirituality that promises healing for the body and mind but inadvertently inflicts harm by following archaic practices. This chapter aims to scrutinize one such practice, the burning of incense and sage indoors, a practice rooted in tradition but oblivious to its potential health risks. This practice, among others, underscores the paradoxical nature of superficial spirituality that preaches healing while unwittingly contributing to spiritual, emotional and even in this case physical harm.

Numerous yoga studios and spiritual gatherings maintain time-honored traditions such as burning incense or sage to cultivate a spiritual atmosphere. For centuries indigenous cultures have utilized sage attributing cleansing properties to it, however burning sage indoors releases a considerable amount of particulate matter and volatile organic compounds during the combustion process which can potentially lead to a variety of health complications including respiratory ailments, lung cancer, premature menopause and other health risks.

Despite these well-documented health risks many yoga studios and spiritual gatherings continue to burn sage and incense indoors, mistakenly believing they are creating a healing environment for their patrons. This practice not only exposes attendees to harmful toxins but also contributes to indoor air pollution, negating any potential benefits the practice may offer.

The continued use of such harmful practices highlights a broader issue within the yoga and spirituality community: the tendency to follow trends without a thorough understanding of their implications. Many studios and practitioners adopt practices because they are trendy or because they align with a romanticized notion of spirituality without fully understanding the potential consequences.

In the case of burning sage, if studio owners were genuinely concerned about their patrons’ health and wanted to create a sage-scented environment they could install HEPA air filters and use essential oil nebulizers with sage oil. This would allow the space to smell like sage without exposing patrons to harmful toxins. However, the lack of awareness and the desire to adhere to an egoic image and trends often outweighs the consideration of such alternatives.

The paradox of superficial spirituality lies in its promise of healing while inadvertently causing harm. The practice of burning sage and incense indoors is a prime example of this irony. Despite well-documented health risks many yoga studios and spiritual gatherings continue to engage in this practice, exposing patrons to harmful toxins and contributing to indoor and outdoor air pollution. This trend highlights the broader issue of adopting practices without fully understanding their implications, a common pitfall in the yoga and spirituality community. It is crucial for practitioners and studio owners to educate themselves about the potential consequences of their practices and to seek out healthier alternatives that align with the true principles of healing and wellbeing.

The Fashionable Façade: The Commodification of Spirituality and Yoga

The commodification of spirituality and yoga has given rise to an entire industry of specialized products, from intricately designed yoga clothing to specialized mats and water bottles. This trend towards materialism is rooted in ego-consciousness and the image one presents to the world which aligns with the drives of the lower chakras. This approach contrasts sharply with the principles of true spirituality and the practices of true bodhisattvas who wear simple, unadorned garments and focus on inner development rather than external appearance. This section will explore the rise of materialism in the yoga industry, its contradictions with true spirituality and the implications for those seeking genuine spiritual growth.

The yoga industry has seen a surge in specialized products, this trend is particularly evident in the fashion trends for yoga clothing which often feature intricate “spiritual” patterns, tight fits to accentuate the body and high price tags. This focus on external appearance and material possessions is rooted in ego-consciousness and the image one presents to the world which aligns with the drives of the lower chakras, particularly the solar plexus or ego chakra.

This trend towards materialism is also reflected in the rise of social media influencers who promote yoga and spirituality while showcasing their perfectly toned bodies, designer yoga outfits and luxury retreats. This creates an image of yoga and spirituality that is focused on external appearances, material possessions and validation from others rather than inner development and self-realization.

The materialistic focus of the yoga industry contrasts sharply with the principles of true spirituality. True spirituality emphasizes inner development, self-realization and a connection to the universe, rather than external appearances and material possessions.

True bodhisattvas or spiritual practitioners, wear simple, unadorned garments that are recognizable as indicative of their spiritual path but do not have any unique or individualistic markings, patterns or fashionable styles. This approach reflects a focus on inner development and a detachment from material possessions and external appearances.

The yoga industry’s focus on fashionable clothing, intricate patterns and showcasing the body promotes an image of oneself that is rooted in the drives of the ego and goes directly against the spiritual values they claim to uphold. This is a clear form of hypocrisy and represents a form of superficial spirituality.

For those seeking genuine spiritual growth, the materialistic focus of the yoga industry presents a challenge as it can be easy to get caught up in the trends and focus on external appearances and material possessions rather than inner development and self-realization. The rise of materialism in the yoga industry as evidenced by the trends in yoga clothing, specialized products and the promotion of external appearances is rooted in ego-consciousness and the image one presents to the world. This approach contrasts sharply with the principles of true spirituality and the practices of true bodhisattvas.

The Double-Edged Sword of Superficial Spirituality

Superficial spirituality, while it offers some benefits like providing a sense of purpose and introducing individuals to potentially beneficial practices, its inherent corruption ultimately truncates and limits the depth of spiritual connection one can attain. Let’s explore the benefits and limitations of superficial spirituality and the corruption at its core leading to ripple effects on the spiritual community.

At first glance superficial spirituality seems to present a range of benefits as it affords individuals a sense of purpose and belonging, acquaints them with practices potentially beneficial to their mental and physical well-being and offers a framework for comprehending the world and their role in it so for many this shallow approach to spirituality can act as a gateway to a more expansive spiritual journey laying a foundational stone from which they can cultivate a deeper self-awareness and a richer understanding of their environment.

Despite these benefits the inherent corruption at the core of superficial spirituality ultimately limits its potential for fostering true spiritual growth. Rooted in ego and monetary gain, superficial spirituality often distorts the true purpose of spiritual practices, reducing them to mere commodities or fashion statements. This distortion not only trivializes the practices themselves but also truncates the depth of spiritual connection one can attain.

For example, a teacher motivated by ego and monetary gain may guide their students towards a similar path perpetuating a cycle of corruption and limiting the potential for genuine spiritual growth. This cycle ultimately becomes a form of spiritual disease, spreading throughout the community and diluting the essence of spiritual practices.

The corruption at the core of superficial spirituality has far-reaching consequences. As teachers guided by ego and monetary gain influence their students a cycle of corruption perpetuates, diluting the essence of spiritual practices and limiting their potential for fostering genuine spiritual growth. This cycle not only impacts individual practitioners but also the broader spiritual community, contributing to a widespread devaluing of spiritual practices and principles.

While superficial spirituality offers some benefits such as providing a sense of purpose and introducing individuals to potentially beneficial practices its inherent corruption ultimately truncates and limits the depth of spiritual connection one can attain. Rooted in ego and monetary gain, superficial spirituality distorts the true purpose of spiritual practices, perpetuates a cycle of corruption and contributes to a form of spiritual disease that impacts the broader spiritual community. It is crucial for individuals, spiritual seekers and those seeking spiritual growth to approach the yoga industry and spirituality with a critical mind, seeking out authentic practices and teachers guided by a genuine desire to foster spiritual growth rather than ego or monetary gain. This involves practicing yoga at home or in nature, wearing simple and comfortable clothing, focusing on inner development rather than external appearances and engaging with spiritual traditions that are not financially motivated.

Restoring the Sacred Essence: A Call to Recognize Yoga as a Spiritual Practice and Preserve its Core Values

As we stand at the junction of spirituality and commercialization, there echoes a profound requiem through the hearts of those devoted to the authentic teachings of dana (generosity) and seva (selfless service), both principles that harbor the true spirit of yoga. There exists a pervasive melancholy for the once pure path now fraught with commercial exploitation, as the principles that once guided yoga practitioners to a richer understanding of self and environment have become commodified, trapped within the snares of profit and ego-driven motives.

To confront this alarming trend it is imperative to re-envision yoga, not just as a practice but as a spiritual journey rooted in ancient traditions of selflessness and devotion. To restore yoga to its pristine form free from the grips of commercialization we propose invoking the principles enshrined in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution which safeguards the freedom of religion offering a beacon of hope in these troubled times.

By advocating for the recognition of yoga as a religious practice we pave the way for yoga studios and shalas to be viewed as sacred spaces of worship, deserving of the same tax exemptions granted to churches and other religious entities. This radical yet necessary step could give rise to environments where dana and seva thrive, unencumbered by profit-driven objectives. Here, yoga could resume its role as a facilitator of deep spiritual connections, nurtured through selfless giving and service, principles that are central to its philosophy.

This envisions a community where the teachings are shared freely, encouraging practitioners to cultivate inner development, understanding and self-realization. This paradigm shift necessitates the collective will of society, urging lawmakers, spiritual seekers and yoga practitioners to harmonize with the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom, thereby granting yoga the reverence it duly deserves, sheltered from commercial exploitation.

By fostering environments where yoga studios operate on the principles of dana and seva, we usher in a renaissance of spiritual integrity. These become sanctuaries sustained through voluntary offerings, an expression of gratitude and devotion, rather than mandatory fees. It brings us back to an era where teaching yoga was not a profitable endeavor but a vocation driven by a genuine desire to foster spiritual growth, wellbeing and communal solidarity.

We vehemently invite society to acknowledge the critical need for this transformative shift, urging individuals and communities alike to honor yoga’s core teachings and to foster environments that promote inner development over materialistic pursuits. This plea is not merely a call for reform but a passionate invitation to witness the resurgence of an ancient practice in its purest form, as a path of deep spiritual communion free from the clutches of commercialization.

To reinstate yoga to its rightful stature requires collective consciousness that resonates with spiritual integrity, one that appreciates yoga beyond mere physical postures, recognizing its profound potential to touch the deepest corners of the human soul, encouraging authentic connections and spiritual growth.

In conclusion, this beckons a return to a time where yoga shalas were hallowed spaces of reverence and respect for the ancient tradition. This is a call to bring back the spiritual sanctity of yoga, urging societies and individuals to look beyond the surface, to rediscover the true essence of yoga, unspoiled and unfettered by materialistic tendencies.

May this plea not only resonate but ignite a revolution that champions the undiluted essence of yoga, awakening society to a rich tapestry of practices that transcend superficial spirituality, fostering a global community united in the pursuit of spiritual authenticity and deeper understanding. It calls for a future where yoga retains its sacred touch, bringing individuals closer to the truth, enveloping practitioners in the nurturing embrace of spiritual harmony that extends beyond profit-driven endeavors, reaching towards the eternal soul and restoring the spiritual balance within us all.