Many of us like to think of ourselves as “spiritual” – and would run a mile from being labelled as “materialistic”. But what’s the difference, really, between the two?

We all live in a material world – we all have to eat material food to stay alive; we can’t live off good vibes alone, however spiritual we may be.

We all have physical bodies. We all have physical needs. Is that materialism?

Material things are not necessarily materialistic

Having material things does not make us materialistic. Materialism is not really about material things at all – it is about our attitude to material things.

Having a car to get from A to B is not materialistic, even though it is a material possession. But having a luxury car, and wallowing in the ego-gratification that it indulges – is materialistic.

Material things for spiritual uses

My own chosen spiritual guru – Yoga Master Dr. George King (1919-1997) – has given brilliantly simple teachings on this very subject. Dr. King, while being extremely spiritual, was also extremely practical – and taught that there was no contradiction between the two – quite the reverse in fact. The path he taught is now termed King Yoga, and is practiced by the organization he founded – The Aetherius Society (

Spirituality is not about physically detaching from material things – it is about mentally detaching from an unhealthy attachment to material things.

Material things are not “unspiritual” because they are material – they are, by and large, neither good nor bad, it is how they are used that makes them spiritual or unspiritual.

For example, a kitchen knife could be used to cut vegetables to prepare a delicious healthy meal for someone, or could be used to physically harm someone.

Another example: Wearing smart clothes may simply be a sign of respect. This is not necessarily materialism. But, wearing expensive clothes in order to try to make others jealous – this, of course, would be materialism.

Materialism versus spirituality

Materialism takes two forms, closely related to each other:

1.regarding material possessions as more important than spiritual values

It is not having material things that makes you a materialist; it is the belief that these things matter more than spirituality.

2.the belief that nothing exists except the physical universe.

This is a step further – not only regarding spiritual things as less important than material things – but denying the very existence of the Divinity within us all.

I doubt many readers would deny spirituality as a reality – but how many of us, to one degree or another, fall into the trap of the first definition? 

What does being spiritual really mean?

When we hear the word “spiritual” many things pop into our minds – meditation, mountains, shamans, yoga etc. And certainly all these can be very spiritual indeed.

But if we are looking for one simple definition, I would maintain that it is this:

Being spiritual is first and foremost about what you do for others – without any thought of reward. Everything else that is spiritual is only spiritual insofar as it serves this purpose.

For example, meditation is spiritual, because it helps us to think more clearly, feel more peace, etc – which can help us in our selfless service to others.

Notice that I say “without any thought of reward”. This means that being spiritual is far more than just about being good to friends and family. Naturally we need to look after certain people who are close to us, like young children for example. But this is seldom enough to really make a person truly spiritual – because when we only care for those close to us, it is seldom perfectly unselfish – because of the emotional love we expect to receive in return.

Helping others should not be rooted in how close they are to us, or even how much we like them, but on how much they need our help.

Are we as spiritual as we can be?

If we are honest, the answer is probably: NO.

How often do material things take on an unnatural importance in our lives? Is that new car a wise purchase to help us in practical spirituality – or is it wasting money on something we don’t need?

Happiness and fulfilment

Material things might sometimes make us happy. But this happiness cannot last. And material things can never bring fulfilment – certainly not in a lasting way.

Spirituality can at times be difficult. But these difficulties cannot last. And real spirituality, will, in the end, always bring fulfilment – and this fulfilment will last!

As Dr. George King said:

“You have heard many vague references to happiness coming from within. Well, we know that it must, but you have to plant it within. Strangely enough, you will not be able to plant it within while you enclose yourself in a tight little box of selfishness. You can only plant Spiritual Happiness within yourself by giving of yourself…”

The Importance of Commemoration and Spiritual Happiness – booklet by Dr. George King

Mark Bennett is an International Director of The Aetherius Society and co-author of the award-winning title Gods, Guides and Guardian Angels and Prayer Energy.

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