Understanding Materialism And Materialistic Culture

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At the barest minimum level, a man’s basic physical needs are food, clothing and shelter. Anything acquired more to enhance and embellish these basic needs and anything acquired to satisfy needs beyond these basics constitutes materialism.

Materialism essentially grows based on need, greed, comparison and status.

Need based materialism

Food is needed for energy and health of the body. But God has given the tongue which demands food to satisfy its taste buds. Satisfying the tongue in addition to supplying energy and health to the body is an additional need. So man acquires so many accessories to cook food in different ways and tastes. Utensils, stoves, grills, ovens, grinders, mixers and so on get accumulated in the kitchen. They all represent need based materialism.

Man needs clothes not only to guard his shame, but also to protect his body from climatic variations like heat and cold. So cotton clothes, woolen clothes, inner wears, outer wears more and more clothes contribute to need based materialism.

Man has to have his shelter to protect him under all climatic conditions; he needs a heater in winter, a fan or an air cooler in summer; he needs light at night; he needs a comfortable bed to sleep. He needs furniture to sit. Thus man adds several shelter oriented paraphernalia and they contribute to need based materialism.

Greed Based Materialism

Hindu Philosophers say that satisfying the sensual needs is akin to putting out fire using oil. The more the needs are satisfied, the stronger the needs grow. When needs are satisfied or needs are frustrated, they tend to grow to become greed.

Greed prompts people to acquire more and more. Greed makes one to accumulate and hoard. Greed goads one to rob others of their rightful share for one’s selfish and unbridled enjoyment. People tend to eat exotic varieties of food far more than what they can digest. People stock more than sufficient quantities of clothing unmindful of climatic needs; People buy more than one house and rent them out. Everything acquired in excess and stocked without much usage is greed based materialism.

Comparison based materialism

This is one of the most pitiful human traits found across all cultures and countries. People tend to compare themselves with neighbors, friends and relatives and acquire things which, in reality, might be totally unnecessary for them, just to put them at equal pedestal with others in comparison. A person who has no fine-tuned ears for enjoying good music buys a costly hi-fi music system just because a colleague in the office bought it and was boasting about its merits.

A person for whom a two-wheeler is more than enough goes ahead and buys a car far beyond his means just because his brother-in-law bought one car recently and was displaying excessive pride over his new possession.

Women spend money on latest fashion garments irrespective of whether they would look good at them or not. A woman spends a lot in acquiring latest models of high heel shoes despite the fact that she gets severe back ache when wearing those shoes; because she wants to show them off amidst her peer group and boast about it, she goes on spending on them, despite her physical discomfort.

These are the examples of comparison based materialism.

Status based materialism

A supervisor gets promoted as Manager with a very nominal increase in pay. Now that he is a manager, he and his wife think that their lifestyle should reflect the status befitting his new status. They spend on new furniture, furnishings, costlier car and so on to ensure that their new lifestyle reflects their current status in society. They eat at more prestigious restaurants; become member of clubs appropriate to their current status in the society. These are examples of status based materialism.

Hinduism on materialism

Hinduism at its core, does not consider materialistic progress as progress at all. Turning your mind away from materialism and proceeding in the direction of dispassion (“Vairagya”) is a basic requisite for an earnest seeker to progress in the religious plane. Hinduism advises one to practice discrimination (Viveka) to understand the real from the unreal, the permanent from the transient and get oneself rid off the clutches of materialism and bondage.

   In fact, “Sanyansins”, the world-renounced monks, who left everything behind in their quest of God are the most revered persons in Hinduism. Even a king falls at the feet of a Sanyasin to seek his blessings.

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