If the desire for material possession is in tune with God's intention, then it begs the question, how much desire should one possess? This is where, I believe, the Almighty has dealt us with a bad hand because the human desire for material gain and its reincarnation in the form of lust, power, possession and influence is infinite
For a long time, I believed detachment from material wants and worldly gain was my route towards salvation.
Given my personality and psychological predisposition, I am immune to the tendency to prove myself through riches.
However, I cannot deny that I secretly want some level of comfort and acknowledgment that wealth can engender.
Recently, I have been introspecting the notion of non-dualism - a metaphysical idea that purports the interconnectedness of the entire universe and beyond - and it occurred to me that the state of pure consciousness is not devoid of materialism.
Human desire for material wants can be traced back to time immemorial, but the degree and intensity with which we ascribe success, pleasure, stature and life satisfaction to tangible physical entities are a recent phenomenon. It started in the Western world after the renaissance and Protestant reformation, and reached the zenith with the advent of free market capitalism.
Through globalisation, the concept of finding happiness in designer clothes, fancy cars and mansions is infused in the collective psyche of 21st century humans irrespective of culture, religion and geographic location.
Religion is the first and foremost social institution that has to be examined to understand our affinity towards materialism, and Christianity is at the forefront of this new dogma.
Protestant denomination of Christianity inherently believes that we humans are placed on the planet Earth to enjoy God's creations in its entirety, which generally is in contrast to Catholicism, where devotion to the Almighty and minimalism were (are) the central tenant.
Furthermore, the idea of enjoying, gathering and celebrating God's invention cemented in the Western society after sociologist Max Weber published his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, which upended the Karl Marx contention that religion - a vehicle used by the capitalist to subjugate the proletariat - is the opium of the masses.
In his book, Weber argues, Protestant believe God likes "hard work" and the riches it can garner. In fact, toil is used as a vehicle to test if one is saved from God's grace or is damned for eternity. This notion of finding one's fate in hard work gave rise to ingenuity which is the life blood of modern capitalism.
My personal upbringing is in the eastern religion of Hinduism, which is somewhat ambivalent to "God's intent" in celebrating materialism.
At times, it tends to assign minimalism as a virtue and profligacy as a vice, but at other times it places immense importance on the notion of karma, which is translated as action, deed or work. However, the religion further preaches that one should not expect any reward from his/her karma because the reward is totally in God's hand, which is similar to Calvinism – a branch of Protestant Christianity.
This made me realise that the doctrine of the major religions of the world, at least in terms of materialism, is more or less the same: work hard, but leave the rewards in the hands of the Almighty.
This conjecture that the result of hard work solely rests in the hands of God inherently assumes that we live in a deterministic universe.
If we live in a deterministic universe, then free will is just an illusion. This line of reasoning finally leads to the conclusion that if hard work and good karma are desirable but good results in terms of material gain cannot be achieved by our sheer willpower but resides in the will of God, then material gains can be considered a kind of reward given to us by the deity based on some unknown criteria. Thus, if material gain is a reward from the Almighty, then it is desirable for mere mortals to desire it.
If the desire for material possession is in tune with God's intention, then it begs the question, how much desire should one possess? This is where, I believe, the Almighty has dealt us with a bad hand because the human desire for material gain and its reincarnation in the form of lust, power, possession and influence is infinite.
Since we live in a deterministic world, we cannot do anything to assuage this infinite desire, which further leads us to conclude that in the same way that God has chosen a few of us to acquire wealth, he has chosen a few among us to actually inherit wealth in the "right amount". As such, humans who are poor due to lack of property and its intangible derivatives are in the same shoes with people who are enamoured with its opulence - both groups cannot enjoy wealth and power in their true essence.
To desire anything in the right amount is to be conscious of the entity that we desire. When we are conscious, we are aware, and this awareness makes us attune to the energy that the entity is exuding. This alignment of one's awareness with one's desire for material gain can be termed as material self-consciousness, and it is an integral part of the non-dual universe.
To try to disassociate with this entity is akin to removing ourselves from the very fabric of our existence.
This can lead to emptiness and void, which cannot be replaced by other entities.
To conclude, both the lack of material possession as well as its abundance leads to some form of human suffering. My desire to completely abandon the riches left a void that I am starting to fill. But as I embark on this journey, I am worried that I might saturate my bucket with designer brands while abandoning love, poetry, paintings, empathy, compassion and humbleness.
The non-dual universe consists of everything and disproportionate desire and possession of anything - tangible as well as intangible - can only lead to an emptiness and even more desire to fill that emptiness.
The correct course of action is to find the right balance, which is easier said than done.
Pathak is education management consultant" at Islington College
A version of this article appears in the print on April 18, 2022, of The Himalayan Times.