Home > Life Lessons > You Really Can’t Take it With You

You Really Can’t Take it With You


“Nothing can be taken with us but the seeds of our life’s work and our spiritual knowledge” – H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama

One of the main ways to “rank” a society is to look at how much its citizens spend. Therefore, the more citizens spend on new clothes, homes, cars, electronic gadgets, etc. the stronger the economy and society are viewed to be. Therefore, in order to appear to be successful, or as somehow superior, you must always be a part of the newest trend, which cuases you to constantly accumulate more and more. This has led to a disposable consumer culture where you are encouraged to solely focus on the material world, and always desire the newest and greatest, or something bigger and more expensive. While this sort of mentality may be good for advertising and consumer product companies, it does not lead to a stable and happy society, or to stable and happy individuals.

The main problem with a disposable consumer culture on a societal level is that it can cause whole societies to have narcissistic qualities. Basically, as long as “we” (our country, society, or group) get what we want, then we don’t care who or what gets harmed in the process. For example, society “says” that the environment needs protecting, yet very few individuals are willing to cut back or make the necessary sacrifices to make a meaningful difference. Also, society “says” that human rights are important, yet governments around the world turn a blind eye to countries that exploit human rights, as long as it is economically or politically expedient to do so. Just to give one example of this hypocrisy, the U.S. has maintained a trade embargo against the nation of Cuba since 1960, and will continue to do so until the Cuban government moves towards “democratization and greater respect for human rights”; however, the U.S. has maintained constant relations with China, even though China is also a Communist country, whose government has proven time and time again to have far less respect for human rights than the Cuban government. The reason that the U.S. has maintained relations with China is for economic reasons, because China owns a large portion of the U.S. national debt, and the U.S. is in a constant trade deficit with China. Also, as long as America continues to benefit from the cheap goods and labor that China provides, then American society as a whole really doesn’t care much about the consequences. So while it is politically and economically inexpensive to take the proverbial high ground with Cuba, it Is deemed too politically and economically expensive to so the same with China.

On a personal level, a consumer mentality can be harmful, because it leads to over attachment to the material world. It leads to the mentality that if you can just buy or have ____, then you will fit in, or be content. The problem is that you will never be happy or satisfied until you are happy and satisfied with yourself first. Once you are happy and satisfied with yourself, then material objects and “keeping up with the Joneses” really doesn’t matter.

When people become too attached to the material world, they lose sight of actually living in the now, and enjoying life. For an extreme example, in the past decade there has been a huge rise in “Hoarding”, to such an extent that it is now an accepted mental condition. Hoarding develops when the person has become so associated with the material world, that they choose to fill the voids in their life with material objects. While extreme hoarding may be relatively new, over attachment to the material world seems to have been with humanity since its inception. In fact, many spiritual teachers throughout the ages have addressed this issue, and taught the need to detach yourself from the material world, including the Buddha, who taught 2,400 years that attachment to the material world was the principle source of suffering. Also, 2,000 years ago Jesus taught that you must choose to serve either God or money when he stated, “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money“. Matthew 6:24.

The simple fact is that you cannot truly be happy as a person, and live a happy and fulfilled life, if you focus too much on the material world. This does not mean that you should not have nice things, but they need to be put into perspective; because, the newest and greatest phone, computer, TV, etc. will all eventually be obsolete. Also, as reflected by the quote from the Dalai Lama at the beginning of this article, you cannot take any of your material possessions with you into whatever awaits in the afterlife, so material objects are not as important as they appear to be. Therefore, try to lessen your focus on the material world and instead focus your attention towards your spiritual development, and helping others.

Finally, you can make a positive impact on the world at large, right now, as well as continue to do so after your death if you sow positive seeds during your life. Positive seeds can be sown by being charitable, or by sowing the seeds of kindness in your children, and those around you. These positive seeds will continue to sprout and positively effect the world far into the future.

Practical Tip: Try to lessen your attachment to the material world. While it is natural to desire material possessions, put those desires into perspective. In order to sow the seeds of your life’s work, try to positively impact the world around you in whatever way you can, even if it is simply showing kindness to people around you. Finally, undertake whatever spiritual practice you feel developes your soul the most, even if it is simply being an honest and genuine person who is at peace with your true-self and the world around you.

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Also, please check out my book, “The Path: Using the Religions of the World as a Guide to Personal and Spiritual Development.” (Click on the book cover to view on Amazon.com)

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  1. morris
    April 28, 2011 at 7:04 PM

    good word, thought provoking as well.

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