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Wearing Your Spiritual Materialism

The New York Times has an article on what to wear while meditating that notes the availability of clothes designed for meditation, such as the $1,000 sweatpants from Donna Karan's Urban Zen line. (shown below)

It quotes self-help author Gabrielle Bernstein -- who, of course, has a new book coming out (“May Cause Miracles: A 40-Day Guidebook of Subtle Shifts for Radical Change and Unlimited Happiness”).

“If you want to get more excited about your practice,” she said, “choose an outfit you want to put on.”

This is missing the point of meditation. It is, in fact, spiritual materialism, the tendency to acquire the trappings of spiritual practice without actually doing the practice -- to look good rather than to feel good. (See Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche's book, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism for more on the topic.)

The thing is, that doesn't work. Instead of reducing suffering, you're creating more by thinking that you have to have meditation clothes from Donna Karan or Lululemon to achieve liberation from attachments. That's not the way to inner peace.

Oddly enough, I recently had an email exchange with someone who asked what people wear to my meditation class. She wanted to know whether she had to run home and change into special clothes (yoga pants) or whether she could arrive in her work clothes. I don't particularly notice what people wear, but some stay from an earlier yoga class and some, including me, wear street clothes. What's important is to wear something you can sit in without being distracted by it. I've found I can't meditate in skinny jeans because they're too tight in the knees. Some spandex is excellent.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the founder of Shambhala, believed that proper dress helped people see their inherent worth and dignity. He made his hippie students in the 1970s wash their feet and put on pantyhose. He traded his monks' robes for western suits.

CTR encouraged them -- the men, I suppose -- to wear belts, saying the pressure around the waistband while sitting would keep them in touch with their bodies and the present moment, would help them to wake up.

But I defer to the Buddha's teaching on how to hold your attention: Not too tight, not too loose.

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I cannot understand how

I cannot understand how anybody would spend this type of money on yoga clothes. There is definitely no need for this at all. This takes away from yoga so much here. Just need basic clothes here. alarmforce review

Women have worn dresses as

Women have worn dresses as the main style, throughout history. While the dress style has changed, one thing has remained and that is that the dress is still a major representation of women. clothing line

a differing opinion

Ven Robina Courtin offers this differing opinion on fashion and commerce:

"She's (Lana Mina, fashion designer Ven. Robina stayed with during her last NYC trip) now working with a friend to develop a line of lingerie and clothing called Lana Mina. She wants to make money so she can help Dharma projects. I'm all for that. If we're living in this commercial world and attempting to live the bodhisattva way of life, this is a perfect way to use the resources we have. There's nothing inherently good or bad about money, about commerce; it's the motivation that counts. For the bodhisattva, everything is grist for the mill."

From Ven Robina's Blog: http://www.robinacourtin.com/robinasblog.php

in the words of Fugazi

Never mind what's been selling,
It's what you're buying.

Me now: You can take the view that sellers aren't responsible; they're just giving people what they want. that justifies all kinds of corporate irresponsibility. if consumers didn't want video games in which you kill realistic-looking people, video game companies wouldn't make them. if consumers didn't demand cheap prices, manufacturers wouldn't use sweatshops in bangadesh where women workers burn in a fire because the exits are locked. I'm not saying Ven. Robina's friend would do that, but it happens when market forces are at work.

I think sellers have a responsibility for what they sell and the message it puts into the world and feeds. Selling lingerie and playing on women's insecurities to fund dharma projects seems a little dubious to me. (you could sell lingerie without playing on women's insecurities, but I've never seen that happen.)

I give Fugazi the last word:

You are not what you own.


whatever is comfortable and clean should be fine to wear. Fixation on fashion or anti-fashion seems the same thing to me. I eschewed the yoga pants trend for ages, sticking to old sweatpants, but let's face it, yoga clothes are verry comfortable (and can definitely look nice). It seems wise to question an insane price tag like that.... but you might also want to question the labor practices in the garment factories where Wal-mart makes its "cheap" clothes. There is no inherent benefit to either designer names or low-cost. And given that we aren't going to weave our own leggings, who cares what other people wear? I'm glad to see that mindfulness and yoga are making it into mainstream consciousness- isn't that what we want? Even if the collateral damage is the some inevitable pop-culture silliness and fashion sideshows. Hopefully once the person gets to the cushion, they will find some healthy space (emptiness?), and materialism in all its forms will lose traction.


Thanks Nancy for your thoughts on this article...nicely said. For me, its the individual's intention while meditating thats important. If people are going to be consumed by looking a certain way or by the brands that they wear while meditating then they are seriously missing the point. Intention is an important point to consider before you sit down onto the meditation cushion and its too bad that we have people that think that they need to wear $1000 pants. As long as you are comfortable and set a personal intention of developing a less fixated mind then the rest doesnt matter.


To feel good is no different than meditating to look good. Both are selfish ends, rooted in materialism.


i disagree, meditating because one has a genuine heartfelt wish to be happy or "feel good", which is what i think the author is speaking about can be rooted in compassion for oneself and all beings, and can be informed by the wisdom of the Dharma

it's our nature to feel good

our inherent nature is joyful and interconnected. sorting through the sludge of anxiety and desires gets you there.

The Buddha taught a path to end suffering. If the end of suffering doesn't feel good, it's still suffering.


To feel good is no different than meditating to look good. Both are selfish ends, rooted in materialism.

why be mad?

I don't really see the point in being mad about it. I mean hell, if meditation if going to turn into the latest trend, I'd rather have that as a trend than drugs. Like it or not, there will really be people buying these clothes - there's probably a market for it. And who's to say that at first someone buys these in a very materialistic way. If they walk into the Shambhala Center on Tuesday night (where I work) and ask me for meditation instruction, and the clothes are how they got here, I personally, don't mind. I would rather have meditation be trendy than unheard of. Because at least there's a chance that people will come and learn what it is really about.

Could not agree more.

I saw that article yesterday and had a variety of reactions to it, none terribly positive. I had to take a deep breath. I couldn't believe how easily the point could be missed. At the end of the day, I believe in the power of meditation and I guess that if it becomes "trendy" and that encourages more people to try it, it's a good thing. Hopefully, they realise that they don't need $1000 pants to do it.

Jajaja! Ho, Haiku!

I meditated with $1000 outfit,
I meditate naked,

Buddha nature, same...

Aflicted emotions, same...

yoga pants from walmart

I wear $10 yoga pants from walmart. They don't bind at the knees and tthats all I need. People capitalizing on zen clothes are nasty.

We never learn

Our pop culture, consumerist society will try to ruin anything. I just have to laugh ( or cry ).

Dan @ ZenPresence.com

I saw your tweet about this

I saw your tweet about this article, read it, and my first reaction was along the lines of RUFKM :)

That meditation may become the brand new panacea trend for harried yuppies and socialites wearing $200 yoga pants--and the superficial overtures of pursuing "inner peace"--just begs the crud outta me.

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