Theory of Karl Marx | Spirituality (Religion) vs Materialism

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In his work ‘Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right’ Karl Marx expresses his fundamental philosophical perception of the world and life in general. After going through his work, we have come to believe that Karl Marx was fundamentally opposed to the idea of the divine. For instance, he mentions that criticism of religion is the prerequisite of all criticismand Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again’.  In this work of his, Karl Marx professes how Man should do away with religion which is an inverted consciousness of the world’, in order to dispel his illusions and seek his ‘true reality’. In fact, he was of the opinion that ‘The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness’.

Asserting that ‘Religion is only the illusory Sun which revolves around man as long as he does not revolve around himself’, Karl Max designates the religious pursuit of man as only a figment of his imagination. He goes a step further and expresses how –
‘Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people’. His theory promoted the idea that the ‘state and this society produce religion’ and that ‘Man makes religion, religion does not make man’.

Another famous socialist Friedrich Engels wrote In Ludwig Feuerbach  that “religion arose in very primitive times from erroneous and primitive ideas of men about their own nature and that of the external world around them,… ”

Vladimir Lenin, a follower of Karl Marx, appropriately summarized the thoughts of Marx in his book ‘Religion’ where he stated – ‘Atheism is a natural and inseparable part of Marxism, of the theory and practice of scientific socialism’

In this article, however, we are going to present our personal views on this subject. Our presentation shall deal with materialists and materialistic philosophies in general. This article is not directed towards any individual or any ideology in particular. Any views or opinions are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, ideology or individual.

Incompatibility of Matter and Spirit

The fundamental problem with a godless philosophy is that one starts believing that matter is the only reality and hence the ultimate purpose of life. And then one starts lessening the dynamic truths of existence or profound human expressions, considering them to be nothing more than simple interactions between dead matter. Hence in most of the cases, the more exalted truths of life, remain completely elusive to the followers of such philosophies.

“The production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of men, the language of real life. Conceiving, thinking, the mental intercourse of men, appear at this stage as the direct efflux of their material behaviour. The same applies to mental production as expressed in the language of politics, laws, morality, religion, metaphysics, etc., of a people”
(Karl Marx, The German ideology, chapter 1)

This assumption that matter is the ultimate truth of life and the interactions between matter the cause of all existence, finds its expression not only in the works of Marx and Engels, but is quite a widespread theory that is endorsed by many.
However, if we browse through the pages of ancient texts like Bhagavad Gita, we come to learn of a divine nature that constitutes the living entities. This nature is characterized as distinctively superior to dull matter.

apareyam itas tv anyam
prakritim viddhi me param
jiva-bhutam mahabaho
yayedam dharayate jagat
(Bhagavad Gita,7.5)

Apart from these, O mighty-armed (Arjuna), there is another, superior energy of Mine, that comprises the living entities, who are exploiting the resources of this inferior material nature.

The Bhagavad Gita (verse 7.4) explains that matter or material energy constitutes only of Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence, and false ego. But these do not constitute the vital force of living beings, who tend to Lord over the material nature. It is further explained (verse 2.17) that a living entity (both man and animals) is essentially a spirit soul who is unchangeable and indestructible. Just as the material body of a living being grows from childhood to adolescence to old age, similarly the soul passes onto another body at the time of death (verse 2.13). So despite the fact that our body changes continuously, or evolves with time, the soul however remains the same eternally. For the soul, there is no birth or death. He is unborn, timeless, primeval, and ever-existing (verse 2.20). 

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Marx’s assumption that ‘Man makes religion’ is refuted in Bhagavad Gita (verse 4.1-4.2) wherein it is clearly stated how the Supreme Lord Himself is the original instructor of this imperishable spiritual knowledge (Sri bhagavan uvaca imam vivasvate yogam proktavan aham avyayam) that subsequently percolated down through disciplic successions and ultimately became available to the common man. 

marx

It is further revealed in the scriptures how spirit and matter are incompatible and conflicting with each other. Hence it is only natural for us, spirit souls, to strive for our spiritual pursuits. One should either completely stay aloof from matter or else utilize matter only for his/her spiritual gains. Hence material activities or material occupations should only be a means to attain spiritual goals. In other words, spiritual salvation should be the prime objective of the human society. It is described how human birth is very rare and that there are 8.4 million species of life in total. It is only in this human species of life, that a living entity, gets the opportunity to use his superior intelligence and harness his inner conscience, to cultivate his spiritual ends.

But it is also explained how most of the people of this world, unfortunately, tend to get overwhelmed with matter. Consequently, these men abandon their spiritual goals and engage with gross material pursuits – that primarily involve eating, sleeping, mating, and defending, in one form or the other. These material objectives, no matter how polished they might come across, are no different from those pursued by any other animal. However, It is to be noted, that these material engagements can only provide flickering sensual pleasures that can never completely satisfy a living entity, who constitutionally hankers for unending spiritual bliss. Hence these men grow frustrated over time and keep moving from one material engagement to the other. Their journey only ends, however, when they realize their eternal spiritual nature and endeavor to attain their spiritual objectives.

It is to be surmised at this point, that the material and the spiritual viewpoints of life are entirely incompatible with each other. These philosophies not only disagree when it comes to appreciating our spiritual identities but they are complete opposites when it comes to defining life’s fulfillment. Being completely ignorant of the spiritual reality of life, the materialists can never appreciate one who professes or experiences spiritual delight. These feelings, for them, are nothing but mere illusions. Karl Marx states in this regard –

“The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness…The criticism of religion disillusions man, so that he will think, act, and fashion his reality like a man who has discarded his illusions and regained his senses, so that he will move around himself as his own true Sun. Religion is only the illusory Sun which revolves around man as long as he does not revolve around himself”

Consequently, it is quite common to come across varying philosophies or people (materialists), who labor very hard to undermine spiritual pursuits, judge spiritual emotions as hallucinations, and classify spiritual practitioners as either crazy or cheats. Their actions stem from their inability to comprehend and correlate to the existence of spirit.

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That which is not ‘matter’ can never be approached by material pursuits or by those who reduce everything to interactions between matter. One should instead take the help of spiritual texts like Bhagavad Gita to realize the exalted stature of the highest spiritual truths.

buddhya visuddhaya yukto
dhrtyatmanam niyamya ca
sabdadin visayams tyaktva
ragadvesau vyudasya ca
vivikta sevi laghvasi
yatroparamate cittam
niruddhham yoga-sevaya
yatra chaivatmanatmanam
pasyan atmani tushyati
sukham atyantikam yat tad
buddhi grahyam atindriyam
vetti yatra na chaivayam
sthitas chalati tattvatah
yam labdhva caparam labham
manyate nadhikam tatah
yasmin sthito na duhkhena
gurunapi vichalyate
tam vidyad duhkha samyoga
viyogam yoga samjnitam
(Bhagavad Gita 6.20-23)

In the stage of perfection called samadhi (trance), one’s mind is completely restrained from material mental activities by the practice of yoga. This perfection is identified by one’s ability to see the self through the uncontaminated mind and to relish and revel within the Self. In that blissful state, one is situated in boundless transcendental happiness, realized through spiritual senses. Situated thus, one never strays from the truth, and upon gaining this he thinks there is no greater gain. Being established in such an exalted position, one is never shaken, even amidst the greatest obstacle. This indeed is actual freedom from all miseries stemming from material contact.

Fallacy of Materialistic Philosophies

Materialistic philosophies that ignore the reality of spirit, cannot effectively provide solutions to the various complexities of life. Those who live by such materialistic ideologies continue entangling themselves in greater material bondage, thereby frustrating themselves even more. The reality that ‘life comes from life’ and that it does not originate from dead matter baffles them and challenges their materialistic theory. Hence their tireless efforts to artificially synthesize life from chemicals in their modern labs, continue even today. However, the truth remains that Life is not a product of dead matter but instead a symptom of the soul. The vital distinction between the living and the dead body, which are chemically the same, lies in the presence and the absence of the soul respectively. Similarly, consciousness is a symptom of the soul. Robots, no matter how advanced they are, cannot replicate the thinking, willing and feeling of man. 

Being unable to accurately interpret the widespread evidence of NDEs (Near-death experiences), OBEs (Out of body experiences), Past Life memories, etc according to their mundane logic, they find it easier to brush them off as mere hallucinations instead. 

Now, one might question why materialists do not simply accept the existence of both matter and spirit, and adopt spirituality as the ultimate goal of their life ?

The ancient scriptures explain that though the ultimate benefit of man lies in his spiritual attainment, yet sometimes he cannot let go of the affection his senses have for material objects. Harboring unlimited material desires and longing for name or fame, he works very hard and becomes bound by such fruitive activities. But his efforts only deliver flickering sensual pleasures that can never satisfy him. Growing frustrated, such materialistic people often seek the refuge of intoxication, which further degrades their consciousness and impairs their spiritual understanding. Driven by a sense of false prestige (Bhagavad Gita, verse 16.10), these men are always attracted to the world of the temporary (matter). Considering sense gratification to be the ultimate objective of human civilization, these materialistic men lead their lives in immense anxiety (Bhagavad Gita, verse 16.11-12).

The perfect Classless Society

Many of such materialistic ideologies propose the distribution of wealth in ways so that the power can be concentrated in the hands of the private owners, in the hands of the laborers or the state, etc. And in this way, they intend to reconstruct a society into an ideal one. It is to be noted, however, that no economic arrangement of this world is capable of transforming the character of an individual. If the state’s leader or those in power are infested with lust and greed, there is bound to be corruption and exploitation prevailing in such a society, irrespective of its economic arrangement. These economic models simply end up transferring power from one group of corrupt individuals to another.

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It must also be noted, that a Godless society which neglects the cultivation of spiritual objectives, can never attain enduring peace. Even if economic prosperity is accomplished, it can never lead to the fulfillment of its inhabitants. A living entity, who is essentially a spirit soul, can only attain lasting peace when he comes in contact with his eternal spiritual reality. No amount of money is capable of purchasing this.

Subsequently, a person who thinks that matter is the ultimate objective of life, might not restrain himself from harming others, whom he might perceive as no more valuable than a chemical compound composed of Carbon, Oxygen, and Hydrogen. In other words, such a person might be utterly unable to appreciate the gift of life. Worse, he might interpret the codes of morality, as outdated imaginary ideas formulated by weak individuals who sought refuge in religion to escape their sufferings. Hence actions that are universally considered as ‘just’ and ‘good’ might not carry any value to him. Under such circumstances, it becomes quite difficult for someone else to place their trust upon such an individual or accept him as one’s leader. In short, we believe that people having a thoroughly materialistic view of life might find it difficult to establish themselves as trustworthy leaders.

chemical

In a spiritually conscious society, however, people regard one another as a part and parcel of God. The external designations of caste, class, lineage, or how much wealth one possesses are irrelevant in such a society. On the spiritual platform, each and every living entity is respected as an equal. All of them being spirit souls. Considering themselves as servants of the Supreme Lord, the spiritualists try to serve each other and assist in each other’s spiritual journey.

Hence the key to forming a perfect society characterized by universal brotherhood is not economic but instead requires a spiritual solution. A leader of such a God-centric society should uphold its spiritual heritage and bring about a holistic spiritual and economic development. Such a leader, well versed in the science of spirituality, becomes endowed with the qualities of fearlessness, charity, self-restraint, the performance of sacrifice, austerity, simplicity, non-violence, truthfulness, freedom from anger, renunciation, peacefulness, aversion to faultfinding, compassion for all living entities, freedom from covetousness, gentleness, humility, steady determination, vigor, forgiveness, fortitude, cleanliness, freedom from envy and does not crave for honor (Bhagavad Gita, verse 16.1-3). An ideal society warrants such a perfect leader.

Ending notes

Spirituality and Materialism, as we have stated before, are two incompatible and conflicting views of life. Their disagreements arise in the fundamentally opposed nature of spirit and matter itself. It is up to the individual as to which ideology he/she is willing to embrace. We must bear in mind that the reality of life remains unchanged, irrespective of how we comprehend it. Hence instead of staying loyal to any particular ideology, we must explore and adopt that which helps us understand the varying aspects of life better and makes it more meaningful. At the end of the day, the ideology of a person is bound to have a profound impact on his thoughts, actions, and decisions. An ideology, depending upon its proximity to reality, can prove to be one’s best friend or his worst enemy.

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