The Commodification of Spirit

by | Jun 26, 2006

This topic was posed in the Integral Community Forums. I thought it worth some thought, and here is my initial response.
I would begin by drawing a distinction between the commodification of Spirit and exchanging spiritual teachings, resources, supports for a fee.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines commodity as

commodity |kəˈmäditē| noun ( pl. -ties) a raw material or primary agricultural product that can be bought and sold, such as copper or coffee. • a useful or valuable thing, such as water or time. ORIGIN late Middle English : from Old French commodite or Latin commoditas, from commodus (see commodious ).

In contemporary business usage, commodities are either unprocessed/raw materials or products and services that are marketed and sold on the basis of simple utility rather than their refinements. The marketplace “commofies” a product or service when it uses price as the primary mechanism for deciding to buy, with the lowest price the winner.
There are many things: fine diamonds, business coaching (!), rare orchids, top notch sex workers, BMWs that are not sold as commodities but as specialties. In these instances, price is to be correlated with tangible and intangible value added by virtue of specialization, cachet, workmanship, wisdom, etc. The marketplace evaluates specialties on the basis of perceived value. The relationship between price and the cost of labor and materials is minimal.
This begs the question, what are we willing to pay for spiritual growth? In what manner whall we make this payment? I’m reminded of the Zen story about the aspirant who waits in the snow all winter and cuts off his arm in an effort to convince the Zen master of his sincerity. Perhaps, in addition to being mindful of the economic implications and consequences of pricing producst and services related to Spirit, we might look at our individual and collective expectations with respect to COST. In this regard, it occurs to me that a marketplace that expects to attain by expenditure of money what its members are not willing to attain by practice, forces a commodification on Spirit. But, of course, Spirit, precedes and endures and even holds in its infinite embrace those of us (and I do mean me) who seek enlightenment as a cheap or even expensive fix.