On Buddhist forums, I read reincarnationists accuse or demonize truthers as being "materialists", similar to Zionists accusing truthers of being "antisemitic" or Americans accusing traitors as being "communist".

In the Pali suttas, I have heard the word 'rupa' means 'material' or 'physical'.

Did the Lord Buddha ever refer to a doctrine literally called 'materialism' or accuse those of wrong views as being "materialists"?


Ajahn Buddhadasa said:

People language is used by the ordinary people who don't understand Dhamma very well and by those worldly people who are so dense that they are blind to everything but material things. Then, there is the language which is spoken by those who understand reality (Dhamma), especially those who know and understand reality in the ultimate sense. This is another kind of language.

No Religion

On this chatsite, no one could answer the same question, where it was answered:

I'm no pali scholar but I would bet there is no direct translation for the English word "materialism" in Pali.


I searched briefly on Access to Insight -- and the closest thing I found was this article which says,

All theistic religions teach that the ego survives after death in some way or other, and is not annihilated. The materialist's concept is that the ego is annihilated at death. The Buddhist view is that there is no ego, or anything substantial, or lasting, but all things conditioned are subject to change, and they change not remaining the same for two consecutive moments, and that there is a continuity but no identity.

... and:

Because of its acceptance of this law of universal impermanence, Buddhism stands in direct opposition to sassatavaada or eternalism, which usually goes hand in hand with aatmavaada, i.e., belief in some kind of immortal soul. The Brahmajaala Sutta of the Diighanikaaya alone refers to more than ten varieties of eternalism, only to refute them as misconceptions of the true nature of the empirical world. But this refutation of eternalism does not lead to the acceptance, on the part of Buddhism, of the other extreme, namely ucchedavaada or annihilationism, which usually goes hand in hand with materialism.

So perhaps "materialism" is used as a synonym of annihilationism, perhaps because it's understood as a doctrine that something is "annihilated" with/by the death of the "material" body.

  • Thanks Chris. But this quote appear to be Thanissaro's opinions rather than words from the Pali. – Dhammadhatu Aug 14 '17 at 21:42
  • Why "but"? I was saying that "materialist" doesn't seem to appear in the suttas, as far as I know ... but that "annihilationism" (ucchedavaada) does ... and, that people who use the term "materialist" may be equating it with "annihilationist". – ChrisW Aug 14 '17 at 21:45
  • Sure. But this is the idea of people. It is not the idea of the Buddha. The Buddha never called anyone or any philosophy "materialism", based on my research & questions to others. – Dhammadhatu Aug 14 '17 at 22:00
  • The 51st through 53rd of the false views listed in DN 1 (i.e. the first three of the seven false views associated with annihilationism) is that the self has material form. – ChrisW Aug 14 '17 at 22:11
  • Yes. The "self" has material form. The Buddha in many places defined "rupa" as "material form". The nihilist view is wrong because of its view of "self" rather than its view that materiality (rupa) exists. – Dhammadhatu Aug 14 '17 at 22:15

Namo Tassa Bagavatto Arahanto Samma Sammbuddhassa! (Excuse my errors, I'm not fluent).

Did the Lord Buddha ever refer to a doctrine literally called 'materialism' or accuse those of wrong views as being "materialists"?

I will try to answer to the best of my ability! :)

The Buddha never referred to anything as being specifically "materialism," NOR did he say it was wrong because of this lack of mention (at least according to all current Pali translations I have read & know of), although, applying the Buddha's teachings to what many western Abrahamic religions call "materialism" works quite well.

The Buddha would sway away from materialism, due to its active use in the accumulation of sensual objects. This would only keep one on the path of greed. The Buddha preached to let go of all things in the end. This is when one becomes a monk or nun.

If in the lay lifestyle, then one can use the middle way with materialism, do not go overboard, but do not get rid of everything to the point that you will die.

Renunciation as a monk or nun is not extreme in accordance with the Middle Way due to them deciding to only have what is a necessity to live: robes, medicine, shelter, & alms. To get rid of all things or to actively persue things are the extremes.

Anyhow, I hope I answered your question!

Metta to you!


5 kāma = Color, sound, smell, flavor, and touch stimuli.

Materialists are people who attaching 5 kāma.

So they are called kāmāvacaro, kāmapuggalo, kāmayogi, kāmo, etc.

  • i think this post is wrong because it has nothing to do with Buddhism. you are just manufacturing your own ideas. – Dhammadhatu Aug 9 '17 at 3:05

It's hard to answer, since there are so many ways wrong view can appear. Even the now-a-day use of the word "materialism" has a wide range, turning around between be and not-be, exist, not-exist, Mind or matter.

To the extent of which can be meant be the OPs question and the self-answer to it, the given account by Chris,as well as certain answers in the discussion quoted by the questioner in his answer, give already good answers.

Especially so called secular-Buddhism, whether taught by lay people or monks doing them a favor, tends to construct certain approaches which fit to the very modern annihilation view promoted by science and other cosmologic thesis.

form commentary to Lokayatika Sutta: The Cosmologist

The cosmologist (lokayata) schools of thought reasoned from what they saw as the basic principles of the physical cosmos in formulating their teachings on how life should be lived. In modern times, they would correspond to those who base their philosophies on principles drawn from the physical sciences, such as evolutionary biology or quantum physics. Although the cosmologists of India in the Buddha's time differed on first principles, they tended to be more unanimous in using their first principles — whatever they were — to argue for hedonism as the best approach to life.

Typical approaches of "materialism" are denying life before and after that of which one remembers, regards as his, rejecting cause and effect by giving virtue not much value and no regards torward parents, leader, elders, contenplatives... thinking to be independent and do not owe anybody anything aside of maybe material exchanges, which might be even at the level of fine material things like knowledge and the sphere of arupa- existence: spiritual-materialism.

kāmapuggalo, therefore, would be not enough to discribe a "materialist, since especially extreme appearances of these view are really a matter of giving ones ideas about existence and non-existance very much value. Even such as to develop "Buddhism", what else than materialism stands behind?

And yes, materialist are much after "it should be lived like that", this is that is not and they are, even denying, very after communist approaches, giving human or bigger groups, what ever they are, certain special value and identity.

Buddhadassa was surely one of the modern fathers of "materialism-buddhism" and inspiration for many who have difficulties to get the Dhamma aside of common ideas, but not the only one. It was that way before, while the Buddha and this lineages will certainly remain continuously in Samsara. It's not good if leaving ones territory and start to work for the world while feeding on that given for beyonds sake.

...putting aside greed & distress with reference to the world. This, for a monk (one who sees the danger of the world), is his proper range, his own ancestral territory...

Spiritual materialism is very modern and includes the thinking of the Nigantas, Jains, denying self yet full of grasping.

Here an account of what can be understood as this "spiritual materialism" or dwelling in what the Buddha called "household-equanimity", something broadly taught and traded under the lable "Buddha-Dhamma":

Spiritual materialism is the belief that a certain temporary state of mind is a refuge from suffering. An example would be using meditation practices to create a peaceful state of mind, or using drugs or alcohol to remain in a numbed out or a euphoric state. According to Trungpa, these states are temporary and merely heighten the suffering when they cease. So attempting to maintain a particular emotional state of mind as a refuge from suffering, or constantly pursuing particular emotional states of mind like being in love, will actually lead to more long term suffering.

It's worthy to count that a materialistic view falls into the range of fatal wrong views or evil views and such is destinated to bad states and root of the 5 Abhithananis, as itjs sixth.

In regard of relation to right view, something "materialist" usually also deny and excuse it with being on the level of renounciation-equanimity, some words might help in addition:

from How to address wrong view?

Wrong view starts out at the very basics of nature:

'O, that what belongs to others would be mine!' He bears ill will, corrupt in the resolves of his heart: 'May these beings be killed or cut apart or crushed or destroyed, or may they not exist at all!' He has wrong view, is warped in the way he sees things: 'There is nothing given, nothing offered, nothing sacrificed. There is no fruit or result of good or bad actions. There is no this world, no next world, no mother, no father, no spontaneously reborn beings; no brahmans or contemplatives who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves.' - AN 10.176

  • There is nothing given, nothing offered, nothing sacrificed This is a certain believe that things either come by accident or one is the creator of all by one self. Or one has such as inherent right, one is inherent worthy of things and ones live and well-being does not effect others, is not on the cost of other beings "misfortune". A person of wrong view therefore is known as a person without gratitude and does not feel obligated. Typical modern strong wrong views are thinking in right, believing in rights. This is a very serious and broad wrong view. Even most monks have falling into this wrong view today and do not dear to even teach rights rather that right view. A person who demands "I have this and that right", holds on rights, makes rights his means of gain and sustain, is a person of strong wrong view.

  • There is no fruit or result of good or bad actions. Such a person denies fruit of his actions and denies that results has there reasons. A person thinking in that way does not fear to do wrong and even certain "benefits" or "punishments" would not effect his behavior. People who try to imitate such an non-duality like "there is no doer, no receiver of actions" are very common in the sphere of people calling themselves knowledeable follower of the Buddha.

  • There is no this world, no next world This believe assumes that once existence has no previous causes as well that one does not take once causes into future existences. That counts for lifetimes as well as particular worlds and existences. A very broad thinking is for example job is job, and private is private, since thinking that one living serial different lives is very common in our days and certain "privacy" tool give support to believe such.

  • There is no mother, no father One believes that things and he him self does not have ancestors, there are not those who have gone before. A person who does not see, honor, respect and does not feel obligated to those who actually prepared the way are called people of no integrity.

  • There are no spontaneously reborn beings Such a person denies the existence of beings behind his perception and with it the possibility to gain such existences as well. One neither has respect of such beings (thinking on Devas and there virtue) nor would be feel scared of suddenly falling into an hell existence, since as it has not been seen by one self, how could such exist.

  • There are no brahmans or contemplatives who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves Such a person denies that there a people who have gone a different way as he is able to see. That is also a very common and blatant wrong view in our days where people seek for refuge in: "All are equal", "Its human to be like that", "There are no such as perfect people".

Wrong view does therefore deny the Buddha as worthy righteous self-awakened and with it the possibility to gain liberation, deny the Dhamma, cause and effect, the depending co-arising and its possible use to gain liberation, and the Sangha, the community of those following the Buddhas path, which is also a very common blatant wrong view, thinking on all the various undertakings of developing Buddhism 2.0 or other secular adoptions.

Very common wrong views of certain communities are thoughts like certain wrong doings are justified for a good purpose. There are even certain sects who believe that there are such things like righteous killing, stealing, lying...

Some good accounts might be found in a discussion once leaded by Upasaka James on D&D: Elements of wrong views common to Secular Buddhism

“Herein, bhikkhus, a certain recluse or a brahmin asserts the following doctrine and view: ‘The self, good sir, has material form; it is composed of the four primary elements and originates from father and mother. Since this self, good sir, is annihilated and destroyed with the breakup of the body and does not exist after death, at this point the self is completely annihilated.’ In this way some proclaim the annihilation, destruction, and extermination of an existent being.

Combined with many other Elements.

DN 1 , the "Inter-net Sutta", gives an overview of all kind of wrong views.

..."There are, bhikkhus, certain gods called 'non-percipient beings.' When perception arises in them, those gods pass away from that plane. Now, bhikkhus, this comes to pass, that a certain being, after passing away from that plane, takes rebirth in this world... "He speaks thus: 'The self and the world originate fortuitously. What is the reason? Because previously I did not exist, but now I am. Not having been, I sprang into being.'...

and so on...

[Note: This is a gift of Dhamma and not meant for commercial purpose or other low wordily gains by means of trade and exchange.]

  • I think the OP was asking, more specifically, whether "materialism" (or a word like "materialism") is used in the Pali canon. I think he knew that the word is used, often as a criticism, in the modern day. – ChrisW Dec 5 '17 at 22:32

The questioner has asked whether buddha has referred materialism. --First of all all the bad virtues such as greed, lust, selfishness, hatred,etc which buddha has termed as akushal kamma(bad deeds) , are the base of materialism. to assign it "ism" is degradation of the word "ism". Further the "rupa" termed in buddhism is for physical body and nam for mind. materialism is nothing but a rotten garbage cropped out of development of science enhancing comforts and pleasures of body.it is a tricky mind"s excuse to find authenticity by attaching it to some established isms meant for good purpose of liberation,salvation, moksha,etc etc.

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