“Materialistic persons are never interested in hearing about the marvelous pastimes of the Lord. They think that they are fictions and stories and that the Supreme Godhead is also a man of material nature.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.32.18 Purport)
It’s easy to identify a materialistic person. They value only possessions. They insist on high quality in whatever they get. If they go to a pizza restaurant one night and what they order is slightly overcooked, they get extremely upset. “It’s not up to par. You guys didn’t make it as good as you usually do.”
If their pricey new automobile gets a scratch on it, they spend the entire day trying to fix it. Everything must be in a pristine state. Even if they have so many things, they always want more. They are never satisfied, as getting new things is their way of trying to satisfy the senses.
The Sanskrit term for such a person is “karmi.” Indeed, this mentality is the default; it starts right from the time of exiting the womb. Just visit the playroom of your typical toddler and you’ll get an idea of how many objects can be amassed for enjoyment. Ideally, as you get older you should worry about less things. This is due to intelligence, which is supposed to be strengthened from experience.
The Sanskrit term for enjoyment of material objects is “bhoga.” The term is often paired with “tyaga,” which is renunciation. On the one side you have enjoyment of objects and on the other you have renunciation. The quintessential person in renunciation is the monk living in a remote area, someplace quiet. In India, there is the concept of the “sadhu,” who is like a roaming, homeless mendicant. They voluntarily give up all possessions in order to further advance in spiritual life.
Upon a sober analysis, we see that both the person in bhoga and the person in tyaga are still materialistic. The latter group is simply trying to negate the material. Their focus remains on objects. As a group following a disciplined practice, the strict tyagis are known as Mayavadis. This translates to “impersonalists.” Their philosophical conclusion is that everything in this world is ultimately maya, or illusion. Therefore they try to negate everything.
The aversion to hearing topics of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is one way to identify the Mayavadi. In Vedic literature there are descriptions of pretty amazing things. In reality, it’s not so amazing, as the material elements merely get manipulated. If the origin of all things creates the gross elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether, then why can’t He manipulate them as He so chooses? If He also creates the subtle elements of mind, intelligence and ego, why wouldn’t He be able to exhibit the highest intelligence when dealing with others?
When the origin of everything descends to earth, the Sanskrit word “avatara” identifies the specific personality. The literal meaning to this word is “one who descends.” The Supreme appears in the earthly realm, which features material elements manipulated by spiritual beings. Still, the Supreme is never under the sway of maya. He can do whatever He likes. He sometimes builds a bridge out of floating rocks. He lifts a massive hill and holds it up with His pinky finger. His dearest devotees, empowered through their love for Him, cross massive oceans in a single leap and defeat a formidable army using just trees and rocks.
Since the Mayavadis are materialistic, they don’t appreciate the historical accounts of the Supreme’s activities. Since they think everything is maya, they think that the Supreme is also a person in maya. As such, though they are renounced, they don’t get the full benefit of their spiritual practice.
The truth is that both spirit and matter come from God. The wise dovetail everything with service to Him. They don’t outwardly reject items that typically aren’t spiritual in nature. They don’t hoard objects, but they don’t throw them away, either. Shri Hanuman and his friends used boulders and trees to fight for the Supreme Lord Rama. Though these were material objects, they became spiritual in nature through their use.
The concept is known as yukta-vairagya, and it is nicely explained by those following in the line of devotion reignited by Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. The devotee is above both the bhogi and the tyagi. They use whatever God has created and given to them to escape the trap of the material ocean. One sign of their advancement is their eagerness to constantly hear about God and His pastimes.
Materialist more and more expecting,
Tyagi every object as maya rejecting.
Both with material consciousness to reside,
One on collection, other on avoidance side.
Everything illusion, but the Lord not knowing,
Interest for hearing pastimes never showing.
Yukta-vairagya for God the concept to advance,
Like Hanuman for service jumping at the chance.