Luxury and Spirituality: Can they Meet?

The title and the question may appear as impossible contraries. In the popular conception luxury is associated with sensuous indulgence and enjoyment and spirituality with renunciation and asceticism. If we take the terms in this popular sense they can not meet. But when we examine the terms in a deeper, wider and more integral perspective, we may perhaps arrive at some connection and synthesis. This article is an attempt toward such a synthesis between luxury and spirituality and its implications for the luxury industry in the corporate world.

The Dimensions of Luxury

What is Luxury?

Oxford dictionary defines luxury and related words as :

  • Confortable and expensive living
  • An item that is expensive and enjoyable but not essential
  • Very comfortable, elegant and expensive
  • Giving pleasure to senses

We accept this dictionary meaning as a valid and important part of the meaning and aim of luxury. But there can be a broader conception of luxury which includes the dictionary meaning but also other higher dimension.

When the basic needs of the body are satisfied , there arises progressively or simultaneously higher needs of the vital, mind, heart and soul. Cladia Roth, a top executive in the luxury industry calls these higher needs as “soul luxury”.  (1)

If we accept this broader concept of luxury, we may conceive it in six dimension.

First is the vital need for a better enjoyment of life at the physical , vital and sensational level.

Second is the need for a better health and wellbeing of the body and mind.

Third is the heart’s need to love and to be loved and for harmonious relationship or for an emotionally satisfying experience, product or service at the level of feelings.

Fourth is the need for knowledge and understanding of our own self and the world at the mental level.

Fifth is the need to give, serve, or contribute to the wellbeing of the larger whole and care for others at the ethical level. Environment concerns belong to this category.

Sixth is the need to know the highest meaning and purpose of life at the spiritual level.

In general these six needs awakens progressively in an individual in the course of her evolution. However more than one need can be present simultaneously or awaken at the same time in an individual. According to Cladia Roth, most of the new, young, affluent consumers of luxury are seeking for these higher needs which goes beyond mere sensuous indulgence. Here are some interesting descriptions by Cladia Roth on the new customers of luxury.

“More than ever, the desire for emotional fulfillment is key in the consumption of experience. Increasingly, affluent consumers are looking to define themselves by their experiences rather by the goods they own. The transformation economy arrived like a super-car carrying a new passenger: the soul-seeking luxurian, riding an experiential wave of psychological and physical betterment towards spiritual growth and ultimate happiness,with a craving for transformational experiences within the holistic substate of wellness. The transformed consumer expected its suppliers to express and stand behing a set of world changing values – environmental, organic, natural, ethical, equitable, kind, benevolent, sincere, true”. (2)

From Luxury to Spirituality

Let us now look at the other end: spirituality. The concept of spirituality can be viewed at many angles, each one giving birth to a distinct definition with a stress on some aspects of spirituality. The emerging perspectives on spirituality are moving away from the traditional conceptions of world  denying asceticism and renunciation and gravitating towards a more life-affirming and integral vision.

For our present discussion we may take the evolutionary vision. In this perspective spirituality or the aim of spirituality may be viewed as the integral fulfillment of our human organisation at all the levels of our being – physical, vital, mental , ethical, aesthetic and spiritual – through a progressive evolution or unfolding of our potential at all these levels, and a harmonious integration of them around our highest spiritual self as the aim and goal of this evolution. Progressive awakening of the higher needs of the individuals at the mental, moral, and spiritual levels is part of this evolution.

The highest goals and experiences and realisation at the spiritual dimensions of consciousness are very far from most of us including those who were awakened to the higher needs. But an initial awakening to the spiritual ideal in the mind or heart is possible at any of the six levels of needs we have described earlier, which holds the key to the higher evolution of the luxury industry and fulfilling the needs of the luxury consumer.

Let us begin with the first need – better enjoyment of life. This is a legitimate need of the vital being which includes what is at present not regarded as luxury by the affluent middle class, like TV, car, microwave ovens, washing machines, travelling, tasty food and all kinds of amusement and enjoyments, and also what is regarded as luxury by all, like five –star hotels, luxury cars, expensive scents, jewels, fashion products. However there are two types of enjoyment. First is the gross, sensuous enjoyment which when not restrained by some higher ethical or aesthetic values degenerates into greed. Second is the higher aesthetic enjoyment of life governed by the values of beauty and harmony, which refines and uplifts our sensations, mind and heart and make them receptive to our spiritual self or in other worlds helps in our higher evolution. This aesthetic refinement and enjoyment of life is perhaps the higher aim of luxury.

At the second level of health and wellbeing, awakening to a more integral conception of health like for example harmony of the body, heart, mind and soul can lead to a higher awakening in the mind. Along with this highest ideal of health we may also try to provide some clear understanding of the factors which leads to a greater wellbeing at each level of our being – physical, vital, emotional, mental and spiritual – with some practical methods for achieving this higher states of wellness like for example, the healing power of peace and how to bring peace into our mind, self-healing powers of the body, visualization techniques, infusing consciousness into the body, trust in the Divine.

At the emotional level,awakening to the meaning of true love, how to cultivate positive feelings like kindness, generosity, benevolence in our heart and mind, and resolve interpersonal conflicts are some of the factors which can bring us closer to our higher nature and our spiritual self.

At the mental level whatever the type of knowledge or information that is sought, provide a deeper insight into the hidden and invisible realities or forces behind outer appearances or a more holistic integral concept or ideal can lead to a higher awakening in the individual.

At the ethical level, providing a deeper understanding of the meaning of charity and the act of giving like for example how “grow by giving” is the great law of life, and the unity of consciousness as the spiritual foundation of ethics can elevate the ethical need to the spiritual level.

At the spiritual level the main idea to be communicated is that the highest purpose of life is to discover our true self beyond our ego, which is an eternal spark of the Divine and dwells in the inner most depth of our heart, and as a result enter into inner communion or union with the Divine which is the spiritual source of our being.

Meeting Soul Luxury

We are now brought to the question how to satisfy the needs of “soul-luxury” which we have discussed so far at the corporate level in the luxury industry. The first step is to understand the cluster of needs of each customer – or a group of customers who are more or less at the same level of needs – and provide them with a concept, feeling or experience which can lead at once to a higher awakening or to evolutionary progress and a deep inner satisfaction and fulfillment which brings large benefits in the bottomline. Whatever may be nature or level of the need, aesthetics and emotions holds the key to this synthesis.

We are at present moving towards what many management gurus call as “experience economy”. In this emerging, more subjective economy, what the customer feels or experiences of a product is more important than the product as such. Those companies which are able to provide an experience not only pleasant and enjoyable to the sensations but also meaningful and elevating by fulfilling some of the higher needs beyond enjoyment, will be the winners in attracting and retaining the affluent customers of luxury products. The ideal or aim for the luxury industry is to create an atmosphere of beauty, harmony, caring and kindness through the entire productcycle from, buying, long use and reliable service.

M.S.Srinivasan

References and Notes

1.Claudia Roth is the founder and Managing Director of Soul Luxury.Previously she was the Vice President,Europe,Middle East and Africa for The Leading Hotels of the World known for the largest luxury hotel collection across 75 countries.

2.Claudia Roth and Sue Liburd MBE,Insight Report,Soul Luxury, “Spot light on the ‘spiritualised customer ’,www.soul-luxury.com

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