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December 11, 2009 7:06 AM   Subscribe

The Sickest Buddhist - Arj Barker from The Flight of the Conchords does a rap skewering of materialism in Western Buddhism. (via) Brad Warner offers a more serious critique of "satori porn" (sfw) Beliefnet talks about the branding of Buddhism, where it's used to market everything from mp3 players to perfume to bars to ... toilet paper holders?
posted by desjardins (61 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
These unusual satirical raps are probably the modern form of the Limerick.
posted by therubettes at 7:09 AM on December 11, 2009


"Brad is currently looking for women to help him "do research" for his upcoming book about sex and Zen. He can be contacted directly for an appointment through this website!"

I read Hardcore Zen. Guy sounded like a dick. Still does.
posted by HopperFan at 7:14 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you meet the Buddha on the road, see what brand of sneakers he's wearing.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:17 AM on December 11, 2009 [15 favorites]


Some of these links don't make it through WorkFilter, but "The Branding of Buddhism" was one of the sickest (in the old-school sense) articles I've ever read. The article deigns to suggest how to convert more people to Buddhism, including possibly dropping the Buddha himself as being too much of a turnoff to atheists, or something. Please. I realize Buddhism has proved itself one of the more culturally adaptable religions (and it's OK to call it something other than a religion, given the absence of a personal god in its purest form - if not the Pure Land form), but let's not throw the Buddha out with the bathwater.
posted by kozad at 7:18 AM on December 11, 2009


Well, I dunno. Jesus is pretty necessary for Christianity, but is Buddha necessary Buddhism?
posted by DU at 7:21 AM on December 11, 2009


kozad, I took it as a satirical article ("With the right branding and advertising Buddhism can be the iPod of philosophies, cool first then available at WalMart three years later.") but upon re-read, I'm kind of horrified.
posted by desjardins at 7:22 AM on December 11, 2009


We will pray to the god Buddha, of gods there is none cuter,

Come in silver, brass or pewter, he's good enough for me.

posted by louche mustachio at 7:25 AM on December 11, 2009


When it comes to modesty, I got it goin' on

I love that. Simple, but scathing.
posted by scrutiny at 7:29 AM on December 11, 2009


I find it hard to take an article that criticizes the branding of Buddhism genuinely, when it pops up an advert before I try to read it (fifth link).

With that said, however, the other links are genuinely awesome, and thanks for sharing!
posted by localhuman at 7:30 AM on December 11, 2009


I picked up an issue of Shambhala Sun recently and yeah, I know, magazines have to sell ad-space, but I swear it just gets more and more grotesque. There was some kind of nonsense about Buddhist swag for YOUR DOG that benefits sad dogs in Tibet who lick the Dalai Lama or something.

But hey, I'm buying glossy magazines about Western Buddhism at Whole Foods, so I guess that makes me part of the problem.

I do want to barf in my mouth anytime I see some kind of "cute" Buddha. Except for the Buddha lamp, which I kind of want. But a Buddha piggy bank? Seriously? Are you storing your karma in there or what?
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:31 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Dear Ask Mefi:

I saw this dude who I swore was the buddha, walking down the road. One thing led to another...

tl;dr: Looking for a good criminal defense lawyer.
posted by mullingitover at 7:37 AM on December 11, 2009 [16 favorites]


Buddha toilet seat. (to be fair, it's ART)
posted by desjardins at 7:38 AM on December 11, 2009


I too was amazed to realize that the Branding of Buddhism article wasn't satire.

I also think Brad Warner is in a tricky situation, using his very self-conscious "fashionablizing" of Zen to use as a platform to denounce the commodification of Buddhism.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 7:46 AM on December 11, 2009


I’m no longer afraid I’m going to die someday.

I guess when you're enlightened like Brad Warner, your commas become one with the universe, and cease to exist.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 7:46 AM on December 11, 2009


Is that really just a western thing though? I mean, do buddists in Asia forswear commercialism? There is certainly a ton of Christian swag in the U.S.
posted by delmoi at 7:47 AM on December 11, 2009


Buddha blue.
posted by erniepan at 7:54 AM on December 11, 2009


delmoi:
search for buddha at target.com = 63 matches, almost all decorating crap
search for Jesus = 21 items, 8 of which are perfume and 1 of which is Dirty Dancing (??!!)
Christ = 3 items

Yes, there is tons of Christian swag, but it's not used as generic decoration. For some reason it's OK to use Buddha as a prop. Can you imagine a Jesus moneybank being sold at Target? (Nitpick: That's not even The Buddha, that's Ho-Tei.)
posted by desjardins at 7:58 AM on December 11, 2009


For some reason it's OK to use Buddha as a prop.

But Jesus is God and the Buddha is a teacher.
posted by shothotbot at 8:00 AM on December 11, 2009


My roommate is really into the “Eastern” decorative crap from Target, Anthropoligie, Bath and Body Works, etc. I call it “hippie-kitsch”.
posted by Think_Long at 8:03 AM on December 11, 2009


Well, I dunno. Jesus is pretty necessary for Christianity, but is Buddha necessary Buddhism?

Given the story of the bodhi tree as one of my teachers told it ("though my bones turn to dust, though my blood run dry, I will not move from here until I have known that which can be known through human endeavor"), yes. The emphasis on Gautama's humanity is hugely important, because it tells us that our own efforts are not futile.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 8:04 AM on December 11, 2009


Can you imagine a Jesus moneybank being sold at Target?

JESUS SAVES.
posted by euphorb at 8:06 AM on December 11, 2009


And my God that ‘branding’ article has got to be offensive to somebody who actually practices Buddhism, right?

“. . . neither did Buddha intend for his smiling image to become a symbol of whatever it's meant to symbolize”


“whatever it’s meant to symbolize” is probably a good summary of many people’s approach to most religions – especially ones that are SO marketable!
posted by Think_Long at 8:07 AM on December 11, 2009


Use of the Buddha in interior design as a shibboleth for "soothing" is pretty common. ApartmentTherapy has addressed this as a definite trend.

You don't usually hang up a crucifix if you're not down with JC, but putting Buddhas around is seen as decorative and not any statement on how you feel about the actual historical figure.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:09 AM on December 11, 2009


Yeah, that Brad Warner guy gives me the heebie-jeebies. Constant faux self-deprectation + hipster profile picture + blogging on Suicidegirls does not exactly scream "spritual enlightenment" to me. On the other hand, I actually liked the "branding of Buddhism" article. It's not about branding as in selling stuff, but mainstreaming the philosophy. I just don't think they should call it "Buddhism" if they're going to get rid of Buddha...but then that's kind of the whole point of the "branding Buddhism" exercise, right?
posted by yarly at 8:11 AM on December 11, 2009


grapefruitmoon, that was the point I was trying to make. People are co-opting Buddhist icons when they don't know much about the religion. I do not see people doing this with Christian icons, except perhaps ironically.
posted by desjardins at 8:12 AM on December 11, 2009


More dangerous still is the spiritual materialism of anti-spiritual materialism, aka the "purity patrol." Becoming attached to the idea that it is critical that one as an individual must warn others about this danger is an even greater danger to practitioners. This is especially true when those preaching it are the stars of a TV show on the biggest pay-cable network on earth and star in a funny and very hip show. Star power like that can easily obscure. The practitioner is best deployed in the service of enlightening all sentient beings on a one-to-one basis, not in addressing mass culture.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:14 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Constant faux self-deprectation + hipster profile picture + blogging on Suicidegirls does not exactly scream "spritual enlightenment" to me.

Huh, interesting that you have a set notion of how he should brand himself in order to appear enlightened. I am not all fangirlish about him, but I do recommend his book for people who are not all that familiar with Buddhism and are skeptical about new age woo-woo stuff.
posted by desjardins at 8:14 AM on December 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


This thread seems as good as any to relay the news that there won't be a third season of Flight of the Conchords.

Take that how you will. I thought season two was spreading it a little thin. Plus it had too much of Murray being a prick to Greg.
posted by Dr-Baa at 8:17 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, I dunno. Jesus is pretty necessary for Christianity, but is Buddha necessary Buddhism?

I will re-state my prediction that eventually the cognitive dissonance involved in going around constantly mouthing Jesus' name while doing nothing he would have approved of is going to become too great and the "Christ" part of Christianity will be jettisoned as altogether too inconvenient.

You don't usually hang up a crucifix if you're not down with JC, but putting Buddhas around is seen as decorative and not any statement on how you feel about the actual historical figure.

Neither my spouse nor I are Buddhist (or particularly religious) but we have a wooden Buddha wall-hanging on our living room wall because we're not especially opposed to the religion, and it's fucking gorgeous. I mean, really. Your imagination at this very moment is not doing it justice. I've never seen another like it.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:18 AM on December 11, 2009


See also, "From Western Marxism to Western Buddhism," by Slavoj Zizek.
posted by jrb223 at 8:18 AM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Huh, interesting that you have a set notion of how he should brand himself in order to appear enlightened.

I don't really care how he brands himself; he just comes off a little blech to me, personally.
posted by yarly at 8:20 AM on December 11, 2009


People are co-opting Buddhist icons when they don't know much about the religion. I do not see people doing this with Christian icons, except perhaps ironically.

I see this sometimes in Asian stuff. There is a Hong Kong movie called The Legend of the Liquid Sword that has the line "I am Jesus Christ and I will fight you with my Judas Fist!"

And, for the record, I like Brad Warner a lot -- Sit Down and Shut Up, which might have the best title of any book on Zen, has plenty of good stuff in it.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:26 AM on December 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


a Buddha piggy bank? Seriously? Are you storing your karma in there or what?

Not that "Eastern" practices are more authentic than Western just by virtue of geography or anything, but this reminds me of a few things. Paying to have the village stonecarver write Tibetan script on a tablet (which is propped up with all the others) repeating (I think) various mantras -- and you paying to have it done is a Good Work in the same way as it would have been if you had carved it yourself, except that you're also putting the carver in employ which is good, also.

Then there's the lady with the bird cages. Pretty birds. She's imprisoned them for your benefit, which is a black mark against her. But you can pay to have her release a bird in front of you -- good for you. Of course, she's creating the situation in which you earn merit, so perhaps that is good for her... I could never follow the all the twisted permutations. (and those birds are probably trained to return)

So your Buddha "piggy" bank could be to set aside funds for whatever noble purpose. Could be. Possibly.

On preview, GenjiandProust, that line is fucking unbelievably awesome. Hello, Christmas present t-shirt.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:32 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


People are co-opting Buddhist icons when they don't know much about the religion. I do not see people doing this with Christian icons, except perhaps ironically.

What about reproductions of Renaissance fine art or the like?

And my God that ‘branding’ article has got to be offensive to somebody who actually practices Buddhism, right?

I don't think it's in the Buddha's nature to take offense.
posted by ekroh at 8:34 AM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


The ubiquity of Buddhist kitsch versus a certain dearth of Christian kitsch might also have to do with the relative dispositions of the characters. Last I checked, Siddhartha wasn't famous for having wrecked a marketplace.

What I'm saying is, the Buddha would look at the statues, shrug, and say they miss the point, but Christ very well would be righteously pissed off.
posted by explosion at 8:37 AM on December 11, 2009 [9 favorites]


I remember my first trip to Nepal and trying the Krisha Biscuits. Imagine largish 'Nilla wafers re-branded as Jesus Cookies and you will get the idea. There is more than one way to get along with your gods.
posted by shothotbot at 8:38 AM on December 11, 2009


The article deigns to suggest how to convert more people to Buddhism, including possibly dropping the Buddha himself as being too much of a turnoff to atheists, or something. Please. I realize Buddhism has proved itself one of the more culturally adaptable religions (and it's OK to call it something other than a religion, given the absence of a personal god in its purest form - if not the Pure Land form), but let's not throw the Buddha out with the bathwater.

Its called the doctrine of Expedient Means. I have no problem with dropping the Buddha--its the Dharma that is the most important thing. The Buddha was an explicator of the Dharma, not its originator. Other Buddhas existed before him and others will come after him.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:41 AM on December 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


What about reproductions of Renaissance fine art or the like?

Oh hell yes. I would never hang a cross in my home because with my RC background, it would be too meaningful. Though you know, come to think of it, I saw a beautiful (like, anti-vampire looking ornate) cross the other day that I did want but my spouse would have none of it...

But anyhoo, my family did look a little askance at me when I was picking out a Ravensburger puzzle one Christmas (to ask for) and all of my choices were depictions of religious material. I can't help it. Much of that stuff is beautiful.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:43 AM on December 11, 2009


GenjiandProust: There is a Hong Kong movie called The Legend of the Liquid Sword that has the line "I am Jesus Christ and I will fight you with my Judas Fist!"

Here's the clip.
posted by Kattullus at 8:48 AM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Several years ago I was in Chinatown with my visiting mother. I pointed out a particular "jade" Buddha that I thought I might want to get and put in my new apartment. She was vaguely horrified and told me that "you never buy yourself a Buddha. They should only be given as a gift." Since then the closest I've come to owning a Buddha were chocolates molded in one of his plumper images. Eating icons is good.
posted by bastionofsanity at 8:52 AM on December 11, 2009


This just seems wrong.
posted by tommasz at 8:54 AM on December 11, 2009


Kattullus to the rescue!

Sadly, I have either got the dialog wrong, or the line comes slightly later, and I have no interest in watching the movie again to find out (for what it is worth, the "Judas Fist" seems to be a martial art that uses a lot of dynamite throwing. For what it is worth II, that scene is jaw-dropping. The opening sequence of the film is pretty astonishing. The remaining 80+ minutes -- sheer crap.)...
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:06 AM on December 11, 2009


for what it is worth, the "Judas Fist" seems to be a martial art that uses a lot of dynamite throwing

Don't fuck with those apostles man. they be strapped.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:13 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


"I am the serenest!" (Old Onion article).
posted by ibmcginty at 9:19 AM on December 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well, I dunno. Jesus is pretty necessary for Christianity, but is Buddha necessary Buddhism?

Yes, and it's pretty relevant to the topic of this post: there is a right way and a wrong way to do everything, including Buddhism. There are rules, and the Buddha offers an example of those rules. He gained Enlightenment, which is what Buddhism is all about, so his experiences and teachings are a critical part of Buddhism.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:20 AM on December 11, 2009


We will pray to the god Buddha, of gods there is none cuter,

Just change the Grateful Dead "Jer-Bears" into a hand-holding line of little chubby Buddhas, and our plan to conquer America will be complete!!
posted by msalt at 9:24 AM on December 11, 2009


there is a right way and a wrong way to do everything, including Buddhism

And it is pretty hard to take refuge in the Three Treasures (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha) without the first. Although, to be fair, Buddha is way less of a "special snowflake" than most religion founders. Anyone else could have made the same breakthrough, but he was the one who did (in my understanding).
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:30 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Arj Barker is a great standup comedian, by the way. If you get a chance to see him (which means you probably live in Australia, Seattle, San Francisco, London), don't miss the chance.

Unlike any other comedian I've seen (and I see a lot), he creates this... I don't know ... zone of funny around him without saying a word. And then he says words.
posted by msalt at 9:39 AM on December 11, 2009


People are co-opting Buddhist icons when they don't know much about the religion. I do not see people doing this with Christian icons, except perhaps ironically.

As pointed out by GenjiandProust, it has to do with cultural understanding. The basics of Christianity (and to a large degree, Judaism) is understood in Western cultures. For most Westerners, Buddha falls into the hazy realm of being chilled out and laid back, like all that zen stuff. Items touting a Christian outlook become pretty shallow, too. Abbreviate a bible passage into four letters and a clothing line, and you're bound to miss some of the nuances.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:14 AM on December 11, 2009


I knew Zizek had said something about this. He discusses this idea of Western Buddhism in this Believer interview as well.
posted by mike_bling at 10:55 AM on December 11, 2009


See also Selling Spirituality: The Silent Takeover of Religion, blurbed by Robert Thurman
posted by AlsoMike at 11:07 AM on December 11, 2009


See also Selling Spirituality: The Silent Takeover of Religion, blurbed by Robert Thurman

I wonder what the difference is between selling spiritual insights in a "spiritual supermarket, site of the prostitution of spirituality for personal profit and corporate gain" and translating esoteric insights into a language or idiom ordany people can understand. I wonder what the difference is between gaining merit by gilding stupas and whatever it is people are selling in selling spirituality.

This is a genuine question. Any insights would be appreciated.
posted by shothotbot at 11:39 AM on December 11, 2009


Items touting a Christian outlook become pretty shallow, too. Abbreviate a bible passage into four letters and a clothing line, and you're bound to miss some of the nuances.

From my experiences with Japanese culture, they're quite happy to co-opt Christian iconography and mythology into their arts and video games while still eying the religion suspiciously.

That, and as much as Buddhism is co-opted for iconography, at least people still respect it enough to call it a religion. Norse and Greek/Roman religions get called "myths" now! How am I ever going to build a boat if people won't lend me their fingernails?
posted by explosion at 1:08 PM on December 11, 2009


People with a shallow understanding of Christianity discredit the teachings of Jesus, and people with a shallow understanding of Buddhism discredit Buddhism. Also, worth noting whenever Buddhism comes up that Zen is not the sum total of Buddhism, even if it was the version that was first embraced by American hipsters.
posted by aught at 1:19 PM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


People with a shallow understanding of Christianity discredit the teachings of Jesus

Yeah, if you never get past the love thy neighbor and feeding the poor surface teachings you are really limited.
posted by shothotbot at 2:00 PM on December 11, 2009


I do not see people doing this with Christian icons, except perhaps ironically.

I take this back. I just came from a gothic hair salon (no, really) and there were crucifixes and such all over the place. Plus pictures of Bettie Page and Kat Von D. I do not think the owner was trying to show how pious he/she was.
posted by desjardins at 4:17 PM on December 11, 2009


Like Brad says, There’'s enough literature out there these days that anyone who wants to could cobble together a pretty convincing satori experience story without even having done a single period of zazen.

I'd never heard of Brad Warner before but reading what he say on his SG blog, I can tell he knows whereof he speaks. Or his writers do if he's not making that stuff up on the fly as he claims. It's not cobbled and speaks to exactly what it's all about.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:04 PM on December 11, 2009


Pseuddhism. Blech.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:00 PM on December 11, 2009


What he neglected to say about awakening, though, is that you tend to fall asleep again and dream you're still awake.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:40 AM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]




Having visited Nepal and Japan, I've always been struck by the similarities in both style and content between Buddhism and Christianity, in particular Catholicism, up to sharing the same contrasts between gorgeous past religious art, and awful current religious kitsch.
I've also always wondered about the attraction that Buddhism (or rather, that particularly shallow, consumerist branch of Western pop Buddhism) exerces on some acrimoniously lapsed Catholics, until I've finally understood why: to these people, pop-Buddhism offers everything they've come to expect from religion (the elaborate prayers and rituals above all, with the hope of ultimate salvation as an aside) but, quite crucially, without the guilt.
posted by Skeptic at 5:15 AM on December 13, 2009


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