Saturday, April 24, 2010

"Dangerous Buddhism"

It feels like there’s something definitely lacking in our culture.  
Maybe it’s because we don’t really have a culture.  Many of the customs of our ancestors have been lost in the shuffle of immigration, so we don’t really have old traditions to rely on.  Maybe it’s because our family structure has deteriorated so much that we eat all of our meals in front of the television to give us the illusion of togetherness.  Maybe technology is poisoning us and making us disconnect from our fellow human beings.  
I don’t know.  
But sometimes it seems like we’re all just floating around aimlessly, clutching onto whatever we think will make us happy RIGHT THIS SECOND!
Whether it’s:
Turning up the volume on our iPod so fucking high that it’s liable to bust our ear drums,

salivating over free Asian porn on the internet when we think our wives aren’t watching,

or obsessively watching TMZ until our brains rot our of our skulls,

It’s all instant gratification in it’s highest form

The purpose of religion is to provide its followers with a sense of belonging and give them a formalized belief structure to comfort them in life.  Since as Americans, we are without a strong sense of religious identity, we are left to search frantically for something to qualify our innate desire to connect to spirituality.  That’s where Buddhism comes in.  
Many Americans are first exposed to Buddhism through mainstream pop culture and mass media.  Buddhism is everywhere!  The Dalai Lama has become a household name.  The image of the Buddha is now synonymous with a higher, more interesting, sexier state of consciousness that the most elite members of our society possess:  

Sometimes it seems like every famous actor or musician has some kind of connection to Buddhism.  We worship celebrities because they represent the “best of the best” of us... especially when it comes to physicality.  So, if the most famous people in the world are into Buddhism... shouldn’t we all be?  
Although I do personally believe that Buddhism has something to offer each and every one of us, the perception of Buddhism as this mystical "Religion of the Celebrities" can be damaging because it gives the impression that it’s a cure-all or instant method for happiness and FAME.
Buddhism in Popular Culture
To prove my point, here are a few recent stories from US Weekly:
Goldie Hawn's third grandson, Bodhi Hawn Hudson, was born on March 23 to son Oliver Hudson and wife Erinn Bartlett.
This choice was diametrically different from the names of the previous two boys in the family: Oliver's son, Wilder, and sister Kate Hudson's, Ryder, a matched pair of energetic, macho names. Bodhi is soft and spiritual.
Bodhi is a Sanskrit name translated as "enlightenment" or "awakening" and is associated with Buddhism. In early times, it was synonymous with the state of nirvana, being freed from hate, greed and ego.  The Bodhi tree is a large fig tree under which the founder of Buddhism received enlightenment.
One of the first public figures in the U.S. to bear the name was Bodhi Elfman, husband of Jenna, who starred in another sitcom with a Buddhism-related name, Dharma & Greg.  Since then it has been used by Amy Brenneman for her son, and by celebrity chef Tom Colicchio as the middle name for his boy, Luka.  And Goldie Hawn isn't the only Bodhi grandparent -- she joins Carly Simon and James Taylor, who also have a grandson named Bodhi via daughter Sally Taylor.”

Jessica Simpson - A "Wish-Fulfilling Gem?"

Here’s a video from Jessica Simpson’s new show, “The Price of Beauty.”  I guess she was chosen to host this show because she is so fucking “beautiful” herself, right?  
In her search to find “beauty,” the producers of this show thought it would be a good idea to send her to a Buddhist temple.  Everyone knows that beauty comes from “within,” but apparently Simpson didn’t think it would take quite so long to find it in there.  Here’s a quote:  “It ended up being a longer process than I expected... for some reason I couldn’t be at peace with myself, so I guess I have a little more work to do.” 
Here’s the video:  
I love how the monk is looking at them like, “What the fuck are these white people doing in my temple” as they walk in.  I wonder if when he said, “Inner peace equals outward beauty,” he meant “Inner peace equals bigger tits?”  What do you think?
Buddhism: the cure for crappy sex and... AIDS?
Buddhism is by far the most “famous” religion.  In addition to it’s “coolness” factor though, it’s also perceived by many as the ultimate source of “alternative medicine.”  Buddhist meditation and the more general term “eastern medicine” has been touted to be able to heal everything from general stress to sexual disfunction.  
Oprah Winfrey, the queen of self-discovery herself, uses her super-Celebrity magic to harness the power of Buddhism on her show.  Aided by the “All-Stars” of Buddhism: Thich Nhat Hanh, Pema Chodron, the Dalai Lama and Lama Surya Das, Winfrey shares tips for exciting topics such as:
"How freedom and happiness 
can be found in a single cup of tea"
I wonder if tea sales spiked the week 
that show aired?  

In a column called “Buddhism RX,” Winfrey explains how we can apply the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism to modern life in an effort to cope with things like: fear, anxiety and hardship... oh, and weight loss too:
Websites like “Sex For Enlightenment” offer “manuals for practitioners of enlightenment,” that claim to use ancient Buddhist techniques to generate greater ORGASMS.  I mean, come on!  It’s almost hilarious.  
Some claim that Buddhism holds the secret to curing fatal diseases!
Here’s an article from BuddhaNet, - The Worldwide Buddhist Information and Education Network:
In addition to explaining the general healing benefits of meditation, it eludes to the idea that meditation can be a potential cure for cancer and AIDS:

Of course I believe that meditation can have enormous potential as a tool for “healing.”  But to simplify the practices and teachings of Buddhism and take them completely out of context is dangerous.  For someone new to Buddhism, the misperception that a few meditation sessions will cure them of cancer is a gross oversimplification.  
Anyone even remotely familiar with the processes involved in meditation knows that it can take a lifetime to achieve true quantifiable results.  Such claims of “healing” should be made with extreme caution, as they could lead to harm.  
Don’t Be a Sucker

Look, Buddhism is good stuff... I wouldn’t be writing this blog if I didn’t think so.  There are a lot of  really smart people out there working really hard to bring Buddhism to America in a positive way... you just have to find them.  
In the meantime, if you get bored, check out the “Ultimate Stress Reduction Plan” on the Dr. Oz Show website.  Apparently it doesn’t matter what mantra you use... they’re all good if you want to eliminate stress from your life.  Remember that the next time you’re slamming down on your horn in the middle of rush hour.  (In case you couldn’t tell... I’m being sarcastic.)

Many of us have three thoughts about stress: it stinks, it stinks bad, or it stinks so bad that if you don’t get me a massage this instant, I’m gonna freak on this entire office.

In fact, most of us believe that you either have to eliminate it or live with it. But the truth is that stress management isn’t about eliminating all types of stress; after all, stress can be good for you. (The only time you aren’t stressed is when you’re 6-ft. under.) It’s actually all about regulation – turning the dials of your emotions so you can best handle what life tosses at you.

Next Post:  Buddhism is cooler than you.  


  1. I think you've hit the nail mostly on the head with these posts. I am a new recruit to Buddhism as a 30-something with a deep history in the Christian church. I have seen some of the history of Buddhism you are referring too and it's scary stuff. On the other hand, the documented effects of real meditative practice are astounding, and that's what got me more interested. It's exactly what you said -- Buddhism is a big fancy mirror for yourself. It's about finding out about yourself first and foremost (right consciousness right?), and then learning to view the world threw a new lens (right view) and learning to use that to be happy and to be a better person (right action). I wish people would stop getting all caught up in the minutiae of doctrine, and realise that it's about the basics: the four noble truths and the eightfold path. These simple guidelines have already helped me massively, and I continue to increase my meditations simply because I see great benefit. I believe the Buddha was a pragmatist at heart, and told us to keep what works and chuck what doesn't, HH The Dalai Lama has said the same thing.

  2. plexq left me little to add except to say very nice writing and refreshing voice --

  3. Excellent series of articles. Will we be seeing any more?

  4. This looks like fun stuff. I will start following to see if the fun continues. Smile !
    My blog (Triangulations) may take similar spins as your but I came a different path (ex-Christian and so was not duped easily by the next religions I explored -- but still value Buddhism). It looks like it will be fun to explore with you.

  5. @ John
    Hey, if you get a chance, I put up a diagram of Buddhism and illustrate where I think it "sucks" or is potentially "dangerous", then I ask, "Am I still a Buddhist"? I'd love to know your opinion on the epistemology effort behind the chart and the particulars of the doctrinal stuff. If you are interested.

  6. Hey, great blog, thank you! You just got a new regular reader. :)


  7. @ Uku
    This seems like another blog that is hibernating or retired.

  8. Yeah, I noticed it after I published my comment. Thanks for letting me know though!

    Maybe the conservative Buddhists hijacked him?

  9. Wow. This is amazing. I've been a Buddhist for over a decade and have devoted most of my time to destroying the hippie, do-what-feels-good, anything-goes, spiritual bullshit that surrounds this philosophy. I'm thrilled to have discovered this blog. My only complaint is that it's November and there haven't been any posts since April. Have you given up?

    My blog is Zen Bastard if you care to check it out.


  10. Thank you for this.

    I think the way the public nibbles at the bits and pieces of dharma floating over the airwaves is great. It seems to be better than the less embellished and confusing invitation to "COME, LET US EXPLORE SUFFERING. ALONE. TOGETHER."

    Also, you are now on the Emergent Dharma Blogroll.

  11. There are more of us - enjoyed this, looking forward to the next post - my own take on this, as a 20 year veteran of the American/Korean Zen Buddhist scene, is thoroughly threshed out in an ongoing series of essays Field of Weeds, and the recent book The Zen Revolution:




    I randomly post to as well, though most of my efforts these days are toward the weekly podcast/essay. Great to have you out there..

  12. This is funny. John Harrison hasn't stopped by. This seems like a dead site but folks are coming here to chat because they like the potential of a sacrilegious Buddhism. This is fascinating.

  13. I don't think people like the idea of a "sacrilegious" Buddhism as much as they enjoy the potential for a realistic approach to the path. Most mainstream Buddhism in America is full of unnecessary ritual, belief and distinctly un-Buddhist thought. So much so that the vast majority of the population believes Buddhism to be something that it isn't at all.

  14. @ Purple
    But Buddhism is MANY things.
    I agree with your essential insight. I think it is time to strip it down of the sanctity, the religious professionals, the magic and much more. And offer yet another Buddhism -- calling it whatever you will, for the sake of all sentient beings! :-)

  15. I think this is a lot of bullshit! There are also many 'celebs' who are scientologists - does this make Scientology the 'religion' of the celebs? For your information: Celebrities are just ordinary people like you and me who happen to be famous because this is part of their work, nothing more. You find christians, muslims, jews, scientologists and why not buddhists? You find nice and humble celebs, but also stupid and arrogant ones (like Mel Gibson or Tom Cruise) - so what? Get a life!