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.  

Monday, April 19, 2010

Can You Believe it? The Buddha Just Got a Job as a Greeter at Wal-Mart!

The greatest obstacle to enlightenment is disillusion.  Sounds like a quote from a sutra or something, doesn’t it?  Well, it isn’t.  I made it up... just now.  Be careful though, disillusionment can knock you on your ass.    
I was a naive teenager when I first started off on the “path.”  The most important thing to me then was my electric guitar and my hair.  As much as I hate to admit it and use the phrase “broken home,” that’s exactly where I was coming from.  Angry, misguided teenagers ironically are the prime candidates for exploration into spiritual movements like Buddhism.  
I was looking for a way to find meaning in my life.  I had honest intentions.  I was bored.  I heard somewhere that meditation could do all kinds of shit to make you feel happy.  That’s what I wanted.  It was either that, or start getting high like all my friends... but that was way too scary.
All this was before the internet got really big.  Back then, there were these things called libraries.  I spent a lot of time in them.  I walked down the aisles looking for a small section labeled “Eastern Religion” and I checked out every book on Buddhism that I could get my hands on.  
Mostly these books were mass marketed “Key to Happiness - Find Peace” kinda stuff, authored by the All-Stars of Buddhism in the west:  the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”... you know, shit like that.  I read them.  They seemed cool.  I got excited.  
Everything was all pretty low key until my life took a serious turn and I had a kid at the ripe old age of seventeen.  I’m what you read about in the papers... teenage father, high school dropout... the whole deal.  Honestly, it’s not as bad as everyone makes it out to seem.  It was hard, but I hung in there... my daughter’s almost twelve now.  
Buddhism was my anchor.  It was my drug.  It made me feel much less alone than I really was.  
But, I wanted to ratchet it up a notch.  Really get hardcore.  I wanted to get into the REAL DEAL Buddhism, the crazy sensory-depravation-meditate-your-ass-off Buddhism.  It was hard to find though.  I looked everywhere.  It was like diving headfirst into a pool with no water. 
I did everything that the books told me to do.  I tried to meditate, forcing my legs into that be-all, end-all posture of meditation, known provocatively as lotus position.  I did prostrations, mandala offerings, pujas, mantras, and chanting.  I took whatever money I made as a fry cook and spent it on cool Buddhist stuff, though thankfully, stopped short of buying a Tibetan prayer wheel.  (What the hell is really the point of those, anyway?)  I found a teacher, shaved my head, and stopped eating meat.  I slept outside overnight on the pavement to get tickets to meet the Dalai Lama.  I was getting close.  

Eventually, I enrolled myself in grad school to study Tibetan at the University of Virginia.  I was right on track to become the most hardcore mutha-fuckin’ Buddhist on the block.  But it all came crashing down - fast.  The disillusionment was epic.  Suddenly, I saw myself standing there surrounded by all these people that I couldn’t stand.  I didn’t want to be like them.  None of the shit I was doing had anything whatsoever to do with Buddhism... or what Buddhism is supposed to be.  

So, I just walked away.  I dropped out of UVa, threw out all of the Buddhist shit I had accumulated on my “altar,” got rid of over 200 books on Buddhism, and came back down to earth.  Now I’m here finally disciplining myself to sit down and write on this blog.  

I’ve got some stuff to say that I think and hope will be of use to some of you out there.  But I have to warn you, a lot of what I have to say is gonna sound like I’m ANTI-Buddhism.  In a way... I am.  But only because I believe that the thing we in America label as Buddhism is really nothing more than a shrink-wrapped, pre-packaged, mind-fuck that’s been engineered to maximize consumer interest.  

$125 - Double Sided Buddha Room Divider - For when you want have sex in your college dorm room, but don’t want to bother your room mate!  

The goal of this blog is to debunk Buddhism as a religion and an American cultural phenomenon.  In the process, I hope to strip what was once a simple set of teachings from the accoutrements that have come to complicate them.  
Buddhism is nothing more than a fancy mirror.  The whole point of a mirror is in its power to reflect, right?  
Next post:  Buddhism was never meant to be cool.   

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Don’t Forget, “Buddhism” is Just a Tool

Want an insider’s view on Buddhism?  Here are some secrets.  Don’t tell anyone I told you.  
Stop wasting your money.  There’s no way in hell that a two-thousand-dollar-gold-plated-Buddha- statue, handmade buy some guy in India, is gonna bring you any closer to “enlightenment.”  As a matter of fact, stop even thinking about the word “enlightenment.”  It’s distracting.  
You don’t need to learn a foreign language to meditate... not even Tibetan. 
It doesn’t matter if you’re vegetarian or not.  
Take those damn prayer beads off your wrist.  They’re not jewelry.  
You don’t need to take any “vows.”  
You can still get angry, have sex, and drink beer.  (Maybe just not in that order, per say.)
“Yoga” has nothing to do with it. 
Forget about Tantra.  Really.   
You don’t need “Buddhism” at all.  “Buddha” is not the goal.  The Buddha is just a tool.  
YOU are the goal.  It’s all about YOU.  
Whoa, wait a second!  I know you’re asking yourself, “Did he just say YOU?”  
Aren’t we as good little Buddhists, supposed to know, understand and accept the fact that there really is no “YOU.”  There’s no “ME” either, right?  
Well then who the hell is sitting here writing this?  I AM.  That’s who.  
Philosophically, we “Buddhists” understand that there really is no “YOU,” “ME,” or “I,” but try telling that to yourself when you’re sitting in bumper to bumper traffic on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and you’re late for work.  Try telling yourself there’s no “I” during sex.  Hard, right?  
I was gonna start this whole blog thing with a long introduction on how I was first attracted to Buddhism, but the more I sat here thinking about it, the more I realized how that would be pointless.  Buddhism has nothing to do with it.  We don’t sit around meditating because we want to learn more about some religion called “Buddhism.”  We do it because we want to understand the mind.  We want to know how it works.  We want to explore it and learn how to use it in becoming more aware of life before we die.  
Remember, “suffering” is relative.  Buddhism is just a coping mechanism.  
Existence is easy to philosophize when you’re sitting on a pillow in a quiet monastery somewhere in Nepal.  It’s much harder to understand the concepts like “emptiness” or “compassion” when you’re a regular working class bum trying to make a living and be happy.  
I’m here tonight, writing this blog because I think I have a voice that needs to be heard. I represent the all those underrepresented “kinda-Buddhists” out there who have no interest in drastically changing their personalities and adopting what so far has been a culturally Asian religion.  
One of my main goals for this blog is to demystify the abstract concept called “Buddhism;” to bring it down from the clouds and make it available to use as a tool to help understand the mind.  We need to Americanize Buddhism simply so we can ingest it, digest it and leave it behind us to go on living our lives.  
This blog is just as much an exercise for myself to organize my thoughts and come to terms with where I fit in on the “Buddhist” spectrum as it is a forum for me to express my ideas and opinions to an audience.  I’m going to go a bit deeper about who I am in my next post, but for now, here is some information about me:
I’m a 29-year-old American guy.  I’ve had many occupations but currently, I’m a middle school English teacher in New York City.  I’ve been involved with Buddhism for about fifteen years now.  I studied both academically at a major university well known for its program in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism and as well as with several monastic teachers.  I’ve taught some small courses on Buddhism and meditation in formal and informal settings.  I feel disillusioned by the current state of Buddhism in America.  I think the time is ripe for change.  
In my next post, I plan to elaborate on my “disillusionment.” 

Monday, April 12, 2010

First Post

I've been putting this off for way too long.  I've got something to say.  Stay tuned...