The 49 Flavors of American Buddhism…

img_1936In the old days of Nikaya Buddhism, in India, before the Common Era, there were at least seventeen schools of Buddhism, chiefly Sthviravada-derived (including Theravada, Sammatiya, Sautrantika, Savarvastivada, Mulasarvastivada, etc.), and Mahasanghika-derived (Yogacara, Madhyamika, etc.), before finally settling into the three broad Theravada, Mahayana, and Tibetan-Esoteric-Vajrayana-Mantrayana ‘schools’ that we know today. Get the picture? Buddhists are not known for doctrinal agreement…

Neither is Amerika known for its agreements, especially where Buddhist knowledge and tradition is almost totally lacking, so open to much doctrinal obfuscation and outright perjury, since the Buddha is currently hipper than sh*t, and abuse is rife. So cannabis conventions, openly proffering THC and other cannabinoids as ‘medical marijuana’ can call themselves ‘Buddhafest’ with no repercussions and likely increases in ticket sales as if such is recommended by the Big Guy himself—it isn’t, and strictly prohibited, in fact…

But Buddhism in Amerika is not a total joke, mostly just a lot of dubious ‘branding’, even from those at the top of the speaking podiums: punk Buddhists, white-trash Buddhists, body-building Buddhists, biker Buddhists and especially—I hope I’m not forgetting anyone—political Buddhists, mostly of the liberal progressive persuasion, for reasons various if not obvious, and of no real consequence unless misguided Trumpsters forego the convention and conversion because they don’t feel especially welcome, so not good…

This is partly because of our recent obsession with ‘branding’ ourselves, I suppose: you know, packaging ourselves for sale to the highest bidder, neat tidy and ribbon-wrapped, filling niches and responding to surges and spikes in demand, and ultimately calling attention to ourselves, for whatever reason. Sitting in silent meditation is hardly the measure of Buddhist excellence in Amerika, for one thing, despite the fact that the ‘angry Asian Buddhist’ once lamented the fact that they were stereotyped there as superstitious and non-meditators, which is not true…

But if there were any sizable number of monks in Amerika, I doubt they’d compare sitting times, which is not infrequent at all in Asia, and with a minimum of bragging implied or intended, more a sense of accomplishment, because, after all, the life of a monk has many avenues of accomplishment, but few points of measurement. So it’s not that temples brag over how many monks they have in residence, but more likely that their lay adherents brag over such trivial details…

The monks are far more interested in how many meals a day they are allowed, no more than two—before noon—by Theravada tradition, but frequently only one, by local Thai tradition. It’s only the most accomplished monks–and nuns and laymen–who might mention that they once sat in silent unflinching meditation for five, six, seven hours straight, which is helpful to know, since, for most Westerners, one hour continuous would be pushing limits, hardly the thing for bragging, much less branding…

There’s only one problem with Buddhist ‘branding’, i.e. ‘selling American’: it’s not Buddhism at all, IMHO, in fact the farthest thing from it. After the emphasis on suffering, and the causes and release from it, the major emphasis of Buddhism is on the self—and lack thereof, i.e. anatta. This of course is a huge revelation, and of no little significance for our ego-obsessed modern cultures. ‘Branding’ ourselves only worsens this, in effect making a prison of ourselves in what is already something of a prison of life…

And yes, it gets worse, like this latest offering from the pages of Facebook, and our lives as Americans, regurgitating the very thing that makes us pathetic and offering it up as liberation, violence oozing from the pores:

F*ck that: a guided meditation”

And it doesn’t matter if the branding is self-deprecating, e.g. ‘white-trash’ Buddhism. It’s still the same thing, calling attention to the self, the ego, so still self-centered self-absorption. Of course if ‘branding’ promotes the common good of the many more than the few, then so much the better. Branding Buddhism as the ‘religion of compassion’ can only bring credit to the doctrine, and anything that promotes the real message is certainly welcome. But associating Buddhism with recreational drugs, including alcohol, is a horrible perversion, and totally untrue…

I’ve even seen it here in Thailand, Kanchanaburi, I believe: ‘Buddha Bar: Welcome to alcohol.’ That’s pretty disgusting. It’s bad enough that many sympathizers, including myself, might poke fun at meditation as ‘navel gazing’, but at least there is an element of truth to that: and it works! But to seriously suggest that an all-night ‘rave’ might be considered a ‘dharma event’ or even that ‘The Matrix’ is a ‘dharma movie’ is pretty ridiculous, especially when coming from people who really should know better…

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