Buddhadécor

Since our daughter was born, on vacations, my wife and I have gravitated away from hotels and into vacation rentals — VRBO, the problematic AirBnB — which, when traveling with a small child, are just easier.

We just returned from such a trip; a couple mornings ago, over breakfast and coffee, and I noticed an empty green bottle sitting on the shelf of one of the dining room’s built-in cabinets. Upon closer inspection, aha, Buddha Beer. I’ve seen Buddha Buddha on the Internet, listed among many other dharmaburgers on the old Worst Horse Site, for example. Never seen it in the wild.

Thinking more over coffee, I remarked to my wife that in all the vacation rentals we’ve stayed in over the past several years, I’m fairly certain that almost all of them have had some sort of Buddha-inspired home décor element: a throw pillow with a fake Buddha quote; an anachronistic Buddha-head sculpture on the mantle; Tibetan prayer flags. It’s a small sample size, but it speaks to the ubiquity of Buddhism-as-home-decoration that wherever we go, there he is.

My wife further speculated that it speaks to the taken-for-grantedness of Buddhism as relaxing. These houses are vacation homes, after all, places you go to get away from everything, to be restful and calm, and so, of course, Buddhism stands in for a peaceful serenity not found at home.

Like I said, it’s a small sample size. But it is interesting to reflect on how this particular home decorating trend manifests in this particular subset of “home” — home-away-from-home, where you can bliss out under the watchful gaze of a happy drunken Buddha.

The book

coverI sent off the final page proofs of my forthcoming book to the publisher earlier this month. I assume that means it’s all said and done, that’s all she wrote, whatever mistakes were made and not caught will just go to press, and I’ll have to live to this thing for the rest of my life (or, buddha willing, I get the chance to write a second edition). In honor of that, here are some reflections on the book. Continue reading “The book”

On tattoos and whiteness

Seeing my name in (digital) print, I can’t help but to comment a bit further on this piece published by Tricycle on Buddhist tattoos. I’m not going to comment too much on the meat of the issue, but I did want to comment a bit on what I was trying to do when I spoke with Mr. Hay a couple months back.

Fundamentally, I wanted to complicate the idea of “Western.” This has increasingly become the name of choice among people who practice or study Buddhism in Western cultural contexts, and I’m concerned about the lack of sustained critical reflection that has been given to this term. (If I’m wrong about that — I try, but can’t possibly, read everything — if someone has written a recent scholarly or popular article examining taxonomy, examining what to call this thing we’re all so invested in, please let me know in the comments. And I’ll get to RKP’s piece in a minute.) To my mind, the term “Western” is simply too broad to have much value. What are its limits? Where are its boundaries? Who is included in this category and who isn’t? On what criteria?

Continue reading “On tattoos and whiteness”

On oxymorons, briefly

The author of a review over at Trike of the Steve Jobs movie used the following phrase:

These days, Buddha branding of all sorts of things has created the oxymoron of a Buddhist consumerism.

I have nothing to say about this review nor the movie since, I’ll be honest, I didn’t read the whole review and I haven’t seen the movie. I do have something to say, briefly, about the “oxymoron” of Buddhist consumerism and what it reveals about unexamined and unquestioned biases and implicit theologies.

Somewhere along the way, folks began to advance and then uncritically accept the notion that because there are strains of Buddhism that teach the value of non-attachment that it logically follows that Buddhists should not be attached to wealth, that they should not engage in the endless buying of things. To say that “Buddhist consumerism” is an oxymoron is to imply that Buddhists cannot or should not be consumers. There is a not-too-subtle value judgment there that if you’re a Buddhist (or perhaps just a “good Buddhist”) you are not also a consumer. And, if you are consumer, then, at best, you shouldn’t be attached to your stuff or, at worst, you should feel bad about it.

Continue reading “On oxymorons, briefly”

The stories we tell

From America’s most trusted news network: Study Finds Every Style Of Parenting Produces Disturbed, Miserable Adults.

Our daughter turned four last year. Hands down, the past four years have been some of the most joyous, profound, fun, exhausting, and frustrating years of my life. I feel like I must look like those before and after pictures of the President: oh, look how youthful and bright-eyed I am in this picture from 2010. Look how much grey in my beard now. And my knees. My god how my knees ache. When did I get this old?

And whereas the exhausting frustration of parenting comes surly from arguing with the irrational mode swings of this tiny human my wife and I created, exhausting frustration also comes from a genre of literate I like to call “You’re Doing It Wrong.”

Continue reading “The stories we tell”

Not everyone must be Buddhist

I was just going to tweet the following sentiment. But then it became a short rant. It may not be long enough for a bona fide blog post. But I can’t think of where else to get this off my chest. More substantive posts are forthcoming. I promise.

I cannot tell you how sad it makes me that any time anyone dies, a certain Buddhist magazine tries to connect them to Buddhism, however tenuously. It is not just the opportunistic attempt to generate hits that bothers me (but it does). It’s the sense that for this person’s life to have meaning, they must have some connection to Buddhism. If nothing else, this is simply dishonest. Rather than appreciating this person — who can no longer gift us with their art, music, writing, wisdom, compassion, whatever — on their own terms for who they were, we must find some way to appreciate them because of a connection to Buddhism. The world has been populated with amazing beautiful human beings long before Buddhism was a thing and will be populated by amazing beautiful human beings long after. We need not force them into this tiny (Buddhist) box to appreciate that beauty. Be grateful for what we received from them, as it was, Buddhist or not, fully and honestly.

Dispatch from AAR

For context, it’s Monday afternoon, and I’ve found a comfortable spot to write in the Tibetan sand mandala exhibit. As such, I am surrounded by chanting and the sound of sand mandala construction, a repetitive metal scratching from their implements as the monks construct the mandala. Oh, and, of course, the occasional cell phone going off.

Continue reading “Dispatch from AAR”

Buddhist Studies at AAR

In a few days’ time, thousands of religion scholars will descend on the city of Atlanta. Consider yourself warned.

As in years past, I have compiled a list of Buddhist-y things happening at AAR. I was hopeful to be able to do that this year; however, time has gotten away from me. Which is just as well. The good folks at H-Buddhism has done the hard work for us, providing us with this list of panels with content related to the study of Buddhism.

A couple of things not on the list:

Monks from Drepung Loseling Monastery will construct a sand mandala. The opening ceremony will be Saturday morning; it’ll be deconstructed Monday evening.

The AAR has a resource for social media best practices. Even if you don’t use social media at these things, it’s good to know what the expectations are, what others might be up to.

And as much as I want to attend the Buddhism Section Saturday morning, I’m torn by an equally strong desire to check out the Religion and Science Fiction Group’s panel on the many tentacles of Cthulhu.

Sigh.There’s always a schedule conflict.

Worth Fighting For

In a previous incarnation of this blog — indeed what feels like a previous incarnation of my life — after receiving some well-deserved and pointed criticism, I wrote a post about the pitfalls of blogging while on the academic job market. I had begun blogging while still in grad school, when the only people who knew I existed were friends and family, and for many years, my blog reflected my life. I was as likely to write about my romantic life as I was to write about Buddhism as I was to complain about then-President Bush. Over time, the blog became more overtly political and less concerned with my personal life; nevertheless, I intentionally blurred boundaries between the personal and the professional, for better or worse. For worse — well, that was the cause of that pointed criticism I received, and it caused me to consider the professional consequences of this particular type of public speaking.

This was in 2009. A lot has changed since then. Continue reading “Worth Fighting For”