This is not a call to arms.
Hat tip to Richard Payne for alerting me to a post (now nearly two months old) by Glenn Wallis regarding the Mindfulness Living Week and the “tipping point” of American Buddhism. You should read Wallis’ piece while listening to Childish Gambino’s “This is America.” As Payne reminds us, the Mindfulness Industry has been subsumed under the dominant capitalist struct of America because — why wouldn’t it be? Capitalism is so pervasive, is so deeply ingrained in the very fiber and being of American history and culture (America would not exist if it wasn’t for capitalism), that scarcely anything can escape its black-hole-like pull.
But I don’t want to talk abut mindfulness or capitalism. I want to shine the light elsewhere. And to do so, I’m going to be slightly critical of Wallis’ post on two points. First, audience and agents; and, second, nomenclature.
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.
A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to participate in the Mindfulness and Compassion conference at San Francisco State University. (Round-ups can be found here and here.) I’ve been meaning to write something about the experience, but nothing has gelled.
It seems to me that the advice of the Buddha was not to change how you think about things so that you’re happy and content with them as they are, but rather to see things as they are.
That might be the most important thing you read all week. Really read it. Really let it sink in. Sit with it, for god’s sake.
It’s from this excellent post by Richard Payne, a reflection on the ongoing reflections about mindfulness in non-Buddhist contexts, in this case, education. There are a host of companies the world over now who are advocating for mindfulness in education (I am patiently waiting for someone to raise the Lemon test, but I’m not holding my breath). Without getting into the details of that whole discourse and debate, I think this one sentence sums up my frustration with Buddhist platitudes more generally. Never-ending not-really-Buddha quotes meme-ified across the web constantly make reference to how the world is an illusion, suffering is a matter of how you look at things, “there is no spoon,” etc., all of which, it seems to me, misses this most basic of points.
I am very late to the non-Buddhism/x-Buddhism party, let alone the post that inspires what I’m about to say. So the following isn’t mean to comment on, one way or the other, that ongoing discourse. Something written on the Speculative Non-Buddhism Blog that I happened to read over this past weekend triggered some other memory in my brain, and I felt compelled to write about it. So here goes.
Back in May 2013, Glenn Wallis listed pieces of advice they’d received regarding the non-Buddhism project, a subtext of which was the advice that they should “do something productive.” I’m paraphrasing here, mostly points #1 and #4 of that piece that call on the non-Buddhists to be “substantive” and “address alternatives.” This sort of reaction to criticism, this advice that one should “do something,” is one I’ve seen in other contexts, and it’s one that always gives me pause.