02 November 2011

No Comprendo Business, or Zen, Inc.

I heard a great story this morning.  A dharma brother was telling me about this guy he knew who really got into all the Buddhist stuff, like fine robes, malas, oryoki sets, etc.  Couldn't make it past a day in sesshin, but he had a complete stock of Zen this and Zen that.  My dharma brother told me this guy had read Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism and liked it so much he went out and bought the boxed set of Trungpa's complete works!  Cracked up on the Purple Line for five minutes over that one.

A casual practitioner might be forgiven the tendency to want to shop his or her way to practice.  To anyone born in the last seventy-five years in the US, the sure sign of taking something "seriously" is to go out and buy all the paraphernalia associated with it.  Taking up yoga?  Better get your mat, outfit, supports, DVDs, lessons and subscription to Yoga Journal.  Going to start a running program?  Get the shoes (of course), but don't forget the special shorts and singlets, books and socks, pacing meters and heart rate monitors, not to mention the subscription to Runner's World.  Why should it be different with Zen?

What gets me most, though, are all the lineage heads, noted teachers, senseis and roshis of one kind or another hawking their books, their goods and their services on their sangha's website, their personal blogs, and the rest.  I'm given to understand there's a Zen(ish) joint in the area that was forced to relocate to commercially zoned property because all the business it was conducting had effectively meant it was in reality no longer a 501(c)3.  How much longer before other places and teachers have to face that kind of music?  Shouldn't we be helping to cure the disease rather than adding to its causes?

If adapting the Dharma to modern conditions translates into marketing commodities, I think we will be missing the point.

But what do I know?  I just don't understand.

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