Public Relations for Buddhist Masters?

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Public Relations for Buddhist Masters?

Postby Jikan » Fri Feb 01, 2013 10:53 pm

I noticed this fall that when Drukchen Rinpoche (a teacher I respect and admire) paid a visit to New York, he hired a PR firm to organize the visit (which may explain how the Reuters news agency wound up helping with publicity)

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/ ... RN20120921

A United Nations Award-winning humanitarian, the Gyalwang Drukpa is committed to using Buddhist practices to help people who feel lost or uncertain. Based on ancient Buddhist teaching, but framed to be useful in today's world, he has written a book titled Everyday Enlightenment. It teaches readers that change is inevitable, that slowing down is the key to seeing clearly, and the importance of enjoying life's journey.

Please contact Matt Rich at 212.404.4444 or Matt@PlanetPR.com for official schedule, interviews or photo ops with The Drukpa while he is here.


This is quite skilful on Mr Rich's part: the book is promoted, the visit is promoted, all in a news release that was picked up on the cables. I hope it brought people to the event.

That said, this is the first I've heard of a Buddhist master using professional PR people to spread the word and manage the image. I'm sure it exists elsewhere. Is anyone familiar with this phenomenon, if it is one? Any insights on how it may work, how it may be beneficial or harmful or...?

(usually it's local practitioners and sangha members who do the legwork in organizing an event and publicizing it, from what I've seen...)
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Re: Public Relations for Buddhist Masters?

Postby Jikan » Sat Feb 09, 2013 10:40 pm

bump. Any takers?
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Re: Public Relations for Buddhist Masters?

Postby JKhedrup » Sun Feb 10, 2013 12:23 am

It is a really tough call. In the case of Drukchen Rinpoche, if it helps him take care of his fantastic efforts to preserve Buddhism in Ladakh and elevate the educational opportunities for nuns, then I can understand.

However, there are other cases where I am more suspect- seemingly because all the money goes to fund bells and whistles aimed at making the organization sexier rather than large scale worthwhile projects aimed at Buddhist preservation and social work.
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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Re: Public Relations for Buddhist Masters?

Postby tobes » Sun Feb 10, 2013 3:29 am

I find it very problematic. Of course promotion needs to be skillful, and having organised the odd teaching here or there, I know that there is nothing worse than empty seats facing a great teacher.

But I think this is perhaps the root problem with Tibetan Buddhism in the west: there is a lot of ritz and dazzle to put in glossy flyers, a lot of high empowerments to offer (at high prices), a lot to seduce and attract; a lot of glamour. It is PR manna.

I think the humble (but precious) dharma can easily get lost in all of this.

When a famous high lama tours and all the flyers show rotting corpses and print in large bold at the top: duḥkha! A four day teaching...... perhaps I will change my tune.

But do we ever see that? Will that sell? Would anyone come? If not, why not?

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Re: Public Relations for Buddhist Masters?

Postby Huifeng » Sun Feb 10, 2013 10:22 am

In Asia, I'd imagine that many Buddhist Masters would attract Buddhist / Buddhist sympathic professional PR firms / groups who would do it pro bono. Or, very large Buddhist organizations would have their own or associated PR outlets.

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Re: Public Relations for Buddhist Masters?

Postby JKhedrup » Sun Feb 10, 2013 10:23 am

In short, no a lot of people would not come.

The other day I translated for Geshe la during a teaching he gave on the four noble truths, which of course deals with suffering. We had 7 people. When Geshe la gives an initiation, we can have up to 60.

The more uncomfortable aspects of dharma are hard to "market". How do make a teaching on death and impermanence sexy?

As for your question about the poster with corpses, if it was a Chod teaching you might get a lot of people :tongue:
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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Re: Public Relations for Buddhist Masters?

Postby tobes » Sun Feb 10, 2013 11:40 pm

JKhedrup wrote:In short, no a lot of people would not come.

The other day I translated for Geshe la during a teaching he gave on the four noble truths, which of course deals with suffering. We had 7 people. When Geshe la gives an initiation, we can have up to 60.

The more uncomfortable aspects of dharma are hard to "market". How do make a teaching on death and impermanence sexy?

As for your question about the poster with corpses, if it was a Chod teaching you might get a lot of people :tongue:


This tells us something very significant right?

The question is, how problematic is it?

I think: very problematic. Let's be honest - institutions, centres and teachers want big numbers because they need funding. "Practitioners" - and I use the term tentatively - want empowerments because they are tangible, there is something 'spiritual' and precious to get hold of. Neither of these necessarily bad....

But that conjunction is a problem. It's hard to say precisely why though. I'd be interested to hear what others think...

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Re: Public Relations for Buddhist Masters?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Feb 11, 2013 4:13 am

tobes wrote:I think: very problematic. Let's be honest - institutions, centres and teachers want big numbers because they need funding. "Practitioners" - and I use the term tentatively - want empowerments because they are tangible, there is something 'spiritual' and precious to get hold of. Neither of these necessarily bad....

But that conjunction is a problem. It's hard to say precisely why though. I'd be interested to hear what others think...

:anjali:


It is mutually beneficial.

On one hand, an organization wants and needs membership in part to sustain itself, and provides something difficult to get elsewhere. The practitioner wants the initiation and maybe will pay for it.

So, in that sense, it becomes something akin to a business transaction. Commodification in other words.

The organization might think that it is for the benefit of all beings whom we want to see achieve unexcelled perfect enlightenment, but please charge them a certain fee otherwise we can't operate.

Mundane concerns about money and paying the bills kind of erases whatever sacrosanct and sublime value the program might have had.

Sadly, there might not be an alternative unless qualified teachers live locally. If you need to bring them over from Asia along with their staff and so on, then inevitably there will be huge costs.
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Re: Public Relations for Buddhist Masters?

Postby tobes » Mon Feb 11, 2013 4:46 am

Of course I wouldn't want to deny the importance of logistics, costs, supply side matters - we can't just pretend we're in a pure land where these things don't occur.

You're right that it's 'mutually beneficial' - but we have to wonder how it has come to pass that the remote and esoteric traditions of Buddhist tantra have become the perfect expression of the logic of Adam Smith?

Maybe this tells us what the problem really is: if a teacher offers a teaching on duḥkha supply will not meet demand. This means: the content of what is taught is dictated by the economic problem of what is viable or not viable.

It seems scandalous to state it in such a way, but does that make it any less true?

If what is taught is only what is economically desirable - then isn't the dharma being reduced to units of quantity on a demand curve?

It's still dharma, just as the mudcake you buy at a cafe is still mudcake. But maybe the point is that you end up with a lot of fat cake eaters, who only want the sweetest thing on the menu.

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Re: Public Relations for Buddhist Masters?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Feb 11, 2013 5:33 am

tobes wrote:Of course I wouldn't want to deny the importance of logistics, costs, supply side matters - we can't just pretend we're in a pure land where these things don't occur.


On the other hand, if qualified teachers lived locally, it wouldn't be such an issue. Perhaps no more than arranging space and picking the teacher up.

To do that, however, would require investing a lot of resources into locals, and not PR firms and single teachers of note plus their staff (but then perhaps spiritual consumers want the latter).

Eminent teachers might get a lot of funding, but why not spend some of that money on raising local teachers who will be equally qualified?

I've discussed this with others before and it sometimes seems, at least in Tibetan Buddhism, there isn't any serious interest in investing money in training qualified Lamas in the west. They don't really need to anyway if people are willing to pay large sums of money bringing over the big names from Asia. Moreover, there are plenty of Khenpos and Geshes in India and Nepal already trained, young and healthy who would be willing to emigrate, though they might not know sufficient English to really teach.

Let's be honest -- if you pay money to see a highly advertised Asian teacher and get an initiation from them, it is something of a thrilling experience. Religious theatre coupled with a precious empowerment for your spiritual career.


You're right that it's 'mutually beneficial' - but we have to wonder how it has come to pass that the remote and esoteric traditions of Buddhist tantra have become the perfect expression of the logic of Adam Smith?



Religion is good business, especially in capitalist societies where everything can be a commodity.


If what is taught is only what is economically desirable - then isn't the dharma being reduced to units of quantity on a demand curve?


I think so. This is incidentally related to publishing as well. Plenty of worthwhile texts don't get much attention with limited print runs, while a lot of the questionable works available for sale at bookshops presumably sell very well.

Unfortunately, as a Buddhist tradition becomes subject to commodification it loses sight of its core principles, and instead its development and services become directed by the afflictions of the masses. One can easily justify reforms in that direction by calling it expedient means. I don't really sense a widespread awareness of this phenomenon, perhaps because it feels so natural and matter of fact in the modern day.
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Re: Public Relations for Buddhist Masters?

Postby dorjeshonnu » Tue Feb 26, 2013 6:13 am

tobes wrote:we have to wonder how it has come to pass that the remote and esoteric traditions of Buddhist tantra have become the perfect expression of the logic of Adam Smith?
buddha-dharma has repeatedly flourished under the patronage of elites

in this time merchants are the elites setting the broader agenda
support from academic elites has been consistent over decades
support from political elites is slowly growing as well

religious and cultural elites who might object have been effectively quieted by democratic and demographic restructuring, and an inclusive, diplomatic approach
military elites do not consider the matter relevant, and the critical intelligence subset overlaps with other supportive elites

Maybe this tells us what the problem really is: if a teacher offers a teaching on duḥkha supply will not meet demand. This means: the content of what is taught is dictated by the economic problem of what is viable or not viable. It seems scandalous to state it in such a way, but does that make it any less true? If what is taught is only what is economically desirable - then isn't the dharma being reduced to units of quantity on a demand curve?
it is entirely traditional for the selection of presentations of secret mantrayana teachings to rely on supplication by and specific requests from an aspiring student

this is not some new phenomenon of relationship between teachers and students

what is new is that the teacher will travel to meet with the students and then leave
what is new is that for the price of a group meal at a restaurant or less, one can obtain most potent empowerments

many models of delivery have been and are being tested by teachers

It's still dharma, just as the mudcake you buy at a cafe is still mudcake. But maybe the point is that you end up with a lot of fat cake eaters, who only want the sweetest thing on the menu.
secret mantrayana is designed by and for those suited to its views and methods by capacity
those suited by capacity have a greater need for ripening empowerments than for reiteration of the details of suffering

perhaps the underlying qualm is that those receiving empowerments are not suited to receive them -
not only is that qualm an entirely different topic, it is also a matter of samaya between such a student and such a teacher
not really the business of any other person, unless there is some exploitation attributed to the relationship
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Re: Public Relations for Buddhist Masters?

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Feb 26, 2013 10:09 am

I see your point but the tone of triumphalism will not make people receptive to it, in my view.
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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Re: Public Relations for Buddhist Masters?

Postby Yudron » Tue Feb 26, 2013 4:56 pm

Jikan wrote:I noticed this fall that when Drukchen Rinpoche (a teacher I respect and admire) paid a visit to New York, he hired a PR firm to organize the visit (which may explain how the Reuters news agency wound up helping with publicity)

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/ ... RN20120921

A United Nations Award-winning humanitarian, the Gyalwang Drukpa is committed to using Buddhist practices to help people who feel lost or uncertain. Based on ancient Buddhist teaching, but framed to be useful in today's world, he has written a book titled Everyday Enlightenment. It teaches readers that change is inevitable, that slowing down is the key to seeing clearly, and the importance of enjoying life's journey.

Please contact Matt Rich at 212.404.4444 or Matt@PlanetPR.com for official schedule, interviews or photo ops with The Drukpa while he is here.


This is quite skilful on Mr Rich's part: the book is promoted, the visit is promoted, all in a news release that was picked up on the cables. I hope it brought people to the event.

That said, this is the first I've heard of a Buddhist master using professional PR people to spread the word and manage the image. I'm sure it exists elsewhere. Is anyone familiar with this phenomenon, if it is one? Any insights on how it may work, how it may be beneficial or harmful or...?

(usually it's local practitioners and sangha members who do the legwork in organizing an event and publicizing it, from what I've seen...)


You may have inside info about Drukchen Rinpoche, but as someone looking at the link provided, I can't tell whether or not Mr. Rich was hired or volunteered his work, or whether it was Rinpoche or someone from New York who was working with the firm.

As a Dharma event organizer (hopefully semi-retired) I would say that we are always doing PR for Dharma events. The process of organizing any event at all--even local lama--means letting folks who might be interested know about it.

On the other hand, I personally--at this stage of life--find big glitsy ads in Tricycle for specific lamas a turn off. However, when I was starting out in Buddhism they might have been a turn on--so what can you do?
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Re: Public Relations for Buddhist Masters?

Postby Jikan » Tue Feb 26, 2013 6:17 pm

That's an important point, Yudron: I'd assumed Mr Rich had been hired and had not volunteered. I don't know one way or the other. I regret making that error.
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