This is speculative.
I assume all of us are familiar with the business-school concept of branding: one builds a brand identity that is unique to one's company as a means of organizing labor, production, sales, and consumption around something. For instance, Nike's brand identity is supposed to be about excellence and achievement. Chevrolet is a French word for a certain kind of American musk and swagger. Apple is a Zen brand: cool and abstract. You see where this is going.
I think the logic of brand identity has already impacted the way in which Buddhist items and themes are consumed. Yes, there are ways in which Buddhism is already a consumer item, even if we don't want it to be one. Go to the self-help section of any bookstore and be prepared to lose count of the references to "mindfulness." Every town has a purveyor of Himalayan kitsch. "Zen" is a design quality for dealers in home decor. &c. Buddhism is not only or exclusively a consumer item or a market niche, obviously, but some of it clearly is.
Further, I think the logic of brand identity has begun to impact the formation and organization of Buddhist institutions. You can see this in the wake of Trungpa Rinpoche's work and the different organizations that follow from it. Shambhala International is branded in a certain way that is qualitatively and discursively different from the way Dharma Ocean is branded. The distinctions are emphasized because people make decisions on the basis of difference when shopping (this one or that one). So you get these romantic shopping trips for My Heart Guru, you get sectarian meltdowns on discussion boards over claims such as "Brand X Madhyamaka is clearly superior to any other teacher's Madhyamaka, or your money back!" Some Buddhist institutions are fragmenting into specific brands oriented around particular charismatic teachers, with less emphasis on particular schools or traditions from which they emerged historically.
Not to say that you cannot learn from such organizations (I am not dismissing them or praising them), or that traditionally Buddhists did not have root gurus, or did not participate in sectarianism, but merely that the intensity and the particular qualities by which this sort of thing goes on now is conditioned by commodity-logic. By consumerism, in you like that language better. Consumerism is basically a belief system (commodity fetishism...): I put my faith in this particular item to accomplish something for me, because I believe if I eat this cheeseburger I will be happy, if I buy this car I will get laid and that will make me happy, &c. I used the example of post-Trungpa organizations because Trungpa Rinpoche was onto this decades ago. Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism
. This is from his publicly-published commentary on the Sadhana of Mahamudra
Theistic beliefs have been seeping into the Buddhist mentality, which should be nontheistic, and that has been a source of corruption and other problems... Indeed, the spiritual scene all over the world is going through that kind of corruption. The whole world is into fabricating its spiritual mommies and daddies. So the purpose of the supplication is to awaken people from such "trips."
May we all grow up and give up on our trips.
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