Branding and Buddhist Institutions

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Branding and Buddhist Institutions

Postby Jikan » Tue Dec 20, 2011 6:42 pm

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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Re: Branding and Buddhist Institutions

Postby Dechen Norbu » Tue Dec 20, 2011 7:48 pm

Interesting... but weren't things already a bit like that for a long time? Are you sure you aren't just superimposing a new title to an old human tendency? People always tended to identify themselves with characteristic groups which are often represented by with symbols that may or may not me words, like a name or a drawing. Brands just explored that trait, one we all have, even if it is not liking to be associated with brands. :lol:

So you have Buddhists that identify themselves with this or that school, this or that teacher and sangha or none at all. I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing. We all have different inclinations and if labels help us navigate among the myriad of institutions available so that we find a good fit where we can develop our practice with less obstacles, that can be a good thing, no?

The only problem is the consumerist attitude, not brands themselves, I think. Unless those brands were developed with the purpose of misleading the seeker. And you know, sometimes those who pick from this Buddhist "brand" here, that Buddhist "brand" there plus the other Buddhist "brand" anywhere, are those more prone to lead their journey influenced by a consumerist attitude, just picking what they like and leaving the rest, never committing or challenging themselves to the point of having to plunge beneath the surface of a particular "brand" of Buddhism and discovering that perhaps by following only one, they achieve all. Just an idea.
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Re: Branding and Buddhist Institutions

Postby Malcolm » Tue Dec 20, 2011 8:00 pm

Jikan wrote: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.

[/quote]


Nothing has changed. Commodity logic has always driven human activities, all of them.

The struggle between the terma tradition and the important new translation schools is an instance of consumer appeal.

N
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Re: Branding and Buddhist Institutions

Postby Sherab Dorje » Tue Dec 20, 2011 8:26 pm

Namdrol wrote:Nothing has changed. Commodity logic has always driven human activities, all of them.
I disagree, there were, and are, countless and constant instances of non "commodity logic" based societies (and individual actions) throughout human history.
:namaste:
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Re: Branding and Buddhist Institutions

Postby Malcolm » Tue Dec 20, 2011 8:47 pm

gregkavarnos wrote:
Namdrol wrote:Nothing has changed. Commodity logic has always driven human activities, all of them.
I disagree, there were, and are, countless and constant instances of non "commodity logic" based societies (and individual actions) throughout human history.
:namaste:



Let me rephrase, in societies with markets (most agricultural societies, the only ones Buddhism has evolved in), commodity logic has driven most human activities.

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http://atikosha.org
འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔

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he is said to be a ṛṣī; the others are the opposite of him."

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Re: Branding and Buddhist Institutions

Postby Dave The Seeker » Tue Dec 20, 2011 11:58 pm

Dechen Norbu wrote:I
The only problem is the consumerist attitude, not brands themselves, I think. Unless those brands were developed with the purpose of misleading the seeker.


What!?!?!?!!? they're misleading me :lol:

No, seriously I do agree that in most societies, the consumerist attitude does help any one company, belief system or radical gain a foot hold to it's population.


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Re: Branding and Buddhist Institutions

Postby Dechen Norbu » Wed Dec 21, 2011 2:51 am

:lol:
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Re: Branding and Buddhist Institutions

Postby kirtu » Wed Dec 21, 2011 4:58 am

gregkavarnos wrote:
Namdrol wrote:Nothing has changed. Commodity logic has always driven human activities, all of them.
I disagree, there were, and are, countless and constant instances of non "commodity logic" based societies (and individual actions) throughout human history.
:namaste:


For example ... ?

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Re: Branding and Buddhist Institutions

Postby tobes » Wed Dec 21, 2011 7:00 am

Interesting argument Jikan, I like the way you think.

I think that perhaps you overstate the case just a little - what's clearly happening is that Buddhism per se is representing itself in market terms - as all things in this age **must** do. There has always been a political economy to Buddhist institutions, but the specificities of today's political economy is very distinct, and it includes all the features you speak of.

Publishers want to move books. Centres want to flourish. Academics want successful careers: all of this entails the commodification of Buddhist knowledge, ideas, practice. And no doubt, a certain kind of marketeers gloss; I think this is most clear is the way that Buddhism is aesthetically packaged, and imbued with exotic, orientalist symbolism.

So I agree that there is a sense in which 'Buddhists' or potential Buddhists relate to Buddhism in a consumerist way.

However, I don't think this is the only kind of relationship at play. At some point or another, most folk really think on it. And once there is genuine reflection taking place, we cannot say that the relationship resembles that of a consumerist one.....even if, perhaps it begins in that way.

Maybe you're arguing that commodification is so entrenched, that consumer ideology is basically all pervasive - but I think that is too overdetermined. There is still a lot of agency in these times, and critical thought etc.

Although I have to say, that December pretty much makes me a very grumpy Frankfurt school merchant.

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Re: Branding and Buddhist Institutions

Postby Sherab Dorje » Wed Dec 21, 2011 9:15 am

kirtu wrote:For example ... ?
On a social level: Australian Aboriginal societies. Many American Indian societies have no concept of ownership and thus no commodity relationships.

On the individual level: any instance of non-discriminating loving kindness.
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Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
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Re: Branding and Buddhist Institutions

Postby catmoon » Wed Dec 21, 2011 9:36 am

On the other hand, I can put you onto a source of digital Zen alarm clocks. They come in walnut, bamboo, gold or silver trim and your choice of B or E tone. Like a good Zen teacher, the longer you ignore them the more irritating they become. Also functions as a meditation timer, yoga timer, heck I guess you could time your perogies with one!

I really don't know whether to laugh, cry or cheer when I see the ads complete with fit, lithe yoginis tying themselves in knots....
Sergeant Schultz knew everything there was to know.
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Re: Branding and Buddhist Institutions

Postby Paul » Wed Dec 21, 2011 11:46 am

catmoon wrote:On the other hand, I can put you onto a source of digital Zen alarm clocks. They come in walnut, bamboo, gold or silver trim and your choice of B or E tone. Like a good Zen teacher, the longer you ignore them the more irritating they become. Also functions as a meditation timer, yoga timer, heck I guess you could time your perogies with one!

I really don't know whether to laugh, cry or cheer when I see the ads complete with fit, lithe yoginis tying themselves in knots....


I had to google that and it's pretty funny.

A proper Zen alarm clock would just be an empty box.

How long will we have to wait until we get "Dzogchen" products?
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Re: Branding and Buddhist Institutions

Postby Sherab Dorje » Wed Dec 21, 2011 11:56 am

You don't have to wait. What you reckon all the books, practice manuals, icons, seminars, etc... are if not products?

Cash for product = commodity relationship.
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Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
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Re: Branding and Buddhist Institutions

Postby kirtu » Wed Dec 21, 2011 1:26 pm

gregkavarnos wrote:
kirtu wrote:For example ... ?
On a social level: Australian Aboriginal societies. Many American Indian societies have no concept of ownership and thus no commodity relationships.


I knew that those two would form examples. Do you have any examples from Buddhist history? Do you have any examples from other societies other than some Native/Aboriginal People's?

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“All beings are Buddhas, but obscured by incidental stains. When those have been removed, there is Buddhahood.”
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Re: Branding and Buddhist Institutions

Postby kirtu » Wed Dec 21, 2011 1:29 pm

Paul wrote:A proper Zen alarm clock would just be an empty box.


An empty box can't tell time.

A better proper Zen alarm clock is just a piece of incense or sun/moonlight.

Kirt
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“All beings are Buddhas, but obscured by incidental stains. When those have been removed, there is Buddhahood.”
Hevajra Tantra
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Re: Branding and Buddhist Institutions

Postby Sherab Dorje » Wed Dec 21, 2011 1:44 pm

kirtu wrote:I knew that those two would form examples.
So why did you ask?
Do you have any examples from Buddhist history?
I think you may find that the Buddha did not expect anything in return for his teachings. They were not offered as commodities to be purchased.
Do you have any examples from other societies other than some Native/Aboriginal People's?
LETS programs. Mutual Aid economic systems in Chiapas. Most exchanges within extended familial networks. Vipassana programs, etc... And, by the way, why should I give other examples outside of Native/Aboriginal People's, are they not valid examples?
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
Naropa - Summary of the View from The Eight Doha Treasures
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Re: Branding and Buddhist Institutions

Postby Nemo » Wed Dec 21, 2011 1:48 pm

Dabblers in Dharma are nothing new. There are century old complaints about people collecting initiations like baseball cards. Human nature is shallow. I think this is an evolutionary quality as intelligence is not particularly useful as a survival mechanism. One in 30 would probably be ideal. A tribe of thinkers would not last very long. Greeks versus Spartans anyone?

Capitalism's rapaciousness has become a revolutionary force unto to itself in our time. It seeks to commodify and exploit all things. That revolution is already over. We lost by the way. Try voting against it or even suggesting an alternative. You are an instant social pariah. Even the language of class warfare and exploitation have been newspeaked out of the common lexicon. Step one would be bringing it back. As much as the media proclaims "there is no alternative" to the present system they are lying. Saying a thing over and over does not make it true.
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Re: Branding and Buddhist Institutions

Postby kirtu » Wed Dec 21, 2011 2:37 pm

gregkavarnos wrote:
kirtu wrote:I knew that those two would form examples.
So why did you ask?
....
And, by the way, why should I give other examples outside of Native/Aboriginal People's, are they not valid examples?


Extraordinary claims require evidence. Thankfully history can provide such evidence even if it needs to be interpreted.

Namdrol claimed "...in societies with markets (most agricultural societies, the only ones Buddhism has evolved in), commodity logic has driven most human activities." pulling back somewhat from a more general claim.

You claim evidence to the contrary and that the evidence is countless (I would assume that you mean there are many examples).

Many things can be claimed of Native/Aboriginal People's, some true and some untrue but in general they form a pre-mid-level agricultural level of human organization (this may not exactly be true though: in North America there were extensive trade networks east of the Mississippi and there were various confederations such as the Delaware and the Iroquois). I don't know about the structure, if any, of the Aboriginal people's in Australia or their related people's on the Indian subcontinent and Andaman Islands.

Namdrol's claim is essentially that once markets begin (so at a minimum, people exchanging things that they consider valuable) commodity logic develops.

In this argument he does not address successful constructed societies (perhaps because there have been so few of them and they form unique instances) like Shakyamuni's sangha during his lifetime or Changchub Dorje's commune or the Taze Community (presumably).

But societies that come about from social evolution after a point form markets. In those societies are there counterexamples to commodity logic driven interaction? Are there significant counterexamples in industrialized societies? One counterexample, even if they are a kind of constructed community, are the Amish and Old Mennonite although they necessarily also have some degree of use of commodities (they just don't take it seriously).

Kirt
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“All beings are Buddhas, but obscured by incidental stains. When those have been removed, there is Buddhahood.”
Hevajra Tantra
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Re: Branding and Buddhist Institutions

Postby Sherab Dorje » Wed Dec 21, 2011 3:23 pm

Nemo wrote:Greeks versus Spartans anyone?
You mean Athenians or the Delian League (which was definitely not all the Hellenic states) versus Spartans? Need I add that the Dorians (Spartans) were also Greeks (Hellenes)?
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Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
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Re: Branding and Buddhist Institutions

Postby Sherab Dorje » Wed Dec 21, 2011 3:27 pm

This statement:
kirtu wrote:...but in general they form a pre-mid-level agricultural level of human organization (this may not exactly be true though: in North America there were extensive trade networks east of the Mississippi and there were various confederations such as the Delaware and the Iroquois). I don't know about the structure, if any, of the Aboriginal people's in Australia or their related people's on the Indian subcontinent and Andaman Islands.
And this one:
But societies that come about from social evolution after a point form markets.
Reek of linear historical determinism. I thought that, sociologically and anthropologically, we had broken with this form of Eurocentric social/historical/economic developmental models. It seems I am wrong.
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
Naropa - Summary of the View from The Eight Doha Treasures
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