The Commodification of Buddhism

No holds barred discussion on the Buddhadharma. Argue about rebirth, karma, commentarial interpretations etc. Be nice to each other.

The Commodification of Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Wed Dec 26, 2012 6:07 am

I would like to propose here for discussion that Buddhism in many countries, especially in the First World (that includes the west as well as Japan and Taiwan among other countries in Asia), has become commodified to an extent. What I mean here is that a lot of Buddhist thought, activities and written works are crafted with the market in mind rather than with strictly spiritual concerns.

Getting material published is often very problematic if publishers do not anticipate a profit. This is why translations of key texts, which might seem dry as hell to many readers even though they form key texts in a given tradition, are often neglected and not readily published or reprinted in favor of more readily digestible texts for sale on the mass market. The result of this is dodgy works being published and circulated because they sell well. A writer might also have to modify their ideas for the market, otherwise they will be unable to get published.

If a religious text is tailored for the audience, in particular publishers and consumers, then religious expression becomes shaped by the author's ability to sell it as a commodity. The content is no longer really for the benefit of beings, but simply a reflection of consumer preferences. This of course is not always the case (a lot of Buddhist books are published entirely on donations without concern for profit or sales), though I am talking about Buddhist books as a commodity here.

Another issue is that wealth in the form of money is often equated with merit. The idea is that you have money because you have merit and have done many good works, and that if you should continue to do so then the money will only naturally grow. However little regard is given to the sources of that wealth. In a capitalist society wealth is generated through exploitation of workers and the environment. Hence one can easily draw a line between exploitation of the proletariat and the money enjoyed by a given Buddhist organization if the benefactors are wealthy members of a capitalist society.

In response to this we can easily defer to the Buddha who said that offerings are purified when given over to the other party, but then in his day that meant cloth and food given to homeless mendicants living out in the forest, and not vast sums of capital generated through unethical means.

Nevertheless, the common notion is that money given to a Buddhist organization is inherently a good act. This effectively renders all money pure, hence any objections concerning the source of the funds are muted. Activities directed at acquiring more wealth, whether in the form of formal fundraising or building new facilities with the intent of receiving ongoing donations, are then deemed unquestionably meritorious without concern for how such income is really generated. Once the institutional arrangements are in place it becomes a matter of securing constant income to support it, and this perhaps means having to cater to the benefactors' afflictions and warped minds rather than giving them bitter albeit effective medicine. The latter seldom immediately prompts people to be generous while the former inevitably will.
Flower Ornament Depository (Blog)
Indrajāla's Contemplations (Blog)
Exploring Classical Chinese (Blog)
Dharma Depository (Site)

"Hui gives me no assistance. There is nothing that I say in which he does not delight." -Confucius
User avatar
Indrajala
Former staff member
 
Posts: 5570
Joined: Fri Feb 12, 2010 3:19 pm
Location: India

Re: The Commodification of Buddhism

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Wed Dec 26, 2012 6:23 am

All spiritual traditions have been commodified, along with nearly everything else.

But yes, unfortunately the marketplace largely determines the direction of popular expressions of Dharma. Sucks, but there ya go.

That said, it seems like there was some unhealthy stuff regarding money already going in Buddhism - I don't think that laypeople "generating merit" by simply supporting monks (rather than actually practicing the Dharma) is a modern thing. Obviously with globalized Capitalism, spread to other cultures etc. new, and different forms of shallowness are possible heheh.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
User avatar
Johnny Dangerous
Global Moderator
 
Posts: 2162
Joined: Fri Nov 02, 2012 10:58 pm
Location: Olympia WA

Re: The Commodification of Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Wed Dec 26, 2012 8:23 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote:But yes, unfortunately the marketplace largely determines the direction of popular expressions of Dharma. Sucks, but there ya go.


Well, at least we recognize the existence of the problem.

That said, it seems like there was some unhealthy stuff regarding money already going in Buddhism - I don't think that laypeople "generating merit" by simply supporting monks (rather than actually practicing the Dharma) is a modern thing.


There is a big difference though between the wealth generated by predominately agricultural societies and that of industrial-capitalist ones.

Once you factor in the fact that money now is fiat and not reflective of actual goods and services or even precious metals, then these arbitrary tokens we call money (now largely digital and holding value only because of mutual agreement) are utterly illusory and based largely on lies, violence and tribute. The financial sector of the global economy generates vast amounts of hallucinated wealth through debt, which at the end of the day hurts working class people the most.

So, it begs the question of how ethical it is for Buddhist institutions to seek to acquire such hallucinated forms of wealth. On one hand, you need your fiat money to run your operation, but on the other hand it is really really dirty.
Flower Ornament Depository (Blog)
Indrajāla's Contemplations (Blog)
Exploring Classical Chinese (Blog)
Dharma Depository (Site)

"Hui gives me no assistance. There is nothing that I say in which he does not delight." -Confucius
User avatar
Indrajala
Former staff member
 
Posts: 5570
Joined: Fri Feb 12, 2010 3:19 pm
Location: India

Re: The Commodification of Buddhism

Postby catmoon » Wed Dec 26, 2012 11:30 am

Try looking at Buddhism as a meme. It propagates and evolves in its host, the human race. It competes against other memes, and where it fails it goes extinct. Buddhism has probably gone completely extinct several times already, replaced by modified versions of itself. What determines success in propagation is not merely whether or not it brings pleasure to the host. The real question is, does it bring advantage to its host? If it brings peace of mind. non-attachment and understanding, it will be in demand and propagate. Varieties that become highly commercialized should lose those advantages, the followers will become disenchanted and the variety should die out.

So I think Buddhism has a rough self-correction mechanism. Stray too far from the Dharma and the advantages of Dharma disappear.
Sergeant Schultz knew everything there was to know.
User avatar
catmoon
Former staff member
 
Posts: 2916
Joined: Thu Nov 19, 2009 3:20 am
Location: British Columbia

Re: The Commodification of Buddhism

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Thu Dec 27, 2012 2:32 am

Huseng wrote:
Johnny Dangerous wrote:But yes, unfortunately the marketplace largely determines the direction of popular expressions of Dharma. Sucks, but there ya go.


Well, at least we recognize the existence of the problem.

That said, it seems like there was some unhealthy stuff regarding money already going in Buddhism - I don't think that laypeople "generating merit" by simply supporting monks (rather than actually practicing the Dharma) is a modern thing.


There is a big difference though between the wealth generated by predominately agricultural societies and that of industrial-capitalist ones.

Once you factor in the fact that money now is fiat and not reflective of actual goods and services or even precious metals, then these arbitrary tokens we call money (now largely digital and holding value only because of mutual agreement) are utterly illusory and based largely on lies, violence and tribute. The financial sector of the global economy generates vast amounts of hallucinated wealth through debt, which at the end of the day hurts working class people the most.

So, it begs the question of how ethical it is for Buddhist institutions to seek to acquire such hallucinated forms of wealth. On one hand, you need your fiat money to run your operation, but on the other hand it is really really dirty.


This is true of anything though, our economy is pretty much usury-based these days lol. Best institutions can do is have some sort of limit in their own by laws whereby whatever moneys are received and used equitably, and for "real" Dharma, however that gets defined. An institution can only remove itself from Wrong Livelihood by so many degrees, at a point it is no longer possible.

Speaking of which, I have seen some Dharma organizations that I would argue don't go out of their way to modify their teachings to appeal to religion-shoppers, or to be "Dharma Lite" and yet still end up requiring big ol' donations, and spending said donations on stuff like building big, garish temples or whatever. So while in one case you could argue that it's touching wrong livelihood to accept such moneys, seems like where they go is equally important as what they come from, and certainly where they go is something which there is more direct control of.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
User avatar
Johnny Dangerous
Global Moderator
 
Posts: 2162
Joined: Fri Nov 02, 2012 10:58 pm
Location: Olympia WA

Re: The Commodification of Buddhism

Postby Nosta » Thu Dec 27, 2012 2:43 am

Huseng wrote: What I mean here is that a lot of Buddhist thought, activities and written works are crafted with the market in mind rather than with strictly spiritual concerns.


I think some very well know authors in the world are using buddhism or part of buddhist ideas in order to write "spiritual" books and win money. Thats really bad.

But i think also that buddhists used to read a wide variety of books, buddhists that have a solid base of buddhism and buddhists really seeking the way out of suffering will be not deluded by such authors.

I even think that its easy to see when you are facing garbage. When i read the writings/books of a good master there is an HUGE difference when i read garbage. Real writings from real masters have something really fresh. Sometimes i can really feel like fresh air in my mind just by reading them.
User avatar
Nosta
 
Posts: 671
Joined: Tue Apr 13, 2010 10:28 pm

Re: The Commodification of Buddhism

Postby Ukigumo » Thu Dec 27, 2012 3:05 am

I think Huseng's critique is spot on, although as Johnny Dangerous points out, this is symptomatic of every aspect of life in our modern economy. The function of global capitalism is to render everything as a commodity, including religion and spirituality.

I think a Buddhist response should be twofold; first of all I think trying to make Buddhist institutions more self sufficient and less dependent on the larger economy is essential. The ideals of a place like Antaiji may be instructive in this regard.

Secondly, I think Buddhists and lay Buddhists in particular should participate in movements that seek to create new ways of being in the world. As an example, consider this alternative currency arrangement in Greece. Elsewhere in the West there are similarly nascent local economies, although I think the Greek example is particularly instructive. The Tems system, with its limit on accumulation and its close ties to actual labor, seems to escape many of the evils Huseng identifies.

I should add, I went to a few events affiliated with the Occupy movement in the US and saw a number of Buddhist monks from several different traditions also in attendance. Probably one of the funniest things I saw was a hippie offer a young Theravadin monk a joint; the monk smiled but politely refused.
All compound phenomena are like a dream;
a phantom, a drop of dew, a flash of lightning
That is how to meditate on them
That is how to observe them
User avatar
Ukigumo
 
Posts: 27
Joined: Thu Dec 06, 2012 8:12 am

Re: The Commodification of Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Thu Dec 27, 2012 11:33 am

Ukigumo wrote:I think a Buddhist response should be twofold; first of all I think trying to make Buddhist institutions more self sufficient and less dependent on the larger economy is essential. The ideals of a place like Antaiji may be instructive in this regard.


Having been to Antai-ji, I can appreciate their agricultural model. Fresh garden vegetables, dried mushrooms and annual rice harvests entail a lot of hard work, but it frees one from the cash economy to an extent.



Secondly, I think Buddhists and lay Buddhists in particular should participate in movements that seek to create new ways of being in the world.



The only way to escape the evils I've outlined above is to embrace voluntary poverty. By that I mean living a Third World standard of living, or something akin to what your great grandparents had. Voluntary simplicity means there is less immediate need for cash funds, and hence catering to market preferences is less of an issue. However, if you heavily depend on the cash economy, then there is no escape.

Simplicity means you use less energy and hence contribute less to environmental problems. You also enable yourself to be less addicted to energy and the consequences that come with it (such as feelings of entitlement and so on which produce stress when not met).
Flower Ornament Depository (Blog)
Indrajāla's Contemplations (Blog)
Exploring Classical Chinese (Blog)
Dharma Depository (Site)

"Hui gives me no assistance. There is nothing that I say in which he does not delight." -Confucius
User avatar
Indrajala
Former staff member
 
Posts: 5570
Joined: Fri Feb 12, 2010 3:19 pm
Location: India

Re: The Commodification of Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Thu Dec 27, 2012 11:34 am

Nosta wrote:I even think that its easy to see when you are facing garbage. When i read the writings/books of a good master there is an HUGE difference when i read garbage. Real writings from real masters have something really fresh. Sometimes i can really feel like fresh air in my mind just by reading them.



The problem is that writings from real masters don't necessarily get readily published and distributed.
Flower Ornament Depository (Blog)
Indrajāla's Contemplations (Blog)
Exploring Classical Chinese (Blog)
Dharma Depository (Site)

"Hui gives me no assistance. There is nothing that I say in which he does not delight." -Confucius
User avatar
Indrajala
Former staff member
 
Posts: 5570
Joined: Fri Feb 12, 2010 3:19 pm
Location: India

Re: The Commodification of Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Thu Dec 27, 2012 11:43 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote:
Huseng wrote:So, it begs the question of how ethical it is for Buddhist institutions to seek to acquire such hallucinated forms of wealth. On one hand, you need your fiat money to run your operation, but on the other hand it is really really dirty.


This is true of anything though, our economy is pretty much usury-based these days lol. Best institutions can do is have some sort of limit in their own by laws whereby whatever moneys are received and used equitably, and for "real" Dharma, however that gets defined. An institution can only remove itself from Wrong Livelihood by so many degrees, at a point it is no longer possible.



The thing is I don't know how many Buddhist organizations really recognize the vile nature of our global economy. If you depend on the system for your prosperity, you might be hesitant to openly say that fiat currency is a big sham and money is generated through usury and exploitation. I think a higher level of morality would dictate that one admit money is a necessary evil rather than call it a reflection of one's merit and thus cast it in a positive light. The other thing is that by casting money into a positive light you discourage people from simple living and abandoning ordinary lifestyles (home ownership, debt, career and so on), which only entraps them.
Flower Ornament Depository (Blog)
Indrajāla's Contemplations (Blog)
Exploring Classical Chinese (Blog)
Dharma Depository (Site)

"Hui gives me no assistance. There is nothing that I say in which he does not delight." -Confucius
User avatar
Indrajala
Former staff member
 
Posts: 5570
Joined: Fri Feb 12, 2010 3:19 pm
Location: India

Re: The Commodification of Buddhism

Postby Astus » Thu Dec 27, 2012 2:49 pm

Huseng,

It is an interesting mixture of socialist and romantic ideas. Because there is exploitation of the working class and the natural resources, Buddhists should return to a pre-modern state. Should Buddhists live like the Amish? That is quitting society and not liberating beings. Isn't there a bodhisattva in the marketplace as the perfect embodiment of Mahayana? The "dirt of the world" is not something outside to avoid. Commodification can be another term for skilful means. Buddhism must be meaningful in order to reach the people.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
User avatar
Astus
Former staff member
 
Posts: 4127
Joined: Tue Feb 23, 2010 11:22 pm
Location: Budapest

Re: The Commodification of Buddhism

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Thu Dec 27, 2012 6:48 pm

Huseng wrote:
Johnny Dangerous wrote:
Huseng wrote:So, it begs the question of how ethical it is for Buddhist institutions to seek to acquire such hallucinated forms of wealth. On one hand, you need your fiat money to run your operation, but on the other hand it is really really dirty.


This is true of anything though, our economy is pretty much usury-based these days lol. Best institutions can do is have some sort of limit in their own by laws whereby whatever moneys are received and used equitably, and for "real" Dharma, however that gets defined. An institution can only remove itself from Wrong Livelihood by so many degrees, at a point it is no longer possible.



The thing is I don't know how many Buddhist organizations really recognize the vile nature of our global economy. If you depend on the system for your prosperity, you might be hesitant to openly say that fiat currency is a big sham and money is generated through usury and exploitation. I think a higher level of morality would dictate that one admit money is a necessary evil rather than call it a reflection of one's merit and thus cast it in a positive light. The other thing is that by casting money into a positive light you discourage people from simple living and abandoning ordinary lifestyles (home ownership, debt, career and so on), which only entraps them.



Personally, I think Astus raises a good point, past a certain point in this direction you are simply engaging in identity politics, there is a point where it will obscure Dharma if that is what you are trying to spread, there is a point where this sort of action removes the effectiveness of whatever your reason is for doing it, by virtue of alienating oneself so much from ugliness, arguably the job of Buddhists is to clear the water a bit, not just stand clear of the mud. This kind of dynamic can be seen with plenty of Anarchist groups that wish to remove themselves from various monetary relationships - the separate identity begins to transcend the original purpose, and the plot is lost eventually - they lose following and splinter. Obviously different than Buddhism...but this kind of thing only goes to a point IMO until it self destructs.

I suppose you could always go start a Buddhist intentional community movement of some sort, that would ultimately be where this kind of thing leads..but then as Astus says you would be removing yourself from society to a large degree, which is fine for monastic practice..but obviously you ain't getting many takers for a Dharma center or similar with this kind of approach.

I DO agree in principle for sure, I just bought an Avalokiteshvara statue for practice (first thing i've ever bought for my altar that didn't come from a thrift store or something other than a Thangka) and the whole thing made me feel dirty, it's gross how crass and commerical the whole process is, as well as knowing that the transaction is wholly commercial - the money is unlikely to go anywhere but attempts at generating more money by selling more Buddhist knick-knacks. Makes me think I should just learn to whittle or something lol.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
User avatar
Johnny Dangerous
Global Moderator
 
Posts: 2162
Joined: Fri Nov 02, 2012 10:58 pm
Location: Olympia WA

Re: The Commodification of Buddhism

Postby greentara » Thu Dec 27, 2012 11:36 pm

Astus, "isn't there a bodhisattva in the marketplace as the perfect embodiment of Mahayana? The "dirt of the world" is not something outside to avoid" If the world is in you, where are the others to avoid?

Johnny, I sometimes listen to a local anarchist program and even though it doesn't have a spiritual message as such....... I don't find it radical, alot of the comments are reasonable and I wouldn't worry about splinter groups as so few people are interested. Instead give most people the sport pages, entertainment, the grand prix, porn, the fashion magazines, celebrity watching etc there's very little energy left for fringe anarchy groups!
greentara
 
Posts: 894
Joined: Tue Apr 03, 2012 4:03 am

Re: The Commodification of Buddhism

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Thu Dec 27, 2012 11:42 pm

Wasn't criticizing Anarchist or Anarchism per se..I lean that way myself. Just saying, i've interacted with some of the groups politically, and often they bring the "we don't touch dirty money" stuff so far in one direction that they manage to get absolutely zero done. It's not universal, but i've seen it happen.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
User avatar
Johnny Dangerous
Global Moderator
 
Posts: 2162
Joined: Fri Nov 02, 2012 10:58 pm
Location: Olympia WA

Re: The Commodification of Buddhism

Postby greentara » Fri Dec 28, 2012 12:07 am

johnny, I get your drift. The question of money is an interesting one. Some of the great Hindu sages refused to touch money. I believe buddhist monks do not handle money. Years ago an Indian 'Baba' I knew worked in a bank for awhile, His acquaintances sneered behind his back 'Oh he handles money'! How times have changed, people have become so materialistic, that now it wouldn't raise an eyebrow.
greentara
 
Posts: 894
Joined: Tue Apr 03, 2012 4:03 am

Re: The Commodification of Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Fri Dec 28, 2012 1:07 am

greentara wrote:johnny, I get your drift. The question of money is an interesting one. Some of the great Hindu sages refused to touch money. I believe buddhist monks do not handle money. Years ago an Indian 'Baba' I knew worked in a bank for awhile, His acquaintances sneered behind his back 'Oh he handles money'! How times have changed, people have become so materialistic, that now it wouldn't raise an eyebrow.


Technically it is gold and silver, not "money" precisely. Fiat currency as paper or plastic didn't exist in the Buddha's day. :smile:
Flower Ornament Depository (Blog)
Indrajāla's Contemplations (Blog)
Exploring Classical Chinese (Blog)
Dharma Depository (Site)

"Hui gives me no assistance. There is nothing that I say in which he does not delight." -Confucius
User avatar
Indrajala
Former staff member
 
Posts: 5570
Joined: Fri Feb 12, 2010 3:19 pm
Location: India

Re: The Commodification of Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Fri Dec 28, 2012 1:08 am

Astus wrote:Huseng,

It is an interesting mixture of socialist and romantic ideas. Because there is exploitation of the working class and the natural resources, Buddhists should return to a pre-modern state. Should Buddhists live like the Amish? That is quitting society and not liberating beings. Isn't there a bodhisattva in the marketplace as the perfect embodiment of Mahayana? The "dirt of the world" is not something outside to avoid. Commodification can be another term for skilful means. Buddhism must be meaningful in order to reach the people.



Why is it always one perceived extreme to another?

I'm saying recognize the dirty money for what it is and be open about it.

Recognizing one's own necessary evils does not necessitate taking extreme measures.
Flower Ornament Depository (Blog)
Indrajāla's Contemplations (Blog)
Exploring Classical Chinese (Blog)
Dharma Depository (Site)

"Hui gives me no assistance. There is nothing that I say in which he does not delight." -Confucius
User avatar
Indrajala
Former staff member
 
Posts: 5570
Joined: Fri Feb 12, 2010 3:19 pm
Location: India

Re: The Commodification of Buddhism

Postby Astus » Fri Dec 28, 2012 12:07 pm

Huseng wrote:Why is it always one perceived extreme to another?

I'm saying recognize the dirty money for what it is and be open about it.

Recognizing one's own necessary evils does not necessitate taking extreme measures.


I see. Well, it'd be nice to see every person and organisation within capitalist economic systems saying that money comes from the exploitation of the working class and financial tricks. That would practically mean becoming Socialists. However, there is more than one point of view, thus money is not necessarily dirty, exploitation can be renamed opportunity and natural evolution, etc. As long as people can live in peace and security there is little need for political and economical questions. Alas, we don't live in Paradise. And if we think about it, there is nothing accomplished without work. Although if people were not so greedy we could manage providing the basics of food and clothing without much problem to everyone.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
User avatar
Astus
Former staff member
 
Posts: 4127
Joined: Tue Feb 23, 2010 11:22 pm
Location: Budapest


Return to Open Dharma

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Election by lot and 14 guests

>