By Glenn Wallis
Is it just me, or does American x-buddhism resemble Corporate America more and more with every passing day? Slick websites touting cutting-edge technology (in the service of The Dharma, of course). Packaging of meditation as a means, like deodorant and fresh breath, to increase happiness and effectiveness. Buddhist community as product: something to be had at a price—liking, joining, registering, signing up, paying. Most of all, the promise of something continually NEW AND IMPROVED!
Perusing the bodhiblogosphere, I can’t help but wonder whether this identification is intentional. The corporate world, after all, presents sterling examples of sprawling social influence and huge profit margins. So, why not mimic it? Is that the case here? Are our x-buddhist entrepreneurs consciously imitating their American capitalist masters for the obvious reasons?
Or is it a case of unconscious identification? A major activity of all varieties of American x-buddhism is to bemoan the debilitating stress caused in no small part by the role played by Corporate America in our society. How curious, then, to observe x-buddhism mimicking the corporate daddy. Or is this to be expected? Freud observed a tendency in his patients to punish themselves “in a hysterical fashion” after the death of a parent, and to do so, crucially, “with the same state [of sickness]” suffered by the parent.
Come to think of it, another way of viewing the x-buddhist tendency toward the censorship and intolerance—known in x-buddhist circles as “right speech”—is in light of this movement toward corporate clubbiness. Try an experiment. I suppose you’ve had to deal directly with organizations like Verizon or Facebook concerning some grievance. Do the same with some x-buddhist online teacher or organization. I predict that everything will be nice and chummy for a while—until the critical nature of your interaction sinks in. Then you will meet the cold, distant, and controlling core that lies beneath the compassionate façade of these x-buddhist hucksters.
Anyway, think about it, will you? Collect your own examples and comparisons. Here’s the email that got me thinking about it. As you’ll see, it’s from an intelligent and discerning reader.
Help! Am I grossly under-caffeinated (quite possible) or has Buddhism in American just taken a lame turn? Have you seen Buddhist Geek’s new online enterprise, a private by application community?
I went to post it on my newspage with minimal commentary but lapsed into the rant below instead. Is this common in other online spaces? Do you have a different, more positive impression? Please share, I feel like a mean-spirited grouch!
If I wanted to be in an exclusive in-club, I’d have joined a sorority in college. Oh wait, after a fit of open-mindedness, I eventually did – and then later quit in dismay.
I quite enjoy the Buddhist Geeks podcasts and appreciate the comprehensive and interesting contributions this group has offered to people thinking about the intersection of meditation, Buddhism, and American culture. But I can’t stomach this. A forum by application? Followed by a membership invitation and yet-to-be-disclosed dues? Is everyone offered an invitation following the one-month trial period, or is there a secret vote by BG leadership? Can they blackball a wannabe member for their unpalatable positions or rhetorical style? Irregular practice? What about sleeping with an ex-girlfriend? Is there a secret point system or a BG prep course offered by Kaplan? If I attend certain retreats and slip in the right Buddhist jargon, will that help my application? Once in, do I get similar authority to silence or include people that ruffle or flatter my own feathers? Will members receive exclusive access to mixers with geeks of other contemplative persuasions? When do I learn the handshake?
One of the primary social and intellectual advantages of online discourse is its accessibility. Humility, creativity, and critical thinking and analysis are undermined, not fostered, by exclusivity and top-down policing of conversation. The website claims it’s a new space to “connect, practice, and learn,” and continues, “Think of it as the conversations that have been happening in the Podcast and at the Conference, but opened up to geeks everywhere. We’d love for you to join us.” But the private infrastructure suggests what is really meant might be: “Think – but not too hard or too differently or without dollars attached, or we don’t actually love for you to join us. We want to connect, practice, and learn from geeks just like us.”
I don’t actually imagine the intention of the BG creators is elitism. I suspect their ambitions are much simpler: financial growth or sustainability. Such practical concerns don’t offend me. BG offers a resource many find valuable. Everyone has to pay the bills, and few services are free. But I have a lot more respect for an organization that suggests dana or requests paying for a podcast download than one that requests paying for community access in a false spirit of camaraderie. Say it like it is. Isn’t that kind of transparency what all the time spent on the cushion is supposed to encourage? Grumblings about McMindfulness and the commercialization of meditation are already audible. Welcome to what appears to be its latest, greatest permutation. Delta Delta Delta, can I help ya help ya help ya? NO.
What do you think?