Friday, May 27, 2011

Commodifying the Buddha

The other day I came across quite a good post at Copyblogger called How the Buddha Solved His Marketing Problem.

It was all about using some of the principles of Buddhism to become a more effective marketer. Now, to me that's fine - in fact, kind of cool. But I know many among my Western Buddhist friends who would find such an approach reprehensible, and I got to thinking about the commodification of Buddhism in Western culture and the ways it may or may not be acceptable.
For a start the commodification of the Buddhist religion is not a recent phenomenon reflective of Western consumerist influence. Anyone who has visited functioning Buddhist temples in situ across Asia will realise that these are frequently commercial ventures relying on business practice to help them survive. Many temples charge tourists an entry fee, and many run all kinds of businesses, from bookstores and incense manufactories to vegetarian restaurants, farms and food distribution services. Monks frequently charge for their services, particularly when it comes to funeral celebrations and the blessing of new homes, enterprises and expensive objects.
In the West the principle example of Buddhist consumerism is the vast publishing industry that surrounds Buddhist teaching. It would seem that Western Buddhists are a remarkably literary bunch, and the flood of Buddhist-themed books and magazines, though decreasing in recent years, looks like it won't be ending anytime soon. And many of the most famous teachers are the most reliant on this publishing revenue. There is also the tricky issue of fees charged for teachings and retreats. These can often be considerable, particularly for the "big names" in Buddhism. Most of these activities are viewed askance by Asian Buddhists (and I am not going to enter the debate here about the terminology surrounding what you call people who are born Buddhists in a traditionally Buddhist culture).
Ten years or so ago in Australia there was quite a debate surrounding a mobile phone company that used the image of a Theravada Buddhist monk in its advertising. In this case people from all sides of Buddhism protested the gross insensitivity of using Buddhist imagery in the service of advertising and promotion. I remain silent on the issue.
And where does that leave me? The cover of my book Destination Saigon is a striking collage of popular Buddhist imagery found in temples all over Vietnam.

Assembled by a talented, non-Buddhist (I assume) designer, it could be interpreted by some as irreverent, even irreligious. And it certainly exists for no reason but to enrich me and my publishing house (though I have been known to throw the odd dollar into the donation box in temples across the globe). Am I a gross exploiter of an anti-materialist religion?
Perhaps, perhaps...

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I think the happiness life lies on Buddhism. Buddha says, "You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection. "


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