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07 August 2007 @ 03:24 am
Selling Our Religion  
Today I encountered the Buddhist centered DharmaCrafts catalog.

I couldn't believe my eyes. They had everything an upper-middle-class aspirant could require if they had a spare room set aside just for meditation. You could spend 4 or 5 hundred dollars for a nice altar (a cool tansu chest or other asian inspired table), another 30-50 on an altar cloth, 30 for a meditation cushion or small chair-like support promising the utmost lumbar comfort, 30 bucks for an incense holder, hundreds for amazing statues of Kuan Yin, Avalokiteshvara or Buddha (and an extra for your garden, of course), malas, prayer flags, special curtains, $160 for a meditation robe (when a shawl just won't do), and so on. Having spent all that, I can only imagine that once you sat down to meditate you might be just a bit distracted with worry about your impending credit card bill!

Sure, the statues were very beautiful and unlike the simple resin ones I normally get, they were made with fine materials like brass, porcelain, and so on, with wonderful craftmanship. (I may use some photos in collage.) But the whole mood of the catalog was that of course you NEED these accessories in order to meditate, completely ignoring the fact that this is incompatible with true spirituality and that the native practitioners of these meditative disciplines often live very simply and frugally or even in poverty-stricken areas.

I recall in the 80s I used to see a variety of spiritual workshops, mostly aimed at women, new agey stuff like "Soul Retrieval" and "Vision Quests." Weekend retreats, they were designed to sell quick-fix spirituality to middle class women who felt empty in their lives of consumerism and soccer-momhood. I used to just laugh at the descriptions of these weekends (where has your soul gone that you need to retrieve it and how could you really expect to do such a thing in one weekend?) but people were just getting ripped off. I couldn't decide, however, if they were allowing themselves to be sold this idea that paying for a seminar over a weekend was going to fill this empty space for them because it was easy and they wanted to avoid the hard work of really achieving some progress on a spiritual path, or whether they were just too naive to know that this was impossible. Maybe some of each, I don't know.

These days the marketers have switched names (though it seems the "vision quest" is a perennial favorite because it's always cool to rip of Native American spirituality) but the scam continues and the companion books roll out steadily from New Age presses. These catalogs are just spirituality's version of the kind of promotion movie makers do with action figures and Happy Meal figurines and so on. Capitalism at its most sickening...

Along with this goes the Name dropping...it's hip to be familiar with all the New Age and Eastern teachers and gurus, and it's all cool, all one, all equally for sale.

I can sometimes see why the fundie Christians find it so easy to dismiss minority religion, because this kind of thing is the most visible form of it and they will never really come into contact with genuine, heart felt and devoted spiritualists who are not publicly leading these workshops or hawking books.

It's easy to mock, but really it's just very sad.
 
 
 
Kevinmurphy_slaw on August 7th, 2007 02:34 pm (UTC)
I can sometimes see why the fundie Christians find it so easy to dismiss minority religion, because this kind of thing is the most visible form of it and they will never really come into contact with genuine, heart felt and devoted spiritualists who are not publicly leading these workshops or hawking books.

On the other hand, have you stepped inside a Christian bookstore recently?

I think this sort of thing is just human nature - there's an inherent tendency to avoid hard work by focusing on the window dressing of a practice rather than the core (witness the stationary-porn catalogs for would-be writers, etc.), and there's always someone around to exploit the opportunity.

3treekisser3treekisser on August 7th, 2007 04:34 pm (UTC)
Couldn't agree more.
Mari Adkinsmariadkins on August 7th, 2007 05:00 pm (UTC)
Amen to that.
Tapatitapati on August 7th, 2007 11:47 pm (UTC)
I agree, it's definitely a sad facet of human nature. While Christianity has its own version of this, at least it's so well established in our culture that most of us are aware that this consumerism isn't all that it is. With newer or minority religions in the U.S., even if they are known throughout the rest of the world, fundies are not aware of the depth of the traditions so it makes it even easier for them to just lump us all in and dismiss us as not being "real." Of course, they won't admit to any spiritual validity even to other Christian paths, so I guess it's no big loss. But it helps them win people over to their vision of making the U.S. a Christian only nation.
Mari Adkinsmariadkins on August 7th, 2007 05:01 pm (UTC)
Your avatar on this post is lovely!
Tapatitapati on August 12th, 2007 03:28 am (UTC)
Thanks, I turned some mandalas into icons one day. I got a bit carried away and did a whole bunch of them.
Mari Adkinsmariadkins on August 12th, 2007 03:54 am (UTC)
Sweet! :D

Sometimes getting carried away is a good thing. :)