Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Zen for Sale

The Book Impulse runs strong in my family. When we develop a new interest, there is always a corresponding rush to the bookshop. This is why a year ago I had one knitting book, and now have about forty. And why eight months ago I had one book on Buddhism, and now have half a shelf.

(Yes yes yes, I know you can't get Zen out of a book. But the covers are so pretty.)

I'd never thought about Buddhist magazines, though, until two days ago when I picked up something called Shambhala Sun because of the amusing cover illustration of George Washington sitting in full lotus. Ha, ha.

The articles were worth a read, aside from one Buddhist mother's endless description of how her son's "innocent, wondering" questions keep her on her Zen mettle. That one just set my teeth on edge. Lady, if you're reading this:

  1. I recommend you learn to make liberal use of the phrase "Because Mommy said so, that's why."

  2. This was transparently an excuse to write about how your child is the latest incarnation of Master Hakuin. Bully for you. Check in with us again after he robs his first liquor store.
I was also a smidgen startled when the fellow who interviewed the Dalai Lama said he was so compelled to be "pure" for their meeting that he refrained from "pleasuring" himself. I'm not sure I needed to know that. On the other hand, it's amusing to wonder if anybody's ever felt such a compulsion before interviewing Julia Roberts.

After I'd gone through all the articles I started noticing the ads. If I buy another copy of Shambhala Sun, I admit with a blush that it will be for the ads. Because they are delicious.

Some are what you'd expect. This meditation center, that cushion supply company. But then there are banners for companies that will furnish you with digital "Zen clocks" or invest your money according to the principles of the dharma. (The ad for the latter featured a statue of Buddha buried up to his pendulous earlobes in gold coins.)

And there are real estate advertisements. Properties, most of them in Santa Fe or Colorado, beginning in the half-millions. Not so different from such listings in uppity mainstream rags; except that instead of noting access to spectacular golfing, or electrified perimeter fences to zap unwanted Mexicans, they tout the proximity of stupas or retreat centers. Sotheby's, known worldwide as an avatar of the simple life, even takes care to note that it practices "mindful" real estate.

I love that. I can just imagine a pair of clench-jawed WASP Zennies looking down on the Asian-style adobe next door and thinking, "Sure, they have two Bentleys, but we can see the stupa from our his-and-hers teak jacuzzis from Dharmabubble."

Amazing how much non-attachment you can get for a couple million, no?

This lovely warm smugness filled up my stomach and a fully-complete blog entry sprang into my mind like Athena from the head of Zeus. Silly Americans buying enlightenment. Thinking that a triangular digital clock and an expensive platform bed will bring them closer to satori. An AmEx Gold card is not the key to enlightenment. What fools. Ha ha ha. Snark snark snark. Everybody knows retail consumption doesn't make you more of a Buddhist.

And then that frigging little voice in my head spoke up.

You bought the magazine, didn't you?

37 comments:

Aidan said...

I have often thought that I would like to have a little Lhasa Apsa named Shambala.

My mantra, given to me by Donatella Versace in 80's, is "Ohletsgospendsomedough".

Always helps me find peace when I find myself in difficult places...like yarn shops or the sausage-making section of my neighborhood Border's.

Say it a couple of times. It really works.

Andrea Rusin said...

Well, yeah, you did buy the magazine -as do I. Well, I buy Tricycle -which offers to sell you an "Om Mani Padme Hum" baseball hat. I kid you not. Sigh.

I justify it as a (possibly vain) effort to find a community of like-minded people. Out here in the cornfields, there aren't very many people interested in this stuff -and I already know both of them. So.. we build community through the written word.

You know.... maybe.

FiberQat said...

Nicely written. It's like the New Agers who try to outdo each other with the size and purity of their crystals.

Joe said...

As usual, excellent insight into both commercialism of something that should be far from commercialized and your own impulses.

I'm wondering if by "pure" the Dalai Lama interviewer wanted to be...uh...ready...in case the DL wanted some.

junior_goddess said...

You bought them for the eye candy, right? That's plenty.

mlj1954 said...

See, I think my books/magazines, etc. breed while I'm not looking . . .

snark snark

Elizabeth said...

My local newspaper has a weekly feature in the Fluff Section called Real Simple (or something like that), maybe based on the magazine by that name. They always feature very expensive items you can go out and buy in order to live "real simple". Items like $150 tshirts, as if a $5 model isn't simple enough.

Gives me more to be smug about.

Nancy Peterson said...

Oh, don't you hate that damn little voice...Nancy who talked your ear off on Fri AM at Stitches

Bevin said...

You know, I often read knitting magazines for their advertisements more so than their content. It's cool to see all of the weird knitterly schwag you can pick up or find a new LYS someplace I might travel.

I went to a Zen retreat center in the Catskills over labor day weekend for a (non-buddhist related) conference. It was a beautiful place but a lot more showy than I would have expected from a place that hocs the "simple life". Very luxurious. It was also exclusively staffed by white people but with an overwhelming emphasis on Tibetan culture.

The best part of the conference for me was that I hosted a make out party in the same building the Dalai Llama is staying in during his visit this month.

A Fellow Buddhist-Knitter said...

Franklin, I love you. Keep poking fun at the Dharma.

My personal favorites are the Simple Life mags. And their ads for a simple gold and diamond bracelet. Displayed in a simple teak-floored room. Unencumbered with awkward things like messy kids.

Andra said...

Some days, the only reason I start my computer is to see what brilliance you have posted for the masses. (Please don't tell my boss.)

Given that I subscribe to said magazine, and read your blog on a daily basis, (that would make me just another one of those Buddhist knitting blog junkies) I felt almost justified in chiming in.

Yes, and yes. And yes to the others who responded. Yes it's interesting to see what's in a magazine written for sangha. Yes, it's weird to see so much commercialism in said magazine. And yes, it's always good to think about our responses to the stimuli (rimming sugar notwithstanding) with which we come in contact.

Maybe it's time to start a magazine for sangha who knit. (Because we know that we would never put the material joys of yarn before the practice of non-attachment...)

You are my hero.

debsnm said...

HEY! We find ourselves very enlightened in Santa Fe - that's why we call it the "City Different" - isn't it? And, Sotheby's has a rather large office downtown, on the plaza, cause, you know, them tourists might just want to stay - ugh!

pacalaga said...

Oohoohooh, a new way to out-Mommy all the other Mommies in the group! My kid is more Zen than your kid!
It would be patently unAmerican if we couldn't figure out a way to cash in on ALL the major world religions. C'mon, we're equal-opportunity exploiters in this great nation, man.

Sean said...

does pleasuring yourself make you impure?

Did you ever see the Will and Grace episode when Grace, Jack and Karen each were into some guy named "Kaballa"? Hysterical...

M said...

I wonder if one (or both) can reach satori with the use of Mojito Rimming Sugar. Franklin, do tell...

Mel said...

I subscribed to Tricycle for a few years and mostly let the subscription slide for financial reasons. Sometimes the articles are insightful and sometimes too self-absorbed. And, of course, there are the ads. Ultimately, I think it's important to keep in mind Buddha's teaching to "be a lamp unto yourselves."

Will Pillage For Yarn said...

When we started doing the whole downwardly mobile, consume less, voluntary simplicity thing, the first thing I did was go out and buy about 12 books on voluntary simplicity and living with less. And subscribe to a magazine that features ads for $100 yoga pants and recycled cotton sheets that cost more than my weekly grocery budget as good ways to "simplify."

The irony of this does not escape me. Now.

farm-witch said...

I think I'm going to adopt the 'pleasured or not myself' as an opening for many different encounters. Imagine the possibilities. Hello, I was so nervous about meeting you that I had to pleasure myself. or, I knew I'd like you, so I didn't need to pleasure myself before we talked.

David said...

I don't think buying a zen magazine and buying a zen stock portfolio is comparing apples to apples. Cut yourself a little slack. Besides, everybody knows that retail consumption doesn't make you more of a Buddhist. Ripping back nine rows and starting over does.

KnitNana said...

Love it, Franklin - so so true! Mindless consumption.
Thank you for engaging your mind and subsequently our's as well!
The key, for me, isn't to stop buying - it's to buy with thought. Yes to books (after I've checked it at the library and think it's really worth it), yes to yarn with a definite project (ok, I sometimes can't stop myself - fiberfool that I am), no to a lot of things that are on MY unnecessary list - which is different, no doubt, from your's. (As it should be!)
Magazine subscripts are the worst in my mind, b/c there's so much there we really DON'T want.
Like meditation, I try to be mindful of all the ways Madison Ave tries to separate me from my $.
It's all practice!
My eye candy is my yarn stash...and the yarn catalogs filling my mailbox these days!!
(((hugs)))

Lucy said...

At the beginning of one of my Zen books, someone asks the author,"So if you can't get Zen out of a book, why are you writing a book?" He answered that sometimes word sickness needs a word cure. I do love my Zennie books!
BTW, as president of the 2006 Boston Knit Out and Crochet Too, I have decided that my proper attire for the day will be your "Sheep on a Plane" shirt... and a tiara! Wish you were coming.

Janine said...

I had meant to comment before, honest, but this entry just hit home. For one, I too was, shall we say, "irritated" by the very same article. As the parent of a teenager, I often say to the co-parenting unit: why the hell did we think it was a good idea to teach her to share her feelings? We should have been playing a loop of True Grit throughout her childhood....

But I love Shambhala Sun for the ads--they fill my file folder with ideas for sweater designs because the colors and patterns are so compelling. Plus, there's that guy who sells financial services who hasn't aged in something like 15 years. I want some of that.

Tricycle had a great article many years ago entitled: Dharma on $0 a Day. Yeah, baby.

At any rate, thanks for a great blog!

Julia said...

I love how you manage to be snarky and humble at the same time. You always get your point across, but never seem to be looking down your nose at anyone, all holier than thou. It's refreshing.

LaurieM said...

I would think he'd be purer if he did pleasure himself, because then he wouldn't have energy for all those naughty thoughts. Sort of emptying the vessel....

Cara said...

I couldn't believe it, a Zen clock? Whattheheck does it do? So I had to google it, and yep, its a clock, an expensive chiming clock. For $15 you can get a pink plastic mosque shaped Azan clock that may not keep good time, but the alarm is prayer call and it will spark some interesting conversations. For $35 you can get one with GPS that tells you which way to Mecca.

I'm going to try the "Ohletsgospendsomedough" chant next time.

Helen said...

I hate to admit it, but I've been coveting that zen clock for years.
So far, I've not succumbed to temptation...
but .....
if it really will bring me closer to enlightenment (which it must or it wouldn't be in a zen magazine right) [ouch... my tongue poked right THROUGH my cheek on that one]

going back to my knitting now. Since I own four shelves of knitting books, it ought to work perfectly, right?

Lizzie said...

Of course mindless spending is wrong, which is why I strive for mindful spending at all times.

(I buy that magazine, and a couple of others. Love the ads. But I try to immediately toss the catalogs of Buddhist stuff that show up regularly.)

Sean said...

I love the idea of "mindful real estate."

Or maybe I should say, I admire the balls it would take to actually write such a piece of marketing and think that it would be effective. But who knows, maybe it works. I guess I'd be more apt to select them than a realtor with a Jesus fish in their add.

Anonymous said...

Check out the dharmacrafts catalog for more anti-Zen Zen. Once I calculated the total cost of the admittedly gorgeous "meditation room" they had on the cover, and it was upwards of $2500--the right tatami mat, screen, zafu, zabuton, lamp...

However, the Zen timer apps you can add to your high-end Palm or smart phone... mmmmmmmm It's so bad it's good.

Darci said...

On this topic, can you add a link to your Buddhist entries on the side bar...I know that you have done some interesting entries and of course I can not find them now.

Molly said...

I suspect with Julia Roberts it'd be the opposite, actually. Call it making sure you won't, ahem, appear overeager to meet her.

sogalitno said...

on the subject of buying books as reference - i do the same thing - dont know where it comes from as neither parent did this - they bought normal old fiction books.

maybe cause there are more books out there now?

i went from three knitting books to - uhm, well, i dont really know how many - one bookcase is just books, and one is magazines and thats not counting the gardening and music books (you know musicians are JUST as bad as knitters and gardeners when it comes to books - we can ALWAYS justify buying a score).

oh well, i know i will never win the "i have the least amount of things" contest.

Milinda said...

I don't think that I've ever seen spam quite like that before.

The articles in Shambala, or rather the flavor of the articles, changes from issue to issue. That is why I buy them from the book store rather than subscribing. It's like Knitter's. I'd be real annoyed to have paid for a pieces of Zen schlock.

Wendy said...

It just goes to show ya, you should have spent threefifdee on People, the one with the tiny pic of Suri on the front.

Anonymous said...

It reminds me of an ad I used to see in the magazine which came with the Sunday newspaper:

"Meditate deeper than a Zen monk!"

Because we all know it's about who gets to nirvana first...

-long time reader, first time commenter

marie in florida said...

strange that it should be spam about money your blog about money ... ironic ... i cure the swept in by commercialism blues by buying second hand as much as possible and not just because i'm always broke.

Bev in TN said...

Love it, your post that is. Isn't this the essence of being American, or is compulsive consumerism universal?