Buddhism Without Buddhism

Look at me! I’m meditating!

Buddhism is fucked.

I apologize to Gudo Nishijima Roshi up in Tsushita Heaven or reincarnated as a random kid in Kentucky or wherever he is these days. He’d be pissed at me if he read that. But it’s my honest assessment.

He told me once, “Never blame Buddhism.” The word “blame,” when used by Japanese people who speak English, doesn’t mean quite what it means to us native English speakers. They tend to use it to mean something more like “disparage.”

And I don’t really blame (disparage) Buddhism as such. Buddhism is fine. But the thing that keeps getting called “Buddhism” by most folks is fucked. Maybe Gudo would be less mad if I put it that way.

I had two conversations recently in which I felt how useless it really is to be a spokesperson for this so-called “Buddhism” nonsense. A friend of mine who I used to work with at Tsuburaya Productions in Japan was in LA last week. And, as we were walking up Fairfax Blvd past all the delis and synagogues he asked me how and why I got into Buddhism.

As I tried telling the same story I’ve been telling in speeches and interviews for over a decade — but this time in a mix of pitifully deteriorated Japanese and rudimentary English — I realized how incredibly dumb it sounded.

To the majority of Japanese people, Buddhism is about as relevant as the most boring shit you can imagine being droned out by the least inspired minister at the most dilapidated church whose entire congregation is made up of seven little old ladies who only go there as a convenient place to meet up before Sunday brunch at Denny’s. My friend was a philosophy major at a Japanese university and had heard of Dogen, but had no real idea who he was or what he said. Dogen doesn’t matter even in the land where he was born.

Then a few days later I was at a dinner in Eagle Rock at the home of a friend of my girlfriend. I was the only cracker in a room full of Latinos — a position I find myself in with increasing frequency these days since my girlfriend is the daughter Mexican immigrants. My girlfriend’s friend asked me about Zen and, again, I tried explaining what it was and why I got into it. Even though her friend is very interested in yoga and meditation, I could tell that, to her, what I was saying was just about the most useless shit she’d ever heard.

I think it’s because whatever I say about Buddhism gets funneled into the category of all the other things people have heard about Buddhism. Most people who are “into Buddhism” are into it as a kind of lifestyle enhancement bauble. Sort of like a t-shirt that says something cool about what kind of person they want to be seen as. Maybe something from Wanderlust 108!

So, the only people who have any interest in so-called “Buddhism” are those who are into the stereotype they associate with Buddhism and want to add that to their personality wardrobe.

This is probably why Buddhist organizations in America are in such a mad rush to be seen as part of the whole “resistance” thing that’s trending in social media these days. Buddhism as part of the new youth rebellion! Yet another way to let the world know you are one of the good people who support justice and happiness for everybody as opposed to all the bad people who support war, sadness, making money, and destroying the planet. Yay!

But, of course, none of these folks have any interest in meditation. Oh, they might do it for ten minutes here and there, especially if someone is taking pictures of them doing it. It’s a good way to show off the newest sexy duds they bought on the Lululemon website. But there’s no way they’d ever take it any further. I mean, who wants to waste time on that when there’s so much else to distract you?

I think the only possible future for Buddhism is if it starts to exert a subtle influence on the culture and begins to filter in. I see that happening already. For example, a friend sent me a little video about a book called The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. I have not read the book, but the video about it makes me think that whoever wrote it might have picked up on the Buddhist attitude somehow. Probably not even from directly studying or practicing it, but just because it’s kind of in the air a little bit. I see bits of Buddhism in Rick and Morty and Adventure Time too.

I’m starting to deeply regret my association with Buddhism. Well, not with Buddhism, but “Buddhism” in quotes. Sorry, Gudo! Still, I guess that’s what I’m associated with so, there ya go.

I have no interest in Buddhism as a lifestyle enhancement bauble. When I started getting into it, Buddhism was so deathly uncool that I hid my involvement in it from my friends, lest they think I was some kinda hippie. Now that Buddhism is trendy I want even less to do with it.

That being said, I do see the real Buddhist attitude subtly infiltrating the culture. This, I think, is a good thing. The sad part is that the actual real Buddhist attitude that’s wafting through the culture at present finds itself very much at odds with what keeps getting called “Buddhism.”

The whole enterprise is pretty sad. But there’s not much I can do about it except post the occasional rant up here for you nice folks who keep reading. Eh. It keeps me off the streets, at least!

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September 7-10, 2017 Retreat in Finland

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September 22, 2017 Talk in Munich, Germany

September 23, 2017 Retreat in Munich, Germany

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October 1-4, 2017 Retreat in Hebden Bridge, England


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