Posts Tagged ‘consumerism’

Commodification of Buddha.

Photo by Flickr user Kaptain Kobold

Photo by Flickr user Kaptain Kobold

I feel like January 2nd is a pretty good day to buy a calendar. I usually fail at keeping track of the day to day by the middle of the year, resorting to jotting things down in a small regular notebook, but at the beginning of the year I always like to have a shiny new calendar. It seems like without a calendar, the changing of the year just feels kind of… arbitrary. Anyhow, I went to buy mine today. I always prefer the engagement books to wall calendars so I can carry it around (otherwise, nothing will ever get written in/on it ever). I was at Barnes & Noble and the selection was, of course, limited to what had not already been sold out, but still there were two (two!) Buddhism-related calendars: the Dharma Diary and a Zen themed calendar.

I had seen the Dharma Diary before at a small independent bookseller here in Boston and thought it was beautiful, but hadn’t yet decided on buying a 2009 calendar at that point. I was rather surprised to see it again in a major chain retailer. It made me think of the commodification of Buddhism that these calendars were being sold alongside more “mainstream” items (your typical Picasso, O’Keefe, images of Paris, etc.) with “inspirational” quotes and such as some kind of promise of daily enlightenment. I thought of the article in Apartment Therapy a while back on the use of Buddha as a decorational element; how images of Buddha have become a sort of cultural shorthand for “inner peace.”

I’m not sure how I feel about this, as a Buddhist. On the one hand, I do feel strongly that the Buddha is available to everybody and should be accessible without any kind of secret handshake. On the other hand, the same sort of items that I see of the Buddha (i.e. Buddha lamps) would never be made, say, of Christ without tremendous uproar. Then again, the place of Buddha in Buddhism and Christ in Christianity are quite different: Buddha is not the son of G-d or indeed an inherently divine being. He is a holy figure, for sure, but he is not venerated for who he was born as, but what he accomplished. We all have Buddha-nature, but do we all have Christ-nature? That would be an interesting debate. Of course, there are comical representations of Jesus, but they are certainly fewer and further between than “Buddha in a Box” and their ilk.

In a sense, I feel a bit disgusted with the money-making that gets done by American companies pandering to the consumer desire to appear “worldly” and “enlightened” by owning images of the Buddha that have no greater significance. On the other hand, I am a total sucker and bought the Dharma Diary. What can I say? My inner Buddha-nature is no better than anyone else’s and really likes pretty calendars.


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