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Re: Recovering from New Age Mumbo Jumbo
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: December 05, 2009 04:08AM

whole page of items is fun to read.


In the middle of it, Hines has a question.


Maybe I have a "self." Maybe I don't.

There doesn't seem to be any way to tell. Which makes me wonder, who the heck cares, if there's no evident difference between self and no-self?

I've enjoyed the comment conversation between Manjit and me on this blog's "Losing your self is so egotistical" post.


We've been going at it discussing whether there's a 'self' to lose.

Something related to my brain and laptop-typing fingers -- sure seems like a self -- keeps arguing that unless we're one with the cosmos, there's a separate sense of identity.

Manjit prefers to see this as a non-issue.

Since there's no such thing as a self, there's no way to lose it.

Well, if that's the case, why have (non existent-Corboy's interpolation) I been able to read big thick books by Ramana, Nisargadatta, and a bunch of others about how to go about realizing the truth of non-duality?

I mean, this sure doesn't seem to be the same thing as not being able to lose my unicorn, since I don't have one. ('one' being a unicorn that can be lost, then fretted about as being lost and in need of being found in need of being recognized as having been illusory in the first place-Corboy)

People don't travel to India and spend years meditating in a dark closet trying to come to the realization that they don't have a unicorn and shouldn't be worrying about what happens to it.

Yet there's a huge spiritual industry associated with losing the self. Or, as some put it, becoming aware that there never was a self to lose....

So..Hines raises an interesting point. People are not going to India, or Tibet, or Nepal or (fill in the blank) workshops, to look for unicorns.

They're going to look for something else.

So...that means what what we are looking for in India or at some gurus workshop is a
goal that is a product of social conditioning.

Instead of pondering the chain of cause and effect that led us to fret about Self vs Other and wonder why we arent fretting about a lost unicorn, we ignore the social conditioning that conned us to think that we need a guru.


We dont just examine the role of the guru in the creation of craving--we also are tricked into not examining how a very large and sophisticated network of retreat centers, publications, fad yoga, media tastemakers, publishers, agents, TV personalities, and PR publicists also engineer and implant craving and turn enlightenment into a marketing commodity, just as they do the latest make of laptop,

Lets pause. Remember how it was thirty years ago?

No one seemed to feel much need to get big tattoos all over themselves. And at most, you'd wear one earring per ear.

Now, using the thirty year retro model, look at yoga. Folks, this is gonna be hard
for younger persons to picture, but bear with me.

Thirty years ago, you did NOT see yoga pratitioners walking about carrying rolled up yoga mats. They were not considered necessary at that time.

Two, yoga people usually wore no-name brand leotards if they were ladies, and fellows would wear gym shorts and a t-shirt.

Thats all.

Now, thanks to marketing, the list of needs and perceived necessities for yoga pratictioners has changed. Someone has gotten inside their heads and actually
multiplied thier desires and cravings.

Its now considered necessary to carry a rolled up yoga mat--and oh yes, you need a bag for the mat.

And you need special yoga clothes, too. Hard Tail, Prana, Luluemon (I can never spell the fricking LL name right).

Whatever happened to wearing plain old no name leotards? Decades of folks did yoga
wearing those and their practice was just as sincere.

So it isnt just us. THere is a whole marketing scene that gets inside our heads before we even meet our first guru, and does something to implant a set of cravings and a perceived inadequacy.

The New Wage scene is a social environment that is wrap around, gets into our heads--and it trains us NOT to pay attention to its influence because to do so is negative thinking.

By this ban on 'negative thinking' we are scolded away from examing the very process by which our own spiritual search process is aborted at birth by the parasitic tentacles of Mass Marketing.

So...was it every really YOUR spiritual search? Did it start out as yours and then, subtly, become hijacked?

Or are you running on a script that feels like you but is actually a standardized program that has been slipped into your inner life by some quite skilled and intrusive social engineering?

One thing to remember is that many of the greats, such as Ramana Maharshi, Suzuki Roshi, Jeluladdin Rumi and others, did not grow up in a media saturated environment equivalent to ours.

They got up at dawn, went to bed at sunset. Artificial lighting was too expensive for anyone but the ultrawealthy. Entertainment was via the human voice, from songs and poems that originated from the same region, not stuff cooked up thousands of miles away in a big city and then marketed for profit. Maharshi died in 1951, just at the beginning of movies as popular entertainment in India.

And by way of perspective, in the old methods of Sufi training, one went into seclusion for 40 day retreats. Imagine the difficulty of being able to do that today.

So our minds are under a pressure that is, unless we are aware of that pressure, quite capable of intruding and co-opting our spiritual quest and turning it in a direction that
serves the profit motives of some clever persons who are running the New Age marketing media.

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Re: Recovering from New Age Mumbo Jumbo
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: December 16, 2009 01:03AM



Can Meditation Be Bad for You?
by Mary Garden
Published in the Humanist, September/October 2007

Back in 1979, when I was living in Pune, India, as a starry-eyed devotee of the infamous guru Bhagwan Rajneesh, something happened that has disturbed me to this day. A man who had just come down from Kathmandu after completing a thirty-day Tibetan Buddhist meditation course killed himself. I had met him the night before, and we'd had coffee together. I don't remember what we spoke about, but he was friendly and didn't appear distressed. But the next day he climbed to the top of the multi-storied Blue Diamond Hotel and leapt off.

The Bhagwan, at his first lecture after the man's suicide, tried to reassure us by saying the man had already reincarnated as a more enlightened soul. But I was quite upset and remember thinking how strange it was that someone should kill himself after a meditation course. Isn't meditation something you do to get--at the very least--peace of mind? I wondered whether he might have had a mental illness and perhaps shouldn't have taken the course in the first place. Even if he had, shouldn't the meditation have helped? It didn't occur to me that the meditation itself might have caused a mental imbalance that tipped him over the edge--that meditation could be dangerous for some people. Has such a notion ever appeared in the mainstream media, let alone the myriad New Age magazines?

Since the 1970s, meditation has become increasingly popular in the West and is promoted as a way to reduce stress, bring about relaxation, and even manage depression. It's now being used in classrooms, prisons, and hospitals. Here in Australia, meditation groups and teachers have popped up like mushrooms: hundreds head off to the free (donation only) ten-day Vipassana courses, or sit and meditate with groups such as the Brahma Kumaris or Sahaja Yoga. There is a general assumption and belief that meditation is a secular technique and is good for everyone.

The most common types of meditation taught include sitting still and concentrating on the breath, silently repeating a sound (mantra) or visualizing an image. What is often overlooked is that these Eastern meditation techniques were never meant to be methods to reduce stress and bring about relaxation. They are essentially spiritual tools, designed to apparently "cleanse" the mind of impurities and disturbances so as to attain so-called enlightenment--a concept as nebulous as God.

In the Hindu scripture The Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says to Arjuna:

Sitting and concentrating the mind on a single object, controlling the thoughts and the activities of the senses, let the yogi practice meditation for self-purification . . . by always keeping the mind fixed on the Self, the yogi whose mind is subdued attains peace of the Supreme nirvana by uniting with Me.
And Sri Lankan-born K. Sri Dhammananda, who before his death in 2006 was the foremost Theravada Buddhist monk in Malaysia and Singapore, wrote: "No one can attain Nibbana [nirvana] or salvation without developing the mind through meditation. Meditation is a gentle way of conquering the defilements which pollute the mind."

What is interesting is that Buddhist and Hindu teachers, even the Dalai Lama, have occasionally pointed out the potential hazards of meditation. Dhammananda warned:

The practice of meditation has been abused by people. They want immediate and quick results, just as they expect quick returns for everything they do in daily life . . . the mind must be brought under control in slow degrees and one should not try to reach for the higher states without proper training. We have heard of over-enthusiastic young men and women literally going out of their minds because they adopted the wrong attitudes towards meditation.
Dr. Lorin Roche, a meditation teacher, says a major problem arises from the way meditators interpret Buddhist and Hindu teachings. He points out that meditation techniques that encourage detachment from the world were intended only for monks and nuns. He has spent thirty years doing interviews with people who meditate regularly and says many were depressed. He says they have tried to detach themselves from their desires, their loves, and their passion. "Depression is a natural result of loss, and if you internalize teachings that poison you against the world, then of course you will become depressed."

The Dalai Lama has said that Eastern forms of meditation have to be handled carefully: "Westerners who proceed too quickly to deep meditation should learn more about Eastern traditions and get better training than they usually do. Otherwise, certain physical or mental difficulties appear."

(Corboy butts in: What about Tibetans who may have been casualties of meditation illness and not ever been noted? Its not just us Westerners who are in a hurry--or who can become destablized by meditation. Suzuki Roshi, greatly honored as founder of San Francisco Zen Center, ignored his wifes warnings and allowed a mentally ill monk to live with them. The monk killed Mrs Suzuki. This all happened in Japan, before Suzuki emigrated to the US. So it isnt just Westerners who have trouble.)

(Mary Garden continues)I don't remember any such warnings when I began meditating, and probably wouldn't have taken much notice if there were.

Along with fellow seekers, I regarded any negative experiences as healing or just clearing out bad karma.

I meditated a lot in the 1970s and thought I was superior to those who didn't. Thankfully I didn't have a breakdown (though sometimes I was surely "out of my mind"). I had all sorts of bizarre and strange experiences and in the early days often felt bliss and ecstasy. There were a few occasions where I felt as though I was "one with the universe", and I once began hallucinating that the trees outside were vibrating with white light, convinced I could hear the sacred Om sound booming through the Himalayan night. ..

Read the rest of this article here:


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Re: Recovering from New Age Mumbo Jumbo
Posted by: laarree ()
Date: December 16, 2009 08:13AM



Can Meditation Be Bad for You?
by Mary Garden
Published in the Humanist, September/October 2007 ........
Read the rest of this article here:


Thanks once again, corboy. Fascinating article.

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Re: Recovering from New Age Mumbo Jumbo
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: December 22, 2009 12:42AM

A very juicy article...finger licking, page turning good


This is not to say that such personal endeavors are worthless, as the article which prompted this post states bluntly.

It is a delusion though to think that major change in the world will come about by sipping a particular coffee or that chanting mantras in front of the UN building will get a treaty passed.

This is magic thinking. Just like dreaming of winning a lottery.



Right Lifestyle
2009 December 21
by NellaLou
[The term Right Lifestyle is borrowed from the post tags on One City blog. (Londro has an interesting post there about Buddhism and Activism)]

The Questions

Is Lifestyle Activism an expression of privilege?
Is Buddhism becoming a Lifestyle Accessory for the privileged Lifestyle Activist?

These are the two questions that concern me in this post.

Lifestyle Activism

It is not often that those with identified political opinions, either left or right, take the time to examine some of the assumptions that underpin those positions.

I came across these very interesting article on the site Open Left, a while back. Self-Delusion and the Lie of Lifestyle Activism and Part II: The Distortions of Lifestyle Politics



Both articles and their comments are worth reading for anyone who’s ever participated in any kind of cause-oriented behavior. I personally do agree with the gist of the statements as well as some, but not all, of the points presented.

What is Lifestyle Activism? The author of the articles defines it thusly:


Eating organic food for your own health is not lifestyle activism. Buying a Prius because it gets better gas mileage or because you think it’s cool is not lifestyle activism.

Lifestyle activism occurs only when people eat organic food because they believe they are participating in a larger ecological movement, or drive Priuses to reduce their carbon footprint and to encourage others to do the same through their example. When people seek to contribute to social change on a broader scale through their lifestyles, that’s lifestyle activism.

The author distinguishes between Lifestyle Activism and Lifestyle Politics and outlines the dangers inherent in both in the above articles.


“lifestyle activism:” individual lifestyle changes designed to contribute to the betterment of the world, and

“lifestyle politics:” collective action that emerges out of lifestyle activism.
Recycling a can is lifestyle activism. Fighting to pass a law to make other people recycle is lifestyle politics.

The principle (sp) point which is not strongly stated is that these types of activism and politics do not involve any examination of the lifestyle itself(corboy's emphasis)

And that lifestyle involves maximizing physical, psychological and social comfort and material acquisition. They are very shallow activities which do not address any sort of social structural changes.

For example purchasing a 5$ cup of coffee is rationalized by the “fair trade” label rather than examined as a privileged act of consumption.

They serve to maintain, fortify and even encourage positions of differential power relations rather than address them. Questions such as: Who is serving the coffee? Who is transporting the coffee? Who is packaging the coffee? Who is growing the coffee? relative to Who is purchasing the coffee? illustrate this difference.

Further examples include such concepts as eco-tourism, sustainable development and ethical investing. They are oxymorons and allow a continuation of an excessive lifestyle without addressing their own big-picture internal contradictions.

The articles raise further intriguing and possibly contentious points. Among many other strong statements the author finds:


There is not a lot of evidence that, in the absence of new laws or incentives, lifestyle activists can make that much of a difference.

In actual fact, many of us recycle and buy priuses and go to marches that have no coherent strategic aims behind them (but that allow us to hang out with other people like ourselves) because they are part of our social life .

If we told ourselves the truth about what we are doing, if we actually acknowledged that most of our “activism” is about us, and not really about trying to make a significant difference in the world or for people who really suffer, then it wouldn’t serve its identity purpose anymore…

Lifestyle activism only works if we maintain the lie that it is “activism” instead of a form of individual investment on the same level of buying a nice pair of shoes or getting a hip haircut.

Most lifestyle activism seems to take the form it does because it allows (mostly middle-class professionals) to feel like they can make a difference in the world while at the same time purifying their lives

Lifestyle activism assumes that you have the resources to make lifestyle choices.

Lifestyle activism is an expression of privilege. It represents the capacity to spend time and resources doing things that don’t actually matter in any direct way for you or your family in service of your own identity construction.

The lie of lifestyle activism also allows people to believe they have control in an uncontrollable world .

In fact, lifestyle activism allows people to feel individually more powerful.

They matter.

All by themselves

Lifestyle Activism in the North American context comes with a whole host of buzz words and phrases which include:

fair trade
sweatshop free
carbon offsets
clean technology
environmentally friendly
rainforest grown
recyclable and recycled
conscientious consumer

Notice how all of them have quite a positive spin, a sense of redemption or salvation, a oneness with or return to nature and cleanness.

They provide us with the sense we may buy into the opportunity to elevate ourselves from the implied opposites. There are synonyms that could be used, and were used in the past, but now we don’t often hear words like “non-exploitative”, “anti-discrimination”, “pollution-reduction”, “anti-poverty” or even “sewage treatment”, which is now called “wastewater” or “effluent” treatment, as these involve “ugly” though more realistic words. (Corboy's emphasis)

Even with the word 'sweatshop', which does not adequately describe the conditions and could possibly be the name of a local gym, the happy sounding “free” releases the negativity.

On a blog post entitled Lifestyle Activism:The Realistic Way, by a group calling themselves The Younger Women’s Task Force,


the agenda is well spelled out.

Most of this article relates to a particular style of consumerism with a particular sort of rationalization for that consumerism. The author even goes on to link to lists of “preferred” retailers. Here is an example of that consumerist style and rationalization :


One way I do my part is by purchasing clothes and bath products from companies with healthy-looking models, who rely on quality products to motivate my patronage. This way, I’m advocating positive body image for all girls and women by refusing to give my money to corporations who make me feel like there’s something wrong with me that needs to be fixed (by their product, with my money, of course!)

There are several internal contradictions and assumptions in this paragraph.

There is not any established linkage between the images portrayed and a social advocacy position within a given company.

(Corboy--this is a very good point. Cafe Gratitude, a vegan restaurant is full of this nicey nicey positive language, but we have a section in the LGAT message niche discussing a big brouhaha when a free newspaper published reports from former employees that the progressive minded owners of CG fired mangement track personnel who refused to participate in Landmark Education, an LGAT that has generated many harm reports.


The Lululemon company is a good example of this lifestyle activism--tied to an LGAT that is capitalist in the extreme.


That is generally assumed. They are companies who answer to their shareholders and their primary motivation is to maximize profit. Often companies that use this strategy make beauty products, such as Dove, which the author mentions by name. The products in this category tend to be prescriptive for such things as smooth moisturized skin and lustrous hair. Beauty product companies themselves manufacture the criteria by which beauty and health are defined. This is a contradiction in relation to this writer’s concern with “positive body image” and her implication that there is not something wrong that needs to be fixed. The author uses the advertising to direct her purchases towards the “healthy” images equating that with quality products which is another assumption. The rejection of the overt advertising in favor of the more subtle persuasion using health, the vulnerability of those (women in this case) who have experienced social injustice or a sense of being “unhealthy” since their skin is not smooth nor their hair lustrous and an assumption of quality simply means that the advertisers are successful in their campaign to persuade a consumer in this instance.

This type of advertising is incredibly subtle and seductive. We want to believe we are making good choices for ourselves and that those choices will not have negative impacts on people or our environment but all too often those choices are based on shallow unexamined prefaces.

The focus in this example and other instances of much Lifestyle Activism relies primarily on the purchaser feeling good about themselves and their own activism. It is exactly the same strategy corporations accused of “greenwashing” use. The consumer is made to feel heroic in their purchasing choices. And it gives the consumer the added socio-cultural leverage of being able to flaunt their choices to others. It is an indicator of self-aggrandizement and the power of First World high status privilege.

The blog post author sums up her take on Lifestyle Activism:

It’s something that anyone, anywhere, can do at any time, and it’s based on tapping into your own personal power as an agent of improvement.

What’s important is that we recognize the value of our money and actions, and realize that we can enact significant and sustainable change, all by ourselves

The significant changes mentioned are only in the methodology to sustain comfortable lifestyles. It makes little or no difference to most of the world which beauty moisturizer or t-shirt one chooses.

Oprah is not one who immediately comes to mind when the term Lifestyle Activist is used but she is perhaps one of the most prominent examples of Lifestyle Activism as an expression of privilege. She is but one member of the “Celebrity Activist” set that regularly publicize their activism and expressions of compassion to the detriment of much actual substance to those claims. This group includes people such as Bono, Angelina Jolie, Mia Farrow, Pamela Anderson and many others. Contrast this with the low-key activism of such people as Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon or Martin Sheen and Al Franken. The latter actually entering politics to attempt to effect structural change.

Here is an example of this unfocused self-before-issue approach.

Mia Farrow: dieting for the cause

A narcissistic ‘hunger strike’ for Darfur is getting far more attention than protests without celebrity endorsement….Farrow and her fasting buddies are presenting their efforts as selfless sacrifices, all done for the sake of suffering Darfurians, to ‘raise awareness’ of their plight and put pressure on the ‘international community’ to intervene. But rather than shedding light on the conflict in Darfur, aloof celebrity activists are primarily drawing attention to themselves while at the same time obscuring the facts on the ground, which are, in reality, complex…From celebs demanding, in neo-colonialist fashion, that the West intervene to save Africans from themselves, to greens claiming to represent ‘The Planet’ against mankind, many protests today are staged ‘on behalf of others’ – even if those others have not asked for it… from Spiked Online

This type of approach is typical of many of the Celebrity Lifestyle Activism crowd. The emphasis is on the self and demonstrations of social “goodness” rather than any sort of effective strategy. Once awareness has been “raised” and “pressure” has been brought to bear on the “international community” what happens? Whose awareness has been raised? And what has been raised other than the profile of the celebrity? Who exactly comprises the “international community” and what power do they have to change things? This celebrity publicity exercise is merely the entire trend, and it is a trend not any sort of meaningful effective action, of Lifestyle Activism writ large.

This self-congratulatory type of “altruistic” activity is ramping up to new levels. One such example is the recent Charter for Compassion which I’ve gone on about at length. The entire purpose of such self-involved spectacles is not activism or real social change but a very expensive feel-good exercise for the participants. Of that case in point over 100,000 dollars is spent to produce 5 vague paragraphs that observers can latch onto and applaud and then the party’s over. But the sponsors, big money tech firms most prominently certainly get their money’s worth by underwriting such endeavors in terms of “socially-responsible” corporate profile.

A Viewpoint of the Meaning of Lifestyle Activism from India

There is at present quite another view of lifestyle activism in India. According to the on-line magazine Tossed Salad it is defined as:

life-style ac-tivi-sm: (noun) intentional action in order to bring change in percieved definition of lifestyle in india

What this amounts to is living the “good life” Reading the right books, eating the right food at the right restaurants, seeing the latest movies, dressing in the latest fashion. It is about changing the world but not from a typical “cause” perspective. It is about buying into the narcissism of global culture and enjoying the consumer lifestyle. From their website:

We bring to you, henceforth, weekly issues of Every Monday, you’ll find a fresh array of books to read from, a series of movies — old and new, to settle down with, recipes to test those culinary skills, writings to pump up the grey cells and tips to appeal to the narcissist in all of us.

This is partly a reflection of addressing the discomfort of some Indians’ self-perception with the label “developing”. Conspicuous consumption is very popular in India. Social status is expressed by the wearing of gold jewelry, driving the latest car, the size and opulence of a wedding, going to the “right schools” and buying the latest hot brands. Just like in America.

The authors of this magazine have adopted the phrase “Lifestyle Activism” and whole-heartedly equated it with privilege. The leisure time and extra money to be able to indulge in this kind of discretionary spending has not been very widely available in the past for most people in India. But with the rising middle class and increasing regulation of some industries, in part due to globalization and out-sourcing, this is increasingly becoming a reality for many city dwellers.

And it is also increasing the divide between urban and rural populations, and the middle and working classes, as it does in America. Access to more goods of more varieties and origins, increased affordability due to higher wages and exposure to high-pressure social messages about what constitutes “a happy life” contribute to the consumerist lifestyle. Many in America have now incorporated the gloss of social-responsibility to both assuage guilt for the over consumptiveness of an affluent lifestyle or to disguise the actual reality of the increasing divides. This has not reached India to any significant degree but it is on the periphery. Tree planting schemes in Pune and “Save the Yamuna” river campaign in Delhi and Agra are starting to take off. Events surrounding these campaigns are often attended by politicians or their families, along with the media.

I bring the Indian example up partly because someone recently asked me if I wanted to invest in their “eco-tourism” scheme. I said no, not only because I’m not some kind of wealthy venture capitalist, but also because the term “eco-tourism” is used as an advertising slogan in my region without reference to much ecology. The state government has started to use words like “sustainable” and “environmental protection”. What this often works out to mean are cases of “greenwashing” to appease foreign investors, the IMF and the World Bank who make significant financial contributions to the area. It is the rhetoric of “Lifestyle Politics” on a massive scale.

It is becoming a far reaching phenomenon.

The Meaning of Meaningful

Often these kinds of lifestyle-bound social actions invoke the word meaningful. Increasingly this meaningfulness is self-referential. It may be personally meaningful to “raise awareness” of an issue but what is the meaning beyond that? Meaningful. For who?

The American Convert-Buddhist Context

There is an article I’ve come across (thanks to Scott at The Buddha is my DJ) about the accessories that so many adopting Buddhism deem necessary for their practice. “Americans Need Something to Sit On,”or Zen Meditation Materials and Buddhist Diversity in North America discusses the issue of fancy meditation cushions and the socio-economic status of purchasers of those cushions among other related issues. The author of that paper outlines his discussion with the following:

This focus on consumption and a single commodity assumes, among other considerations, that specific things and our social and economic relationships with things actually matter in the study of religion.

My paper… is an only slightly ironic look at how materialism—or, more accurately, consumption—conditions and is conditioned by spiritual communities. To paraphrase Leigh E. Schmidt in his work on American holidays, I am attempting to focus on the “interplay” of commerce, Buddhism, and consumption.(7) Thus, I intend to argue that consumption is an integral aspect of Buddhism in American and that Buddhist Americans’ consumption practices are, in conjunction with other factors, having a profound influence on the various ways that Buddhism in America is developing, how it is being perceived, imagined, and, finally, contested.

While I am not going to take up the issue of cushions, the” “interplay” of commerce, Buddhism and consumption” is very much on my mind in writing this post.

The author of the above article states that “consumption is an integral aspect of Buddhism”. I would like to posit that Buddhism is increasingly becoming an integral aspect of “Lifestyle Activist” consumption.

There are Buddhist inspired activist projects and Buddhist inspired protests. Buddhist household ornaments and labeled clothing. OK cushions too.

Purchasers for such products as cushions are “Elite Buddhists” and closely related groups, as the research by the article author, Douglas M. Padgett has discovered. In the detailed section (which I’ve slightly condensed) on the customers for cushions he writes:

Elite Buddhism is not wholly defined by actual meditation practice, but rather by a particular consumer orientation…In consumption anthropology, they might be known as “highbrow Buddhists.” .. they have certainly adopted consumption habits indicating a minimal level of understanding and commitment to a Buddhist practice…For my purposes, perhaps, most importantly, these are also the people who are buying things that, in some way are symbolically or culturally associated with Buddhism. Thus, this community of discourse might just as appropriately be referred to collectively as a “community of consumption.”

The producers of cushions themselves of course implicitly identify Elite Buddhists as a coherent community of consumption as well as a community of meditators. They use the same media to sell to the same people, advertising in Buddhist journals (Shambhala Sun, Tricycle, and a few others) with identical forays outside the Buddhist print community into the more commercial and larger circulation Yoga Journal…In point of fact of course, Tricycle, like its advertisers and readers, is predominantly concerned with those readers possessing contemporary, mass-market oriented consumption habits—and who are also practicing or interested in meditation-oriented Buddhism. Tricycle’s advertising department claims… an estimated readership (factoring in multiple readers per copy) of 150,000. Over half of this number are considered to be non-Buddhist. The average household income for Tricycle readers is $50,000 or more and $72, 000 for Shambhala Sun readers…Shambhala Sun furthermore notes that 35 percent of their readership are professionals in the “medical/alternative health care, legal, financial, or counseling fields.” As evidence of the assertion that we are, in some significant way, talking about people who might actually meditate, Shambhala Sun finds that 90 percent have “visited a contemplative center or retreat center in the past year.”(18)

But most sales are made to private individuals. The customers are educated, wealthy, thirty-five to fifty years old, and evenly divided between male and female… The fact that many of their products are locally made or American made is actually a large selling point. In advertising and selling, their principle is to tell as much as possible about the product, so materials and make are part of that information. (emphasis mine)

The consumption habits of these customers are well established before they begin to buy Buddhist-oriented merchandise. If we take note of the statements that products are “locally made” “American made” . Tricycle Summer 2009 editorial lauds the magazines decision to “go green” and that issue includes many articles and references to “Lifestyle Activist” friendly activities and ideology. As well in the pages of the Shambhala Sun January 2010 products are associated with “Earth-friendly” (p88), “Diversity, Sustainability” (back cover),”organic” (p6), “sustainable plantations” (p92) the language is very similar and in many cases exactly like that of the “Lifestyle Activist”. As well there are numerous ads for “investing mindfully”wealth management companies (p97 and back cover) and “authentic leadership” (p22) so both the elements of political consciousness and economic prosperity are present. And these elements are principle characteristics of those who embrace “Lifestyle Activism”.

It would not be possible to determine with any exactitude the numbers of “Lifestyle Activists” who would also identify as Buddhist or who could be deemed sympathetic to Buddhist teachings. But by the advertising and increasingly the content there is a great degree of overlap.

Of those who actually enter Buddhism as a practice rather than as a lifestyle accoutrement, it is also difficult to determine how many do so for reasons of social and status pressure rather than an actual interest in the Dharma. The upward trending of Buddhist, and other Asian ideological cultural productions is becoming increasingly evident. Is this an indication of acceptance or mere co-opting into the dominant culture of the consumer?

If the number and type of products in popular culture that invoke Buddhist messages, images, language or symbols (check The Worst Horse for examples) is any indication, “looking Buddhist” in any and every aspect of life and business is becoming more important than being Buddhist.

Beyond the “Buddhist look” we can also rent ourselves a meaningful “Buddhist Lifestyle Activist Experience”. Things like “street retreats” in impoverished areas are available so you can check out if you want to make a lifestyle decision to be homeless. What luxury!

Buddhist “spiritual tourism” is another big seller. In the recent issue of Shambhala Sun there is a small interview with Elizabeth Gilbert author of the “Eat, Pray, Love” book. In a past post entitled Poverty Porn, Dilettante Charity and a Holiday in Cambodia I’ve examined her approach and her exploitation of other cultures for her own gratification, and profit.

(Corboy note: Gilbert stayed at a very commercial 'Hindu' ashram, not a Buddhist one.)

The Buddhist label for some of those who embrace “Lifestyle Activism” is an accessory just like the Prius or a 100% sweat-shop free, organic cotton, vegan-endorsed t-shirt. It is becoming a designer religion in America.

Conclusion on Right Lifestyle

As much as I’ve dialogued with some folks who write for the One City blog there is a small point I’d like to take issue with there too. In their post tags often the words Right Lifestyle often appear.

As it is a Buddhist blog this bastardization of the Noble 8 Fold Path, which doesn’t include “Lifestyle”, indicates the co-opting of Buddhism as an accessory of the “Lifestyle Activist” brand to me. Perhaps that is not the intention but it is uncomfortable to watch and that is why it is mentioned here.

That one can afford to “style” one’s life is indicative of a degree of privilege.

Activism in the past has involved revolutionary-minded political action. It was aimed at addressing and bringing about the deep social structural changes necessary to address inequality. When we invoke the memories and actions of people like Gandhi who said “Be the change you want to see in the world” to find some apparently clever t-shirt logo to make us look politically correct and feel better about a wasteful lifestyle it trivializes the entire endeavor of addressing social change on a meaningful and effective level. Meaningful here being the inclusive variety not the exclusive variety.

There are some who believe that the creation of activist thinking begins by people using their wallet to implement social change. The flaw with this kind of thinking is manifold. It reinforces the habitual capitalist illusion and habit that money changes situations, buys happiness (of one’s self or others) or contains “power”. It also maintains the status quo by there being someone to pay and someone to be paid-the unequal divide. And it reinforces the ego of the owner of the money. And this “vote by wallet” mentality has already been exploited by many corporations to massage consumers into favorably receiving more subtle advertising messages.

This is not to say that such personal endeavors are worthless, as the article which prompted this post states bluntly. It is a delusion though to think that major change in the world will come about by sipping a particular coffee or that chanting mantras in front of the UN building will get a treaty passed. This is magic thinking. Just like dreaming of winning a lottery. In the first instance either drink a coffee because you like it not because it contains some advertiser’s vision of great social revolutionary symbology or stop drinking coffee altogether and then maybe join the Peace Corps. In the second instance chant for the sake of the chanting and then contact your political representative, or better yet become a political representative yourself to get that treaty passed.

It is only by definitive, lifestyle examination, change and significant action that effective social change comes about. One cannot purchase real social change.

I cannot resist offering a very articulate article on this, here again using Lululemon as an example--New Age twaddle at its best or worst, depending on your perspective.


Plus, the environment of the store makes consumers feel like they’re part of something bigger. Part of a lifestyle of the moment, a statement that is at once aspirational and attainable, a brand relationship that for consumers nationwide justifies a substantive premium vis a vis similar goods sold elsewhere. This dynamic is nothing new – Ralph Lauren, Nike, Apple, and Starbucks have spent decades creating brand auras that transformed products they did not invent.


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Re: Recovering from New Age Mumbo Jumbo
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: December 22, 2009 12:52AM

Hear that folks? The New Wage/Dharma Lite cultic milieu is, too often, a community of consumption.

A community whose 'BUY' triggers can be mapped with great precision and then pressed by anyone who understands this community and wants to make some money off of it.

Poverty Porn Dilettante Charity and a Holiday in Cambodia.


(Corboy's RX: Get and read Stephen Asma's book, 'The Gods Drink Whiskey'. He lived a year in Cambodia, teaching the intricate Buddhist abidharma philosophy at an academy set up to re-create a system of education so that young Cambodians could regain access to their own culture and Buddhist spiritual heritage. Asma lived with his
students, and nearly everyone he met had been affected, quite horribly, by the genocidal massacres perpetrated by Pol Pot. He witnessed a political assassination in the local market, and his is a rare account by a traveler of a year in one of the Theravedan Buddhist countries.)

Our author thoughtfully supplied a You Tube of the Dead Kennedys and the lyrics in print for

Holiday in Cambodia

So you been to school
For a year or two
And you know you’ve seen it all
In daddy’s car
Thinkin’ you’ll go far
Back east your type don’t crawl

Play ethnicky jazz
To parade your snazz
On your five grand stereo
Braggin’ that you know
How the niggers feel cold
And the slums got so much soul

It’s time to taste what you most fear
Right Guard will not help you here
Brace yourself, my dear:

It’s a holiday in Cambodia
It’s tough, kid, but it’s life
It’s a holiday in Cambodia
Don’t forget to pack a wife

You’re a star-belly sneech
You suck like a leach
You want everyone to act like you
Kiss ass while you bitch
So you can get rich
But your boss gets richer off you

Well you’ll work harder
With a gun in your back
For a bowl of rice a day
Slave for soldiers
Till you starve
Then your head is skewered on a stake

Now you can go where people are one
Now you can go where they get things done
What you need, my son:.

Is a holiday in Cambodia
Where people dress in black
A holiday in Cambodia
Where you’ll kiss ass or crack

Pol Pot, Pol Pot, Pol Pot, Pol Pot, [etc]

And it’s a holiday in Cambodia
Where you’ll do what you’re told
A holiday in Cambodia
Where the slums got so much soul

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Re: Recovering from New Age Mumbo Jumbo
Posted by: NellaLou ()
Date: December 23, 2009 12:53AM

It is good to know that what I wrote in the two above-mentioned articles are getting people thinking about deeper issues such as the consumption lifestyle which greatly contributes to the notion that one can buy the secrets to life, happiness, good relationships, wealth production all in a weekend seminar.

(Corboy note: Gilbert stayed at a very commercial 'Hindu' ashram, not a Buddhist one.)

Yes this is so. I brought her up because she is mentioned in a Buddhist magazine and her brand of spirituality doesn't seem to care which traditions it co-opts in order to make a buck.

There are numerous commercial Hindu ashrams that scam as much as any snake-oil salesman in America or elsewhere. Quite some time ago Geta Mehta wrote a book called Karma Cola about that. Highly recommended for anyone coming to India for a "spiritual" vacation or retreat or training. (BTW I have spent the better part of the last 9 years living in India and read about all kinds of these scams in their newspapers- but at least the papers publicize it often along with warnings about how to spot fake gurus-India is not naive in this regard after so many millenia)

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Re: Recovering from New Age Mumbo Jumbo
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: December 23, 2009 09:18AM

Nella, you would get a kick out of reading these two articles:

Beware of the Waiting Game


Western Converts as Trophies


If you liked Karma Cola, you may find a lot of gems in a book by Agehananda Bharati, entitled The Ochre Robe.

Get the 1980 second edition because it contains a post script in which Bharati mentions Karma Cola and other things he learned in the intervening years.

I am deeply grateful for your perspectives and would like to mention that years ago, I gave up on Tricycle.

This article was originally published in Tricycle, in 2002,


and at the time I read it, I wondered what on earth an item like that was doing in a Buddhist magazine.

So much for right speech, eh?

Depends on whose ox is gored. We could add THAT to the 10 Ox Herding Pictures.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 12/23/2009 09:21AM by corboy.

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Re: Recovering from New Age Mumbo Jumbo
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: December 24, 2009 01:38AM

When Dharma is Fake Turning Citizens Into Peasants

(scroll up to read Rebuttal to Dr Pangloss)



Historian Norman E Cantor, said this about the difference 14th century people's
mindset and our own, regarding attitudes toward power and leaders.

Edward III of England waged cruel and merciless war against France, bringing suffering and death to thousands. He beseiged the French city of Calais into starvation and
when six citizens from the city, staggered forth offering their own lives in a plea
that the surrendered city not be subjected to wholesale massacre, the king would have
had them killed, had his own queen not thrown herself at his feet and begged mercy.

Edward also raped an English noblewoman after sending her husband abroad on a mission to get him out of the way. He funded his wars by taking out hefty loans from a
series of Italian banks, and then defaulted on the loans causing a financial collapse in

By our modern standards, Edward III was an abusive monster. But here is what
Professor Cantor tells us:


That today we may look back on the English king of the fourteenth century as a kind of destructive and merciless force, while to nearly all articulate and literate contemporaries he was a constitutional king and very model of chivalry and aristocratic honor, illuminates a gap between our world and fourteenth century Europe.

Fourteenth century people lacked the moral catagories that could transcend traditional political and social roles. They lacked a critical value system that judged rulers by consequenes and not the formal catories in which their behavior was structured.

In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World It Made, page 39

There was no way to step outside of the situation and evaluate the kings job performance.

But, in the New Wage and Dharma Lite scene, we risk having our modern citizens minds and the hard won capacity for analytical and critical thought replaced by this medieval mindset that lacks a critical value system that judges rules (and gurus and roshis) by consequences of their actions.

The arguement that enlightenment means a guru or roshi's behavior is beyond the reach of conventional evaluation is another way to return us to the feudal peasants mindset that serves the interests of the Neo Brahmins and New Wage barons carving out their fiefdoms via Twitter, Pocasts, etc.

These Neo Brahmins and New Wage barons claim to be postmodern and 21st century but they're as preoccuppied with hierarchy, especially those who prate of Vertical Hierarchy as any medieval chancellor or scholastic.

They represent a regression, but all dressed up in modern garb to disguise it.

If we become elegantly dressed peasants and keep our noses dutifully aimed at our own little gardens, we will not catch on to all this--and thats what the barons want.

Lennon's song Working Class Hero has this


As soon as you're born they make you feel small
By giving you no time instead of it all
Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

They hurt you at home and they hit you at school
They hate you if you're clever and they despise a fool
Till you're so fucking crazy you can't follow their rules
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

When they've tortured and scared you for twenty odd years
Then they expect you to pick a career
When you can't really function you're so full of fear
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV
And you think you're so clever and classless and free
But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

There's room at the top they are telling you still
But first you must learn how to smile as you kill
If you want to be like the folks on the hill
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

If you want to be a hero well just follow me
If you want to be a hero well just follow me

John Lennon

Corboy: I disgree with the 'just follow me' part.


Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV
And you think you're so clever and classless and free
But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see

A parody

Keep you cravingly curious whether you're truly Integral
Worrying what color you are on the Great Spiral
You think you're Big Minded, Evolved full member of the spiritual elite
But to the Enlightement Industry you're still just one hunk a meat

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 12/24/2009 01:50AM by corboy.

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Re: Recovering from New Age Mumbo Jumbo
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: December 26, 2009 12:17AM

Koan For the Day

Is Marketing, designed to identify and increase cravings, compatible with Dharma which is meant to apply insight to craving?

In what way is post modern marketing assimilating the insights, images and lingo of Buddhadharma INTO those marketing strategies to make more effective in triggering cravings for aquisition in listeners and readers, rather than the insights of Buddhadharma being applied TO post modern marketing so as to examine exactly how it inflames craving supports an illusory sense of self rather than applying insight to this tangle of market driven craving and self enhancement?

There is a recent book review in the November issue of Harpers

A blogger writes:

"It's a really good, provocative essay on how design manipulates consumerism..."

Consumerism being the inward and outer tangle of cravings that every practicing Buddhist should be encouraged to look at--not support as a reactive spender.

Classical capitalism, exemplified in Edith Wharton's The Custom of the Country: "Accumulated capital --in its most basic form, primitive hoarding --is spent on conspicuous demonstrations of waste in the form of leisure."

Late capitalism, exemplified F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night: "..the shadowy shills of the culture industry want us to spend our way to wealth and happiness. Down on the ground, the individual experiences fractured selves, or multiple consumption identities, even while yearning for wholeness."

Postmodern capitalism: exemplified in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, "Consumption is both intimate and relentless: brand-conscious consumers cannibalize themselves, feeding on their jumble of layered identities."

In this form of postmodern capitalism, marketing is aimed so consumers make purchases of various goods, information and services they see as creating and maintaining a particular self concept. (eg I am green, I am progressive, I am evolutionary and spiritual, etc)

And...'insights from Veblen (author of the classic Conspicuous Consumption) are assimilated (into the post modern capitalist strategy itself) rather than Veblens insights being applied to post modern capitalism to consider their new and perverse relevance." (Corboys paraphrase of some notes written after reading a copy of this article)

This is right smack in line with what Nella has invited us to examine.

Is commercial dharma emancipatory, or is it part of something that supports our sense of ourselves as enlightened, or on the way, or evolutionary, or as occuppying some desirable rung in the Wilberian scheme of things?


Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 12/26/2009 12:24AM by corboy.

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Re: Recovering from New Age Mumbo Jumbo
Posted by: Nadege ()
Date: January 25, 2010 03:04AM

I agree, and I'm really thankful for the opportunity to read all the insights in this thread. I was reading one of these books online on "distant energetic-informational development", and all of a sudden I'm reading "When a person turns seven, the karma mechanism turns on and begins to work." SAYS WHO? SHOW ME WHERE IT'S WRITTEN? What complete pseudo-scientific nonsense.

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