Monday, July 21, 2014

Trickle-Down

Jacob Rubin:

One might also claim that Harris’s watered-down vision of Buddhism, with its emphasis on career advancement, will encourage misuse. This may be fair enough, but it’s not an especially revealing criticism. After all, one of the first things that people do with any tool or philosophy is misuse it. A history of Christianity is largely a history of the abuse of Jesus Christ’s teachings; Buddhism is not exempt from such misprision. On the spectrum of misappropriation, using self-advancement as a lure seems forgivable enough if it leads people to try a technique as subtly transformative as mindfulness. (Indeed, if personal betterment is America’s religion, such an approach might be seen as syncretic.) What can be lost by broadening access to a philosophy of liberation, even if a majority of people conflate it with the more vulgar priorities of our culture?

What can be lost? Well, nothing, unless you count the opportunity to radically change your life, to allow yourself to be overwhelmed by a new perspective, rather than merely reinforcing whatever narcissism already exists. In the same way, nothing is "lost" when spiritual-not-religious types employ the cafeteria approach when deciding which parts of various religious traditions to incorporate into their already-existing identities as suburban American consumers. However, a person in search of self-knowledge and deeply-rooted contentment, as opposed to trendy metaphysical fashion accessories, will probably want to delve a little more deeply into that suburban consumer identity and question the role it might play in their dissatisfaction.

So, no, this isn't really anything but an argument over terminology. A lot of devoted Buddhists will look at what Harris is selling and say, "Eh, whatever; that's not real meditation." Maybe some people will never use it as anything other than yet another optimization technique for maximum efficiency and wealth accumulation. Maybe some of those people will eventually feel dissatisfied with that lifestyle and wonder if there's anything more to this existence. Buddhist traditions, on the other hand, have been evolving and adapting for more than two thousand years; they certainly won't be diminished by yet another passing trend promising yet another way for you to "have it all". The fact is, you can't, but some people aren't ready to accept that yet. So it goes.

Also: "watered-down Buddhism"? How ironic! As we well know, Buddhism is just another solidification of the pure, liquid source of all religion.