Zentertainment, Dharma burgers, and the Buddhaweb

Brad Warner recently explored a topic he’s termed “Zentertainment” – the insistence of Western dabblers that Buddhist teachers perform various snazzy Buddhist rituals, make “Zen noises” (another great term from Brad) and generally feed the overdeveloped ego. Zen has become a kind of catchphrase that can be a design style, a mood, or a wallpaper pattern. Brad combats this by steadfastly being the exact opposite of what most people imagine a Buddhist teacher would be like.

The Worst Horse, another fantastic source of Buddhist sacrilege (and I mean that as a compliment), posts frequently about “Dharma burgers.” These are delicious tasty pop culture morsels, usually advertising, featuring the Buddha using the Yellow Pages or someone meditating while others around them do ridiculous things. The Worst Horse points out these examples and lets us laugh at the silliness of it all.

Zentertainment and Dharma burgers are terms for explaining the misappropriation of Buddhist concepts in the US. People respond to this pop culture Buddhism in a myriad of ways, ranging from decrying the religious persecution of Buddhists to laughing heartily at the Glade Scented Candle ad. Whether we like it or not, this is one of the ways the West has changed and embraced Buddhism. It has become a Jungian symbol for peace and serenity in the midst of our chaotic lives. As religious appropriation goes – and I’ll probably get a lot of crap for saying this – it’s not that bad, and it could be a lot worse.

That’s right, I’m not that offended by it. I can’t count the number of times an atheist has told me that if they had to pick a religion, it would be Buddhism, or that a Christian has said “Oh, I love Buddhism, it’s so peaceful.” I’m happy to have a peaceful coexistence with those of a different belief system than mine. I think that’s incredibly valuable. Buddhism enjoys an elevated status, even in the current conservative cultural climate, because it has somehow managed to be so damn cuddly, adorable and inoffensive. I blame the cuddly Dalai Lama (no offense Dalai Lama, I love you).

Most serious practitioners know that Buddhism isn’t cuddly (unless you like to snuggle your zafu even though your butt’s been sitting on it all day), adorable (see photos of me on Flickr) or inoffensive (check out some of the comments Brad and other controversial teachers draw on their blog posts).

Should we work vigorously to correct these wrongs and correct misconceptions when they arise directly in our path? Absolutely. Should we spend all our time fighting the perceived injustice? Absolutely not. There are much bigger fish to fry in the world than the perception of Buddhism in the US, and no two people would ever agree on how Buddhism should be perceived, anyway. When people come and they ask, give them truth. Don’t Zentertain them.

Please don’t forget to join the Dharmacore community.


3 Responses to “Zentertainment, Dharma burgers, and the Buddhaweb”

  1. Insightful. This is probably the only way that the mass of people in this country is exposed to any new idea, and it is a good thing that the image is so positive. Maybe it will lead to the realization that mainstream American life is usually completely unbalanced.

  2. […] asserts that while Buddhism has made a good start in the US and has become part of the lexicon (a subject I’m interested in myself), we haven’t yet figured out how to “get married and […]

  3. just wanted to thank you for this — for the kind words, of course, but also for the blog in general, and for this smart post.

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