Why do we look toward celebrities and even our iPhones for the truth? What about looking inside our own mind? Is coffee table dharma enough to wake us up?
Dzogchen Ponlop is a teacher, a poet, visual artist and city-dweller, based in the United States for two decades.
October 13, 2010 / Rebel Buddha
Tags: Buddhism, celebrity worship, coffee table dharma, dharma practice, dharma study, i-phone, Indian actors, self confidence, spiritual journey, worship Categories: Featured, The Blog •
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I think sometimes celebrities can inspire us…they can appear to represent the values that we hold dearest. The danger comes when reify and yes idolize them. There are certain celebrities that I do tune into. Two of them are political satirists and listening to them does give me a sense of ‘restored sanity’. But the celebrity that I come closest to idolizing is H.H. Dalai Lama. I’m currently reading yet another book of his…this one about his own personal spiritual journey. While I read this book I also am reading a book by an avowed atheist titled, The Moral Landscape. And contrasting the two suggested approaches to the dilemma of living in a highly relativized world with all these various belief systems crashing up against one another.
But I digress. The reason why I come close to idolizing H.H. Dalai Lama is because he seems to me to embody wisdom and compassion to a degree that I cannot help but admire with all my mind, heart, and being. Seeing him in Seattle at two different events I was repeatedly struck by how humble he seems to be. Humble, highly intelligent, loving, and completely spontaneous. It is very difficult not to idolize this teacher. Still…I also understand that this isn’t what he is after. If I imagine WWHHD (what would his holiness do) it isn’t something along the lines of develop yet another attachment (got issues with that sticky business as it is).
So why do we engage in celebrity worship? I think it has everything to do with our goals…our ultimate desire. If it is fame, wealth, beauty, etc…then we will affix ourselves mentally to this one or that one who has come to represent our desires in physical form.
But the real work for anyone seriously interested in personal transformation is to release these kinds of unhealthy attachments and just take up the work every single day to liberate oneself and to help others who are also suffering and entangled in these sorts of knots.
With the utmost respect, Rinpoche, lama-lah, I had to question the basic premise.
Where is the rebelliousness? Can those who cleave to convention and us popularity as proof of validity also then claim to value the rebel? This certainly fits my cohort (who I’ve been observing with pain-filled eyes since 1968 … oh my I miss my bus friends so much!), which means that “rebel” is likely to be co-opted as a term, just as “radical” has become equivalent to “extremist”. (Its etymology is far closer to meaning something like “from the root”, of course. Which matters naught.
What marks celebrity apart from vast popularity? And since popularity is proof of value / validity … that’s it. My fellows bow and kow-tow to success.
Popularity and wealth … worldly success … there is no other.
We were talking about “chains of gold” in the 60s; there’s nothing novel in that. My cohort sang the songs, and then my cohort pursued wealth. Now they can retire with their wealth.
heh … something like a joke: there are 2 kinds of people. 1 kind believes the lyrics.
hoping that this extemporare stream does not seem vindictive
A real rebel buddha would withdraw from all this, and stop struggling with it. They would go to the interstices, open spaces, where all the hidden yogis go, where the authentic dharma is.
This is more marketing; This is part of the coffee table, popularized buddhism, looking for a new hook to actually keep the traditional atavistic, monastic buddhism going by appealing to the same old new age, psychologizing, coffee table buddhists, still enthralled with lamaism, but wanting a new angle. Just taking off the robes for photo ops, and looking hip, doesn’t mean this isn’t the same old wolf in sheeps clothing.
@topek: When you say “a real rebel would withdraw from all of this, and stop struggling with it,” I wonder what “this” and “it” refer to. Teaching? Making one’s deep and extensive knowledge of the dharma accessible in modern culture? I don’t think a “real rebel,” or any other altruistically motivated person, would necessarily withdraw from that. Nor do I imagine the process of bringing the dharma ever more into the modern world to be entirely without struggle. I would imagine that there certainly continues to be value in the “hidden yogin” model of relating to the world, but that doesn’t seem to be the only modality available to people who have realized a great deal of the dharma and want to help the world. It’s easy to sit back and take potshots at someone else’s motivation, more difficult to offer something of value by putting hard work into it.
Topek, the irony is killing me… You’re advising us all to “withdraw from all this”, yet here you are. Why so cynical?
The discussion above reminds me of debates I’ve encountered related to those who say “there is nothing to be done”…”everything is perfect as it is” and those who say “there is the reality of suffering” and “work towards your enlightenment”. I see this alot in encounters between those who express ‘advaita’ type nondual expressions and those who express other types of expressions pointings towards relative reality or ‘duality’.
And it inevitably causes me to scratch my head and ask what is the relationship between relative and absolute?…between nonduality and the stream of appearances? Because…it seems to me there is a relationship there. There is truth to this imperfect perfection/perfect imperfection pointing.
In addition (lol) if one awakens to the realization of one’s own always already enlightened nature that doesn’t necessarily result in turning away from sharing numerous ways by which others might also experience their already always enlightened nature. One of the classic cases of this is of course exemplified in the story of the historical Buddha.
Now…I ask myself and I feel this does relate to the discussion…doesn’t it all come down also to pragmatics of what works and what doesn’t work to help one awaken to the realization of one’s own always already enlightened nature? And is there a one size fits all pragmatic way to awaken to the realization of one’s own already already enlightened nature?
In my questioning mind this is where the term ‘rebel’ makes sense. If the container in Tibet, in Korea, in Japan, in India, in Thailand (and elsewhere) appears different from place to place does that mean the taste is not One? That I cannot imagine is the case. The expression, “Truth is One…the Wise call Truth by many names” makes heart and mind sense to me. I trust in this relative expression pointing towards absolute truth.
@Topek’s comment is valid and I don’t see the irony – I understood his comments as directed at lamaism, and the marketing of spirituality; he is (presumably) not a lama nor marketing a book. That said, I don’t agree with his point.
The Buddha, upon obtaining enlightenment, then proceeded to teach, and to engage in a sangha. Indeed, topek’s comments fit nicely with the other recent blog discussing the extent to which we can and should engage in the world v. stay in our cave.
As for the marketing of spirituality – I think it is neither good nor bad how wisdom is distributed (through a book tour, or by asking your students to climb a mountain to find you). For me, what is essential is, what is the motivation behind the form of distribution? If it is profit and self-aggrandizement, then I agree with Topek. If it is to benefit others, and to cover the costs of that so as to make that sustainable, I have no problem using the full range of capitalism to achieve that goal.
What I find objectionable is to ascribe impure motives to the author simply because he is a lama. There are good lamas, and bad ones. Lamas with pure and impure motives, and most with a healthy mix of both they are working through, just like the rest of us.
Perhaps, topek, you are very concerned how easily money corrupts religion, and religion corrupts spirituality. That is a very valid point. I share that concern, but nonetheless, try not to prejudge all clericals as having impure motives just because they engage in the world and use worldly tools to realize spiritual goals in the material world.
Saliva breaks down what we swallow so that it is digestible, and therefore in Jungian dream work, saliva often represents the personal meaning or spirit we find in information we receive. So the question could be – have we taken the words of some “celebrity” or of a deeply loved teacher, and swallowed them whole and unquestioned, or have we taken the time and energy and actual effort to apply some saliva to it, see if it works for us, find out for ourselves if it is truly digestible, and if it is, then its nourishment is personal, head to toe. Rebels of the Belly. S’alive alive oh!
Everything comes from the mind.
Is worshiping a celebrity not the expression of a desire for things that we believe will free us from suffering? Though the means are so terribly misguided, that very desire is what will free us if we find the appropriate tools and learn how to use them.
About the question of marketing and gimmicks: When I worked in communities, I learned a fundamental organizing principle for getting people engaged, which is to “start where people are at.” If this presentation communicates the basic message to a certain audience who otherwise would not hear it, peaks their curiosity, leads them to explore more deeply, or to begin to question their long held assumptions, that doesn’t sound too bad, does it?
@Elena…learned the same important lesson as a teacher’s assistant and it proved invaluable. All the most amazing profs/teachers/gurus i ever encountered had that incredible ability to sense where one’s mind is at…and then reach that mind but always just a little bit above where the mind is at.
Wonderful skill, imo.
I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but when a fan of a movie actor decides to have the same haircut as his hero and to wear the same cloths as his hero, because he identifies with him and would like to be like him, how does that differ from a person who has the same haircut as his spiritual hero (the Buddha) and wears the same clothes as him? Aren’t both cases of imitation/worship? Of course, there is such thing as the “Imitation of Christ” (Thomas a Kempis) as a path, or like the acts of the Buddha as a path, but I thought Rebel Buddha wanted to walk a different path?
Joy, some of the things we do are not to imitate or worship, but to demonstrate unity and/or commitment to a purpose. What’s wrong with that? I think it’s actually beautiful. Still, we all need to think for ourselves and understand why we are dressing, speaking or acting in a certain way. Without that understanding, it is more or less imitation and not as meaningful.
It simply struck me in the example given by DPR that both in the case of the young Indian and of DPR, one could speak of worship through imitation by means of hairstyle and cloths.
I haven’t read the book yet, but it seemed to me after reading some articles on this website and watching DPR clips (specifically this clip), that Rebel Buddha is not about outer appearance. Perhaps not even about identifying with an enlightened being, but rather about being.
Like you I am touched by commitment to a purpose, or even by simple imitation. Regardless of the purpose or the object of imitation. The outgoing movement is beautiful in itself.
If we understand, why do we have to dress, speak and act “in a certain way”? Can’t the dressing, speaking and acting “in a certain way” get in the way of the understanding we are looking for and would like to get across to others? Should a proper understanding not look beyond “certain ways”? And isn’t that understanding an essential part of the purpose?
What is this drive to constantly consider and reconsider some non-existing object called “Western Buddhism”? Is it a codification (oh, we’ll all have the same robes, or wear our best to temple every week as the kids go off to chanting school)? Is it a doctrinal convergence, such that the Tibetan schools, zen and vipassana will somehow all be just like different Christian denominations? Will we have evangelical Buddhist groups claiming that others aren’t really Buddhist? Is it nationalist? (Buddhism in America looks like “this,” in Korea, like “this”) Does Buddhism have to be devotional, or pragmatic, or “authentic”? And if so, for whom? Do some readers imagine Buddhist media with a certain “line” on cultural issues or shared hard and inflexible moral codes?
The cultural transformations that have occurred and that are occurring with the introduction of the dharma to Europe and America are vast, and yet the constant circling back to the myths of modernity, authenticity, etc, are obscuring some other questions. Do readers think religion should be “binding” a self to the truth (as in Latin/Christian traditions?) and make Buddhism fit our folk categories of “religion” (and notions of holiness, sin, etc.), or do we let the various Buddhisms and practices transform our categories and experience of the worlds we live in and be comfortable with that? Personally I appreciate that the words used for “religion” in Asian languages don’t have this etymology of binding–rather “school” or “transformation” are the words used. Where can that take us? Is there a rebel in there somewhere?