Bodhisattva, Superstar is an interesting movie. A self-described “allegorical documentary,” it’s got all of the talking heads one would expect, but it also has the documentarian himself, Michael Trigilio, right in there along with a few scripted characters who find themselves at various places along the path, struggling with what it means to be a Buddhist in America. America is a place and a time where Buddhist ideas, terminology, images — indeed Buddhists themselves — can be co-opted in any number of ways that often make the purists (for lack of a better word) among us cringe.
There’s a lot in this film. At 83 minutes, it’s practically a feature-length movie, so I don’t think that it would be right of me to try and sum up all of my thoughts on it in a blog post of all places. I find myself at a place in my life where I’d very much like to get off the information superhighway and resist its demand that we always comment on everything and anything that happens, immediately offering up our opinions and criticisms and acting as if those opinions and criticisms aren’t what they truly are — knee-jerk reactions to information overload; no, I’d rather hop off the twenty-four-hour comment-athon from time to time, thank you, and allow for things to sink in, give myself permission and time to reflect on things before coming up with My Definitive Word on the Subject. But, clearly, that’s a different rant for a different day.
Be thankful for what you got.
Over the past couple of months, I have not felt a particularly strong urge to blog. I’ve been compelled to write. Some of that has ended up in other places, but most of it has ended up in stuff that I hope to have published in that old-timey medium called “books” (all fingers and toes crossed). So my writerly impulses have been satiated elsewhere, offline. Moreover, to paraphrase Grandpa Simpson, I used to pay attention to the news and read blogs, but they angry up the blood. So, in an effort to be self-compassionate, I’ve been keeping my head down a lot lately.
“Any scholarly attempt to describe groups should at least consider how members describe themselves. Our descriptions must be nuanced to account for exceptions, parallels, blends, and developmental processes. They also must pay attention to the history and ongoing effects of racism in the United States. As a white scholar, I have tried to use my own privilege to draw attention those effects, in support of efforts to dismantle them. If we cannot do this, then as Jan Nattier cautioned, ‘there will always be “two Buddhisms” in America: Us and Them, however we define each other.'”
The Angry Asian Buddhist is Angry. Again. This week, the target of his ire is an article by David Nichtern on the Huffington Post, an article that wasn’t all that interesting (to me anyway) and raised the same issues and questions that Arun has raised time and again for years now. A lively discussion, with accusations of racism flying this way and that, has flared up on the Angry Asian Buddhist blog (and also on a not-exactly-related post on Dharma Folk). I was going to make a comment over there, but after I filled in the little comment field, I selected the wrong account, the comment vanished, I got a phone call, and stopped caring about whatever it was that I was going to say. But let me tell you this: whatever I was going to say was going to be brilliant!
Anyway. Whatever I was going to say is not what I’m about to say. I’ve been feeling frustrated lately with the whole project of blogging, truth be told. And, as my long-time readers will attest, ordinarily I’d jump on the Angry Asian bandwagon, champion diversity, rail against systems of oppression, act like the Feminist Hulk (or his [her?] Buddhist counterpart), and SMASH. But I just can’t seem to get riled up about this stuff. I can’t help thinking to myself, to what end? What is the point of all of this?
I’m looking for some dharma tattoos.
“Our habit of treating institutions as second-order elements that “mean” less than such first-order categories as doctrine and belief is not purely a Eurocentric imposition, but has been encouraged in part by the discursive frameworks that East Asian Buddhists have formulated to inspire religious effort. An example is the Buddhist notion of the Two Truths. This conception pits the ultimate truth of buddha nature, which is what the Buddhist must grasp to attain salvation, against the conventional truth that institutions represents (Faure 1991, 18). The Chan religious imagination chose to distinguish the phenomenal realm, where the senses give rise to the illusion of permanence, from the realm of the impermanent and absolute, bracketing the one with the other. Being of the former, institutions are vulnerable to the charge of contributing to the illusion of permanence rather than working to dispel it. Institutions are left to “mean” less than they “are.” And yet, institutions the customs, usages, practices, and organizations that shape the lives of Buddhists are what provide and perpetuate the very possibility of the Buddhist life, furnishing the rituals, gestures, stories, and training through which people have access to an understanding of the Buddha.”
Gonna be away from the Internets for a bit. In my absence, may I suggest joining this and reading that? (And contributing to both.)