Here’s a bunch of stuff that you’ve probably already seen (and some you might not have) around the Internets.
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.
A little while ago, my wife’s car died in the parking lot of a video store. It’s an older car, a hand-me-down from her grandfather who pretty much drove it to the store and back once a week for a decade. It had been making all sorts of funny noises for a while, so its not starting all of a sudden wasn’t particularly surprising. But my wife had just gotten dental surgery and half of her face was numb; she didn’t particularly want to deal with calling the tow truck or finding a mechanic to figure out what was wrong with the car. She walked home, and along the way called me. The car became my responsibility.
This past weekend, the Institute of Buddhist Studies hosted a conference on Buddhism in the West called Buddhism without Borders. It was, by most accounts, wildly successful.
(I say “the Institute” hosted it, but let’s be honest myself and my good friend Natalie did most of the work organizing it. I sometimes have a hard time accepting compliments and often feel more than a little uncomfortable boasting my own accomplishments, but I think in this case I can be allowed to sing our own praises. This conference was the coolest thing I’ve ever done as a scholar.)
One of the panelists presented a paper about about Buddhism on blogs, a study that focused on issues of identity and race within the popular discourse of Buddhist practice. While her paper was not directly related to this blog, she did mention it. And by mention it I mean that in her accompanying Power Point presentation, she showed a screen shot of this blog and pointed out that it’s mine, that’s right, me, the same Scott who helped put together this conference. So, whatever illusions (or delusions) I may have harbored about no one ever reading this blog, whatever illusions (or delusions) I may have that no one in my academic community is aware of this pretty shabby looking blog, well, those illusions have been shattered. I think I’ve been effectively outed. And I wouldn’t be surprised if my readership around here didn’t just jump by a dozen or two. (Hi there!)
How narcissistic is it of me that I’ve even brought this up? It’s completely irrelevant. Like I said, the paper in question really had very little let’s be honest, nothing to do with this blog or my little blogging hobby. But then again, aren’t most blogs at least a little narcissistic? Even if we honestly believe that we’re in it for the sharing of knowledge or other high-minded altruistic reasons, we’re still interested in contributing our own opinions and perspectives to some particular conversation here are my ideas, my opinions, me me me, blah blah blah.
This post is about language and about travel. And this is a post directed more toward my readers who have served time, as it were, in academia, either professionally or as a student. But, of course, it is certainly not limited to those folks. Whatever your background, feel free to chime in!
In the days of yore, when Buddhist Studies was just emerging as a distinct discipline in European and American higher education, it was more or less expected that if you wanted to do Buddhist studies work, you were going to have to learn the traditional Buddhist languages: Pali and Sanskrit. Probably some classical Chinese and maybe even Tibetan. Serious east-Asian scholars would need to learn Japanese as well and to the extent that 99.9% of academics back in the day were well-educated white men with a classical education, they were no doubt coming to their fields having learned Latin and French and/or German in secondary school or college. Polyglots ruled the school.
To this day, there remains a certain breed of scholar who believes that real Buddhist Studies work requires language study. Real Buddhism is to be found in the texts, in the words of the Buddha, and to read those texts you need to know the language. And these folks will be quick to tell you what a travesty it is that the number of mono-linguists seems to be outpacing the number of polyglots.
I had a morning meeting today wherein I was reminded of the importance of my task blurring the boundaries between “scholar” and “practitioner.”
Also today, when other meetings I (thought I) had scheduled didn’t actually happen, I slacked off and went through over six years of blog posts looking for things that might be controversial. I was thinking about this blog project of mine, my transitional state between grad student and full-time academic, and whether or not this blog may have deleterious effects on the later. I do occasionally look back, of course, at what I’ve written. But not in such a systematic way. Looking over almost everything I’ve written in this space all at one, I am left with the following conclusion: I write a lot of really pointless dribble.
First and foremost, my dear readers, it is the second Friday of the month which means you’re all being treated to a new episode of the DharmaRealm podcast. And not just any new episode but the first episode recorded before a live studio audience!
Actually pulling this event off was pretty rewarding, I gotta say. Between you and me, we kind of threw it all together without much foresight (a consequence of a more-than-insanely-busy late summer, early autumn). Harry and I learned a lot from the experience, though and are looking forward to recording more stuff with an audience. And next time we’ll do it on a Saturday so more people can attend (and maybe I’ll look into live-streaming but don’t hold your breath!). Apart from all that behind-the-scenes stuff, the content of this episode is, in my humble option, actually quite good! We were inspired by a question about the nature of the Pure Land, and to the extent this is the kind of question us Shin Buddhists get asked a lot, it was good to hash out our ideas. Harry’s perspective, that the idea of whether or not the Pure Land is really real and how that forces us to question the reality of our mundane world, is something worth considering. Needless to say, he blew my mind once or twice.