The Stink of Zen, the Monetization of Buddhist Images & a Couple of Traps on the Great Way


Noticing how religious images are co-opted for commercial purposes is nothing new. Think Quaker Oats. But it does seem that in recent decades Buddhism and Zen have become a particularly popular source of images for hustling product.

Rod Meade Sperry, web publications editor at Shambhala Sun has been archiving them for ages at his site The Worst Horse. He’s even given them a name, Dharma-burgers. Rod tells us “a ‘Dharma-Burger’ is… any example of Buddhist ideas or imagery in the marketing or production of (usually non-Buddhist) services and consumables.”

For many of us of a Buddhist persuasion these products can be pretty offensive. A “Buddha Bar & Grille” does feel a couple of steps too far.

And for some of us, while such images may well be offensives, they are often also a source of amusement.

The truth be told, if you don’t have a taste for irony, you’re going to have trouble living in this world.

And, hey, there’s even occasionally a small lesson to be pulled out of the mess.

For example, thanks to my old friend and collaborator at the Boundless Way Zen network, David Rynick, I see there’s a Zen deodorant.

I just delight in the idea of a Zen deodorant. Clearly the manufacturer is unaware of the term “stink of Zen,” or of its meaning as someone who is caught up in the purity of practice – and how that’s not a good thing.

There’s a story that illustrates what this is this nicely. Once upon a time the abbot of a monastery saw the cook spill some rice on the floor. He exploded at the cook’s recklessness. And then in an instant before he recovered his equanimity the kami, or spirit of the temple, manifested, made bows, and said, “I’ve been wanting to visit, and pay my respects upon your installation as abbot, but until now I’ve not been able to see you.” In Zen purity is just one more trap.

Genuine wisdom, truly following the path covered over by Zen deodorant.

Of course, of course Zen deodorant, takes us even further into the woods, if in another direction from the confusions of purity. Lost among the things of the world. Unable to see the path for the products, each vying with the other for our attention.

Kind of like life.

So, what is turning the light, claiming a new focus?

Much of the Zen project is about escaping the trap of our separation, and discovering our fundamental emptiness, or boundlessness. This is what most of us think when we think of Zen disciplines, of Zen wisdom.

And we find that great empty. And that is a wonder! And a delight! It shows us something of such value my words fail.

And then.

And then, it is about reclaiming our separateness as our boundlessness.

For those of us who are walking the path, that first awakening to emptiness turned out only to be a first step.

Not purity.

Not purchasing Zen deodorant.

Purity.

Deodorant.

Just this place, where everything is broken…

And perfect as it is…

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