Buddhism For Sale

Hello everyone,

As a new contributor to Dharma Folk, I am honored to particpate in the discussion of Buddhism through this blog.

As my first post, I have gathered several pictures of Buddhist related products taken while Christmas shopping. It’s always surprising to see Buddhism appearing randomly on t-shirts, in restaurants, as toys, and whatever else people can think of. This “Buddhamania” phenomenon, as the Los Angeles Times calls it, appears everywhere – the Buddha figure seems to be getting more and more popular, though not always in a spiritual context.

While I agree that some images of the Buddha used for fashion, decor, brands, etc. can be offensive and inappropriate, I also feel that the increased presence of Buddhism in American popular culture can have a positive effect. I certainly don’t encourage people’s only exposure to Buddhism through a Buddha-shaped coin bank, but any initial exposure to Buddhism imagery, even if it is laminated on the front of an Asian-fusion restaurant menu, introduces Buddhist culture, though probably stereotyped, to those unaware. The idea is that exposure can lead to curiosity, which can be immediate or stored deep within one’s memory until something (maybe a friend suggests Buddhism) revives the desire to learn more.  As long as we don’t see Buddhist imagery used in any way harmful to others, seeing more of Buddhism while I’m window shopping can be interesting and quite nice.

Buddha Bank

Meditation Kit

Buddha ShirtPocket Buddha


5 Replies to “Buddhism For Sale”

  1. When I see a “Muhammad” coin bank or “Allah in a Box” then maybe I’ll believe this junk is all meant in good, goofy fun and is in no way insulting to believers of any religion or teaching!

  2. While it may be true that “exposure can lead to curiosity,” the commercialization (and ensuing misappropriation) of Buddhism annoys me.

    It’s the same kind of attitude that led my former roomie to use my Menorah as a drying rack for plastic baggies. I tried to explain to her that it had special significance and was sacred, but such significance went straight through her (mostly likely because it was from a culture that was not native to her experience). She is one of the sweetest women that I have ever known, and I don’t think that misappropriation comes because people are ill-hearted.

    We live in a culture that loves to turn everything into a commodity. If you can’t buy it, most people aren’t interested. Do you think that the increased presence of Buddhism in American pop culture and the ability to “buy” spirituality outweighs the potential negatives of disrespect and confusion? Is there a way for us to balance the preservation of ancient teachings with the consumer (and technology) driven era we find ourselves within?

  3. The L.A. Times article you linked gave me a lot to think about. I thought about seeing a plastic Jesus standing on the dashboard of a car. I always assume that means the owner of that car believes something about Jesus — perhaps that Jesus protects the people riding in the car. If I see a Quranic script framed on the wall in someone’s house, I assume the owner of that house is a Muslim and believes there is something special in that writing — perhaps seeing it reminds the people in the house to give reverence to God.

    If I see a Buddha altar in a house, that probably means someone in the house has some familiarity with Buddhism, and probably does some form of practice.

    But it seems a Buddha on the bookshelf — or even on the car dashboard — might not tell us anything about the person who put it there.

Comments are closed.