[Buddha-l] Enlightenment for Sale! (was: Review of a review)

Franz Metcalf franz at mind2mind.net
Wed Jun 30 14:17:42 MDT 2010

Barnaby et al.,

> Didn't you recently say a true dharma teacher must embody the dharma  
> and actualize it in their teachings? It's hard for me to see how you  
> can say that someone's marketing is disingenuous and exploitative,  
> but their teaching is valid.

Yes, for me as well. But I'm not sure I'd say that Genpo's marketing  
is either of those two things. He's quite up-front about charging  
large sums to some people to subsidize others. They organization  
claims to plough the Big Heart Circle funds back into the larger  
operation of teaching dharma. I fully agree that, as you write,  
"teachers should be very much held accountable for how they market  
themselves." They way in which I want to hold Genpo particularly  
accountable is to the freedom of the dharma from commodification.  
David McMahan has expressed the stakes here very well in his latest  
book, _The Making of Buddhist Modernism_ (New York: Oxford University  
Press, 2008). Sorry to quote at such length, but it's a really *good*  

> Buddhist modernism dissipates into the immense machinery of media- 
> driven consumption, becoming not only a means for selling products  
> but a product itself. From the point on the continuum where Buddhism  
> becomes a purely personalized mode of self-help with scant ethical  
> ramifications to where it becomes a mere commercial trope, it is  
> accommodated so thoroughly to the values of western (and  
> increasingly globalizing) popular culture and its consumerism and  
> commercialism that its capacity to critique these elements of  
> contemporary culture--for which Buddhism has such ample resources-- 
> is neutralized (McMahan 2008, 261).

It is this neutralization that concerns me in American Buddhism in  
general and in Genpo's marketing in particular. Does this mean that I  
have to consider Genpo an inadequate dharma teacher? I don't think so.  
I think I'd have to meet him and study with him--and even then I might  
not know. He seems not to be disingenuous. But what about  
exploitative? Hmmm. Living in California--as I do, too--I am very  
aware of the false dichotomy between spiritual teachings and their  
methods of conveyance (on various levels including teaching authority,  
cost, commitment, etc.). So of course I didn't think you were being  
snarky (love that adjective), but rather sincerely expressing your  
worry. These are dark waters and hard to plumb.

I will suggest one amendment to your position, though: I think Santa  
Fe has both SF and LA beat on the enlightenment-for-sale market. But  
of course only per capita. Richard might be able to gather data on  
this for us.


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