FLM:Fear and Loathing in McBuddhaland

July 18 2009 Birthday of  Dr. Hunter S. Thompson and I’ve decided to write a column within this blog.

Call it cultural or social criticism. Call it participant-observation. Call it Shroedinger’s paradox writ large, for I am as much involved in this enterprise called life as you. Call it Gonzo journalism meaning the author and the subject are inseparable as are truth and delusion a great deal of the time. Call it surfing the Samsaric wave and sometimes being swamped by it. Call it whatever you want. I call it Fear and Loathing in McBuddhaland.

From the 60’s or thereabouts when Zen Buddhism dawned on the horizon of the popular culture of America to the current inflow of many different schools, teachers and practices and the outflow of people going to Asia to bring back bits and pieces of the Dharma, some staying and immersing themselves completely, the mix of this melting pot has become one of diverse flavors. Since I’m boiling in this stew as well, my observation presently is that some of it is starting to taste a little weird. The contents inside could do with some examination. So I’ll lift the lid and have a look.

The meat of the matter is Buddhism of a sort. It is that approximation of Buddhism that is served up to the affluent masses like the fast food full of artificial preservatives, cardboard filler and plastic cheese that is sold in America and elsewhere as alleged nourishment. The results of downing such food-for-practice may be pleasant or may be gruesome. These are the notes of that observation.

The theme song of the moment may be the old one by Buffalo Springfield playing on some battered radio in a backwater service station:

There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware
I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

Or it may be White Rabbit -at least that’s what occurred to me when I saw this photo. Is it a mescaline flashback or is that for real?

This image taken in Thailand and posted at The Worst Horse with commentary. Photo by Than Geoff.

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4 comments on “FLM:Fear and Loathing in McBuddhaland

  1. Hi,

    It’s Thailand. It’s simply how people say hello.

    I’ve been living here on and off since 2000, and when people greet me and each other with a wai, they are not being particularly ‘Buddhist’. They are just saying hello. My students (I work in a university) say hello like this. My Thai Christian students, my Thai Muslim students, and my Thai Buddhist students.

    These McDonald images have been around in Bangkok for well over ten years. Probably much longer.

    With palms together (!)

    Marcus

    • Thanks for mentioning this Marcus.

      The popular use of religious gestures is prevalent all over the world. For example in some places in North America people will cover their mouth with their hand when yawning. The original reason for it was so that the Devil would not enter. If you ask most people why they do that now the answer would likely be something related to “good manners”.

      The greeting of Wai in Thailand is Hindu in origin coming from the practice of Namaste.

      In Hinduism it was and is considered as a mudra or sacred hand gesture. It is called the Namaskara, Anjali or Atmanjali Mudra depending upon context. Originally it was a gesture of respect to the divinity that dwells within each person. It still means that in India and carries with it all the religious significance.

      Over the centuries with the introduction of trade with cultures that strictly emphasized heirarchy, such as the Chinese with Confucian rules and Vedic India when the caste system became entrenched, the subtle variations of the Wai gesture which indicate social rank became introduced to Thailand and are still present today.

      • Something else just occurred to me.

        There are some researchers who say this gesture is to show one doesn’t have weapons in their hands-they say that about all greeting gestures. To me that is a bit of lazy scholarship. Here’s a little experiment. Ask 10 people of varying backgrounds “Show me your hands” and see what they do. Most likely they will put their hands slightly to the front of them with the palms up. So a Wai/Namaste type greeting would not be a natural reaction to this or a similar request.

        And with a palms together type of greeting one could easily hide a weapon like a shiriken (a sharp bladed throwing weapon) or even a small knife.

        I got the idea watching cops round up criminals on CSI-lazy scholarship? Probably.

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