Buddhist propaganda

Propaganda is always about dumbing down. It functions by way of the message don’t notice, think or analyze. It’s purpose is to sabotage awareness, to subvert notice and to distract attention. Propaganda is anti-reality.

The term Buddhist propaganda is an oxymoron. That is a contradiction in terms.

Buddhist practice is about awareness, attention and becoming conscious of the big picture. I mean the really big picture.

In much popular Buddhist literature there is an exhortation to simplicity. But it is not the simplicity of bare attention, depth of interdependence or the sense of integration of being.

Too often it is the simplicity of ignorance. There is a reason the words ignorance and ignore sound so much alike. They come from the same root word. Ignorance lives only in the head and ignores reality. The cultivation of ignorance is the main function of propaganda.  It does not admit interaction or analysis. To be rid of ignorance is to remove the barriers of illusion between that which is labeled self and that which is labeled world. It is to realize both as they are and to realize the falsity of that apparent dichotomy.  It is to allow free movement and exchange of being. It is a flow that doesn’t stop in one place or another.

The German word for dream is Traum from the same root as the word trauma. The root word means wound. Dream or illusion due to ignorance is a wound. It is the most profound of suffering and that is what Buddhist practice is meant to dispel. Remaining in ignorance is to continue suffering.

The other side of ignorance is wisdom. Wisdom is like the medicine for the traumatic wound of ignorance. The simplicity of wisdom comes from a depth of understanding. Wisdom is not shallow acceptance of the passing show. Wisdom does not ignore anything. Hence the reason compassion develops in tandem with wisdom. Wisdom always works to a purpose. It is not a recitation of mindless facts or fancy sounding analysis. And it is not mindless acceptance of whatever is going on in the name of simplicity. One cannot develop wisdom without some amount of thought and analysis. We may not pick and choose which is what the practice of ignorance or ignoring does. What is…is. That is what calls to be understood. With discriminating wisdom. With the diamond mind. Sharp, acute, accounting for all facets, nothing missed. `

Developing wisdom takes a lot of work. There is analysis involved with the purpose to join that which is shallow with that which is deep. The purpose is to enlarge understanding, to break bonds of bound ignorance. That is not the same as enlarging knowledge although the two can happen concomitantly.

The shallow exhortations to simplicity that abound throughout much contemporary pop Buddhism will not lead to wisdom because they do not attempt to break the surface. In fact they thrive on the surface and will leave practitioners who follow such a route always in the shallows.

One can’t chop wood or carry water if there are only plastic palm trees and arid deserts all around.


4 comments on “Buddhist propaganda

  1. Good to see you back, Nellalou!

    Your thoughts here resonate with my feelings this evening — after attending a sitting at my local Zen sangha. No one mentioned events in Japan, nuclear meltdown, tsunami, earthquake, vast swaths of loss, death, devastation, suffering, fear, uncertainty among our fellow humans and friends.

    I came away wondering what the hell these people are doing with this practice? How can it be worth anything if it is so disconnected from our world? And don’t tell me about how that’s all going on somewhere else, and we’re right here on this beautiful spring evening listening to the birds. Bah!

  2. The shallow exhortations to simplicity that abound throughout much contemporary pop Buddhism will not lead to wisdom because they do not attempt to break the surface. In fact they thrive on the surface and will leave practitioners who follow such a route always in the shallows.

    Damn, thank goodness for blogging, and thank you for this, Nellalou. I have been feeling so lonely in my practice lately, stranded in the sea of liberal pop Buddhism…

    Maybe you’ve written about this before, but I have been wondering lately about the connection between shallow Buddhist teaching and liberal, middle-class target audiences. It seems like more than a coincidence that liberalism tends to perpetuate the status quo, preserving significant stability (while allowing for pretend-rebellions like recycling or writing dissertations on privilege), and meanwhile, shallow Buddhism seems to be all about helping people to become more “comfortable,” more settled, more stable, more “simple,” as you say. It seems like a perfect and unfortunate match. And it’s not that I hate comfort and stability and happiness, or anything like that, but these sticky-sweet versions, rooted in liberalism and individualism, are really starting to get to me — as I said, i feel lonely and isolated.

    But this is also why I’m excited for the possibility of dhamma taking root in working-class radical communities where I live in Northern California. I think the class character, and its context (i.e. alongside anti-imperialist organizing) might produce something really different and refreshing. Have you seen anything like that, Nellalou? How’s it going in your community these days? (I need to get caught up with your writings! So happy to be back. :) )

    Anyway, yaddahyaddah — I hope this finds you well. Many thanks, and big props.


  3. Thanks so much Katie. Here’s something from the old blog that may address some of what you have discussed.


    It would be good to see more interaction of the dhamma in working class areas. There are some instances where this occurs but it tends to be project oriented (like prison dharma) and not generalized.

    What tends to happen, in my observation, is that the lower classes become a spectacle which is used by the upper middle classes to assuage their own consumptive guilt. While not specifically an outreach to the working class, I am thinking specifically here about those “witnessing” projects in poor neighborhoods where a bunch of yuppies with sleeping bags meditate taking the homeless as their object. It’s so degrading and offensive. Here is what I mean http://www.peacemakerinstitute.org/BW_street_retreat.html This kind of play acting does little to benefit the homeless and lower classes and is all about exploitation.

    Alternatively there are a few individuals making attempts such as the Street Dharma team http://www.hmpstreetdharma.org/ whose members go to homeless shelters to offer meditation and counseling. As well Rev. Jana Drakka in SF does similar work with free offerings at the Glide Church, in shelters and in parks http://www.janadrakka.com

    There were several blogs at one time that did specifically address the questions of intersection of dharma with working class people, one in particular was kept by a woman in the trades, she was a welder, but they seem to have gone offline. I will keep my eye out for more and promote it here as well.

    In the mean time here is one, while not specifically Buddhist,though embracing non-dual spirituality, which may be of interest to you http://chaosmarxism.blogspot.com/

    So there are others out there doing stuff…just disconnected and not yet well organized. But the seeds are there!

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