Consuming Buddhism, selling the Buddha

A nice vignette from our Uncertain Minds event on Buddhism last night. Madeleine Bunting noted that whilst watching a programme about the Beckhams, she’d spotted a four foot high, golden Buddha in one of their living rooms. What is it about Buddhism, she wondered, that yields such a perfect fit with modern consumerism?

Stephen Batchelor replied that if there is a Buddha in the Beckham’s living room, then he had been to a monastery in Thailand where in the hall of a thousand Buddhas was one rendered as a statute of David Beckham.

To Madeleine’s question, Slavoj Žižek has an answer. Though Buddhism presents itself as a remedy against the stress of modern life, it functions as the perfect supplement to modern life. It allows you to decouple from the fast pace and rapid change, whilst leaving the fast pace and rapid change entirely intact. An inner distance keeps the outer anxiety at bay, so that capitalism can continue on its creatively destructive path unhindered. It is the new opium of the people.

Stephen Batchelor and John Peacock might agree this is a risk, even a reality in parts of western Buddhism, though would precisely disagree that this is Buddhism. I’m just writing up what they had to say. More in the next day or so…