A while back, I wrote about the Rebel Buddha marketing campaign and how some aspects of it bothered me. I seem to stand alone in that regard, because I have seen nary a discouraging word about the campaign. Apparently since there are so many so-called big names attached, no one is bothered by Buddha-dharma packaged and sold as though it were a product.
I found this rather interesting: a video clip “from a panel discussion organized as part of Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche’s book launch tour for Rebel Buddha: On the Road to Freedom . . . Held at Cooper Union’s Great Hall in New York City on November 14th, 2010.” The moderator asks Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, the man behind “Rebel Buddha” how he reconciles the marketing aspect of Buddhism with spiritual aspect. The moderator mentions that he himself has noticed that “Rebel Buddha” has had a very “well coordinated” campaign. You can view the clip here.
Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche’s response is rather lame, in my opinion. He says that he “answers this question by working with his motivation, his intention.” In other words, because his intentions are good, it justifies his actions. The end justifies the means. Again.
So what is his motivation? To “contribute something towards Western, American Buddhism.”
Right. American Buddhism needs more commercialism. That’s just what we’ve been missing. I’m sure Dzogchen Ponlop is referring to the message of his book, which is wrapped around his convoluted concept of “Rebel Buddha.” From what I can tell through reading excerpts here and there, it’s just another book that’s supposed to cut through something or other and make Buddhism absolutely clear to everyone, just like any number of other books out there.
Frankly, I can think of better ways to contribute to Western Buddhism than coming up with some “hot” concept and then marketing it as you would any other commercial product. Maybe it’s just me, but I think Buddhists should try to resist the tide of commercialism, not ride it. One of the burbs about the book says “It’s your rebel Buddha the sharp, clear intelligence that resists the status quo.”
How is hitching your team to the commercial bandwagon resisting the status quo? What’s rebellious about that?
Sorry, but Buddhism is not a commodity and if you are a true rebel Buddha, you will resist turning it into one.
To be fair, as Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara points out in the clip, everyone does some marketing. Anytime a dharma group or teacher runs an announcement about some event, either online or in print, this is essentially an advertisement. Every time a Buddhist picks up a phone to call someone and inform him or her of an event, this is a form of marketing.
I think it comes down to how to how far you take it, and perhaps, and if you are willing to sink to the lowest common denominator. Teachers like the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh obviously engage in a certain amount of marketing, and yet, their approach is for the most part, subtle and coupled with integrity, or perhaps I should say, respect for the integrity of Buddha-dharma.
Just because the motivation is good, it doesn’t mean that the actions based on that motivation are also good. The end rarely justifies the means, especially if it means compromising your principles, lowering your standards, or diluting the real message.
I don’t begrudge Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche for wanting to contribute to Western Buddhism. I just think he is misguided. The true rebel Buddhas will be those home-grown Western Buddhists who finally decide to stand up, shake off the traditional lineages and break open the shell of the Asian Buddhist model. The West needs more qualified teachers and new traditions, more home-grown local sanghas, not more marketing.