Sunday, August 15, 2010

Buddhism and Western Culture and Orientalism

Here is a clip from the movie "The Endless Summer," which at the time I'm sure seemed the farthest thing from "racist" or ethnically insensitive to the filmmakers:

In looking at this blog entry from Tricycle, I'm struck by the feeling that like the surfers in The Endless Summer, Tricycle, or at least the filmmaker in the post, is presenting the people in this culture to people who are presumed from the outside looking into a "strange" "foreign" culture.  I'm sure the filmmaker did not do this intentionally,  just as I'm sure his intended audience isn't the one for "March of the Penguins," let alone "The Endless Summer."

And this seems to me to illustrate the ongoing difficulty of "transmitting," or at least "explaining" Buddhism to the West (and East!):  The real transmission is lived, it is practiced, it is demonstrated.  I know jack about surfing, but the issue of transmission seems a little like surfing: showing the way of surfing to people who have never seen it is best done by actually surfing.  Surfing is a pretty good analogy I think down to the fact that the very nature of even the "perfect" wave is impermanence itself.  There are no "outsiders" or "insiders" when one is doing this, but there is just surfing.  Perhaps in another existence I will have surfed.

I am especially interested in this issue at the moment because of ongoing issues in the workplace, to which I have had to do some serious practice, which, at the moment, like that wave, have yielded seriously good results for all.  This needs to be explained to others in ways that have almost nothing to do with Buddhist terminology.  Should be interesting.  Of course, from a manager's viewpoint, nothing succeeds like success and as long as everyone benefits, there should be no problem.  But managers come with all the attributes the rest of us have as well.


NellaLou said...

I agree. And it was rather annoying. On the Tricycle video:
-Oriental potentate? romanticize much?
-name drop much? Just because someone knows a bunch of Rinpoche's names doesn't make one part of the Tibetan Buddhist establishment.
-Ohhh male monks are sometimes like real people with their "guy thing"
-the clips are almost all related to ceremonial aspects so it looks like that's all that goes on. Most days around temples and training centers are as boring as most days around churches and boarding schools.
-the dance etc is "easy for him" Well dance lessons are part of the curriculum.

There is a certain voyeuristic quality to that piece. And the gushing about "emanations" certainly reinforces the "other worldly" quality of it. Like I said annoying. Good call in the comparison. Maybe call the film:

Gawk, Objectify, Romanticize

Kyle said...

I like the analogy of surfing, I think it captures much of what practice is about. I have to say though, I've always like the movie The Endless Summer despite its many dated cultural refrences.

Speaing of which, I am finishing up a post on Zen and the myth of its connection to World War 2 Kamikaze pilots. Even noted military historians rely on a romanticized and stereotyped view of Japanese culture.

Sabio Lantz said...

Good points. Thank you.

Mumon said...


Thanks for the ratification of my impression there.


I haven't actually seen much of the movie, but from what I've seen I've liked. Sometimes there's a reason these things are critically acclaimed.

Too, in a world where a historical pattern of racism is waning, there is going to be for a while things that don't appear racist at the time, but later on are simply embarrassing. "The Endless Summer" was just a bit later, I think, than the "It's a Small World" ride at Disneyland. That is the epitome of what I'm talking about - anyone a smidgen left of center who does that ride today will be amazed at the stereotypes. I've only been on the darned thing once, but my first impression was, "I wonder how many master's theses this has spawned?"