Saturday, May 28, 2011

Not desirable...not repulsed

I have never watched more than a minute or two  or three of the Oprah Winfrey show (you know, the ones with Barack Obama and such), but like everyone else on earth, I've heard her, and heard her.

I don't know jack about her "religion."  But I do know that this analysis of "the church of Oprah" in the NY Times is deficient.

...The scholars found conflicting sources of Ms. Winfrey’s spirituality. It began, but definitely does not end, with the black church of her youth. In her 2003 book, “Oprah Winfrey and the Glamour of Misery,” Eva Illouz, a sociologist, quotes Ms. Winfrey as saying: “Since I was three and a half, I’ve been coming up in the church speaking. I did all of the James Weldon Johnson sermons” — Mr. Johnson being the poet whose “God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse” was published in 1927. “I used to do them for churches all over the city of Nashville,” Ms. Winfrey said..

While respecting Ms. Winfrey’s use of her Christian heritage, Dr. Illouz ultimately concluded that the talk-show host might be something of a false prophet. That is because, she said, Ms. Winfrey and her cadre of self-help experts treated suffering as something beneficial. Ms. Winfrey turned the black church’s ethos of self-reliance in the face of suffering into an exaltation of suffering itself.
“By making all experiences of suffering into occasions to improve oneself,” Dr. Illouz wrote, “Oprah ends up — absurdly — making suffering into a desirable experience.” 
 It would be strangely masochistic if  "suffering as occasion to improve oneself" exactly equals "suffering is desirable."   I mean, we Buddhists sort of know that suffering is inevitable but to the extent that there is a "point" to suffering it's an occasion to learn to be not attached to nor repulsed by suffering.  Suffering is universal, and that should be an occasion for the cultivation of compassion.

 Dr. Illouz may be a sociologist  - and may even be a good one - but she really ought to learn more about religion.

And Oprah Winfrey certainly enabled all breed of spiritual hucksters and quack snake oil peddlers...I'm sure I must have said something negative about her in the past about all this...but that doesn't justify making uninformed statements about religion.


James said...

Also, the valorization of suffering, making it intrinsically good, is in fact a pretty traditional Christian thing.

Mumon said...

Good point; I remember that as "Offer it up..."

J said...

Oprah was on the whole fairly lightweight, but she..tried. And did bring in some real writers to her show at times. The jews hated Oprah, tho. Is that it, mumon the zen juddhist ? oy vey

Not only do you not understand the authentic tradition of buddhism, you don't know fuck about christianity, or philosophy either (nor apparently does "James" here). Maybe stick to the Carl Sagan, grasshoppah, or star trek reruns

Mumon said...


An anti-semite, thee? Hadn't considered that of you.

I'm not Jewish.

Mumon said...


Moreover, you're seem to do they say it? A troll.

I think I've heard all you have to say. And others who read this blog have as well. You can expect the consequences of that.

Oh, and that Tolle guy? A real writer? Louise Hay? That lady from Three's Company?

C'mon. Dick Cavett had on real writers. Weird as quite a few of them were. I've seen about as much Dick Cavett as I have Oprah. And she's no Dick Cavett.

Anyway, future comments of the sort you've posted will be deleted.

Stuart said...

It would be strangely masochistic if "suffering as occasion to improve oneself" exactly equals "suffering is desirable."

I could say that Buddhists don't seek suffering. Rather, when suffering inevitably comes on its own, we try to use it as a means to clarity and compassion.

But maybe I'd put it that way for the sake of arriving at a viewpoint that's bound to bring almost universal agreement. Even the most elementary self-help teaching will tell us "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade." True enough, but not the whole truth.

Because... I spend so much of my time and energy trying to get and keep pleasant situations. And then I add these special practices (formal sitting etc) that I do whether they're pleasant or not.

Fact is that at times I've gotten extreme bliss from Buddhists practices, but at other times it's the most difficult thing I do. I voluntarily commit to practicing with others at specific times. If I start a half-hour sitting session with the Sangha (perhaps even leading the session), I've limited my options, by accepting barriers to quitting the session even if it becomes physically or mentally agonizing after 5 minutes.

How could I deny that this is akin to seeking suffering? Or at least... I seek situations in which if suffering arises, it'll be difficult to run away from it.

I doubt if I'd do this if I had any hope that seeking pleasant situations for myself was a optimal strategy. But seeking good feelings requires me to seek outside situations that are to my liking. The world so often fails to be the way I want it to be, and I've lost hope that it ever will be.

My fundamental intention isn't to seek suffering, but it is to perceive each thing, each moment, with clarity. Just as it is. If I'm always running away from suffering, I'll never stick around long enough to observe it clearly. (What is this?)

I've got to do something to counter-balance the energy from my thinking (my dna or whatver) that wants to avoid suffering at all costs. I accept situations where my outside freedom (to run away) is constrained, so I'll feel no choice but to be stop moving, at least for a little bit, and meet all things -- including suffering -- just as they are.


J said...
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10101001 said...
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