“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Buddhist Iconoclasm Up Close and Personal

Why is it cool to harsh on Buddhism?

I ask in all sincerity. it so isn't cool to diss Islam or Christianity or Judaism but somehow Buddhism is fair game? Is it because we are all supposed to be peaceloving granola crunchers who wouldn't notice anyway if some violence was done to our religion?

In the middle of may 2008 someone—my wife Kate and I don't know the details—entered our house and broke some pictures (maybe hurling a smashed lamp towards at least one of them). Now why would they do this? we don't know.

There are several pictures in our house. We love Bridget Riley, so we have a lot of posters of her work. and we have some photos by our dear friend Alan Rabold, a tapestry from rajastan, variuos mirrors and a nice painting by Joan Anderson, another friend. we have a picture of Kali (a qutie strangely cute one) in the bedroom.

And we have some pictures of Buddhist teachers.

There are also some thangka paintings, traditional Tibetan art representing Buddhas and other enlightened beings. But these had been covered by their silken veils. and we have a shrine, but we had prudently (it turns out) thought to hide this away before we left.

Why would anyone direct their anger against Buddhist photos? after all a photo isn't doing you any harm is it?

My guess about this particular situation is that a drunken rage occurred and said rage was taken out on the knowing faces of Suzuki Roshi and Trungpa Rinpoche.


Leif Baradoy said...

I'm surprised to hear that you think Buddhism receives more, not less, criticism, than the religions of the book, especially in places like the USA and Canada. This is simply due to the fact taht western culture is more familiar with these religions and, therefore, more ready to criticize them (not to mention that they are at odds with one another due to their inseparable history).

I am sorry to hear that your house was vandalized, but I think that Buddhism is, in a variety of forms, actually less criticized (both internally and externally) than the religions you mentioned, at least in the West.

Timothy Morton said...

I could, but won't, name two colleagues whose verbal assaults on Buddhism would have gotten them fired had they been about Islam, Judaism or Christianity.

Leif Baradoy said...

Those must have been inflammatory comments indeed.

It seems to me that Buddhism would come under less scrutiny simply because fewer people are familiar with that religion's relationship to power and politics, whereas (some) North Americans are very familiar with how the aforementioned religions of book are aligned and implicated with the barbarism of history.

To respond more directly to the sincere question you posed at the beginning of this post, perhaps your colleagues feel that Buddhism has too long enjoyed a position that is relatively free from the strong (and even unfair) critiques that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam encounter. Perhaps, motivated by some skewed sense of fairness, Buddhism must now be targeted.

I would be interested read your thoughts on the boundaries of the criticism of religion.