My article, “The Tranquil Meditator: Representing Buddhism and Buddhists in US Popular Media,” has been published by Religion Compass. You can download it from the website if your school has access to the journal. (I’m looking into other ways to distribute this one.) This paper was based, loosely, on a paper I gave in Chicago in 2012, the audio of which is here.
Next week, I’ll be presenting some of my recent research on US Shin Buddhist music at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I’m very grateful to Courtney Bruntz (recently minted PhD from the GTU) and her colleagues for the invitation.
More info can be found here, and if they record the event in any way, I’ll update this post accordingly.
The following was originally posted over at the IBS’s News and Events blog. I’ll post here later about other Buddhist Studies events at the 2013 annual meeting of the AAR. Stay tuned!
The American Academy of Religion (AAR) is the largest professional organization for scholars of religion in North America. Annually, the AAR hosts a conference that draws tens of thousands of religious scholars. Because this is the largest annual religious studies event in North America, scholars of Buddhism regularly attend, and there are numerous panels, presentations, and public events that focus on Buddhist history, thought, and culture.
Several years ago, I did some research on Shin Buddhist music in the United States, ultimately publishing an article on the subject [PDF]. A lot of the research I did then found its way into my doctoral dissertation, and I’ve always been interested in returning to the topic. Of course, post-PhD life can be busy! One necessarily needs to take on certain projects that lend themselves to professional development, and it can be hard to say no. Over the last several months, however, I’ve cleared my plate and am now finally able to return to the subject of Buddhist music. Continue reading
This past weekend at the American Academy of Religion, I participated in a panel for the Dharma Academy of North America. Our panel was organized by the wonderful Karma Lekshe Tsomo, and it brought together a variety of perspectives on the transmission and development of Buddhism in the United States. More details on other papers can be found here (PDF, see page 6).
I recorded my talk and have posted audio below. The audio quality isn’t great, and I feel as though my argument is larger than a fifteen-minute presentation can really hold. But I also believe that there might be the germ of a good idea here, so in the off chance anyone else finds this topic useful, here it is.
A couple of things: this piece is about pop-culture and mass media representations of Buddhism in the U.S., representations often done by non-Buddhists and perpetuated within Buddhist media. These representations are a reflection of just one discourse among many, and the icon of the Tranquil Meditator I propose here is just an icon, an imperfect reflection of certain aspects of our culture. But drawing our attention to this icon and the discourse it represents, I hope to actually move past it to discuss more important issues.
Namely, I believe that Buddhist philosophies, doctrines, ethics, and practices potentially contain extremely useful and powerful tools and strategies for solving contemporary social problems and collective suffering. And by that I don’t mean that mindfulness/meditation alone can save the world. The style of meditation represented by the icon of the Tranquil Meditator is just one Buddhist tool, one practice. And no one practice or spiritual technology can solve all of our problems. Moreover, what the Tranquil Meditator represents is extremely seductive; she promises a type of instant psychological and emotional gratification that may alleviate immediate or short-term suffering without necessarily addressing the underlying or root causes, thus merely delaying any potential cure to that suffering. And it is precisely those underlying or root causes — as well as practical and reasonable solutions to these causes — that I would like to see more people (especially Buddhists) talking about in the media, rather than just the constant quest for short-term happiness.
I believe we can do better.
I’m deeply grateful to Karma Lekshe Tsomo for organizing this panel and to DANAM for providing us the opportunity to present our work. I am also grateful to my fellow panelists whose own papers were of far better quality than my own! I’m humbled by their hard work and dedication and hope to see all of our work developed and published in the near future.
I hope to write another post soon about other experiences and lessons learned at this year’s AAR. So stay tuned.
Lastly, because I don’t technically have permission for all of the images I used during my presentation, I do not feel comfortable posting the slides here. But if you’re interested in either the slides themselves or in getting a hard copy of my paper, let me know and I might be able to send them to you.