I like your Buddha. I do not like your Buddhists. They are so unlike your Buddha. ~ Marissa Faye

Via on Oct 27, 2010

When Buddhism became hipster.

Three years ago I moved to Boulder and since then I have been surrounded by self-proclaimed Buddhists. I had once found Buddhism highly intriguing, some sort of mystical religion of enlightenment. And those that practiced it would be calm, understanding, peaceful, and dedicated.

I sat down for lunch at Noodles & Company on one of my first days in Boulder and a woman with a shaved head and saffron robes walked quietly by my table. I still can’t help but think of her as some sort of magical being, like she had the power to read my mind or walk across water. She was the perfect image of what I expected a Buddhist to be.

Hell, was I wrong.  I soon met many other Buddhists in Boulder: my hair dresser, my friends, my roommates, my boss, my co-workers, my neighbors, and so on. For some I have no complaint, but for most I have been disappointed.

The dharma brats.  They grew up with buddhist parents, they meditate, they practice yoga, and they think they’re the shit (though they would never admit this because they know it would be very un-buddhist of them). They judge others for judging others. And they are severely close-minded because their way is always the right way. If ever in an argument with a Buddhist the best you will get is an “agree to disagree.”

Most Buddhists I have met are over-emotional art majors. They pride themselves on how unique they are and their one-ness with nature, though most hardly venture outside the plastered walls of their living room. Every three weeks or so they will go for a hike up Chautauqua and thus call themselves “outdoorsy.”

My first roommate in Boulder ended up being quite the trip. Her Buddhist status was far from lived up to. She had enough clothes to dress three families, obsessed about the “traumatic” happenings in her life, and cried at the smallest inconvenience. But, she did yoga and her mom was a Buddhist and she called herself one… that makes her a Buddhist, right?

The next Buddhist I met could snap in an instant. Like a dog that happily licks your hand before latching onto your arm with his razor teeth.  Another Buddhist acquaintance ended up receiving large amounts of money and spending it on a snazzy car and new, expensive suits.  Even a friend of mine sported an “om” tattoo, which she happily showed off to people while getting tanked on cheap vodka every weekend.

And on elephantjournal.com, people can’t help but to comment on how wrong, demeaning, and rude other authors are (in that I-look-down-upon-you-because-I’m-better-and-enlightened tone), while being totally ignorant to how demeaning and rude they are being themselves.

I question this new generation of Buddhists. I do not mean all Buddhists. I really do believe that there are those out there who have this religion down and who are actually doing it right.  Waylon, a couple best friends of mine, and even my hairdresser, have kept the wonder of Buddhism alive to me.  I know that these people, people who really know a thing or two about the practice, are out there.

But Buddhism is now “cool.” If you want to be hip and fashionable these days all you have to do is put on some tibetan jewelry, throw a “What Would Buddha Do?” bumper sticker on the back of your new Lexus, take a free week at CorePower yoga, and change your facebook’s religious status to “Buddhist.”

Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.”

Can the same words now apply to Buddha and Buddhists? Will another beautiful religion soon see its demise?

Marissa Faye is a cultural explorer hailing from the far eastern lands of Sherborn, Massachusetts.

She is like a sponge—absorbing all things around her with a forever unquenched curiosity.  Often times she is hidden away in her mountain fortress, madly writing tales of fact and fiction.

A flowerchild at heart and an incurable addict of art, music, food, and the infinite explorations of life.  In her spare time she enjoys deep space exploration.


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101 Responses to “I like your Buddha. I do not like your Buddhists. They are so unlike your Buddha. ~ Marissa Faye”

  1. candicegarrett says:

    dude. This was good reads. But I don't envy the thundering crowd of unpleasant comments you are sure to get by putting yourself out there so bravely.

  2. elephantjournal says:

    Well, as a Dharma Brat myself, I'd say you'll actually find a lot of agreement with this article among our community. There are a lot of self-styled "Buddhists." But Buddhism is not a lifestyle, though it's often said to be. It's thought to be a "lifestyle" because it doesn't quite seem to be a "religion," on the other hand, either. Hell, Buddhists don't believe in God, or any "external" idol-worship.

    And that's where I would actually say you're on the right track, but slightly too quick to judge. Buddhists aren't holy people. They're fucked up, just like you and I and everyone else. They're human. But…they/we have a tool: meditation. Helps us reconnect with the present moment, and get a bit outside of our own incessant whirlpools of self-concern. That, and some great teachings that really connect with the heart and gut, is all we "have."

    Chogyam Trungpa, and I highly recommend his writings—talked a lot about "losing heart" as being the beginning, not the end, of the spiritual path. When our ideas about Buddhism and Buddhists stop being idealistic, as yours were at first, and start being confusing and contradictory…that's the time to stop searching for something that isn't there, and sit your butt on the meditation cushion and get to work. It's a wonderful path that I'm personally grateful for. It directs me to direct myself to the good of others, and helps me to be halfway-sane day in and out.

    BTW, it seems like much of the above is talking about self-styled, faux Buddhists. Buddhists I know are kinda boring, family types, we're far from imperfect, and we love to look down on yoga. And no Dharma Brat would eveeerrr get an Om tat. That said, I gotta wrap this comment up—gotta go on my biweekly outdoorsy hike to Chautauqua.

    • Bryan says:

      "Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism" by Chogyam Trungpa, should be required reading for anyone wearing a religion as a status symbol.

    • Maja Hoffner says:

      Agreed I meet a lot of these "Faux buddhist" Mainly I think they are more like hippie new age people, who usually claims to be buddhist but have actually not studied a single text. That being said People often have the misunderstanding that cause you are a buddhist you should be a Buddha, being a buddhist does not mean that we are perfect it simply means that we have entered a path on trying to work on ourselves in order to attain enlightenment. To expect a buddhist to already be like buddha is same as expecting a christian to be as loving and kind as Jesus. I myself used to live at a buddhist temple and be pretty hard core, now I much more prefer to be Buddhist "light" as I would call it. I do not spend 3 hours meditating everyday anymore but still always try to practice buddhas teachings in everyday life. AND yes I have met VERY delusional buddhists, but mainly I have met a lot of VERY kind people who are buddists.

  3. natashag says:

    I think there's a lot to be said for this type of behavior across all religions. Growing up in the Bible Belt of Colorado, I met a lot of people who honestly tried to follow their Christian faith to the best of their ability. Yet we always get those who tattoo the cross, thump their Bibles and get caught in embarrassing acts contradicting the very words they claim to follow. Every religion has it's issues, but I think you were brave to speak up about your disillusionment with a faith you held in high regard… especially since those people read ele.

  4. Randall Smith says:

    yeah, what Gandhi said. careful not to make generalizations though. we're all doing the "best" we can.

    • filbertdesenex says:

      Yeah, that's special, of course. But it's only compelling if you're talking to other buddhist people. There's a reason middle class Shambhala people are so well known in Boulder as being self-absorbed, overly judgmental, and precious –they are.

      Perhaps they want to tell themselves they are doing the "best they can" when they mistreat others, and perhaps other buddhists will make sense of that, but for everyone else in Boulder, they're just assholes.

  5. Randall Smith says:

    and another thing- since when is Buddhism a religion?

  6. Don says:

    You're making an incorrect assumption, like most people do. Just because you "follow" a religion, whether it be Christian or Buddhist, that has really nothing to do with some kind of magic pill that is going to make you act "better". In fact, followers of any religion, from my own experience will act no better or worse than those that follow no religion. So the problem is really with you and your incorrect assumption, not with the weak character of humans walking on this earth.

    • Katie says:

      I think you missed the point. What I got from this article wasn't that belonging to a religion automatically confers perfection on a person. It sounded to me like she was talking more about the *attitude* of the self-styled Buddhists she was encountering, who talked the talk with great superiority, but seemed to have no idea how to walk the walk.

      • timful says:

        Yes, it seems to be all about attitude. I re-read the article to see exactly what misbehaviors the buddhists were guilty of and I could not find much outside the normal range of human imperfection. I think it is always risky to get too worked about what we imagine is going on inside other people's heads. I have made terrible mistakes that way.

  7. Joanne says:

    Yes, I get that vibe from a number of authors here.

    • elephantjournal says:

      Thanks for your generalized, anonymous criticism…but can you be more specific, no need to name names…but the above doesn't contribute to this discussion as much as you could do.

  8. candicegarrett says:

    looks into her crystal ball and sees that this is going to be a blockbuster post, with encouraging and disparaging comments alike.

    I think Marissa is candid and honest about her experience, questions and opinions. It takes some huevos to put it out there so publicly, in such a buddhist community. Rather than attack her, I think she has good points, about all religions in general.

  9. Varvara says:

    Well it happens … almost every community has people whose actions doesn't match the theory
    What shall we do ? Throw them away ??? Burn them ??? Send them to outer space to get rid of them ??? ha ha ha

  10. Amy Cronise-Mead says:

    Thank you for this response….

  11. Padma Kadag says:

    Please tell me, or us, your idea of what a buddhist is. Try to not point at individuals who all of us might not know as examples of acceptable Buddhists. Please tell us in your own words what it is to be an acceptable Buddhist. How brave are you? You have now recieved accolades for your disdain for fake buddhists. Please tell us now the foundation and the origin of this disdain. Tell us what it is like to be a Buddha.

  12. Linda-Sama says:

    I'm Buddhist but not because I do yoga, wear trendy clothes, have an OM tattoo, or am a dharma brat (far from it on the last one)….and I loved your post.

  13. AngelaRaines says:

    Marissa, this made me laugh so much! While we certainly don't strive to be this way, many "Buddhists" fit this bill. Especially in Boulder.

  14. Scott Robinson YesuDas says:

    Incidentally, that "fucked up like you and I and everyone else"–Original Sin, some of us call it! :)

    Good stuff, Marissa!

  15. Yuri says:

    An interesting thing about the title and the post. A Hindoo can say this about Christians, a Christian can say this about Buddhists, an atheist and a cultural explorer can say this about followers of any religion, but if a Buddhist says that he does not like some other people for any reason at all – he is not really a Buddhist or at least not yet a true Buddhist. Overcoming passionate desires and aversions, likes and dislikes, silly prejudices and delusions and replacing them with generosity, kindness and wisdom is not an easy thing and doesn't happen overnight – it may take years but this is an important part of the Path. And it needs good Teachers and receptive disciples. Buddha said that neither saffron robes nor reciting sacred texts makes one the receiver of blessings of the holy life.

  16. Diana Mercer diana says:

    Well good heavens. Aren't we all doing the best we can? If I already behaved like Christ, or Buddha, I guess I could stop practicing. And by practicing, I mean learning to see myself in all my imperfect glory so that I can be of use to others.

  17. jeremymeyers says:

    Sorry,did you just quote yourself at the top of your article to prove your own point?

  18. Cooch says:

    Well written, Lilith. I agree completely. Further, it seems that the act of publicly analyzing the incomplete picture of others' personal journeys is either without a clear purpose or decidedly lacking in wisdom. That is to say, I don't see the point.

    • randolphr says:

      The point could be that the article addresses something real. Therefore, it is further out in the open for reflection & exchange. Good can come of it.

  19. rachel says:

    sounds like your roommate could have benefited from some compassion…

    • ilfauno44 says:

      Booooooooo. Some people really don't try enough, and Marissa is not part of the problem.

      Ghandi and Buddah didn't have roommates, either.

  20. Ben Ralston Ben Ralston says:

    Love it Marissa.

    I could take out all Buddha and Buddhist related words from your article and replace them with Yoga and Yogic, and it would describe exactly how I feel about yoga in the west now.

    The only thing is, it’s very funny! From an article about Neal Pollack: …”His observation that the North American yoga scene is “an absurd culture.” He notes that the intersection of east and west is a source of endless comedy…”

    High comedy when you really look at it with a little detachment.

    With love,

    Ben

  21. Blake Wilson Blake says:

    People suck who suck at acting like what we think Buddhists should act like!

  22. Lindsey Block Lindsey says:

    This is awesome, Marissa! Thank you for sharing so truthfully.

  23. Paul says:

    A scarier thought to me, is that all of these people might repress all of these expressions of behavior that iare somehow Un-Buddhist, while secretly loathing each other and the world and hating themselves for these emotions. Being a good Buddhist often kills the Buddha.

  24. Catherine says:

    I thought the whole point of any religion is that we approach it as imperfect beings and spend our lifetimes in practice in order to refine our behavior and the life of others. Who can say what part of that path a person may be on? We have all been that jerk at some point somewhere, and you realize and change, whether in this life or the next. Give them growing room for their imperfections and love them for it, as they are exactly where they should be.

  25. rheilbrunn says:

    buddhism is still in it's infancy in the west. as we define it, IT defines us. it is obvious to me, that it is already turning liight on to our humanity. accepting that humanity allows us to continue and nurture our development and that of others in relation to us.

  26. ARCreated says:

    bottom line — I guess all religionsl, philosophies and lifestyles have those that don't represent them in a completely endearing way. Christians have quran burning fundamentalists; muslims have suicide bombers, yogis have sex fiend gurus, tea partiers have doctor killing fanatics, I guess if the worst the buddhists can throw at us is meat eating, non-evironmentally concious, vodka drinking, materialists —- well maybe they ARE doing better than everyone else :)

  27. ARCreated says:

    If practice of the Path does not lead to greater love and compassion, don't blame the Path, look at the practice of the Path and one's own motivation for it!!!

    Yep I say the same thing about yoga ;)

  28. sitar says:

    News Flash: Buddhist are people just like everyone else.

    You heard it here first.

    • filbertdesenex says:

      Yet they are only interested in that fact when they fuck up. Otherwise, they're very special indeed.

      • ARCreated says:

        I guess that's been my concern/experience…it's "seems" that "many" are VERY judgy look down their nose our way is better we are better etc…but if you point out any inconsistencies then it's "I'm only human" …I guess I'm just asking them to be only human all the time?

  29. Padma Kadag says:

    of course it is used to build self esteem. Without ego there is no need for practice. That is why it is called practice. Self esteem is a trap of course. but confidence in the path is necessary too. We should not be so harsh on Buddhists and their way of showing devotion. Anyone that sees any value at any level of Buddhism is better for it.

  30. First "Anonymously" says:

    Sure, but having Emptiness as the core concept is what makes Buddhism different from other religions. There is more need for humility when you have no external God.

  31. integralhack says:

    What I find remarkable is that there are relatively few defensive or critical remarks from EJ Buddhists in reaction to this article and most took it with a sense of humor. Seems there are some cool Buddhists after all!

    Thanks for the entertaining article!

    • filbertdesenex says:

      It's called reaction formation, and it's not that impressive really.

      • integralhack says:

        Mr. Desenex, I would refrain from trying to apply psychoanalytical theory to people you really don't know personally or even online. It's not smart or compassionate.

        • First "Anonymously" says:

          Typical pseudo-intellectual to throw out some defense mechanism, filbert, Freud would turn in his grave.

        • filbertdesenex says:

          It wasn't an application of psychoanalytic theory, it was sarcasm. And I hardly think you're in a position to determine what is "smart" or "compassionate." Philistine indeed.

          • integralhack says:

            Name calling? Really? Get well, Filbert. When you want to have a real conversation let us know.

          • filbertdesenex says:

            That was the name you ascribed to yourself. Or do you not remember?

          • integralhack says:

            I've called myself all sorts of names. It is something different when someone chooses to ascribe them to me. By the way, do you have a real name? Anonymous trolls abound, so it might be helpful to differentiate yourself from them.

      • First "Anonymously" says:

        Sometimes criticism is a very useful thing. We have the opportunity to really look at our own reactions to it, rather than just the criticism itself, and then perhaps see mind itself.

  32. locker51 says:

    So, being a soto zen practitioner the last couple of decades(which, doesn't mean anything), I've moved from "advanced practices" back to the first realizations and find them to be sufficient. Language, as usual seems to be a problem. I find myself first, embarrassed, then satisfied with the inherent dualism. What was the point of this post?

    • First "Anonymously" says:

      locker 51,
      I was writing about some students' attitudes towards others who have not yet done more advanced practices as they have, and those same students' self-satisfaction at having done them, and then thinking that they have somehow obtained something special, or wondering why they haven't, the development of more pride instead of more humility, no increase in compassion/patience/flexibility: and I'm stating that those are the indicators of successful practice (not some intellectual notions of realization which can be more easily deceiving), not the best results for American Buddhism, and I don't care here about other Buddhism.

    • randolphr says:

      To share observations.

  33. filbertdesenex says:

    Congrats on being Azn. You might note that she's talking about Boulder buddhists. There are no actual hipsters in Boulder; there are a lot of people trying to be hipsters, but they're ultimately too out of touch to really pull that off, and end up just copying shit hipsters did 5 years ago. You might note that this is far more pathetic than actually being a hipster.

  34. Gem says:

    It’s kind of funny that this article appeared in the same e-bulletin as the one that discusses why people like to put other people down. Even funnier having read the stream of snotty responses. My goodness, you are a grumpy, snobbish bunch.

    • First "Anonymously" says:

      Why do you like to put people down? Does it make you feel better? Or can't you say anything else?

  35. Solly says:

    Wow! This is so mean, I cringed.

  36. buddhagirl says:

    It seems to me that the people who’ve responded to the article with pointed, personal criticism of the author are really proving her point.

    Also, the ones who’ve come across to the author as faux Buddhists are probably not trying very hard to walk the talk. Didn’t someone once write a book called ‘Spiritual Materialism’ a long time ago?!!!

  37. Joe says:

    Wow. Bitter, party of one! I found this essay cute, but the stuff described are the kinds of things Buddhists and (strive-to-be's like me) themselves make fun of all the time in essays in Tricycle. Infighting about who is a "real" Buddhist. We're humans, after all, not Buddhas. Southeast Asia is full of imperfect people. Get over it.

    All that said, I'm glad some of your Buddhist friends still keep the wonder alive for you, and I get where you're coming from… nothing annoys me more sometimes than peace-and-love, kumbaya-singing, group-hugging, I'm-okay-you're-okay, new-agey, "don't-be-hatin'" types.

  38. The intriguing development is how political correctness monitors all conversations.

    I am all in favor of restraining people who truly mean harm or who wish to incite others to cause harm. That is fine.

    But we have gone way beyond those standards so that good old fashioned exchanges of views… candid views… can be seen as out of bounds.

    This has an upside…everyone can be peaceful without too much effort as there is nothing to upset them… but it has the downside of not giving people something with which to compare their views and perhaps come to new realizations.

    If everyone is so "whatever" we end up in a mushy zombie land. People may be walking off cliffs to their demise but others, not wishing to upset them, refuse to say… hey, that path leads to a cliff over yonder. Better to not upset them and let them plunge to their deaths rather than deal with their unpleasantness when they hear the bad news.

  39. MissCory says:

    I don't claim myself to be a Buddhist but I obviously have tendencies and the pure desire to learn about it, and I had the exact same frustrations with Boulder! It doesn't take much to be kind– although it does take a lot of practice to be compassionate and understand that we all have imperfections but we can all learn from each other.

    I agree with everyone's comments that it is all relative. To me, it takes away from the meaning of Buddhism completely to be so judgmental and close minded. I had people in Boulder act like I didn't exist. I just think we owe it to ourselves to be a little kinder– especially in a place like Boulder…and seriously, get off your butts and get into the mountains! You are lucky to live there and there's nothing like some fresh mountain air to really appreciate all that's good in life!

  40. Yogi Mat says:

    “A friend told me of visiting the Dalai Lama and asking him for a succinct definition on compassion. She prefaced her question by describing how heart- stricken she’d felt when, earlier that day, she’d seen a man in the street beating a mangy stray dog with a stick. ‘Compassion,’, the dalai Lama told her, ‘is when you feel as sorry for the man as you do for the dog.’” ~ Marc Barasch (from The Compassionate Life: Walking the Path of Kindness)

  41. Hugh says:

    Now, here is someone pretending to be a Buddhist.
    http://www.thegrahamscam.com

  42. Chris says:

    Here's another point of view

  43. brent says:

    dear marissa I understand your frustration on the matter. The current popularity of buddhism and other eastern philosopys has been commurcialized upon to a point that the true essence of the path can be overlooked. It is important to remember that yoga has nothing to do with buddish and neither does tossing around the words enlightened, or enlightenmet. Something for you to consider marissa is that the core message that the buddha pointed out was nothing new nor nothing old, it just is. Marissas we are all buddhist because the information or light that he saw back down the arrow of time was intended for everyone and all one. It makes no difference what you wear, do, or who you worship, the message is the same……we are I am

    i

  44. First "Anonymously" says:

    The Buddha was a Buddhist precisely because he became a Buddha from his own efforts. It didn't just happen of itself, you know, he had to realize the nature of his mind through following a Path, and he could only give up one part of that Path when he completed it and continued on the next part and then the next…Sure, we all have the potential to be a Buddha, but it will do you no good to just try to convince yourself that you really are a Buddha, because our minds are too addicted to dualism from all our past lives til now.

  45. [...] pompous, self-proclaimed Dharma Brat editor (yours truly) has made fun of mala-wearers and om tattooers and all others who would go about proclaiming their spirituality. That’s his right, and [...]

  46. [...] the planet itself) are born with that same spark of divinity, making Jesus of Nazareth, like Gautama Buddha before him and the Prophet Mohammed after, simply a man perfected — a man who, through [...]

  47. Peter says:

    The "problem" with any Enlightenment teaching is that the goal is, as it were, very far from where we start. We necessarily understand the teaching in the context of our own individual identity. Spirituality becomes just another tool to improve the individuality. A true teacher recognizes this and will work to move you beyond this position. But how many true spiritual teaches are there? I've been doing this sadhana thing seriously for 40 years and I've only met two truly Realized teachers. I'm sure they are out there, but you don't encounter them very often. So, as someone else posted, you have lots of buddhists, but no Buddha. We need Buddha, not buddhists.

  48. healthhomesandharleys says:

    Loved your article. People are funny. Two people can read the same book and come away with two totally different views. Maybe that's what keeps life so entertaining ;^)"

  49. Dejvid says:

    Great article for discussion. I was reminded of of Dzongsar Rinpoche's article and book, What Makes you NOT a Buddhist, which can be read here: http://khyentsefoundation.org/pdf/WMYNAB-shambhal

  50. nrgtrakr says:

    Interesting read… pretty sure many go through a similar recognition. A few things come to mind, how I dealt with it (Tibetan). First, notice that when ever you point a finger, there are three pointing back at you – so always look inside first. After having looked inside and getting to the place where there is not much to be found, do practice – Tonglen, Six Lokas, Mandal Bul Wa Ni, Guru Yoga, the list goes on & on.

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