Burying the Buddha: A Postmortem Reflection.

Via Shyam Dodge
on Feb 27, 2012
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10 Thoughts on Corporate Spirituality & the Myth of Enlightenment from a Former “Realized” Monk.

Darrell Brandon

Where We Buried Siddhartha: The Myth of Spiritual Enlightenment

Where did we bury the prince’s bones?

His mother is mourning him. They say a tooth is decaying in a temple somewhere in Japan, saved from the fire bombings; a bone fragment, from the heel in the north of India receives symbolic kisses every evening at dusk. The man was murdered so we could venerate his ghost. We stripped him of his flesh, dissected his organs and turned them into air to resurrect a giant. His words, if even whispered (they were written down hundreds of years after he died), were codified, made into ideas harder than stone, to be passed on like currency. He became an economy, a commerce of insight.

The Buddha is an idea

Siddhartha has been buried by the Buddha, the myth has murdered the man. The aestheticization of his awakening has erased his humanity, replacing it with an idealized hero…the complexity of his humanity reduced in a single night of torment, under a banyan tree,  to banal platitudes.

We have an entire economy built around the myth of self-realization. Current iterators of the “Buddha’s teaching” profit from an idea of a saintly ghost, for the man was far more and far less than what we imagine. What he symbolizes is an impossibility, a triumph over temporality, time forever stalled in this epistemological epiphany, the ultimate transcendence of the Bataillian prison of utility.

The paradox: Siddhartha is now a commodity. There are more Buddha images than any other icon in the world. A commodity he is.

Teachers of the Dharma operate as corporations whose product is self-realization. Popular Buddhism, today, does not disrupt the landscape of capitolism; it is a fixture within the geography.

Undermining the Master: The Emperor has no Clothes

Spiritual Enlightenment, in modern terminology, could be categorized as a narcissistic complex we have mistaken for a legitimate form of self-knowledge. Those purported to have achieved this state of being are so highly idealized that their very humanity has been erased, replacing their flesh with the fine cloth of symbolism. This symbolism weighs more than any physical burden for it is composed of idealizations distilled over centuries with potent myths of perfection. I pity any who wear this cape of “enlightenment.”

Endless Frustration: The Masochism of the Bodhisattva

“Spiritual seeking” often has more in common with sado-masochism than it does with human development. It is a kind of sad addiction to what can never be attained, for the untastable, the unrealizable.

It is this never quite attaining, this endless striving for what does not exist, that the seeker is addicted to. In the end, it reeks of a kind of morbid fetishization of “enlightenment.” A pathetic psychological masochism hellbent on forever being frustrated in the effort to attain an illusion, a vision of human potential that does not exist.

If you see the Buddha on the Road: Kill Him

The Buddha is unverifiable, his historicity is impossible to determine. If the man, Siddhartha,  did exist his historical authenticity has been nullified by the myth of the Buddha.

It is also just as possible that he never existed, a dream concocted by brilliant monks. A story as enduring as Christ.

Transcend your insides

The dominant ideology suggests that the mind (what the “mind” means exactly is dificult to define) is a kind of  tyrant ruling the subjective domain within each person’s discrete  skull-sized kingdom. Another apt metaphor is one where the mind, one’s own interiority, is understood to be a prison.

Responding to this inner despotism, the seeker attempts  to transcend his/her own subjectivity, to subjugate the tyrant within (the “ego”), by yielding to the punishments and frustrations of a guru and/or contemplative practice. This process is usually one of endless deconstruction, a ceaseless fragmenting of the mind.Those who survive this torture talk like survivors of trauma.

Name Unknown

Borges translated the Tathagata (the name he preferred) as “the weary traveler.” Almost as if Siddhartha had wanted to be left anonymous, a nameless, invisible, purveyor of insight.

Otto Franke wrote: “Guatama Buddha is the exact equivalent of Name Unknown.” What a perfect origin for a corporate entity, the nameless body.

I want to give names back to the dead.

The Fantasy

I have a dream where I piece back together the fragments of the Buddha’s body, repossessing portions from Thailand, excavating bone dust in China, prying open temple towers in Korea until I have all of the broken body before me on a table. And then I begin the work of restoration, reafixing all the jagged edges with glue and twine, even mixing my blood into the resin. When I’m finished the Buddha is finally dead, and I can bury him. The idea of the “awakened one” crumbles when the body of the man is reclaimed.

When I wake up, I realize it’s me I want to put back together.

Reclaiming Our Bodies in the Graveyard

The illusion underpinning the myth of enlightenment is that increased interiority, fragmentation, and disconnection leads to spiritual harmony. It is these very characteristics that frustrate the desire and human need for psychological integrity. It is this very loneliness that encourages the projection of disembodied ideals onto the surface of other people.

Intimacy then is far more important than metaphysical insight—for intimacy seeks connection with another, while the metaphysic seeks an invisible third beyond the real, the tangible, the deeply human.

The work of integrating a fragmented psyche occurs in grounded practices, dialog (the dialogic vs. the monologic), and community not in an emotional vacuum.This emotional void needs repopulating.

I want to put people back into the center of our spirituality, forming bonds of intimacy, rather than creating artificial distances between us made up of unrealistic idealizations. I believe that in reclaiming our bodies in the graveyard of spiritual idealism, remembering our fragmented limbs, we touch a deeper wholeness than any myth, no matter how seductive.


Editor: Brianna Bemel


About Shyam Dodge

Shyam Dodge is a former Hindu monk, author, and satirist. He is currently a student of religion at Harvard University. His memoir, Wet Hot and Wild American Yogi, enjoys a cult following in the United States and Europe, both for its enduring controversy and irreverence. His collection of sacred stories, Sweetened Condensed Milk, remains a part of the curriculum in the philosophy portion of many yoga teacher trainings worldwide. You can find his books here: http://amzn.to/utWZO7 Author Website: http://shyamdodge.com/


22 Responses to “Burying the Buddha: A Postmortem Reflection.”

  1. yogijulian says:


  2. Mark says:

    Seems like a well intentioned tribute to yourself. Being a recovering enlightened hindu monk I am curious as to your fascination with the Buddha to the point where you are chastizing the manner in which his teachings and "purported" existence are interpreted. "I want to put people back into the center of our spirituality, forming bonds of intimacy, rather than creating artificial distances between us made up of unrealistic idealizations. I believe that in reclaiming our bodies in the graveyard of spiritual idealism, remembering our fragmented limbs, we touch a deeper wholeness than any myth, no matter how seductive." Do you understand the Buddhist methods for yourself without judging the application of those methods by those "masochists" you see? Have you traveled completely the path as laid out by maybe the Vajrayana or have you jumped to Dzogchen and see no value? I understand what you are saying…but your reasons for displaying these ideas in a public forum elude me. If Buddhism does not suit your acumen then why advertise?

  3. paul says:

    Irony it seems has become not just a sport but an X-game. Please don't kill Buddha, on road, in a cafe, etc. No need for war mongering.

  4. Kejemijo says:

    Thank you…you eloquently gave voice to something I have been coming to understand in an experiential way that I have not been able to summarize cohesively. I stoppend the seeking several years ago after coming to realize that I was chasing illusions. How many of us chase the myth of enlightenment to find a seemingly honorable way out of this physical world? I no longer wish to be a yogi, being human is enough.

  5. Eric says:

    I agree with your points regarding connection and intimacy; as Suzuki Roshi put it: "The point of Buddhism is being helpful; learn to see 'others' as 'yourself' and understanding 'yourself' as 'others' ". how much more intimate can we be than this?
    thank you.

  6. Shyam Dodge says:

    Monasticism in south Asia is often traced back to Siddatta Gotama, the roots of Buddhist Monasticism as well as Hindu. The myth of enlightenment also finds its greatest hero in the Buddha. I myself not only engaged in Hindu practices but have also spent nearly 2 decades studying and practicing various Buddhist traditions. So I speak as a former masochist.

    That being said, I still practice various forms of Buddhist meditation and continue to learn from Buddhist teachers. I find that I can critique the idealism and the ideology while retaining many of the practices.

  7. Shyam Dodge says:

    Ha! Thanks, Paul;)

  8. Shyam Dodge says:

    beautifully stated Kejemijo… I appreciate your insights here. Yes, being human is more than enough.

  9. Shyam Dodge says:

    Exquisite quote. Thank you.

  10. Dana Nourie says:

    Excellent post!

    Oh my you are going to get some robes in a twist. Personally I practice secular Buddhism, meaning I practice mindfulness meditation, ethics, compassion (trying). I have no illusions of "enlightenment" nor do I aspire to be spiritual. My reason for practice is to stay in the heart of life experience. There is life before death, of that I am certain!


  11. Shyam Dodge says:

    Dana, I completely agree. "There is life before death, of that I am certain!" Love it!

  12. karlsaliter says:

    Spot on, Bitch! (If I can call you that.) LOVED it. Just posted to Elephant Spirituality on Facebook.
    And Dana, "you are going to get some robes in a twist" is funny.

    This is a beautiful piece of reflection.

  13. Shyam Dodge says:

    You can definitely call me "Bitch!" Sometimes there is nothing more complimentary and community building than calling one another biatch!

    Thanks for the support!

  14. […] sphere that she (my master) resided in. Yet, I knew something she didn’t: I was nowhere near the myth of the Buddha. I was addicted to the idea of perfection, but my body, my genitals, my quivering flesh kept […]

  15. Shyam Dodge says:

    Dana, I just looked at your website. I really appreciate what you are doing there! Very inspired. Thank you.


  16. trinity says:

    Am I too late to get in on the "biatch" conversation? (does it matter to me? No, bitch, it don't)…
    Thank you for your insights, good brain food. Embodiment is key. And with this body I give triple snaps and a high five.

  17. Shyam Dodge says:

    Ha! Thanks Trinity… I'll take that high five with a triple snap and raise you a double jumping high five!

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