Fancy seeing you here.
Last week I was invited to meet with the owner of a fitness studio to see about starting up a yoga class; on my way out, I couldn’t help but notice a rather oversized Buddha head perched on a ledge.
While yoga studios alone do not lay any claim over Buddha decorations, it struck me a bit strange that a studio with a current emphasis on body and little to do with mind and spirit (or anything related to Eastern philosophy) would choose to have such a prominent display.
I got to thinking about other times that the presence of Buddha struck me as incongruous and led to a bit of discomfort—like when I spotted a row of identical likenesses at a department store being marketed as doorstops.
Is Buddha really a mass-market door stop?
Another area that has perhaps over-embraced the Buddha school of decor is the beauty industry. A quick search online reveals Buddha has no shortage of spas, salons and natural product companies to his likeness. While many might see Buddha as synonymous with peace and serenity, personally, if I’m about to endure a hot bikini wax, the face of Buddha is the last thing I want to see, particularly a laughing one.
The teachings of Buddhism are never more relevant than today, but I can’t help but feeling that nine times out of 10, it’s more a marketing mechanism than any statement of belief. This feeling is compounded, erm, eightfold, when reading things like a (Buddha-themed) company that promises “your daily zen in a handbag.”
Too much of a good thing
Last year, following an outcry from the Buddhist community, California-based company ICON Shoes pulled their line of footwear and handbags decorated with the image of Buddha. Though perhaps misguided, ICON is far from the only company that has turned to Buddha to boost their image and move their product. The Dispirited Photo Blog shows some of the more egregious examples, including: Buddha action figures, cake boxes, furniture, phones and Buddha Belly Donuts, encouraging you to “Eat Donuts, Be Happy.”
Sadly, there’s no clear-cut answer to this, no licensing committee that decides when and where the image can be used, meaning the sacred image is less protected than the Nike swoosh or the word “Olympic,” that was whitewashed from the local London dialect last summer even from the local kebab shop.
My fear is that any moment now Buddha is about to jump the shark.
With his image as prevalent and internationally recognisable as the Coca-Cola logo, are we really that far off from a time when we start seeing Buddha car fresheners? Have we already turned a great spiritual leader into a pop icon?
Or is it possible to pull back on the marketing machine that’s churning out mass-market enlightenment at bargain basement prices?
Jennifer Cordero is a London based yoga teacher who loves all things outdoorsy. She wishes one day the climate in her postcode and lifestyle choices would match, but what fun would that be? She runs workshops and holidays at Pure Yoga Zone and with The Well 360. Connect on facebook!
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Asst. Ed: Kevin Macku
Ed: Bryonie Wise