Friday, October 24, 2014

Did you hear the one about the Dalai Lama and Lululemon?

Seriously, it's no joke. In an era of ever-expanding capitalist reach, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism is teaming up with a corporation well known for its sexism, sizism, and sweatshop labor practices.

Lululemon and the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education are partnering to “promote mindfulness…to foster heart-mind wellbeing in children and youth.”

Heart-mind well-being refers to ”creating a balance between educating the mind and educating the heart” by encouraging children to develop social and emotional skills, as per the description on the Dalai Lama Center’s website. Thanks to this new partnership with Lululemon and the 250,000 Canadian dollars ($221,900) they’ll provide annually for the next three years (that’s almost a quarter of a million dollars every year), the center’s heart-mind education initiative can be expanded and further research can be done on the connection between the heart and mind, so that more kids will be more mindful, compassionate and able to resolve conflicts more peacefully, for example.

I can already hear the spiritual noise train arriving on track 29. What about 'form is emptiness, emptiness is form'? Why are you bringing politics into all this? Why are you hating on Lululemon again? Why are you hating on the Dalai Lama? WHAT ... ABOUT ... THE CHILDREN?!!!!

Spare me. I'm tired of corporate apologetics, idol worship, and the use of dharmic teachings in the service of maintaining colonialism and the capitalism it spawned. This deal has all the hallmarks of the non-profit industrial complex on it, and really, it's pretty sad that the Dalai Lama Center leadership thinks that an expensive clothing company is the kind of outfit that ready, willing, and most importantly able to spread "mindfulness ... and heart-mind wellbeing in children and youth." I mean, the company's target audience isn't even children and youth. If they want to go this route, perhaps joining up with Lego, Microsoft, Nintendo, or some other such corporation might be in order.

Note that the Dalai Lama Center's press release contains not only the NASDAQ tag for Lululemon (in case folks want to invest in stock?), but also a paragraph long description of the company that appears to be cut and pasted from Lululemon's marketing copy.

What does the Dalai Lama Center have to say about the sexism, sizism, classism, and oppressive labor practices of the corporation they're partnering with? Do they intend to also promote mindful awareness of the systemic causes that allow folks like the on again off again leader of Lululemon, Chip Wilson, to essentially get away with comments about pronouncements about women's thighs and jokes about Japanese mispronunciations of Lululemon? Or, since this is supposedly all about the children, will they speak out loudly against Chip Wilson's support of "Third World child labor"? Sure, Wilson is finally gone after a long power struggle, but concretely addressing his views (and their corporate practices) in the context of the global capitalist workplace would put some teeth into this project.

Finally, I have to say that if Lululemon truly wanted to be a leader in promoting mindfulness and compassion in the lives of tomorrow's leaders, they'd invest a hell of a lot more than $750,000. For a corporation bringing in nearly $2 billion annually, that's essentially pocket change. And also a small price to pay for a marketing campaign to restore the company's long tarnished image.










Thursday, October 9, 2014

the basis for the bodhisattva work of non-violent intervention


Photo credit: hrustall from morguefile.com

I was on the bus this morning and I saw a woman hurrying across the street in front of us. She was clearly anxious and as she passed the large, wide front bus window, I noticed a ball of tension rising within me. Looking at her struggling, I felt a resistance, a not wanting to "deal" with her appearance in my life.

And it hit me - this was the confused mix of compassion and control I often respond to the human-filled environment with. I felt whatever she was experiencing trying to enter me, and I both wanted to heal it, and banish it at the same time. While desiring to heal or help someone is a compassionate feeling, it often tied to a self centered desire to significantly reduce the amount of time you have to spend witnessing another person's suffering. Wanting to banish suffering can also be a noble impulse, but too often this impulse is tied to violence and/or hatred.

"Turn around the light to shine within, then just return.
The vast inconceivable source can't be faced or turned away from.
Meet the ancestral teachers, be familiar with their instruction,
Bind grasses to build a hut, and don't give up."

We are called to learn how to see ourselves, and others, completely - moment after moment. That turning "the light o shine within" allows us to act in the world, as opposed to react to it.

Shitou (author of the above) , lived a lot of his life in intimacy with the planet as it was. The ancestral trees, grasses, medicine plants, waters, mountains - these were as much his teachers as any human, if not more. At the same time, familial and cultural human ancestors probably played a large role in his life. Another reason perhaps why it took only two poems to cement his place amongst the great Buddhist teachers. He didn't need a lot of words because he had taken everything in, and wasn't controlled by it, but could engage with it fully.

Things are probably more complicated for a lot of us living now, but at the same time, there are these lines from the Sandokai:

"In the light there is darkness, but don't take it as darkness;
In the dark there is light, but don't see it as light."

Bumping up against human stress and suffering might be more concentrated now, but still is not all that different from twelve hundred years ago. The stress and suffering of the planet is probably much more in our faces now, but decay and death have always been with us.

At the same time, we don't have the luxury to just copy what the various ancestors did. Or we can, but it won't bring the liberation we say we're seeking.

In responding to changing weather conditions, soil conditions, sunlight and moonlight conditions, each generation of trees grows somewhat differently from the previous ones. And yet, through the seeds, their ancestral lineage remains fully intact.

The basis for the bodhisattva work of non-violent intervention is being able to see ourselves, and others, completely - moment after moment. And then acting from that clear seeing.