Grueddhism (noun) (derivation: Gruesome + Buddhism): tenuous form of Buddhism adopted by the wealthy of the West as a fashion accessory and status symbol. Usage: See the woman in the five-inch heels and the Buddha T-shirt? She’s a Grueddhist.
Snapshots from the practice of Grueddhism:
A heavily pregnant woman is pushing her shopping basket toward her car in a Whole Foods parking lot when a Prius (the automotive choice of those who treasure the earth and all who abide there) cruises noiselessly up behind her, and the woman driving it leans on her horn. The pregnant woman leaps aside and the driver of the Prius slows as she passes to shout something. Her license plate frame reads Namaste, which means the spirit in me honors the spirit in you. The Buddha didn’t have a license plate and, so far as we know, never yelled at a pregnant woman who was too slow getting out of his way.
A billonaire tycoon known internationally for his explosive temper and massive ego builds himself houses centered on the minimalist stillness of Zen rock gardens to give him, you know, perspective, and goes on “spiritual retreats” when he’s not skimming the oceans on one of the world’s biggest personal yachts, which he’ll soon be sailing to his own private Hawaiian Island, purchased to give him a peaceful environment. When the Buddha needed peace, he closed his eyes.
A Hollywood uber-agent, once the most powerful man in the entertainment industry, who accumulated a huge collection of Buddhist art and put up an office building largely to house it, told a screenwriter who had decided to seek representation elsewhere, “My soldiers will hunt you down and kill you.” The Buddha never had a soldier.
Grueddhism is one of the fastest-growing belief systems/status symbols among a certain population, largely West Coast-based members of the one percent. As a lifetime left-leaner I’m somewhat ashamed to say they’re mostly west side liberals who believe fervently in the achievement of justice and social equality through the redistribution of everyone’s wealth but theirs.
Okay, these folks already have nicer cars, bigger houses, hipper friends, better drugs, more accomplished plastic surgeons, and tonier ZIP codes than we do. So why do they need Grueddhism? It’s very simple: by demonstrating publicly that they have all these things but don’t really care about them, they’re practicing spiritual one-upmanship. Some of them trained for this by being among the first to renounce fur or to campaign for veganism among the poor. But those bold stands of principle, personally satisfying as they might have been, weren’t visible. Grueddhism announces itself: it says, I can afford this designer coat with the Buddha on it in (ahem) rainforest green, and you can’t.
Would the Buddha have worn this? No?
It’s religion as a shawl or a hairstyle or a new accent, an announcement of a superiority so absolute that it would be visible on an X-ray. The deity that actually inspires it, of course, isn’t the Buddha, not some long-dead Indian with (probably) brown skin, but rather Mario Prada and/or Louis Vuitton. Can a brown purse festooned with little mustard-yellow Buddhas be far behind? Not when this attractive clutch is already available for those who attend enlightened but exclusive events.
Wouldn’t this have have been a beautiful accent to the Buddha’s saffron robe?
Of course, every religion has its backsliders and hypocrites. Thailand has among its enormous population of Buddhist monks several who mess prominently in politics, throwing their support to one worldly faction or another in exchange for who knows what, or who trade in amulets that confer dubiously miraculous powers. It has politicians who preach rectitude and steal like pashas. It has business tycoons who believe that Asanga’s Fivefold path comprises acquisition, consolidation, domination, cost-shaving, and branding.
But it’s one thing to believe in a religion and be unable to live up to it, and another thing to wrap yourself in one because mink has become unfashionable. As far as I’m concerned, the only good thing about Grueddhism is that it makes radical Islam look a little better. I think we non-Grueddhists should go out of our way to present every Grueddhist we meet with an opportunity for spiritual growth. Egg his or her Bentley or Mercedes. Give them something to transcend.
And make sure you remind them to have a nice day.