Buddhism is lifestyle. I realized this soon after I began being interested in buddhism and especially in buddhist meditation practice in Zuerich in 2005. Because of my interest the buddha-figure was not longer filtered out from my perception. I began seeing buddhas all over Zuerich. I realized how much tibetan prayer flags can be seen in this town, how the buddha was present everywhere. I saw him on big advertisement posters, in all sorts of places, he was for sale in expensive antique shops, in cheap outlets, in wellness boutiques (especially there). He was present in the strangest places. Obviously he functioned as an eye catcher and as an buyable symbol for … a certain lifestyle?
I began photographing the phenomenon because of the obvious absurdity of a lot of the displays. The decontextualized sitting, meditating figure in the noisy hotchpotch of everyday city life. And it was the same in other cities. One day, scanning through my photos I even realized that I photographed the same plastic buddha in Milan, Zurich, Frankfurt and a few other cities. I never tried to find out where it was produced. But probably it was Made in China. At least I fantasized this – and why not. Nowadays china will even determine the next Dalai Lama. This is law in China. This all is serious business. It is about generating a return. Selling a product.
At some point I stopped taking pictures because the pattern, incarnations, absurdities began repeating itself. What I keep is the curiosity when I come to a place where I haven‘t been, where and in what circumstances the first buddha will appear. Now, recently I have been on a very remote island on the archipelago of Cape Verde. I was joking to my partner when we arrived where we would see the first buddha – well knowing that the part of the world we were visiting had other problems then keeping life style buddhas. And truly we have not seen one.
On the way back we had one day in Praia which is the capital of the Cape Verdean islands. The shops you see here are nothing in comparison to the rich cities of europe. They sell the basic stuff for everyday life which is way below the standards we are used to and there are few eccentricities one can get hold of. There is little tourism and all in all the city is just another place where people try to get along – and one must say the Caboverdeans are a very friendly warmheartedly people. Much more smiles then in germany.
Then finally, you know what happens now, there was this furniture shop. It was clearly much more extravagant then everything we saw. And there, in the showcase he was, my beloved buddha. Just as if he came right form Zuerich. He greeted me with his typical smile. A perfect replica, just like beamed over from good old europe to grant me my blessings.
The shop he was residing over was clearly an expensive one and for the well off. It sold the typical furniture and accessories for above average living rooms in which you find, for example, the Vogue on the coffee table – or whatever.
There is a lot of evidence that the buddha and buddhism is a life style product. One can look at how books are produced and promoted, how the figure appears in every other wellness oasis, yoga shop and incense outlet, how it is sold at the great happenings when the great Lamas come, how it is used as an eye catcher for adds and in an endless array of absurdities you can look at here. On this island in the atlantic, the buddha was clearly nothing but a life style product, just another accessoire, nothing but a cute little meaningless disposable something – representing buddhism in the west.
So here is my question: Do buddhists really like that, that nothing else but a cute little meaningless disposable something is exported when it is about their savior? Is this really all buddhism has achieved when it comes to being present in the remote places of this planet? Isn‘t this kind of globalization ringing a bell in regard of what is going on with the buddha in the hands of consumer capitalism? Is this all, the buddha as a consumer product? What does this tell us about buddhism?