Someone said something about Buddhism!

I suppose I’m a bit late to the party, but life kept me away from the internets this weekend for the most part. It seems as though Bill Maher said something about Buddhism, and now people are upset. So I went over to the post in question, read it, and chuckled a little bit.

Bill Maher is a comedian. Some find him funny, others not so much. No biggie. We can’t all like the same flavor of ice cream either. As of the past few years, Maher has really targeted religion and the religious as the butt of his jokes. His movie Religulous focused on crazy people who believe in the different Abrahamic religions, and was kinda funny at times, but largely disappointing. It also seemed like there was supposed to be a point, but then there really wasn’t one. Oh well. In his bit over at the Huffington Post, he starts talking about sex-addiction and Tiger, making some funny points:

But all this talk about sex addiction now – please – sex addiction is just something Dr. Drew made up because he had no other way to explain Andy Dick. And that’s not just me saying that – it’s also the American Psychiatric Association, which does not list sex addiction in its manual; it does not regard it as a real psychological syndrome, like delirium or bipolar disorder or any of the other things Glenn Beck suffers from.

hahaha Andy Dick and Glenn Beck in the same rip?!?! Comedy gold!!!

Moving on.

But before Tiger moves on there’s one more apology he really should make, and that’s to Buddha, for dragging him into this mess and proving once again, that whenever something unspeakably tawdry, loathsome and cheap happens, just wait a few days. Religion will make it worse.

He’s got a point here. People play the God/Jesus card all the time after they get caught cheating/lying/stealing or whatever. It’s actually really annoying, mostly to the people of that particular faith. Tiger said he was re-comitting to his path. I certainly wish him well. Yet part of me thinks that in his forgiveness speech, Tiger was purposefully targeting the Brit Humes of the world that seemed to think he needed Christianity, and Buddhism was a second-class religion when it comes to redemption. If the public hadn’t gotten involved in his personal religion, I wonder if he would have ever mentioned it?

Maher goes on to make some other jokes at the expense of Buddhism. Most of which are gross exaggerations of a limited, superficial understanding of Buddhism:

And it really is outdated in some ways – the “Life sucks, and then you die” philosophy was useful when Buddha came up with it around 500 B.C., because back then life pretty much sucked, and then you died – but now we have medicine, and plenty of food, and iPhones, and James Cameron movies – our life isn’t all about suffering anymore. And when we do suffer, instead of accepting it we try to alleviate it.

Tiger said, “Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves” makes us unhappy, which confirms something I’ve long suspected about Eastern religions: they’re a crock, too.

Craving for things outside ourselves is what makes life life – I don’t want to learn to not want, that’s what people in prison have to do. Buddhism teaches suffering is inevitable. The only thing that’s inevitable is that if you have fake boobs and hair extensions, Tiger Woods will try to fuck you.

ha. Kinda almost funny. I think better jokes could be made here, even if they did offend more than these. Come on Bill, you’re slipping.

I’ve seen quite a few in the greater “buddhoblogosphere” post about this, and about Maher’s comments are coming from a place of ignorance. Well, yeah. Of course they are. I wouldn’t expect someone like Bill Maher to make informed statements about Buddhism, and then turn them into jokes. Because once someone is well-informed on the Four Noble truths, there isn’t much to laugh at about them.  They were also meant for HIS audience, and if you haven’t noticed, the audience he’s targeting isn’t the religous. So no, I’m not really upset at the comments he made.

One of the jokes he made has brought up the same comments over and over again:

And reincarnation? Really? If that were real, wouldn’t there be some proof by now? A raccoon spelling out in acorns, “My name is Herb Zoller and I’m an accountant.” …something?

People are always debating, is Buddhism a religion or a philosophy: it’s a religion. You’re a religion if you do something as weird as when the Buddhist monks scrutinize two-year-olds to find the reincarnation of the dude who just died, and then choose one of the toddlers as the sacred Lama: “His poop is royal!” Sorry, but thinking you can look at a babbling, barely-housebroken, uneducated being and say, “That’s our leader” doesn’t make you enlightened. It makes you a Sarah Palin supporter.

I actually kind of laughed at this one. Any time someone can make fun of Sarah Palin, I laugh. Also, the whole process is kind of well….. funny when you think about it from an outsider’s perspective, isn’t it? But the bloggers were focusing on this comment quite a bit, saying that this practice is grounded in Tibetan Buddhism, and is mostly cultural anyway, so he’s really way off base here.

But is he? Like it or not, The Dalia Llama is the face of ALL Buddhism in the West to non-Buddhist Westerners. Would a joke about  Amitābha Buddha, Daisaku Ikeda, or Robert Thurman really have really flown on Huffington Post? Doubtful. We kind of have to admit that by making the Dalai Llama into such a celebrity and rock star, we’ve also thrown his brand of Buddhism into the spotlight, which doesn’t leave much room for any of the others out there.

All in all, I think it was a moderately funny post on his part. I can handle someone laughing at my religion. I believe in some pretty unconventional (esp by Western standards) stuff, so I have to recognize that others aren’t going to see eye-to-eye with me at times, and that’s alright. I can’t count how many times I’ve laughed at Crazy Church People, babbling idiots, or Magic Mormon Underwear. To now get upset when someone pokes fun of my beliefs would be pretty hypocritical on my part.

Yet, there is a real problem here. Unfortunately, there are people who base their views off of what a comedian like Bill Maher or Dennis Miller or John Stewart has to say. Bill Maher has his version of the “ditto-heads” that flock to his every word, and spread it like a virus. So while I really don’t see anything to get upset with about his comments in and of themselves, the problem really lies with what happens to those comments when they reach the public.

I’ve already seen this happening in some of the comments:

I worship at the Altar of Maher.

Me too. He is a genius. I heard him last night on Larry King. His comments on Palin and Obama, etc., hit the balls outside the fence.

Hey Bill, You are the best at exposing the lack of credibility and believablity
of these crutches going under the name of religion(s)

This is a tiny sample to be sure, used to illustrate my point. But the fact of the matter is that this piece will give people a reason to hate Buddhism, to spread further misconceptions about the dharma, and might turn people away from ever seeking it out in the first place. Using beer as an analogy, let’s say you decide to be bold, and try one of those new-fangled micro-brews instead of the usual lite lager crap. Now let’s say the first beer you try is Stone Mill Pale Ale. You know, the one that looks like it came from a small town micro brewery in Cali? So you get home and crack one open and, EWWWW. It’s freaking awful. Just a little bit more flavor than your usual can beer, but that flavor is awful. Why the hell did you ever think to try something new? Never again.

Of course, Stone Mill is made by Anheiseur-Busch, and is about as far from a local delicious micro-brewed Pale Ale that you could ever get. Your first exploration into something new and exciting just got you burned because you believed what you were buying was somehow a good representation of what you were looking for. But it wasn’t. This is the same flavor that people will be left with if misconceptions about the dharma are left to propagate unchecked. So yes, we should speak up. But we should also take a moment to realize that Bill Maher is a comedian, and comedians will make jokes at the expense of just about everyone, as long as there is an audience for them. I’m not going to take offense at what was said. His ignorance has been pointed out by plenty of others in the buddhoblogosphere, so I’m not going to list all the ways in which he is wrong.

John has a good thread going on about engaging ignorance in Buddhism. I’m trying to figure out what our role is exactly in all of this. Do we simply confront Bill Maher and his misconceptions? Or do we try to get the correct version (not talking about sects/schools here) of the dharma out there in the public to let people see what the Buddha really had to say about suffering? I don’t know if there is an easy solution here.

As for jokes…..

“Sarah Palin thinks the alphabet has 22 letters. She’s so dumb she thinks the capital of China is Chinatown. Sarah Palin is so dumb, she thinks billboards are postcards from giants. The governor of Alaska is so dumb, she thinks soy milk is Spanish for ‘I am milk.'” –“Daily Show” correspondent Wyatt Cenac

oooooh snap!!!

Cheers.

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15 Comments

Filed under Buddhism

15 responses to “Someone said something about Buddhism!

  1. Jack Daw

    “Would a joke about Amitābha Buddha, Daisaku Ikeda, or Robert Thurman really have really flown on Huffington Post?”

    I am SO down with making fun of Daisaku Ikeda! I should start now…

    I do agree with the fact that this was meant to be funny but Maher is known for intelligent commentary and this fell short with so many misconceptions. That said, I saw less ire with this one compared to Brit Hume’s equally funny comments.

    So the reaction was generally more tame from the Buddhists. More along the lines of promoting awareness rather than dispelling ignorance with a diamond sword.

    The fucking Dalai Lama jokes get old though. I expect intelligent people to understand that HHDL does not represent Buddhists all over the globe and is indeed the leader of only one sect/school.

    I’ll head over to my local Evangelical Church and ask make fun of them for having the pope as the leader of their church.

    Cheers,

    John
    http://www.zendirtzendust.com

    • “I do agree with the fact that this was meant to be funny but Maher is known for intelligent commentary and this fell short with so many misconceptions. That said, I saw less ire with this one compared to Brit Hume’s equally funny comments.”

      Yeah, I agree. The first part of his rant was funny and intelligent, but then it seemed like he just needed to make fun of religion. I suppose that’s his agenda now though, and that’s how he gets/keeps his readers and viewers.

      “The fucking Dalai Lama jokes get old though. I expect intelligent people to understand that HHDL does not represent Buddhists all over the globe and is indeed the leader of only one sect/school.”

      There is a chance that they do, but when cracking jokes, I think only Dennis Miller would be able to(maybe) pull off a Genpo or Ikeda rip. For 95% of Americans, those refrences would be way to obscure.

      Though we shouldn’t have to really put up with it either. I guess I just don’t expect much else from mainstream comedians that want to use Buddhism as a punchline. And what really sucks is that for ever, we’ve been under attack from the Christian right and now have to put up with the misconceptions that are just as bad coming from the left as well.

  2. I have no way but to appreciate the good rebuttals made by Adam against the fake or flak jokes of Bill Maher. But Bill Maher’s wit and hit jokes too be appreciated for hoyhing is too sacred to spare. Obly fake things may shake at a hat drop of some innocent or otherwise jokes. Storms do come, and when the calm returns only the ‘real’ ones may remain there. I understand ‘religious issue’ is a too highly inflammable and sensitive business to handle. Whippinp up the sentiments either way is very easy. Buddha may be simply laughing at this tamasha, just like a child. We fight for him and make big noise and fire.
    Anyway good reading and points there in the post. Thanks.

  3. I have no way but to appreciate the good rebuttals made by Adam against the fake or flak jokes of Bill Maher. But Bill Maher’s wit and hit jokes too be appreciated for nothing is too sacred to spare. Only fake things may shake at a hat drop of some innocent or otherwise jokes. Storms do come, and when the calm returns only the ‘real’ ones may remain there. I understand ‘religious issue’ is a too highly inflammable and sensitive business to handle. Whippinp up the sentiments either way is very easy. Buddha may be simply laughing at this tamasha, just like a child. We fight for him and make big noise and fire.
    Anyway good reading and points there in the post. Thanks.

    • Yes, very true. As soon as we hear someone talk about our religion, we tend to put our defenses up and get ready to attack. Yet I find that like John said above, the typical Buddhist response was one of “hey, you don’t understand” rather than “ONLY THE POWER OF THE BUDDHA WILL SET YOU FREE OF YOUR EVIL WAYS BILL MAHER!!!!”.

  4. buddhasbrewing

    Adam your Buddhist response needs two things:

    hey, you don’t understand, man. Take a hit off this and you’ll be a lot more mellow.

    Soory that just conjured stoner imgages for me. By brain assigned it Tommy Chong’s voice. Damn Tommy Chong and his perfect stoner “impression.”

    Good Post, Adam!

  5. hahaha

    Tommy Chong is the world’s greatest stoner

  6. Hi, Adam. Just a quick note regarding your site on blogger. Not sure if this is unique to me, but something in the template is being thrown off when I try to comment. The entry-space for the captcha verification is hidden.

    I’m on Firefox, so it may be unique to that browser, but you might want to check it out.

    Cheers,
    H

  7. Yeah, I’m not opposed to laughing at my own religion but Maher’s jokes weren’t very funny. Not because I’m touchy about Buddhism but because there is so much better material to use!! How about the old stand by jokes like: “Why can’t Buddhists vacuum corners?”

    “Because they have no attachments.” HAHAHAHAHA…O.k., maybe that’s a really bad one but still…

    • Yeah, they weren’t very funny, but I can see how some in his camp would have LOL’d at what he said. He has his audience, and seems to be doing just fine pandering to them.

      Cheers.

  8. I agree with everything you said, amazing. I think Bill Maher is funny, but I don’t necessarily agree with all his opinions.

    I am not religious, but if I had to pick one it would be buddhism. Otherwise I don’t really trust organized religion. One of my favorite quotes is by Deepak Chopra, “God gave man the truth, the devil came along and sorted it out in religion”.

  9. Incidentally I came across the following link about the forthcoming book entitled, Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist reseached and written by Stephen Batchelor, a former monk, being released shortly in March 2010, in the US. It answers and reveals as to how and who killed Buddha the Goutama, among many related things ansd stories, based on the original Pali works, as it claims:
    http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?264458

  10. “…once someone is well-informed on the Four Noble truths, there isn’t much to laugh at about them.”

    Well-said.

  11. I enjoyed your beer analogy!

  12. Nice post. Keep on posting.