Archive for the ‘zen’ Category

Orientalism in the Orient – I

May 3, 2011

Looking through some old photos of mine, I came across one that I was hoping to use in a class but hadn’t gotten around to yet. It is an ad for power switches/light switches. And its marketing angle is the term ‘xen’ which is obviously playing off of the term ‘zen’.

Zen is a term used widely in North American popular culture to evoke the mystical East, or a sense of calm, or whatever its latest referent is. What is interesting is that this picture was taken in Bangalore, India (2006). If this image was used in North America, we might decry it as the appropriation of the “Other” for the capitalist gain of the “Self”. Instead, we have the appropriation of the “Other Asia” by “Our Asia”. The key elements of orientalism that are reproduced here are stereotypes of the Other as exotic (zen is a major signifier of such), as a symbolic commodity to be capitalized on for is semiotic value, and as a moving signifier to meet the needs of the ‘Self’. What does ‘Xen’ mean here? What does it evoke? The clean, calm lines of modernity? Of minimalism and simplicity? Of mystery and exoticism? How does the ‘X’ change the meaning as opposed to the ‘Z’? Does it signify a cool, hip variant?

Another thing to note is that the second sentence under the word ‘Xen’ is as follows: “More Affordable in economy LATINA series”. Here we see the politics of orientalism/race/gender playing out that contributes to the stereotyping of female hispanics as poor or lesser than. It might contradictorily affirm the attractiveness of the hispanic female–that is, why is it LATINA and not LATINO? Again, we can come back to the analysis that sex is the prime signifier of desire in late capitalism, and sex within patriarchy is inhabited by the male gaze.

This seemingly innocuous image of power switches is embedded in a whole intersection of symbolic meaning and utilizes many stereotypes within discourse to market the product as attractive for consumers who are also consuming this symbolic product.

A Short History of Buddhism and Orientalism

July 25, 2010

For the scholarly minded, or those who want to get a good resource for the Orientalist construction of Buddhism, I suggest this source that I just started re-reading: Jorn Borup, “Zen and the Art of Inverting Orientalism: Buddhism, Religious Studies and Interrelated Networks”, in New Approaches to the Study
of Religion, Volume I: Regional, Critical, and Historical Approaches
, edited by Peter Antes, Armin W. Geertz, and Randi R. Warne, 451-487. Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2004.

This is a great introduction and summary of quite a few different number of recent scholarly examinations of Buddhism, its construction, and its place within Orientalism and relationship to Orientalism. While, I would have prefered a more robust theoretcal or even critical analysis at the end of the paper, it is still quite good. I think it would have most impact on those scholars who haven’t yet encountered the counter-discourse arising in Buddhist Studies against its own ideolized projections (led by people like Donald Lopez, Almond, and others). Great for a intro to Buddhism course at university.

I’d like to know what others think of this piece.

Advanced Test Question 1: Forget Lin Chi

April 30, 2009

Since I’ve decided that this blog is a forum for all my wacky thoughts, especially on Asian traditions, I’ve decided to ask research questions that I would hypothetically love to ask hypothetical students. Who knows what it will amount to, but I figured I’d like to keep a copy of my idea. And this blog is designed as the repository for just this sort of thing. I think.

Here is a research question for all you zenists out there.

Reconcile the following quote by Lin Chi, patriarch of zen,

Whatever comes along, don’t let yourself be taken in. If you have a moment of doubt, the demon will enter your mind. Even Bodhisattvas, if they give way to doubt, are be assailed by the demon of birth-and-death. Just put a stop to such thoughts, and never seek outside yourself. When something appears before you, shine your inner light upon it; have confidence in what is operating within you–everything else is empty,

with the following quote by Hakuin, a later Japanese patriarch who revitalized Rinzai, the Japanese zen school that traces its lineage back to Lin Chi:

When you come to think about it, those who have investigated the Mu koan, brought before themselves the great doubt… It is all a matter of raising or failing to raise this ball of doubt. It must be understood that this ball of doubt is like a pair of wings that advances you along the way.

Good Luck.

For bonus points, explain the relevance of the title of the question, “Forget Lin Chi,” and its relevance in this context.