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Daily Connect: Marketing Buddhism, Marketing the Holidays

I usually have a good Thanksgiving. This year was no different, although it had a quiet and sad quality to it, since I wasn't celebrating with the same person I was so thankful to gobble gobble with last year, which is going to take a bit more getting used to. Despite its implication of the violent and oppressive aspects of our national karma, Thanksgiving, in its annual manifestation, remains the coolest American holiday, far more genuine and spiritual (and Buddhist?) than the Holiday which now looms ominously on the calendar, which may as well be renamed McNikeChristmas (sponsored by Best Buy and Target).

I think it's pretty simple. Christmas is all about marketing, and Thanksgiving is (miraculously) all about genuine gratitude, loved ones and good eats. No wonder the latter makes me relax completely, whereas the former is a stocking stuffed with gloom and doom. How did Thanksgiving escape the stroke of Holiday commodification? I have no idea, but I'm oh so happy it did.

But is marketing itself a bad thing? Why are Buddhists not so gifted at the art of presentation? Where are all the Mad Men Bodhisattvas? I got to ask  Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche and Roshi O'Hara at Rebel Buddha a few weeks back about marketing Buddhism. The video clip is below.

Here are my three rules for marketing the dharma (or self-promotion, or marketing anything else, for that matter)

1) Don't say anything that isn't true (truthfulness)

2) Don't be invasive with messaging or communications (humbleness)

3) Speak like you have something great to offer (confidence)

and one more rule:

4) Don Draper's a jerk, but his ties are awesome. (style)

How do you all reconcile marketing with right speech? Is this something you struggle with?

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More thinking about holidays

One more thought for now on this. I think something that happens in our culture, our world, is that holidays are treated with a kind of cynicism. Holidays have been taken over, or given over, to capitalism, or to materialism. So some suspicion of materialistic holiday manifestations is can be healthy.

But then it is possible we are "throwing the baby out" if this suspicions goes too far, into what Chogyam Trungpa called "frivolous cynicism," or frivolousness. He talks about this in "Orderly Chaos." It's a kind of habitual criticism of people, or culture, seeing everything as a parody or cliche. I think this happens a lot. I'm certainly guilty of thinking this way.

I think frivolous cynicism means that the messages of cheerfulness, generosity, richness, kindess, connection with the natural world, and so on, these holiday lessons get ignored. I tend to think I'm right about everything, so, of course, I think I'm right about this, but- I think holidays can be seen as powerful opportunities for practice and learning, and that becoming aware of extreme cynicism and overcoming it are important for this.

Too many words, as usual. Oh well. Happy holidays!

baby and the bathwater

we shouldn't throw out the baby with the bathwater.

yes, materialistic people use holidays to promote their ends. But their are also many very very very spiritual elements within the holidays as well.

The story of the Pilgrims and the Indians is involved and complex, with many players, on both sides, truly seeking out peace and, in many instances, many maintaining peace and friendship...and often for decades. It is hardly one simple story of abuse and oppression. The Pulitzer nominated book "Mayflower" - even though it details King Phillip's War, also discusses this.

Paramahansa Yogananda was asked if people should market spirituality like, at the time, people were marketing Wrigley's gum. His answer was not a simple no, that one should never enter the field of promotion of spirituality.

Like anything else, if done with a heart of caring and compassion, promotion of spirituality can do good.

I mean hey, if we don't promote goodness and kindness and compassion, we are just leaving the dialogue to be run by the selfish, moral-less and greedy...


Thanks for the post Ethan. The point that Xmas is a huge consumption festival is true, and this is a big problem. I also like some parts of Christmas.

I convinced my family to stop celebrating Christmas the normal way, with lots of gifts, around the time I graduated from college. I had started studying Buddhism and Western philosophy. We got together for Christmas, but without lots of gifts, and my parents donated a little extra money to a charity.

I thought this was good; it probably is. My parents didn't really enjoy it as much though, and missed their traditional take on things. They went back to the gifty Christmas after two years of the new one. At that point I felt bad trying to impose my ideas on them.

Right now Christmas evokes some nostalgia and pleasant feelings, and I like the good cheer of it, and the decorations and symbolism. I think it has real potential for meditators and Buddhists. That sounds a little bizarre, as it is very Christian in some ways, but that is my sense, that it has a lot of potential especially for Americans. I plan to celebrate this year but without lots of gifts- decorations, lots of food, and maybe the stockings.

Marketing is a combination of content and presentation

I give occasionally diving courses, and I don't advertise at all. I have a lot of truthful information about the subject on my website and that attracts enough people I am willingly and able to accommodate.

I probably don't give as many courses that I would be able to if I would draw more attention, but at least I do feel good about it, and get customers who want to do a course with me, and know what they can expect. 

Subtle or non-marketing might be just as effective as an loud TV ad or big advertisement on an large building. What do you think?

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