ABC Television put out a casting call this summer for Buddhist families to appear on its reality show Wife Swap. In the show, two wives from two separate families switch lives for eight days: chaos, conflict, and sometimes cross-cultural understanding ensue. ABC hoped to find an American Buddhist family that could be described as "very non-consumerist, eats low on the food chain and spends more time meditating than watching television." Non-materialist Buddhists who'd get off the cushion were promised $20,000.
H.H. the 1st Dolly Lama
This September, German dollmaker Schildkroet released a doll in honor of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Only 999 will be made, going for 165 euros each, about $200. The doll, which eerily resembles a lightly-bronzed version of the company's standard European model, sports traditional monk's robes, but it's the eyeglasses that are a dead give-away that this is indeed His Holiness. The Dalai Lama recently said that he's unsure whether or not he will have a successor, but we now know what he will look like if he comes back as a plump German adolescent.
Now Singing the Blues
Um Samnang isn't the abbot of Choutika Ram temple in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, anymore. A crowd of villagers and police intercepted the former monk as he was returning to the temple from a night of karaoke, wearing street clothes scrounged from some students. Wearing clothes other than robes and seeking pleasure in music shows are both offenses for monks, and Um Samnang was promptly kicked out of the sangha.
Reach Out and Don't Touch Someone
Cell phone rings in Thailand are getting increasingly explicit, such as a popular one that mimics a woman in the throes of orgasm. In order to combat this scourge, Phra Phayom Kalayano, a monk from a temple near Bangkok, has created downloadable “Dhamma Doctrine” ringtones. Some examples: “Anger is stupidity, fury is madness”; “It is better to sweat from hard work than cry from laziness, which encourages poverty”; and “Don't let mobile phone conversations lead to premature sex and pregnancy.” Donations for the downloads will go to charity.
Back on the Road
Dr. Henry Gurr, professor emeritus of physics at the University of South Carolina at Aiken, has created a website that includes rare photos and info related to the modern spiritual classic, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. For years, Dr. Gurr taught ZMM to his physics students, and the site includes advice about how to use the book in classrooms. For the general reader, a more exciting aspect may be the site's hosting of the only photographs of author Robert Pirsig's famous 1968 motorcycle trip with his son and two friends. There are also photos and testimonials by subsequent enthusiasts who have ridden the same path, now a sort of de facto pilgrimage route for fans of Pirsig's Zen-influenced philosophy.
Reality television invaded the backyard of Wat Kamala, a temple in Thailand devastated by the tsunami in late 2004. The Australian program Backyard Blitz involves teams of professionals swooping in to renovate regular folks' gardens. The producers decided to help out Wat Kamala as a gift from the Australian people. Besides providing the morale boost of a new garden incorporating Buddhist themes, Backyard Blitz pumped needed dollars into the damaged economy by buying most of the materials locally.