September 08, 2007
The Atlantic Monthly has a web-only slideshow of photos from Bhutan. These pictures accompany an article that seems to be only available to subscribers. The pictures are very cool and beautiful, but the whenever a country and culture is presented as so exotic, as such a spectacle, it gets a little condescending and weird. But this is interesting to people like me and probably you who have never been to Bhutan, and of course most of us will never get all the way to the valley of the Blue Moon. People with the time and money can go and gawk if they want, and bore us with their photos and stories when they get back. There is nothing wrong with wanting to see these places (and people) before they disappear -- this is an awareness, actually, of how the world is constantly changing, and of how our actions reverberate and echo around the world. Who wants to be around people who have no interest in other places and cultures? But the trouble is (we condescendingly think) we taint them by mere exposure -- exotic natives living in these spectacular locales want cargo, they see TV's and iPods and other signs of material wealth and they want to have them, but we wish they didn't want them, or we worship the ones who don't want them, because we ourselves are filled with such hunger for them. They didn't work for us, we think. We project so much on people. We ask so much that they live up to an ideal for us. (See Lopez on Tibet from 1994 for a more profound view of this.) We want some people to be untouched so that we can believe purity exists in the world -- and that maybe we can escape there. (On that note I happened to pick up Lost Horizon and flip through it this afternoon for some reason.) How much of our love for Tibet and Buddhism is wrapped up in all this? But geez, if you can go to Bhutan, by all means go -- it looks amazing. And take me with you.
On the continuing collision and collaboration of northern Buddhism and Western culture, see the Hollywood Reporter on the new film Milarepa. If the folks at HR don't like a movie, they'll tell you, and they seem to like this one. And there's more out there on the Milarepa movie.
- Philip Ryan, Webmaster