June 13, 2007
The media's tittering over the Karmapa's MySpace page -- supposedly set up in anticipation of his visit to the West this summer. The attention is great, but all the interest over the page's existence seems to betrays a common Western notion that Buddhists all live in caves and have never heard of the internet, pop music, sports, or Lindsay Lohan.
Some will argue the oddness of the cultural encounter is not the stupification on the Western end but rather a culture where designating young people as incarnations of dead people or saints is accepted as an everyday thing. Well, fair enough. Our understanding of monastic culture is very dim in any case. (This brings me back to the sadness of losing Thomas Merton so early -- he could have spoken very deeply to this.) What sort of ordinary life are incarnate lamas going to have? Probably not much, but many of us in the West would say ordinary life is overrated. Tibetans have endured horrors in their long struggle with China that few Westerners have experienced lately -- so don't take ordinary life for granted. Ordinary life is great. But all the "Aww, isn't it cute that he has a webpage!" won't help bridge the culture gap, even if the Free Tibet movement in some sense flirts with and plays on this exoticism. Bottom line is people are people and people love the internet.
- Philip Ryan Webmaster
Correction: Link fixed! Thanks, dafyddmorriss. Gotta be careful when there's two Karmapas! . . .