This week I’ve been thinking about the work of Kalle Lasn and Adbusters. There are several things that strike me about his work as a Buddhist that has pushed me in a new direction. First, as I said in the previous article in Engage, “The Dharma of Adbusters“, Kalle doesn’t waste time promoting or defending, or even critiquing institutional Buddhism. As an activist who is deeply committed to climate justice, ecological and economic justice, Kalle’s got much bigger fish to fry. Second, his goal is nothing less than total revolution, from the ground up, through every field of human endeavor and experience. It’s well-known that Adbusters planted the viral seed that started the Occupy Movement, which is still having repercussions today in movements like #ExtinctionRebellion. Third, Kalle and his team of artists show tremendous courage and innovation in the way they present their concerns. Adbusters uses satire to deliver a scathing critique of corporate and political icons. It uses high-impact graphics to make powerful critiques about delusional cultures and destructive hierarchies of power. All this while comfortably holding the tag “Buddhist”.
The artwork and commentary of Adbusters explores the search for the ‘spiritual’ in an innovative way that most religious authors could not imagine. The revolution that Kalle is trying to instigate is a spiritual revolution, a revolution of meaning expressed in collective culture and action.
Where else has this kind of bold and courageous leadership been exhibited in the Buddhist world? The only person I can think of is Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. It is worth noting that Dr. Ambedkar spent his life working to end the Hindu caste system, advocating for women’s rights and tribal rights and workers rights, and became the chief author of the Constitution of India, all before he formally took Refuge and became a Buddhist.
I think it’s time for me as a dharma practitioner to put the tag “Buddhist” aside (as I’ve been doing all along) and focus on what really needs to change in the human realm. The best way to change Buddhism is to actually do the work that needs to be done, and then someone might say, “oh yeah, Shaun was a buddhist too.” Of course, lots of people will ask “But is this really Buddhism?” and I will say, “Who the hell cares?” Let other people decide if it’s really Buddhism or not. I don’t care if some people think it misrepresents Buddhism or if it does or doesn’t conform to some passage of scripture or the teaching of a particular sect. I keep feeling like I have to throw off the chains of institutional Buddhism and start doing the kind of work that needs to be done to change the trajectory of this destructive culture. By doing that work, I automatically change the narrative of what ‘Buddhism’ is supposed to be.
The last thing I have learned from Kalle Lasn and Adbusters (for now) is that the production of meaning is far more valuable and important than the production of wealth. People are starved for meaning. People are gobbling up a billion bits a minute of corporate-generated crap but feeling totally empty nonetheless, so empty they are suicidal and mentally ill. We don’t need to serve people a diet of nerve-numbing, anxiety-soothing Buddhist psycho-babble to make people feel better. We need to create a culture of meaning, a culture that is relevant and empowers people to live courageous and fulfilling lives, a culture that empowers people to act collectively to transform the world.
So look out, world—I’m about to get a whole lot bolder about what I say in my blogs and how I say it. Buddhist teachers often apply the terms ‘lean in’ and ‘push the edge’ when discussing personal spiritual growth. I’ve never seen anyone in the dharma realm apply those terms to the critique and transformation of society. I’m going to start using Adbusters‘ style satire and post-marxist critique to publish scathing critiques of contemporary culture. It’s time to apply my (soon to be) Ph.D. in Sociology to push the edge and start culture jamming.