Under my blouses, sweaters, and other layers of clothes, you will find a white gold Buddha pendant. It will occasionally be found outside of the infinite layers of clothing I wear. Sometimes, my pendant will grab someone’s attention, which leads to some questioning. I don’t usually mind, but: No, I didn’t get my Buddha necklace from Urban Outfitters AND no, it isn’t for sale.
Here’s a little background information: I’m a second-generation immigrant, and both of my parents are Vietnam War refugees. Unlike some Vietnamese people, my family is Buddhist, and not Catholic, which is somewhat surprising. After the French colonized my people –and committed genocide– in the 19th century, many were forced to convert to Catholicism; however, both sides of my family were somehow spared from their attempts at conversion.
I must admit that I’m not the most practicing Buddhist you will find, as I rarely go to temple anymore, but I still wear my Buddha pendant to remind me of what was taken away, as well as to keep my culture alive in some way.
I rarely meet “actual” Buddhists, who aren’t my cousins or family members. In fact, I know of a lot of Catholic Vietnamese people. Throughout my childhood, I wore a Buddha pendant, but I stopped when I moved to Québec. Necklaces, even religious ones, are a choking hazard in gym class, so I stopped wearing it. It wasn’t until I started college that I started wearing it again, and only after seeing other students wear their Buddha pendants.
I wanted to show off a part of me, even if in a small way. My grandmother was delighted, and she bought me a new one, a bigger one, to wear, rather than the childhood one I still had.
Whenever I hear someone say that “Buddhism is so zen” and “I want to buy it cause it’s so cute and cool”, I feel the anger of my ancestors wash over me like the crashing of the waves on rocks. My religion is not some accessory for you to appropriate just because you like “the look of it”. It is not some piece of décor to make your home more “peaceful”.
Whenever I walk into someone’s home and see Buddha head decorations, or Buddha statues placed directly on the ground, I cringe. During the 19th and the 20th century, the British colonizers in Asia would cut off the heads of Buddha statues as trophies of their conquests, thus desecrating religious and holy figures. I hope that I mustn’t explain this, but I shall: it’s bad to desecrate other peoples’ religious figures!
This trend of having Buddha heads has continued by the descendants of these colonizers. The entire world would be in uproar if I had Jesus’s severed head as décor on my kitchen table because “I simply just think Christianity is so calming.”
Additionally, statues of Buddha are not supposed to sit directly on a surface. Again, it is disrespectful, as the statue or figure must have something between it and the ground. For example, I have a Buddha statue on my bookshelf. Despite it not directly touching the ground, my father still put a thick book between the statue and the cheap wood of my IKEA bookshelf to show respect. It isn’t that hard people!
I’m tired of people claiming that they are Buddhists when they just want the title while neglecting to follow its principles. The new wave spiritual bullshit that is spewed by the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Goop has made religions like mine be exoticized and diluted for a Western audience to buy into. They claim to follow Buddhism, yet they cannot name the specific branch.
As my history teacher Eric Lamoureux says, “Buddhism is like ice cream, and it comes in many flavours”.
I follow Vietnamese Buddhism, but there is also famously Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, and so forth. The Dalai Lama is not the “Buddhist Pope”, and not all Buddhists listen to him. He is the leader of the Tibetan Buddhists; however, it does not stop us from respecting him.
Furthermore, there is more than one Buddha, or Buddhi so to speak. The original Buddha was Siddhartha, and Buddha is the title that one gets when they reach nirvana, enlightenment. In fact, the pendant I wear around my neck depicts a female Buddha, which does exist!
When I use Google Maps to search for the nearest temple, I see people like Karen Whateverhername ask: “Do you guys offer yoga and group meditations?” To this, the temple replies: “…We’re a Buddhist temple ma’am.”
You don’t see me asking the local church if I can just sing for fun. If you are truly Buddhist, have you experienced going to temple, which is probably a converted house, smelling homemade vegetarian food waft through the air, while hearing your sixty-something year old monk complain that vegetarian sushi is expensive? If you have answered no, then you have not had the full Buddhist experience.
I am also done with companies run by non-Buddhists and Caucasian people called “Buddha this” and “Buddha that” out of pure ignorance and disrespect based off of a disillusioned perception of my religion. I was once in line at Jake’s and scanning the drink selection when something caught my eye: “Thirsty Buddha Coconut Water”. On the bottle was a depiction of laughing Buddha, Budai.
In all honesty, I don’t know what coconut water and a Chinese Buddha have in common. Last time I checked, coconuts are not native to China, and I don’t think that Budai would have had access to coconut water. I’m certain that the same company sells coconut chips at our school as well.
I do not appreciate companies thinking that they can take a bastardized version of my religious entity for their own gain. My religion should not be something to be exploited for financial gain. I appreciate that they give to charities, but none of them are Buddhist ones.
If I were to sell red wine and market it as “Jesus Wine”, the entire world would want to crucify me. There would be petitions online, demands for it to be taken down, and a general uproar. Buddhists cannot afford that uproar as a pacifist religion, but I hope you get the gist of it all.
Please do not get me wrong, I appreciate that others are interested in my religion. I just don’t appreciate the bastardization of it. Religious or not, respect for a religion is the bare minimum, unless you want to be that person. Do onto others as you would like others to do to you. There is only so much that this Buddhist can handle.
By Angelique Chu