Overheard in West Marin


I heard two people talking in Inverness Park about a giant Balinese head representing the Buddha that was being transported to West Marin. I thought, it is not enough to ruthlessly appropriate that people’s religion—you literally have to take the objects that symbolize their culture and move them to some zillionaire’s backyard. We are beyond shame, without capacity for respect or even circumspection. Send the sculpture back! 

They who feign veneration of a Buddha head are not participating in a cultural tradition that arose in Asia thousands of years ago, as they would claim. Rather, they are furthering their own tradition as the descendants of Lord Elgin who “found” some sculptures on the Acropolis in Athens. It is a tradition of imperial robbery. 

Buddhism is a particularly absurd doctrine for Americans. The absence of desire? In America we believe that what you want is what you need in order to maintain your so-called mental health. Ours is a culture suffused with desire; the self-actualizers, following along in the wake of Wilhelm Reich, believe that self-denial is unhealthy, even the very threshold of madness. Yet the most acquisitive people in the world, denying themselves nothing they feel they “need,” pretend in their leisure to be Buddhists. 

In an old translation of the Iliad there is rendered a wonderful insult between Agamemnon and Achilles—two rich, bored invaders—who were fighting over which would have to deny himself the rape of a foreign woman captured in their pursuit of Helen. Horrible, both insatiable, but they correctly identified themselves as one shouted at the other, “Oh thou great Shamelessness!”