Thursday, 10 January 2013

Buddhist Academia, what's wrong with this picture?

Pause to consider just how much is wrong with this picture.

This isn't a poster that was created to promote a temple, nor yoga classes, nor a video-game… it is a poster created to promote graduate-level research in Buddhism.  Where?  At the "Centre of Buddhist Studies", 佛學研究中心, at Hong Kong University, 香港大學.

What does it try to sell you?  Philology?  Language-classes?  Mastery of ancient texts?  No, it tries to sell you happiness (here symbolized with a cartoon of a child sitting on a crescent moon… which is not a Buddhist symbol).

Frankly, no M.A. program in the world should try to sell you happiness: they should try to convince students of the value of their academic program… of what they can learn or, at least, what skills/qualifications students will gain.  Both the image and the promise of "happiness" here make me suspect that the M.A. program is lacking in some of those other things.

It gets worse: why does the poster promise friendship with "your inner self"?  The most fundamental premise of Buddhism is that you don't have an inner self!  This is discussed in English as "no self", and "no soul", but there are also numerous suttas that state (reciprocally) that what's inside you is nothing but "blood and guts" (more poetically, "a synergy of sinews").  The attack on the idealization of "the inner self" (demystifying the body and the self, qua no-self) is one of the distinctive aspects of Buddhist philosophy and religion.

Yet here is an M.A. program in Buddhist studies that is supposedly going to promise you the same thing as every new-age cult: a deeper connection with your so-called "inner self"!  This is especially unseemly for the academic study of Buddhism, but it is also a promise that (probably) no university can deliver on.

Let's be honest: they're asking you to pay thousands of dollars to read some books, write a bunch of exams, and then receive a diploma that will never help you to get a job.  That's what an M.A. in Buddhist studies really is.

They cannot possibly offer you "quality relationships" nor even "a decent environment" in downtown Hong Kong.

As terrible as this poster is, I can say that it is more ethical than McGill University (Canada) that simply publishes a pamphlet with a direct lie, claiming that they offer Pali as a language of instruction when they don't have a single employee who knows anything about Pali, nor Theravāda Buddhism.  That is false advertising on another level entirely.