Save the dharma for your mama

I achieved a state of enlightenment last week while in line at an Amy퀌_s Hallmark in Gresham. Debbie, a secretary from Hillsborough ascended just before me and Gina, a housewife from Clackamas rose moments after. We experienced a dissolution of the trappings of ego and receiving the clarity of universal sight and love – all for just $5. Bruce, a law clerk from Longview, made the drive at five in the morning, worried he would miss such a limited run chance for illumination, and was actually first in line for the transformation. 퀌�And it was tax free,퀌� he joked, looking beatific. 퀌�I love that about Oregon.퀌�

The Ty Corporation released the official Dalai Lama Beanie Baby this past week in celebration of His Holiness퀌_s recent stateside visit and book tour. The five inch stuffed kangaroo rat named, Cetasika is made of a batik cloth to resemble Tibetan Prayer flags and each one is personally blessed by the Dalai Lama, guaranteeing enlightenment and almost doubling its resale value. They퀌_re in a very limited release of just two hundred and fifty per state and are undoubtedly going to be one of the most sought-after pieces of plush religious iconography of the last couple of years. Oh, and did I mention, I퀌_ve got one.

Ty Corp. is really banking on this one, having suffered major losses in the recent economy, due partly to the poor sales of the genital parasites line of beanies and the reintroduction of Pogs to American schoolyards. The Dalai Lama line is their attempt to reclaim the success they achieved with the groundbreaking 퀌�England퀌_s Rose퀌� Princess Diana bear in 1998.

퀌�We feel really positive about the celebrity selling power of His Holiness,퀌� Barbara Wilneck, vice president of consumer affairs for Ty told me in a recent phone interview, 퀌�It could only be even better for us if he was dead.퀌�

The Dalai Lama could use the boost too. Despite sellout crowds for recent appearances in New York퀌_s Central Park and Avery Fisher Hall, his popularity퀌_and sales퀌_has been dropping. His most recent book 퀌�The Art of Happiness at Work,퀌� has slipped to the twenty spot on the New York Times퀌_ bestseller list, just above Linda Perlstein퀌_s 퀌�Not Much, Just Chillin퀌_퀌� and a solid four below 퀌�Sea Biscuit, The Special Illustrated Collector퀌_s Edition퀌�. Even Presidential hopeful and political laugh riot Al Sharpton snubbed his holiness, leaving him waiting for fifteen minutes at a recent forum. Sources say the Religious leader looked hurt, but choked back the tears when Sharpton finally arrived.

But maybe it is time for America to look beyond the feel-good consumer face of the Dalai Lama. Our misunderstanding of all things Eastern aside, Buddhism particularly is a contemporary tradition. Denying the influence of a Christian puritanical society to embrace the simpler ways of a less dogmatic and more exotic philosophy is the ultimate leftist fantasy dating all the way back to the Beat Generation of the 1950퀌_s. Zen Buddhism alone has allowed thousands of half-assed thinkers a way to be spiritual without putting in any work.

But the reality of the situation is that Buddhism, Tibetan particularly, is a religion. It requires dedication, contains dogma, and takes the hard line — something apparently ignored by our quick fix and self-help infected country. It퀌_s not all about love and dharma, but something complex, and occasionally hypocritical, just as religions tend to be. The Dalai Lama openly denounces homosexuality: a big no-no in today퀌_s PC society. And while preaching the popular message of nonviolence, the Dalai Lama has made statements agreeing with the actions in Afghanistan, and after meeting with President Bush, took a softer approach to the US involvement in Iraq saying, 퀌�I think history will tell.퀌� Not a flag-waving, star-spangled salute, granted, but a far cry from the peacenik masses gathered in Central Park last weekend.

The actuality of a freed Tibet seems like a lot to hope for, beyond the Beastie Boys and a plethora of bumper sticker-laden Volvos, the reality of the situation is an unmoving Chinese Government. The Dalai Lama will probably never return home and the atrocities piled on the remaining Tibetans will probably not stop. But in the interim there is a lot of money to be made and His Holiness seems to be one hell of a savvy businessman. His books of sunflower petals and daily affirmations total more than one hundred and fifty five and a great number of these tomes can be found nestled in amongst the 퀌�Chicken Soup for the Soul퀌� series on bestsellers lists. Scandalously enough, though, the majority of these feature his name and face only as a formality, having been written primarily by American authors. Beyond that, the Dalai Lama is on tee shirts, at red carpet celebrity galas, has DVD퀌_s, videos, and appears on the cover of magazine after magazine. He may not be able to get his home country back but it doesn퀌_t seem unreasonable that he may be able to buy a new one.

And as a totally unsubstantiated rumor has it, he may be doing just that. Sources tell me he퀌_s in discussions with Disney corporate golden boy Michael Eisner concerning not just purchasing an island for the Tibetan People but actually developing a theme park. Eisner has had no comment concerning the possibility of 퀌�Brahma Land퀌�, but with the completion of his South Carolina-based 퀌�Blue Eyed Jesus퀌� Roller Coaster Park he may be looking for a new project. I knew those Mickey Mouse prayer robes would come in handy some day.