Several years ago I was in a furniture shop, a very well known chain, and saw, on a shelf in a bedroom display, two books written by the late Pope John Paul II.
It seemed a clear act of Roman Catholic subversion against the many Buddhist statues and figurines which proliferate in public and retail space these days. Whoever put it there obviously felt justified in expressing their faith. I am no Roman Catholic, but I did enjoy the clearly rebellious intent of the window dresser on a heartfelt divine mission in a cynical world. Somebody working for that furniture shop went home satisfied with themselves at closing time.
When did faith become a commercial commodity? When did representations of divinity confer greater integrity upon a product such as a plush cushion or a leather pouffe? Who decides to use Buddha to sell more garden furniture, books, or tea pots?
Is the consumer more blessed for buying a coffee table holding up a statue of Shakyamuni, rather than a vase of everlasting silk flowers or an over-priced but elegant book of photographs?
Religious celebrity sells a lot of consumer goods. For retail marketing departments, I will bet my bottom dollar that such a decision is less about faith than it is about fashion and making pots of money.
Beyond such cynicism, and the fact that I am well-enough informed to make purchasing decisions about material goods based entirely upon their own virtues, I cannot help being reminded of something else when I walk past one of those aforementioned divinely-enhanced shop displays.
You see, I love the serenity of Buddha statues, and the notion that the spirit of Buddha is present in each one. Buddha is peace, love, tolerance, compassion, and keeping a cool head, no matter what comes along to ruffle ones day.
Is it possible that a statue of Buddha is the very symbol of peace, tolerance, and compassion that we need?
Even in furniture shops.