Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: The Human Potential Movement Can Suck My Ass
Feb 2011 03

Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: The Human Potential Movement Can Suck My Ass

Posted In Blog,Books,Entertainment,Society,TV

by Brad Warner

A couple weeks ago when I was in Durham, my friend Catie showed me an episode of the TV show Family Guy called “Brian Writes a Bestseller.” Hulu has the full episode up so you can take a look for yourself by clicking on the link at the very end of this article.

Here’s a synopsis of the episode from the fan-created Family Guy Wiki:

“Feeling discouraged when his publisher returns all of the unsold copies of his book, ‘Faster Than the Speed of Love,’ Brian (the Griffin family’s talking dog) decides to give up on writing. When he moans about the drivel that is selling, Stewie (the Griffin family’s talking baby) challenges him to write his own dreck. Brian cranks out a new book, ‘Wish It, Want It, Do It’ in under four hours and through Stewie’s contacts, the book becomes a success. Brian hires Stewie to become his publicist, but when the fame goes to his head, Brian becomes over-bearing and fires Stewie. On the TV talk show Real Time with Bill Maher, Brian starts talking down to the guest panelists until he gets a wake-up call from Bill Maher and admits his book is crap. Embarrassed, Brian halfheartedly apologizes to Stewie, continuing to blame him for what went wrong.”

If you don’t know Family Guy TV show and its characters, you might not get all that. But I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to explain the show here. In any case, basically, the book that Brian the dog writes is a thinly veiled parody of The Secret, which, unfortunately is a real book and not written by a talking dog from a cartoon, though it certainly could have been. If you’ve been hiding in a cave in the Afghan mountains for the past few years and don’t know what The Secret is, you’re in luck because I did an article about it for my column on the Suicide Girls website three years ago. You can find that article at this link. Apparently formatting changes in the SG website have rendered some of the punctuation weird, but you can still read the piece.

I was really happy to see the producers of Family Guy as well as Bill Maher calling out The Secret and books of its ilk for what they really are. Like those guys, I find these supposedly “spiritual” books to be not just trivial, but potentially dangerous. They encourage a kind of lazy wishfulness that leaves people dull and ill-equipped to cope with reality. They’re precisely the opposite of actual spirituality.

The connection between The Secret and Buddhism may not be altogether clear, but it’s there. I have a fiend who works a large Buddhist bookshop in Los Angeles. A couple years ago she told me that The Secret basically kept the store afloat. The store’s impressive stock of just about every Buddhist book currently in print wasn’t selling for sour beans, but copies of The Secret were flying out the doors so fast they could barely keep it in stock.

The authors of The Secret draw upon the general public’s vague understanding of the Hindu/Buddhist concept of karma, couple that with a few mystical sounding pseudo-spiritual superstitions and latch it all on to that perennial best-seller greed. The result is a vaguely Eastern sounding philosophy that says just wish for something real hard and it’ll come to you. If you want that BMW bad enough, picture it in your mind’s eye and you’ll get it.

In the Family Guy episode Brian watches as his novel tanks while books about this kind of soft-soap spirituality sell by the truckload. So he cynically puts together his own version of the same thing and it’s a big hit. Sadly, this is not so far removed from what’s really happening.

While serious and scholarly Buddhists were not very much affected by The Secret, a whole crop of entrepreneurs have seized upon its success and have used its audience to launch their own variations on the theme of playing upon spiritual greed.

Out in California there’s a little group of folks who apparently refer to themselves as the “Human Potential Movement.” Jack Canfield, author of the mega-selling Chicken Soup for the Soul books gives a rundown of a few of the who’s who of the group in this video about a typical spiritual-flavored rip-off called the Sedona Method. These guys network together to endorse each other’s products and seem to have an agreement not to rock the boat by saying anything bad about another member of the group.

It’s extremely unfortunate that while people like Bill Maher and Seth MacFarlane will openly criticize garbage like The Secret and expose it for what it really is, guys like the Human Potential Movement, who are presented to the public as leaders in the field of spiritual practice, all band together to defend such nonsense because they understand how the economics of the deal work.

The problem with people like the Human Potential Movement is that while they milk the gullible for all they can get, they also make any intelligent person out there believe that things are truly hopeless as far as spirituality is concerned. Books by authors talking sensibly about meditation are usually shelved right there next to The Secret and Chicken Soup of the Soul and all the rest of them. Any person with half a brain will avoid that section of the bookstore like the plague.

It’s easy to get cynical and lump all forms of meditation in with the scamsters. I’ve met a lot of intelligent people who reject all Eastern philosophy out of hand because of these guys. Hell, if I were just now starting to get interested in finding the deeper truths of life, I would avoid the Eastern Religions section of the bookstores myself!

I wish I could tell the folks who’ve been turned off by all this crap that there really is actual Buddhist practice that is totally unlike what these scammers are selling. All these scammers have done is co-opted the language and clothing of Buddhists. They have no clue what Buddhism is actually all about.

I think Americans have the kind of realistic attitude necessary for Buddhist practice. We’re a very practical nation and we value doing things ourselves. But unfortunately we’re also addicted to convenience. We feel like we’re entitled to experience everything. We want results and we want them quick.

When we hear about Buddhist practice we feel like we deserve an improved version that gets us to the goal faster and easier than those silly people in ancient India, China and Japan. Maybe our poor ancestors had to go kill a wooly mammoth and butcher it if they wanted some meat. But we’re way more advanced so we just go to the drive-thru at Wendy’s and order the Triple with bacon. Therefore we think everything ought to be that way including spiritual practice. Wish it, want it, be it, as Brian the talking dog says.

When one of our own pretends to have invented a fast track method to enlightenment, we’re right there ready to spend our money. Cuz that’s how we Americans get things. We don’t want to invest our time, effort and energy. We just wanna whip out our debit cards and buy it right now, read-made and pre-packaged, so all we have to do is stick it in the microwave for three minutes and it’s done.

Buddhist practice isn’t like that and never will be. The entire point of the practice is that it’s not fast, easy and convenient. But then, nothing worthwhile ever is.

Find “Brian Writes a Bestseller” on Hulu here.

***

Brad Warner is the author of Sex, Sin and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between as well as Hardcore Zen, Sit Down and Shut Up! and Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate. He maintains a blog about Buddhist stuff that you can click here to see.

You can also buy T-shirts and hoodies based on his books, and the new CD by his band Zero Defex now!

Brad Warner’s hardcore band Zero Defex is playing a gig on February 9th at the Matinee in Akron, Ohio.

Brad is also on a book tour right now and may be in your area! To see where Brad will be speaking next visit his blog.

7 comments
Roxanne
Roxanne

Thanks Brad for your article...yet I completely disagree with you. The Secret and other books like that are not about lazy wishful thinking...it's about taking actions towards your dreams and goals...and maybe spending bit more time being positive and not just criticizing everything... It actually helped many people and rather true spiritual teachers such as Marianne Williamson, Deepak Chopra and Wayne Dyer are supporters of the Human Potential Movement (I'd guess that for a reason...as it might be not so harmful as you seem to perceive it). That was just my 5 cents... But off course everyone has the right to their own opinion.

Stuart
Stuart

There are no shortcuts. And when you truly understand that there are no shortcuts, even that's not a shortcut.

Josh
Josh

Hello Brad, As usual, I agree with your thoughts on this. I guess the problem, in my mind, is that the very valuable teachings/teachers tend not to be easy to market (nor do they even wish to be marketed, for various reasons), while the dreck that is easy to market is often poorly formed, badly researched, and wholly unuseable. I suppose, at some point, those who seek a more meaningful, less "pop-culture" path for spirituality will do the necessary homework and legwork to find the teachers they need. But there are those whoe are "one the cusp"; maybe they need a push in the right direction, and seeing a book on a bestseller list or a guest on Oprah would be helpful, in a positive and life changing way. How do they find the best possible path? 

Anonymous
Anonymous

The human potential movement and Buddhism are two completely different animals - I don't get the comparison here. also huge generalisations are being made, one book sucks so they all suck... that's just lazy schoolyard name-calling stuff

Bridget
Bridget

A lot of this is a bunch of trash sure, but there's a lot to be said with having an idea of where you want to be and working your way backward from the end to where you are now.  I think any kind of focus can help achieve goals.  That being said, have you heard of the Landmark Forum?  It's kind of the same thing. All of the members tend to hang out with one another and support each other in all endeavors that any of them undertake.  It's weird and creepy.  I have never seen such ego stroking in my life! Everyone I met seems to be writing some kind of book or becoming a life coach.  In my opinion, if you're going to be a coach of any kind, you have to be successful in what you're coaching.  On other words, I don't want an overweight, financially bankrupt, living with 5 roommates at the age of 35, person coaching me on how to achieve my goals or improve my life.  It all falls under the same umbrella in my book.

Anonymous
Anonymous

Well, the Human Potential Movement as it was originally conceived is not exactly who your gripe is with, but your points are well taken. You seem a little naive about where Buddhist meditation practice, specifically Vipassana, has been sort of reformatted as a secular technique for stress reduction and other mindfulness based efforts at living better.  Are you aware of the work that Jon Kabat-Zinn and others are doing along these lines?  I don't know dude, maybe it's time to let the whole punk rocker persona go a little bit.  Seems like it undermines your overall message. 

Anonymous
Anonymous

you know what i'm french but i like this dog lol

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