Does the Bodhisattva Wear Prada?


Oh Manolo!

I’ve been studying assertiveness, ambition, and drive in women. This is a slight aside to the actual topic of this post, but as part of my studies I also read the wildly popular and just as wildly criticized book by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, titled Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Despite my sharp annoyance at the author’s out-of-touch stance towards most women who have not had the privileges she herself has enjoyed and have therefore not been able to even approach the position from which she is starting her premise, privilege that is, I found the book inspiring in its insistence on the possibility of complete equality between men and women.

I only wish Ms. Sandberg could have told the rest of us how we can accomplish the kind of stunning success she has when we don’t come from the same privilege.

At any rate, my research also led me to Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of American Vogue. I watched The September Issue, a documentary about how Ms. Wintour and her team of highly talented fashion geniuses put together the bible of fashion, the September issue of Vogue. In this documentary Ms. Wintour is depicted as an ambitious, no-nonsense, direct, and highly focused person with a brilliantly sharp eye for style who creates a reality so real-seeming that it can make or break entire designers, industries, and self-esteems.

Here I must hint at my deep lust for Ms. Wintour’s own taste in fashion, namely her ravishing array of dresses, gowns, and Manolo Blahnik slingbacks which I couldn’t afford even if I lived ten more lifetimes on this earth. And I will only slightly get into how I’m still searching for a version of her clothes (sans fur) that I can afford, and being that I’m more interested in living a clear life than I am in fashion (or so I think) – how I end up realizing that here I go again, trying to play in someone else’s backyard when what I really want is to play in my own, wearing my own shoes, and living my own life from the inside out.

But wouldn’t living my own life be so much more stylish in that fabulous Prada print dress?

Which brings me to the dilemma at hand and the topic of this post.

Is it possible to be a real bodhisattva, dedicated to ending the suffering of all beings and at the same time care about, want, and acquire things, imagine ourselves in all sorts of designer luxuries and even occasionally treat ourselves to some affordable version of said luxuries?

Like these?

Like these?

Is it enough to understand that fulfilling these desires doesn’t actually satisfy the deep hunger of being human or quell the trauma of impermanence? And to still enjoy some of these things anyway?

Of course it is.

But is it really?

I’ve always held this crazy belief that to be a true bodhisattva one has to be fully dedicated to it, not just in spirit, but in lifestyle. And if one is practicing being a true person – not causing harm (owning up to it and repairing when I do), doing good, doing good for others – that eventually that would lead to simplifying one’s life down to the bone. The ideal version of this, in my mind, is monasticism where the distraction of things is minimized in order to concentrate on reality and to serve others out of that.

None of this includes items I don’t really need, let alone fashion items, even ones I can afford. Of course I’m not a monastic so surely there’s some leeway. A little bit is not a problem.

V. and I had an interesting discussion after seeing and ad for Omega in the October issue of Vogue. It is a beautiful ad that depicts the mechanical components of the watch as the Solar System. I wondered out loud why someone would waste his talent on making an ad for a  watch that costs thousands of dollars and whose parts come from God knows where, rather than doing something that actually helps people.

V. simply said the ad is a creative and complete expression of someone’s life.

(You can watch a live version of it on Youtube.)

Wouldn’t the world be a better place she wondered, if we each simply expressed our creative lives? Wouldn’t that be living the life of a Bodhisattva?

I hate it and love it when V does that. She is a monastic and has a way of letting the air out of my bubble of ideas and convictions and reminding me of what is true.

Happily, truth exposed is that I love my work. It is as full an expression of my life as any, and every time a patient is able to use the therapeutic relationship and my skills to alleviate his own suffering and save his own life, I – sitting across from him in my Clavin Klein and Michael Kors, and perhaps even wearing the latest Plum shade of Revlon nail polish – am saved too.
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4 responses to “Does the Bodhisattva Wear Prada?

  1. Was just thinking a very similar thing! I was wondering (to myself) if it is possible to have lots of stuff without being attached to it all, which would mean it would be ok to have lots of stuff, right? Just returned from Howard Finster’s place in Georgia that is chock-a-block full of stuff. He clearly never threw anything away and he made it all into something wonderful – even the stuff he didn’t really use, he made wonderful just by the way he arranged it. For me, I feel such guilt about having boxes and piles of stuff that is supposedly intended to become artwork. I feel so badly about it all – why do I have so much, I’ll never use it, what will happen when I die if I leave all this stuff, and on and on. Is it possible to have the stuff without the narrative about it? I think the answer is yes. The problem isn’t the stuff (or the designer clothes). The problem is what I add on top of it. Yes, there are other issues too, but I think this might be the biggest one. (PS. this is Robyn/Ikyo)

  2. Reading this, I was reminded of a quote by Howard Thurman which I stumbled upon in the internet somewhere: “Don’t ask your self what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Wearing Prada while doing that which makes you come alive, or even because Prada makes you come alive, can’t be all bad. There are things to consider, I think, but why would those considerations be so wildly different from the questions we ask ourselves about why we think or feel or want the way we do.
    It kind of like, we have our baggage and karmic weight and misperceptions, but we also have our personalities, our karmic fingerprints that make us uniquely us. Would it be so bad if it is the Uniquely Me wearing those sling backs, rather than the karmic baggage me? Thank you for the great post, as usual!

    • Thank you Susanna. True, true. And yes, things to consider like where does that Prada actually come from? or anything I use for that matter. And being the unique/embedded beings that we are at the same time, how to express that in a way that makes me come alive and is of benefit. Hmmm…. lots of questions!

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