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Spirituality: Appropriation or appreciation. 

By Billy O’Connor 

The line between cultural appropriation and appreciation has long been a blurred one. Oftentimes, it is talked about in terms of hairstyles and vernacular regarding black American culture, but a recent ‘trend’ has brought to the forefront an under-represented and under-appreciated practice that is sacred to Buddhists and Hinduists in particular. While spirituality itself is, of course, not inherently offensive, the exploitation of Buddhist and Hindu practices like the use of crystals in meditation and aligning one’s chakra in order to achieve a sense of inner peace, may prove more problematic than one might initially think. 

When we think of how spirituality as a concept separate from traditional religion in western culture has been portrayed in the media, we can harken the back to late 90s and early 2000s satire portraying the white person with too much money and too much time turning to minimalism and oftentimes some appropriative style of Buddhism or Hinduism in order to achieve a sense of inner peace or simply just to take advantage of ancient eastern practices being adopted by the west often in a diluted way. This portrayal is obviously an imitation of real-life appropriation seen every day by some of the most privileged and largely out of touch celebrities ala Gwenyth Paltrow who has made millions on the rise of the self-care craze by pushing ‘whacky’ and ‘exotic’ treatments, juices and cleanses among other things which generally are appropriative styles of eastern practices. 

I would like to be upfront with my hypocrisy, however, as I have found major comfort in the use of many of these practices, like burning incense, using crystals while meditating among other things in order to augment my manifestation experiences, but I am not unaware of the problematic nature of these practices being used by white Europeans. There is a song on the artist Lorde’s new album ‘Solar Power’ titled ‘Mood Ring’, which masterfully encapsulates the irony involved in the use of these methods by white people and the lack of self-awareness involved. She satirizes the misconceptions and vapidity of the diluted practices like burning sage and astrological verbiage without properly acknowledging its heritage and traditions in eastern cultures. 

I think it’s worth exploring the true depths of the cultural significance these practices hold in Buddhism specifically, both in religious/spiritual terms and culturally. If we take crystals as an example, we can divulge the true depth of the spiritual significance that certain

crystals and stones hold in Buddhist culture. The tears of the Buddha were said to have been rubies and Tibetan Buddhists believed that rubies were an effective solution for issues with sperm production. The association of fertility and issues surrounding it is one of the most sacred and personal aspects of any culture and it is important that it be respected and not used in a shallow or impersonal way. I know it can seem dictatorial to talk about seemingly harmless usage of other cultural practices, but it is important to maintain the integrity and significance that these practices hold to others and not exploit them to a point that they have lost all cultural significance, as this is where the root of cultural appropriation lies. 

I think the discomfort lies less around the use of these traditions themselves and more so the unbridled ignorance of many to not acknowledge the major discrimination many from eastern and Asian countries, specifically Buddhists and Hindus have faced simply by practising their religion and spirituality. The colonialist past of white Europeans cannot be erased by ‘trends’ and it is vital that we acknowledge the troubled history of European treatment of eastern countries and their traditions and practices. Only by doing this will we be able to unblur the lines of appreciation and appropriation.