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Shana Ting Lipton
At the end of the day, when that henna tattoo has faded, you are all that remains

It seems as though Deepak is the new Tupac, and the Dalai Lama's Nirvana is bigger than the 90's rock stars ever were. You can now even buy Hindu gods lunch boxes. The gang's all here: Shiva, Ganesha, Vishnu, Lakshmi... It's like Scooby Doo without the Mystery Machine (your body is, after all, the vehicle...).

All pop cultural cynicism aside, this interest in things spiritual and Eastern is beneficial to us all. The more people tune into this zeitgeist, the more they will open up to more liberal, healthy, loving and guilt-free ways of experiencing God and themselves. But as this all-encompassing and powerful vehicle zooms forward, somewhere along the way there's bound to be road kill. The first casualties of this concomitant epidemic have already cropped up. They can be seen in the unfortunate people who twist and use Eastern spirituality to justify and perpetuate their faults and negative life patterns. They are the victims of Spiritual Appropriation Disorder (SAD).

Writer Brian Brown Walker interprets a line from the I-Ching, Book of Changes: "The wisdom of cultivating receptivity cannot be overstated." Many I-Ching connoisseurs will joke that when you ask the ancient Chinese oracle a question, the answer is almost always, "Do nothing." This is of course just an insider's jab. Those same inquisitive students of life realize that this is merely the surface message. Unfortunately, many SAD sufferers take this as a sign that they need not make any important decisions in life. Whichever higher power they put their faith in, is in fact, working tirelessly to make all these decisions for them.

Believing this, when the SAD victim is called upon to make a major choice in life, he/she simply replies that receptivity is the answer, or rather that the answer will come to him/her. When the answer does come: "We've found someone else to take the job," "That's it, I'm leaving you," or "We're moving you to our headquarters in Wisconsin," they simply smile, believing that Destiny has once again spun its web.


In Taming the Tiger, Akong Tulku Rinpoche writes: "Once we are able to let it go, it just falls away from us." Everyone agrees that letting things go is often the best solution, especially when faced with a pointless struggle or a grudge-holding match. We know that because our lives change every moment we can never be too attached, for example, to yesterday's flip and nasty word war. This is one of the SAD sufferer's favorite appropriations. It allows him/her to hide from the human pain that engulfs him/her. He/she will utilize this statement to turn away from a myriad of painful emotional experiences: mourning, a break-up or divorce, feelings of guilt, resentment, being dumped on Instragram, or insecurity. He/she may suddenly turn emotionally lifeless and turn their back on these necessary human emotions (a.k.a. wilting lotus position). Unfortunately, SAD sufferers fail to realize that in facing (and then letting go of) these feelings, one becomes stronger, deeper, more understanding and compassionate, and even grows.


"You must love yourself before you can love others," is a line from Guruchander Singh Khalsa's book, Tantric Numerology. We've heard this statement countless times in relationship self-help books, and it is of course a spiritual right of passage. However, the SAD sufferer uses this as his/her mantra of self-absorption. Whenever he/she is putting his/her needs over someone else's endlessly chanting his/her own praises or bemoaning the pains of life. This statement gives carte blanche to continue with no regard for what their friend, family member, or partner might be experiencing. This long barrage of self-involved sentences is, after all, part of loving themselves. Sometimes the SAD sufferer makes no room for their cohorts' love, but rather loves him/herself to death. One can only pray in such a case, that reincarnation will not occur.


In the Sikh community there is a short prayer, "Sat Nam," which translates as "The truth is my identity." There is an eternal truth inside each of us. It is wrapped up in our life's path, the true will that is at one with the universal force. When we act out of the truth from our heart and soul, we are behaving as pure beings who follow the natural flow, in union with this higher force. A SAD sufferer might be chanting "Sat Nam," but what he/she is really saying is, "Sat fucking Nam." In other words, he/she doesn't care what flies out of his/her mouth; he is going to say it no matter how gross or hurtful it is. It is, n'est-ce-pas, the truth. In this way, the SAD victim can get out all of his/her resentful emotions without feeling like a tactless jerk. He/she is justified in saying, "You're bad in bed," or, "I'd rather be counting the hairs on my head than sitting here with you." What this brazen Buddha doesn't understand is that a hundred negative mili-thoughts flash through our heads through the course of a given conversation. Not every inkling of attack is an embodiment of truth. The truth is infinite. These lightening bolt moments are just quick sparks that fly within our tireless, chattering brains.
NOTE: when reproached for this sort of behavior, the SAD victim will pull out another spiritual card and say: "I'm not hurting you. You are allowing yourself to be hurt. Pain is your decision and perception."


Akong Tulku Rinpoche also quotes His holiness, the XVIth, Gyalwa Karmapa in his book: "In order to help all living beings in their seemingly unavoidable suffering, we put on the tender armor of compassion..." This statement is probably the seat of Buddhism. It is in helping others that we realize that we are all cut from the same cloth. Once we can learn compassion for all beings we can see through this separation of human form and realize that we are all one. On this point, the SAD sufferer would heartily agree. He/she is the type of person who would join the Peace Corps, travel to India and hand out food to poor children, sit and chat with a homeless person, and donate food, clothing or money to organizations like UNICEF. Therefore, he/she is compassionate...or so the disorder would make him/her believe. Ironically, despite the fact that the SAD sufferer can so readily open his/her heart to a stranger, he/she is usually the last one to show that same compassion for the person next to him/her.

The person next door is distasteful to the SAD sufferer on three levels: 1: He or she is not a dramatic hardship case (not glamorous enough to enhance their second-incarnation-of-Ghandi self-image) 2: He or she is too close; the SAD victim isn't actually sensitive enough to see this magnified pain (only the distant group pain of the barefoot cobblers in Marrakesh) 3: The SAD victim is actually not as giving as he/she thinks. It is easier to open your heart to someone you don't know than to someone who knows you well enough to see through you or potentially hurt your feelings.

Despite the fact that all definitions in this article have been, no doubt, peppered with sardonic humor make no mistake; this 'prototype' is a case in the making. It is a tragedy that many intelligent and open-minded people will be seduced into appropriating and redefining ancient wisdom to avoid their phobias and weaknesses. Buddhism, Taoism, and New Age religion and spirituality have something profoundly rich to share with all human beings, if they're willing to be open to the "bad" in themselves as well as the good. At the end of the day, when that henna tattoo has faded, you are all that remains. Perhaps as Eastern and New Age spirituality become more and more ingrained in Western society, and as more SAD casualties begin to surface, there will eventually be support groups for such individuals. Ironically, it may be in such meetings that these lost souls learn to speak meaningful truths, experience real compassion for the one next to them, and face their own demons.
© Shana TIng Lipton 2002
(Who lives and works in Amsterdam - for now)

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