At Issue: ‘The Passion of the Christ’ continues to be one of the top-grossing movies at the box office, and its marketing is earning a lot of the credit in the press. How do you feel about using marketing as a tool to boost attendance to services or at least attract more attention to your faith?
Response: “Ask three times” is traditional for those who wish to begin Zen. If someone does not have serious motivation and willingness to persevere, it is unlikely that he or she will be able to benefit from Zen training. Marketing, selling and proselytizing are quite foreign to Zen. The commercialization of Zen — the avalanche of advertisements using the word “Zen” to market everything from sushi to cars to soap to perfume — is not Zen!
No one has to practice Zen in order to “be saved!” It is not our mission to convert people or sell anything. Our outreach is limited to situations that will help people who are looking for a Zen or meditation or Buddhist center to find us, rather than trying to stimulate or manufacture an interest in Zen where none exists. There is a “self-selection” process, which we respect and trust.
We keep an eye on matching our center’s finances and programs to the means and needs of our participants, so we are not subject to bringing in people for their money or finding attendees to make our programs seem successful. My teacher used to say she would rather work with eight people who were sincere and whose lives were being genuinely helped by their practice, than have hundreds of people hanging around.
It is a standing joke at our center that we would attract more participants if we did less meditation! Our community forms through the bonding of those who practice and share Zen meditation and its applications in daily life. It does not form around golf, potlucks, music entertainments or other kinds of “candy.” We have a low-key social after our sitting periods, where people drink a cup of tea and talk about practice, movies, family, vacation and so on. We have designed programs for newcomers and beginners, and we try to let those who might be interested know we are here through our website, yellow page listings and so on. We are committed to deepening our practice and forming a community of regular Zen practitioners. We do not see marketing, media hype, inducements or fads as contributing much to this.
– Rev. Dr. Deborah Barrett
Published: April 10, 2004