When trends ignore the deeper meaning

Does adapting certain parts of someone else’s culture distort the original symbolism?  

A decorative Buddha sculpture.

Many symbols from Eastern artwork have become as commonplace in the home of university students as textbooks and Kraft Dinner.

In almost every HomeSense you can find decorative Buddha heads, Indigo and Chapters sell mandala colouring books, and it has become difficult to tell if the tapestry hanging behind your friend’s bed came from Etsy, Urban Outfitters, or Kathmandu. 

There is nothing wrong with purchasing and displaying these items, but the issue arises when we fail to ask what greater meaning these symbols and objects possess.

For instance, few people go out with the intent to buy and display a crucifix on their wall solely for its aesthetic value. The cross carries with it an inherent religious symbolism, thus it remains an exclusively religious symbol. Not only devout Christians get tattoos of the Virgin Mary or crosses on their bodies, however, anyone who does is aware of its implied significance. 

There’s a line between appropriation and appreciation, the difference between recognizing an attached symbolic meaning or appropriating something only for its aesthetic qualities. 

This is what causes Christian art to be classified as religious art, while Hindu and Buddhist pieces often are simply categorized as artwork, mass produced and marketed to the general public. The authenticity has been lost when Buddhist statues are as common place in fishbowls as they are in Tibetan temples. 

Yoga is another practice that has deviated from its traditional, religious roots. The number of people in Canada who practice yoga has risen drastically over the past few decades. Yoga studios have sprung up in towns and cities across the country and yoga inspired clothing lines such as Lululemon have become massively popular.

As the popularity of yoga rose in western countries, the Hindu American Foundation began an initiative called Take Back Yoga. The movement is concerned with the idea that with the massive popularization of yoga, the meanings and philosophies behind it are becoming lost. 

But who does the onus fall upon to educate the public on the greater meaning behind one of the nation’s new favourite past times? Is it up to the casual practitioner, the studio owner, or the executives of companies like Lululemon, who profit so greatly from yoga’s immense popularity? 

Until someone steps forward and claims responsibility for ensuring that the meaning behind these symbols and objects are as easily found as these objects themselves, that responsibility falls upon us. We know it’s important to research what chemicals and ingredients go into the food you consume, but it’s just as important to investigate the meaning behind the art you display. 

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