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The Beer Mystic Manifesto


by Paul Salamone

FACE IT BUFFALO, your image sucks. Wherever your sons and daughters travel, they are greeted with scorn when they utter your name. You’re a snow-blown cultural abyss, a post-industrial wasteland, an apocalypse in slow motion, the armpit of New York State.

“Tear it down and start over,” they are told.

You’ve spawned [see status bar in your browser] world-famous right-wing terrorists, anti-abortion assassins, suspected Al Qaeda infiltrators, pretentious breakdancer/model/musician/actor/directors, one-hit funk-masters, one-hit R&B combos, one-hit joke rockers, and a football team with four consecutive Super Bowl losses under its frozen belt.

Racial segregation? Your city map is a demographic yin-yang with Main Street dividing white from black, Elmwood Village from the ghetto, martini bar substance from crack-house oblivion. Personal hygiene? You’re the eighth fattest city in the land. And that hockey team…

Face it Buffalo, worldly success just isn’t your bag.

Face it Buffalo: you need Buddhism.

“Buddhism?” you ask between bites of chicken wings at the Anchor Bar.

Yes, Buddhism: hotter than suicide sauce and twice as hard to master. Check out the overstuffed shelves of the “Eastern Religion” section at the Borders Books on Walden and Duke, or the travel agencies on Transit offering sweet package deals to Buddhist homelands such as India, Nepal, or Tibet. Drop by any Hollywood Video (or Mondo on Elmwood if you can stand the pretentious staff) to rent one of the many Buddha-themed movies — Fight Club, Seven Years in Tibet, The Little Buddha, The Matrix, Kundun, The Cup. Look with envy at the growth of Zen Centers, Tibetan Monasteries, and Buddhist Retreat Houses throughout the United States, and pause to drool over the list of celebrities endorsing this religion of bald heads and throaty chants: Richard Gere, Steven Seagal, The Beats, the Beastie Boys, Brad Pitt, Keanu Reeves — a list longer than the lineage of the Dalai Llama.

Buffalo, you’d be a red, white, and blue idiot to not jump on this Erie Canal barge of marketing nirvana.

Buddhism is the favorite past-time of affluent people living in scenic money-clips like Boulder, Santa Fe, and Northern California, the same people who long ago left your grim, frigid Rust Belt to live in the mountains, in the enchanted desert, on the coastal cliffs of the Pacific. They are the ones driving to organic grocery stores in monstrous SUVs festooned with “I Love Tibet” bumper-stickers, who check stock quotes and do their email seated in the lotus position, who go rock climbing and high-altitude snow-boarding with essential tomes by Shunryu Suzuki or Trungpa Rinpoche soaking up the excess spring water in the bottom of their backpacks.

Easy, comfortable, beautiful lives, much like the Buddha himself once lived, before he became enlightened.

When he was known as Prince Siddhartha living in ancient Nepal, the future Buddha’s father kept him ignorant of the ways of the world, of the relative impermanence of all phenomena. Then, upon a chance encounter outside the walls of the palace, the Prince witnessed sickness, old age, and death for the first time — much like the sick, the old, and the dying citizens shuffling through your wintry streets and piling into your city buses, oh Buffalo — and it sent his mind reeling. What was the point of living if it all just came to a horrible, undignified, knock-down-that-historic-Frank-Lloyd-Wright-office-buidling-to-put-up-a-parking-lot end? He soon left the comfortable confines of his father’s kingdom to go on the same extraordinary spiritual journey you can read all about in any of hundreds of books while sipping a cup of Tazo Zen green tea at Barnes & Noble on Niagara Falls Boulevard.

It’s so obvious, isn’t it Buffalo? Take your greatest liabilities— your decrepit infrastructure, your decaying downtown, your empty factories, your polluted waterfront, your unsightly old and fat people, your racial strife and drug-related violence, your mindless night life, the endless failures and organizational missteps that have left you a tawdry, irrational shambles— and market the hell out of them!

Think about it: Siddhartha Tours! “Come experience the worldly suffering and directly confront the absurdity of life which triggered the Buddha’s enlightenment!”

Revelers celebrate the coming of Tibetan deity Yamantaka in front of
the historic (and abandoned) Central Terminal on Buffalo's East Side

Bourgeois Buddhists from across the country will clog the tarmac of Buffalo-Niagara International like a grease-soaked artery to pay top dollar for the misery you hide from them in shame!

Every region throughout history has given Buddhism its own flair, ranging from the reserved austerity of Japanese Zen to the colorful pageantry of Tibetan Buddhism, yet most American cities (even the heavy hitters like Minneapolis, Chicago, New York City, Boston, and San Francisco) seem to miss the point, importing bland carbon copies of the various schools of the Four Noble Truths without adding anything unique beyond the endemic narcissism of the Baby Boomer practitioner.

But not you, Buffalo. Tourism is only the beginning.

Consider your other most prominent liability: alcoholism. What other city your size keeps its bars open until four in the morning? What other city calls a tacky strip of expensive theme bars such as the Chippewa district “economic revitalization”? What other city has nothing to distract its citizens from the fact that there is nothing to do but drink?

Drinking, of course, is popularly believed to be antithetical to spiritual practice, to the contemplative cornerstone of Buddhism. The point of meditation — in many traditions — is to maintain a steady level of awareness in order to observe (and thereby transcend) the continual fluctuations of the mind, not reduce it to the “fuck it or kill it” lizard brain common to the over-indulger of Labatt Blue or Southern Comfort. Most meditation teachers advise against the intake of the mind-destroying substances your typical Buffalonian finds him- or herself consuming on a lonely Tuesday evening.

Of course Buddhism has failed to catch on to any significant degree in this city.

But this needn’t be so.

The most fundamental technique in any meditation practice, Buddhist or otherwise, is the continual focusing and refocusing upon a single point of awareness. The yogic tradition has the mantra, Christian centering prayer uses the Lord’s name, and most schools of Buddhism use the breathe. The mystics of Buffalo, however, will bring their attention to the sipping of beer, paying strict attention as the glass is lifted and the beer of choice — Guinness for the yuppies, Molson Canadian for the sports fans, $1.99/bottle malt liquor for the temp workers and college students — slides down the throat, over and over again.

A typical Saturday night at The Zendo Bar and Grill on Allen Street

Other Buddhists will object of course.

“The more you drink,” they will say, “the harder it will be to concentrate. You are sabotaging your own efforts and bringing shame to our Great Tradition — stop this immediately!”

To which you reply, chin jutting proudly in their magnanimous direction: “Fuck you dude, this is how we do it in the Nickel City!”

See Buffalo, you enjoy a challenge. Daily life on your cracked and broken streets is filled with them: absurd frustrations and losing battles left and right, the sort of existential masochism you pride yourself on. How convenient then that the whole point of meditation practice is the impossible-sounding feat of strengthening the mind to remain conscious throughout the three great states of waking, dreaming, and deep dreamless sleep. It is said that once this is achieved, one is liberated from the circle of life and death and can return to the world to work selflessly and tirelessly towards an end to worldly suffering and the enlightenment of all beings. Whose mind, then, would not be strengthened even more by a practice that also aims to maintain consciousness through the state of drunkenness?

Buffalo-based Buddhists could evolve a whole new system of practices designed to plow through the many states of drunkenness — recklessly drunk, flirtatiously drunk, violently drunk, deathly drunk — on the way towards enlightenment, codifying them within a new set of sacred scriptures written on napkins and the backs of torn-off beer labels. Think of the enormous benefit this would do for a city, let alone a planet, where addiction to various substances at the expense of higher goals in life is a normal way of life!

Seriously Buffalo, you should also think about the businesses needed to support this basic practice. Imagine the new drinking establishments that would spring up specifically-designed to accommodate the needs of the beer mystic: empty spaces filled with the pleasant aroma of incense and hoppes, devoid of any jukes boxes or live music (save for the gong at the entrance), with hardwood floors surrounded by austere, straight-backed stalls and Miller Lite sand mandalas, neon Thankga paintings, and Zen calligraphy (rendered in puke and vomit) decorating each wall. Bars with names like Liberation Station, J.P. Vipassana’s, Trungpa’s Olde-Tyme Brewhouse, or just… The Zendo. Each bar would stock only “meditation grade” ales (brewed by Buffalo-area craftsmen) with names like Buddha Beer, Pali Canon Porter, and the Kathmandu Carbomb. Just think: no more imported swill from Canada!

Meditation groups (“12-step sanghas”) would meet at specific times to sit together, sipping their beer in full concentration as the silent wait staff refills their pint glasses. Kinhin, or walking meditation (used in Zen to loosen the legs after long periods of sitting) would be replaced by meditative, glacially-paced games of darts, or billiards. This would become crucial during week-long sesshin retreats— searing, seven-day marathons of mindful drinking, silent pizza-munching and a slurred chanting of the sutras which prove to deepen any Buddhist’s practice. The inevitable deaths by alcohol poisoning will only add to the new religion’s mystique.

The central tenets of Beer Mysticism would be marketed and exported through a flurry of media institutions — including the award-winning magazine Just Drink (in reference to the Zen adage, “in sitting, just sit”) and how-to websites featuring Real Video clips of shaven-headed twenty-somethings from North Tonawanda and Cheektowaga and even Clarence keeling over in droves — which would all help the tradition spread to other barrel-chested, working class cities like Cleveland, Detroit, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Erie, Pennsylvania faster than a novice falls asleep at 6 AM service.

To conclude, Buffalo: in lieu of your present economic, cultural, and spiritual stagnation, a multi-faceted campaign for Buddhist Contemplative Alcoholism is the only answer you have left. Generation after generation, citing the grim job market, oppressive gray skies and snowfall, and lack of any excitement beyond mooning the mayor through his kitchen window and playing keep-away with the change purses of the homeless, are leaving you for richer, sunnier, more adventurous cities everywhere. At this rate, your population will be a gaping donut hole surrounded by the white, powdery fat of your tax base-draining suburbs before the Sabres can lose another Stanley Cup.

Give it a chance, Buffalo: you’ve certainly entertained far worse ideas.

Paul Salamone once started an e-zine called The Manifest, but it went Nowhere. He currently wanders the streets of Cleveland in search of a bus pass to Windsor, Ontario to pursue the mystical roots of hockey. He's also been known to photograph himself in front of The Cosby Show.

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