Sunday, September 16, 2012

Finding Buddhist jewelry and other supplies

About a year ago, I acquired a unique Sterling silver Dharma wheel pendant that I often wear on a chain around my neck.  Since that time, I've received many comments and inquiries regarding the source of this item, including two new inquiries just yesterday.  Because of this persistent interest, I thought the topic deserved a blog post. 
It's very striking, and it looks like this.
Image and design courtesy of (and copyright by) Mark Defrates,
I'm one of those people who weighs the wider socioeconomic impacts of every dollar I spend.  I don't buy a can of beans without first evaluating the corporation that produced them.  I believe that we can influence the world to bring about the types of beneficial changes we want to see, but it's not going to happen via the tired old activist route of marching around waving protest signs.  Our entire American socioeconomic profile is little more than a reflection of our cumulative spending habits.  Those institutions upon which people spend money will thrive; those that are denied revenues will fail.  For this reason, the simple, often barely-conscious act of opening our wallets probably has the single most profound long-range impact on our world. 

So for this reason of economic due diligence, prior to my purchase of this pendant, I did extensive internet research trying to find a nonprofit organization or other craftsman-type outfit that was engaging in "fair trade" style of production of Buddhist symbols and meditation supplies.  I was particularly interested in finding the type of micro-business that (for example) was helping to develop revenue-generating skill sets for Tibetans living in exile.  Or some other group of disadvantaged people who needed income from their self-sufficiency work. 

I was not successful in my search.  Apparently Buddhist homelanders have not yet realized their own potential to tap into the vast ocean of American disposable income.  All I found were a few websites that were offering for sale the types of mass-produced merchandise that one would find at a roadside trinket stand.  Occasionally there would be a group that appeared to be selling trinkets to raise money for a legitimate cause, but it looked like re-purchased "Made in China" type stuff that they were simply marking up by some extraordinary amount.  This was not the value-added, self-empowering production model that I had in mind as being the type of micro-business that I aimed to support with my patronage. 

The Buddhist prohibition on jewelry and immodest self-adornment may have something to do with this gaping market supply hole.   But a Dharma wheel is the type of item that people wear not for the purposes of cosmetic self-enhancement, but as a statement of beliefs, analogous to a Crucifix.  I don't label myself as a religious Buddhist, but I am in strong agreement with Buddhism's secular tenets.  Plus, I find it absolutely fascinating to be in some public place such as a crowded airport and to be identified visually at a distance by a like-minded individual who actually understands the meaning of the symbol.  Most Americans spot this pendant and instead assume that it's a ship's wheel and therefore I must be a sailing enthusiast.
It's not one of these.  Really.
Screengrab from Wikipedia.
So every once in a while, I'll have this delightful experience of weaving my way through a crowded airport, only to be spotted at a distance by some corporate executive in a thousand-dollar business suit, who stares at me half in shock and half in elation with the question, "You, too?!" written across his face.  It's an absolutely fascinating variant on the people-watching theme - that experience alone is well worth the admission price represented by the pendant. 

But back to my story.  The fair-trade, Buddhist-homeland-based purchasing intention having been a complete failure, I then pursued what I consider to be the next best thing: an American micro-business owner supporting himself or herself via good old-fashioned hard work and creativity.  Mark Defrates in Florida appeared to be such an individual and his collection of Buddhist symbols I found to be some of the best quality work on the internet. 

So there you have both the source and the story behind that curious item I am often seen wearing around my neck.  If anyone in the ethernet stumbles across this post and happens to be fostering the type of indigent self-sufficiency I've referenced above, please either comment below or contact me by email.  I would love to develop a roster of genuine, vetted fair-trade-style purchasing options for Westerners who are searching for products such as Buddhist jewelry. 

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