A zendo with which I'm vaguely familiar posted this on Facebook:
They said something like, "Don't you recognize it? It's Uncle Sam as Yama (or whatever, I'm not sure if I remember that correctly or not), the God of Death." They included a bunch of links to websites and books describing the death diety and drawing parallels between death and modern American blah blah blah. "Tanks are hate, money is greed," they said, "and TV is ignorance".
No, I don't recognize it. I'm not an adherent to Tibetan Buddhism with all its dieties and whatnot. I've practiced zen and mahayana (Chinese/Taiwanese, specifically) for some time. I sat for a short time with my local Shambhala group, but they were too...what's the word....hippy-ish? for me.
This mandala, though, is a perfect example of why I seldom self-identify as a Buddhist anymore. People who liken the symbols of my country to gods of death and connect the simple existence of money to greed aren't the kind of people I want to be associated with. If I tell my co-workers that I'm a Buddhist, it's this kind of wierd nonsense that their minds go to, thus associating me with it.
I believe completely in the teachings of the Buddha. This is because, for me at least, it's not a matter of belief. Take karma, for example. You may think it sounds crazy, but I've seen it in action way too many times to believe otherwise. You have too, for that matter. Or impermanence! How could anyone not "believe" in that?
But American Buddhism has become (always was I guess) something I don't think the Buddha intended. I doubt he wanted his teachings to be corrupted into what they've become in our place and time. In Asia (although maybe not in Tibet, I don't know), Buddhism isn't solely the domain of anti-American hippies who use it to espouse self-loathing political philosophies from 1969. It attracts people from all walks of life, and one doesn't have to confuse tanks with hate to fit in.
The typical American-Buddhist response to these criticisms is such confusing mumbo-jumbo that I wouldn't even attempt to address it. "We are what we aren't" and all that.
"Good luck in your future endeavors," I told this zendo online. "I hope you find whatever it is that you're looking for."