Memories of a Bowie Conference: 5. Someone sees it all


Paul Fuller. David Bowie, Buddhist Modernism and Charismatic Charms

SPEAKER Fuller lectures in Buddhist Studies at the University of Cardiff and is the author of The Notion of Ditthi in Theravada Buddhism: The Point of View (Routledge, 2004).

imanbowieSYNOPSIS Examines how Bowie used Buddhist ideas taking as its starting point the notion of Buddhist Modernism (McMahan, 2008). Early Bowie was immersed in Buddhist ideas as reflected in his songs, but how did he understand them? Gombrich and Obeyesekere use the term ‘Protestant Buddhism’ to explain Buddhism that is rational and scientific. Or perhaps Bowie’s approach shows a more traditional understanding of Buddhism. Station to Station can be seen as charismatic, acting as a charm and this would be an apotropaic use of religious language in which language has a power beyond its content. At this time Bowie’s work was presumably Christian (for example, Word on Wing), but perhaps by not using rational modern Buddhist ideas he was expressing religious sentiments more familiar in traditional Buddhist culture.

David Bowie calls for help: Word on a Wing performed for Storytellers on VH1, 1999


KEY POINTS Protestant Buddhism focuses on those parts of religion we feel comfortable with, it is egalitarian and often lacking in metaphysical claims. Many people find it easy to say that they are spiritual but not religious. Station to Station represents a ‘charm that wards off that which is inauspicious’.

Tin Machine Japanese TV Special (1992)

KEY QUOTE ‘Bowie in many respects reached a more recognised form of religiosity on Station to Station (which was not the side effects of the cocaine). This was not karmic or Nirvanic (ethical or leading to salvation) – But a religious sentiment which is charismatic, it has the power to protect and to ward off what is inauspicious….From Quicksand to Station to Station one could suggest a movement from Buddhist modernism, protestant Buddhism to apotropaic Buddhism. From the head to the heart, Goodbye Mr Ed’

Some things are so big / They make no sense / Histories so small / People are so dense / Someone sees it all / Goodbye Mr. Ed (Goodbye Mr. Ed 1991)

imanLINKS The Notion of Ditthi in Theravada Buddhism: The Point of View
Paul Fuller homepage

ARTICLES "There are no atheists in the battlefield". Bowie finds God near death and during addiction
Tweet from wife Iman on 10th January 2016 and @TheTweetofGod 12th January


someone sees



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