Burning Man: Spirits in the Desert

I have heard of Burning Man for years, but never really understood the event, and what occurs there. I found this video posted today, produced by a Christian group, that goes inside the Burning Man village. I found it interesting and thought others, here, might too.

The 10 Principles of Burning Man

Radical Inclusion
Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.

Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.

In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.

Radical Self-reliance
Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.

Radical Self-expression
Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.

Communal Effort
Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.

Civic Responsibility
We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws.

Leaving No Trace
Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.

Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.

Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.

Dan, thanks for this article. Of course, it’s disappointing that the egalitarian, ethical and gift based economy that is at the foundation of the Burning Man creed has been commodified and corrupted by money, greed, and excess. Oh well, this is America…it seems no good idea goes unpunished by monetizing, branding, and excess.

From the article: " It doesn’t seem like Burning Man can ever be salvaged, or taken back from the rich power-brokers who’ve come to adore it and now populate its board of directors. It became a festival that rich libertarians love because it never had a radical critique at its core; and, without any semblance of democracy, it could easily be controlled by those with influence, power, and wealth."

I had thought that the Board would have enforced a democratic and money-neutral ethos at Burning Man. Maybe the Board, at the end of the day, got tired of hippies and travelers, and decided it was more comfortable and cozy to cultivate a community of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

I posted the video only because I thought it was novel and interesting, Maybe the story of Burning Man’s devolution into gentrification and celebration of wealth and excess is a lesson for Buddhism, and spiritual communities in general, in America.

1 Like

You’re right, Dan. Somehow, I expected better. Somehow I have this sense that men and women can come together, say with the Dhamma as their guide, and form communities that are void of monetization, greed and hierarchies. Perhaps, using Bodhinyana (or Santi, Tilorien, Bhavana Society, or Dhammadharini) as an example, we do have some places in the world where good people can assemble, and not be sucked into an environment of unrestrained toxic capitalism, or hierarchies based on pride and exploitation. Where the leadership practices and values shared sensibilities of renunciation, dana, equity, and compassion.

No community, even Bodhinyana, is perfect. It’s just good to know that there are communities where some of the toxic influences are not ingrained into the fabric of the community. Where people can feel safe, and find refuge away from greed, malice, lust, hatred, pride, hierarchy and exploitation. Maybe that is forest Buddhism’s partial role in the 21st century, to be that exception to communities tainted by greed, money, hierarchies and exploitation, a refuge for people looking for an authentic Burning Man experience .

Dan, maybe my post was confusing ( I go back to some of my older posts and think “crap, did I write that?” ) . I didn’t mean to conflate Burning Man with Dhamma, at all. Just that the BM 10 principles seemed noble and egalitarian in concept, while in practice they are anything but.

No, my thought is that in this crazy world, it may be the Dhamma that saves us. All other experiments, spiritual or otherwise, seem destined to fail, or to be compromised. Perhaps it is a community that holds true to Dhamma that fully lives some of the ideals that BM pretended to hold.

As for the drugs and sex, all I know of BM is what is portrayed in the video. A lot of people in the sun, on holiday, young people and aging hippies, and bikinis and other clothing optional costumes. No surprise there’s drugs and sex, and rock n’ roll. And Grateful Dead T shirts.



Has it? Or are we being influenced by this authors opinion?

The article states

It doesn’t seem like Burning Man can ever be salvaged, or taken back from the rich power-brokers who’ve come to adore it and now populate its board of directors.

But my look through the bios’s of their board of directors suggests that only maybe a third of them would fall into that category - a majority are original founders of the project as well as artists and educators.

the lower caste of Burners who want to partake in the festival are dependent on the whims and fantasies of the wealthy to create Black Rock City.

Really? 97% of attendees are dependent on a wealthy 3% of attendees? Black Rock City as far as I can tell (based on the financial data that they provide on their site) is built and managed on funds largely coming from ticket sales. What individual attendees create for themselves is a separate issue . My guess is that most attendees see these elaborate and private affairs (that appear to make up a very small fraction of the event) as being more a tumor that needs to be dealt with at some point. And certainly the guiding principles allow dealing with it.

At Burning Man the 1 percenters — who have earned their money in the same way that Carnegie did so long ago — show up with an army of service laborers, yet they take the credit for what they’ve “brought.”

So? Wealthy people build big homes in my town and no doubt some take immense pride in what they ‘built’. I am not impressed - that is really their problem, not mine.

My sense is that the author has an axe to grind and goes off on some wild (and unsupported) tangents - to try to influence their audience.

BTW, Burning Man Project financial data can be found here. Wouldn’t it be nice if Buddhist institutions and churches were to do similarly?

Thanks, Charlie. I looked at the Burning Man tax filing for 2015. Approximately 70,000 people attend Burning Man ( per 2016 numbers). Revenues are as below:

BLACK ROCK CITY LLC - 94-3319618
SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94110 EVENTS NEVADA Revenue $35,955,786. YE Assets $11,440,002.

This level of revenue equates to about $500 per person ticket sales. Some pay the lowest price of $390 to attend; other high flyers pay more, including those that pay over $1000 so that some of the ticket price goes to charitable causes.

Officers and directors received nearly $2M in compensation. Direct costs and expenses of the event were staggering, and total overhead and expenses amounted to nearly the level of revenues.

By comparison, here are a few companies with similar revenues:

GPA Engineering
Sector: Engineering
Revenue 2016: $35,000,000
GPA develops, engineers and implements industrial projects in Oil & Gas, Water Treatment & Distribution, Mining & Minerals and Power Generation & Distribution

Police Credit Union
Sector: Financials
Revenue 2016: $37,990,000
Police Credit Union is a membership based financial firm with members spanning communities across South Australia and the Northern Territory.

Burning Man is a big business with a high burn rate of expenses. It’d be interesting to see who owns the vendors/companies that have the contracts ( at millions of dollars a year) to service Burning Man every year.

It would be nice if 70,000 people attended a Buddhist event, but the likelihood of raising $35 M annually is zero. And, monastics work for free. Burning Man is a large and profitable corporation, and earns its founders, executives, and directors quite a lot of money.

Most directors received no income and much of that 2M I think was for the highest paid employees - that is how I read it. You would expect total expenses to nearly equal revenue in a non-profit organization.

An estimated 200,000 Buddhists gathered in Bodh Gaya for two weeks this month to see the Dalai Lama conduct the ritual, known as the Kalachakra Initiation

I don’t know if they did any fund raising - if only they had sold tickets and concession rights.

My point about Buddhist groups and churches was more about wouldn’t it be nice if they could make their own financial data public in a similar way that Burning Man and other non-profits are required to do (here in the US). It could help prevent some of the scandals that have occurred - and these happen at monasteries and Buddhist temples as well.

@Vstakan liked this.

Ilya, you’re back!