The ad for lemon-flavored ginger ale inadvertently raises some heavy philosophical questions.
What does nirvana taste like?
That could be a koan. One could spend lifetimes striving to answer that question.
Or, you could answer it with a slightly awkward 30-second TV spot for lemon-flavored ginger ale.
That’s what Canada Dry did with their latest advert for Ginger Ale-lemonade.
“Are you ready to taste nirvana,” a hipster yogi, sitting cross-legged in a garden bed, asks a man watering his lawn. The man accepts a sip of soda and looks mildly pleased, before asking the yogi, “How long have you been sitting here?”
“Since Tuesday,” the yogi confusingly responds before the ad ends.
This is just the latest sighting of a Dharma-Burger in the wild. (A Dharma-Burger being a cheesy mashup of Buddhist terminology or iconography in consumer marketing.) Earlier this year, KFC launched a bizarre and elaborate series of guided meditations.
But, since we’re talking about it, we may as well take the opportunity to explore what the marketers possibly — maybe — could have intended when they raised the mind-bending prospect of tasting nirvana.
Thich Nhat Hanh says that nirvana refers to ” freedom from all ideas and notions.”
What does it mean to taste libration from concepts? Maybe the marketers were trying to allude to the advanced Tibetan practice tasting non-duality, called “one taste.” Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche explains, “One taste means that the duality of experience dissolves, that all dualistic notions such as samsara and nirvana dissolve into the state of nondual awareness.”
Then, of course, it is said that “just as the great ocean has one taste, the taste of salt,” metaphorically, the Buddha’s teachings have “one taste, the taste of liberation.”
If we’re talking about liberation and non-duality — is this the sort of thing we can taste in some amalgam of lemon, ginger, and sugar? Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche says that nirvana goes beyond the acquisition of material things:
“In many philosophies or religions, the final goal is something that you can hold on to and keep. The final goal is the only thing that truly exists. But nirvana is not fabricated, so it is not something to be held on to… We somehow think that we can go somewhere where we’ll have a better sofa seat, a better shower system, a better sewer system, a nirvana where you don’t even have to have a remote control, where everything is there the moment you think of it. But… it’s not that we are adding something new that was not there before. Nirvana is achieved when you remove everything that was artificial and obscuring.”
If you go looking for nirvana in a can of soda, you probably won’t find it there. But, that’s not to say that if you happen to find yourself sipping bubbly gingerade you couldn’t taste the truth of nonduality in that experience.
So, are you ready to taste nirvana?