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Web radio, with its global reach and accessibility to anyone with a computer and decent internet connection, is yet another area where Zen references abound. Like depictions of Zen in other areas of pop culture, web radio stations mean very different things by the “Zen” label.

At one end of the Zen web radio spectrum we find WZEN, the radio station of the Mountains and Rivers Order of Zen Buddhism (a Soto Zen order) based at Zen Mountain Monastery in upstate New York. Its programs include talks on Zen Buddhism by the monastery’s three masters, instructions in seated meditation (zazen), and something called “Buddhist Geeks” in which scholar-practitioners discuss issues related to doctrine and practice. In addition to these programs about the religious practice of Zen Buddhism, the station broadcasts programs on the environment, health issues, storytelling, and music, especially jazz.

At the other end of the spectrum are various web radio stations based in France and Belgium that use Zen in a much looser way: Radio Magico bills itself as “Zen Spiritual Web Radio!” Its programming includes some guided meditations, but they aren’t distinctively Zen meditations, and some come from other Buddhist traditions (Vipassana and Tantra, as well as something called “gibberish meditation”). From 2:00-6:00 listeners can “Stay Zen!” with a mix of soft music to help stay peaceful and centered. “Zen and Heart Music,” which plays in the wee hours, is described as “A big Mix of soft and light rhythm music and international songs.”

The French Chérie FM has several web radio channels, including love songs, party, and Zen, which it describes as “la webradio soft & jazzy.” When I tuned in, I heard a cover of No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak.” The Chérie FM logo for the Zen station shows a young woman sitting in meditation, its only nod to Zen practice.

Zenfm, a Belgian station, boasts “chill lounge & trendy grooves.” Its program list includes zenrise, zen room, café zen, zen soirée, and something on Saturdays called “mr zen dinner party lounge.” The site features cartoon graphics of club-ready men and women in 2005’s latest styles. Needless to say, the Zen connection is tenuous.

Though I mainly focus on depictions of Zen in American pop culture, I’m including these web radio stations because of their global accessibility and the similarities in their depictions of Zen to what I see in the U.S. Zen’s association with calm, peacefulness, cool, and jazz – and dissociation from religious practice – is apparent in Zen web radio. Yet even the web radio stations that include some meditation programming assume an individualistic approach to meditation practice rather than a community of practitioners centered around a master. This Zen meditation is something that people can do without a face-to-face (mind-to-mind?) relationship with a teacher or other practitioners. As such, it belongs to another trend we see in modern American religiosity: the idea of religion or spirituality as a personal, individual matter that needn’t take part in a communal environment.

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