Speculative Non-Buddhism

ruins of the buddhist real

Dialogical Meditations I

Posted by Glenn Wallis on November 13, 2014

dialogueMatthias Steingass: We have been talking about direct interaction in Germany/Switzerland for some time now, but for some reason it hasn’t happened so far: After some initial interest in the project most people pull out again. The initial interest oftentimes seems to consist of two parts, a) a vague notion of a new truth, and b) the expectation of authority leading to a new truth. As soon as it becomes obvious how deep the critique goes and that there will be no authority leading into the transition to a hypothetical new truth, interest fades or changes into naïve x-buddhist opposition. The result is that very few people go any further.

Glenn Wallis: I’ve experienced the same outcome. It was quite disheartening, but not the least bit surprising. I tried an experiment with a meditation group. To explain briefly, I altered the group from one that would seem strange but nonetheless familiar to a traditional (western) soto-zen-buddhist to one that was, well, just strange. The original group was popular, with twenty to thirty participants each session, and a constant stream of new people. Participants were accustomed to a predictable protocol—instruction, sitting facing the wall, walking, bowing, more short sitting, talk (by me) and discussion. There was a lot of buzz around the group, and its reputation spread. Now, I asked comers to sit facing one another in a circle for a full hour without a word spoken. After the hour, someone would read a short piece of text. Everyone was then invited to dialogue. After a few weeks, the group shrunk to three or four participants,

Matthias Steingass: To me it seems something is missing here. What happens in that hour? Was there ever a dialogue what people actually were doing? Why are they doing it? And if you explained what they should or could do, how did they actualize it? What’s happening? They great mystery and power of meditation seems to be that no one ever talks about it. Or at least it is rarely done. I do not mean the endless buddhemic discourses. I mean an actual dialogue about what people experience when doing certain kinds of such mind work. Moreover, what has the sitting hour to do with the text? I recently saw a video about how scientists researched what a surfer is doing. Among a lot of things they measured his brain activity. They found something interesting. After the surfer paddled out to the place where he would wait for the right wave to ride, he got in the alpha-mood. That is, while watching and scanning the incoming waves the EEG showed an increase of so called alpha waves. These waves develop while a human is in a relaxed, quite but alert state. Still and wide awake. In other words: A kind of meditation. Being quite and wide awake can be called a certain mind work. My point is: This kind of mind work is part of and embedded in a certain pattern of activity. It is part of ones life. It has meaning full place in some ones activity. Now, just sitting for an hour might be meaningful, but was it meaningful to these people? And what was the connection to the text?

A point I often try to make is that different meditations might be entirely normal states of being with the difference that they are specifically trained for certain reasons and for specific applications. An example I often used is sitting on a park bench just watching what happens. For example an author who his collecting material for a novel might sit – like the surfer – calmly watching what is coming in. He will have a kind of open and relaxed receptivity for any kind of activity which is developing. He will not drift into daydreaming because he could miss something. But certainly thoughts will cross his mind witch he takes note of if they are interesting or which he will skip if not. All the while watching what happens.

Now in introspective meditation – to give it a name – the process of watching what is coming in, watching the waves, is applied to the working mind itself. Mind work is working the mind in this way. It will be a kind phenomenology, which can be differentiated to some extent. But the process is complicated because we cannot any more presuppose a common mind form, or an objectified kind of mind, like an objectification in classical phenomenology (Husserl). The distortion which inevitably is part of communication makes this impossible. So if we begin 1) a dialogue about a differentiated perspective on what the mind actually does while thinking – for example by taking classical buddhist texts, not simplified contemporary derivatives – we already have to take into account that each person gets a more or less different view about what has to be done while actually sitting and watching. The next step 2) is actual training in watching the mind working. This comes with a set of instructions like, for example, to concentrate on the experience of the mind concentrating on a given object, the mind inevitably wandering away, then at some point remembering the object again and concentrating again. How, for example, is the experience of daydreaming and suddenly remembering and becoming aware of daydreaming. This is already quite a task to accomplish. Phase 3) is to facilitate a dialogue about this. Hereby the facilitator is of great importance. He needs some specialized knowledge about how to get people into the dialogue. Especially because the dialogue is only of any value if it is willing to leave established known symbolic terrain. People must be willing to be creative and experimental with how they relate an experience. For example, people almost certainly will feel misunderstood by getting themselves rid of pre-formated buddhemic notions about their meditation. The facilitator must be able to make it clear that misunderstanding is inevitable and in fact part of the show. It is a fertilizer.

Glenn Wallis: There is this persistent idea—probably more like an unquestioned belief (dogma?)—that meditation necessarily revolves around experience, consciousness, states of mind, and that sort of thing. I would like to put this species of meditation out to pasture. It is a species that locks the practitioner of meditation into a vortex of meaning-seeking no different from any other idealist, atmanistic big Other-directed system. It’s a species of meditation that bears the sign of the old phenomenologists’ dream of the epoché, in which it’s assumed that there is some sort of pivot point within consciousness from which consciousness itself and all other phenomena can be viewed, or are permitted to appear, unsullied by our structuring categories. I’d like to contribute to the dispelling of such fantasies. These fantasies are commonplace in meditation environments. And they always involve some notion of “watching your mind.” I’m trying to re-conceive of meditation in purely materialist terms. I don’t mean the vulgar materialism of western buddho-scientism. I mean more the materialism that I see in thinkers like Laruelle, Badiou, and Žižek, a variety that prioritizes, for instance, social formations over those of consciousness.

Matthias Steingass: The difference between your first phase in the meditation group and the second might be that in the first they at least somehow imagined that their activity is part of a greater undertaking, while in the second this meaning vanished. Perhaps the vanishing of meaning is too advanced. Perhaps that’s already too real. Or perhaps it’s just useless to sit for an hour if one is not waiting in prayer.

Glenn Wallis: What such sitting is, how it’s conceived and articulated, would have to emerge out of the dialogical formation at the heart of the group. Once we uncouple a practice, such as meditation, from any given system of thought, we really have no choice but to take this course. Meditation is not meditation. It’s just a person sitting brutely still, silent, and aware. For what reason, to what end, a person might sit like that is not only no longer over-determined by a doctrine, it is wholly undetermined. Maybe a community based on study and dialogical exploration of some x will want to determine or fix a value to that practice. But that involves a completely different approach. In any case, in the group I mentioned earlier, we failed to unburden the practice of its buddhistic pretensions. In some of the terms that we have used on this blog and elsewhere, I would diagnose this failure along these lines. X-buddhism currently presents itself along two lines of trajectory: (1) as a permutation of the dream of the coming—yet perennially deferred—New Age spiritual apocalypse; namely, as a pseudo-secularized (and crypto-religious) technique for decisively uncoupling oneself from the alien-like stress and tension inherent in participating in our techno-consumerist maelstrom; and (2) as the ancient curative fantasy known as nirvana. In both instances, x-buddhism interpellates, or calls into being, a subject who is necessarily predisposed toward certain tendencies and disinclined toward others. It’s too much to get into here, and it really involves acquisition as much as predisposition, but, briefly for now, among the predispositions I’d include: susceptible to a big Other (as in Lacan) in doctrine and in the person of the teacher, and to the transcendental illusion (as in Kant) in terms of their habits of reasoning; prone to a code of deontological ethics; fanatical as opposed to enthusiastic (as in Badiou) for a new social-linguistic-imaginary place. In the briefest terms, they are disinclined toward any manner of praxis that aims precisely to expose such tendencies, that aims to enable one to traverse the fantasy (as in Lacan). I would include among these enablers features of praxis such as explicit exposure to ideas about the big Other, investigations into reasoning habits, consideration of an ethics of resistance, and the conscious adopting of place. So, again, we’re talking here about new ideologies, new subjects, and new organizations.

Matthias Steingass: The question here is, regarding what you said about your mediation group above, what has any kind of meditation to do with it? A differentiated phenomenology of the individual mind system at work might help, but I think such a differentiation has to be trained explicitly. What has any kind of literally just sitting to do with the investigations into reasoning habits, for example? A training in a more fine grained observation of ones own mind might be helpful in such a case but it has to be taught and trained explicitly. And then again it is the question, don’t we have it already? Think about how a psychoanalytic session is structured. The client learns to watch the flow of his associations, the analyst is hovering in a kind of relaxed and alert attitude just looking what’s happening. Isn’t this already meditation? And isn’t it embedded in meaningness, a meaningness which morphs, while the traversing is done?

On the other side, I can imagine a useful kind of just sitting. It’s main feature is its uselessness. But this doesn’t has any use as long as we try to use time usefully. This might be a real advanced meditation. It could only be done, when one alters ones conception of time. We are deeply suffused with the thought about the value of our time. So deeply that this value seems natural. That is certainly a question about ideology. But then this kind of meditation only makes sense after the traversing of this specific fantasy is done (a fantasy which might be a central one, like a cornerstone, making the house come down when extracted). Maybe in that way the usefulness of just sitting becomes visible: if we realize how useless our concept of the value of time is – at least when applied unconsciously to meditation. Only then Beckett‘s thought might become meaningful without being an affront.

Glenn Wallis: Just to clarify, I think we have to look to study—the consideration and formation of concepts—and dialogue to do that traversing work, such as becoming sensitive to our reasoning habits. I just employ meditation axiomatically. I don’t want to inscribe it with any meaning or purpose. If I did, I’d tip-toe in the direction of kenosis. But even that’s too much. What happens in the dialogue-study community will give the participants ample material for conceptualizing practice on their own terms. Or maybe various group understandings will pop up, disappear, and emerge again in a different form. I want to mention, too, that a materialist conception of practice doesn’t foreclose on what many people think of as “spiritual” practice. As I mentioned in the last post, I am very interested in the materialist theology of people like Caputo, Eagleton, Žižek, Laruelle, Badiou, and maybe even Hegel. I think that Tom Pepper’s work provides many innovative examples along these lines. Look at his discussion of rebirth in Cruel Theory|Sublime Practice, for an example. We probably should think carefully about the fact that Pepper self-identified as a Shin Buddhist when he wrote that. But maybe that’s a conversation for another day. In any case, everything that we’ve been discussing requires some form of community, of material engagement.

Matthias Steingass: I welcome your new initiative to get community and/or organization going. In this regard, I put forward two theses:

  1. The very act of communication is community.

This general statement has a lot of implications. I want to narrow it done here and now to one point: What happened with the initiation of this blog and the few texts you wrote to facilitate it was the beginning of community and organization. All communication at this blog was community and organization.

  1. Community and organization must mean that it understands the system it establishes by analyzing, interpreting, thinking about and changing relevantly the rules which grow with the community.

To explain it with a corollary:

Every taboo hints at a rule which is secretly, unconsciously guarded, or guarded by power structures not obvious and accessible to all members of the community; therefore, such taboos must be approached and analyzed by the community.

Glenn Wallis: I agree wholeheartedly with both of your theses. Concerning the first one, I would say that not only do acts of communication constitute community, but the inverse as well: community is communication. A crucial consequence of this thesis is that community is perpetually open to new ideas and practices. I think that we—everyone who has participated on this blog generally, and you, me, and Tom Pepper in Cruel Theory|Sublime Practice, in particular—have created materials that can be fashioned into dynamic real-life communities, real-time organizations. I am interested in thinking through how that might look, and even manifest, in actuality.

Matthias Steingass: Regarding material we developed and material about buddhism which comes from other sources: We laid a lot of emphasis in criticizing present day x-buddhism, namely a specific interpretation of buddhist material in our culture. Moreover we laid a lot of emphasis on criticizing trivial interpretations (Think Not Hahn, MBSR, Batchelor, etc.). We should look more to the material which is coming from the academy. Think about the Dun Huang translation project, or what we know today about Gandhara (to give two examples). Now, you said in your recent text, “the purpose of ruining is not to perform intricate philological surgery on the x-buddhist ‚text‘.“ What I want to suggest is somewhat the opposite. Let’s take what the academy is presenting in terms of archeology, philology, reconstruction of dead language, social relationship, economy, ritual, etc., and let’s play with this. Not unlike Tom Pepper’s hypertranslations, his thought about karma and reincarnation or Shinran and Hegel, but with one more twist to it: We should play with this with the idea in mind that we could encounter something absolutely alien. Foucault’s historical apriori in principal says that it formats a certain kind of thought which is unthinkable in another historical apriori. What if we accept this possibility and work under the presupposition that we’ll never know what really happened (and this is contra to the idea of knowing about a truth event which happened then). This then is the superposition of human mind which in different historical situations develops thoughts which are uninterpretable to each other. But the more material we use from what is unearthed by the academy, the more it becomes possible that the constant interaction of these particles create a critical mass which brings birth to a new alien thought. Whereby the old one we’ll never know – at least we will never be able to prove the budhofiction we create will anything have to do with what they then thought. This is a shameless game because it uses, without any restraint, and in an eclectic and idiosyncratic way, whatever material comes its way.

Glenn Wallis: I agree that that sort of work could prove valuable. Tom Pepper’s hypertranslations are a particularly promising example. Having a foot, or maybe just a toe by now, in that world of Buddhist studies, however, I can see massive quagmires down that road. I think my interest in Laruelle is related to my reluctance to engage in any form of reconstruction, even a playful one. I am more inclined toward, say, Badiou’s militant practice of using force and destruction in order to dis-place an ideological structure, and thereby open radically new ground. Again, maybe that’s a topic for another discussion.

Concerning community, I think that online communication is a valuable feature of such a community. We can use it to formulate and debate ideas, share successes and failures, and so on. But I don’t see how face-to-face community can be left out. I think that the difficulty that we started this discussion with can be ascribed to the fact that we, or at least I, merely inverted the x-buddhist model. What I did was inscribe x-buddhism with its negative. That’s not going to work. It’s too late for that approach. At best, it will result in a regression. That approach is still too determined by what’s come before. So, a looming question for us is: what form might such a newly conceived communication-community take? I think people like Paulo Freire offer concrete examples (see, for instance, his “Education and Conscientização” in Education for Critical Consciousness).

Many specific ideas can be fashioned from the non-buddhist material, too. But for now I would suggest the general principle of infusing anemic x-buddhist discourse—assuming that the continuity with Buddhism is deemed desirable—with the lifeblood of alien thought, specifically, that of western materialist thinkers from Althusser to Žižek.

Matthias Steingass: But I wouldn’t focus on discourse with x-buddhism any more. As you said a certain subject is interpellated in contemporary Buddhism. This subject is antagonistic and oblivious to SNB. There is only a small percentage of people who take the pains to understand important terms, like interpellation for example. I suggest that material developed in this venue should stand by its own. We should work on developing a better online presence with the goal that people can find our stuff. Networking with other networks should be established. With artists and scientist of any kind. But at the same time, let’s be realistic. It really is the 1 to 99 relation. 1 person working 99 being entertained. As long as this relation does not change I see no chance for SNB to have any bigger impact.

Glenn Wallis: I agree that dialogue with committed x-buddhists is not the project we’re interested in. After all, like I said, I don‘t want to re-inject atman into the current idealist fascism of x-buddhism, hence my materialst practice; and I have never met an x-buddhist who can abide that move.

Matthias Steingass: I see a paradox here. If x-buddhism is interpellating a subject which is opposed to a new social-linguistic-imaginary place, as you say, how should this subject be interested in a re-injection of anatman? Maybe we must be very much clearer here about whom we want to address. For sure it’s not the idiots of no-ego-no-problem. Perhaps the strategy again must be more about producing and presenting more budhofiction to become thereby more magnetic and then waiting for what is attracted. With this in mind I want to suggest to rethink our stance towards the level of our material. It is often times said, that what we produce is too complicated. When we answer, well just take dictionary and look it up, we do the opposite as those x-buddhists who announce meditation retreats and regardless what is presented it is always open to any level. Don’t we have somehow the obligation to offer different levels of material with the more advanced levels building on the lesser ones? This suggests a kind of gradual approach. Is the cancellation of warrant really/always a sudden event? In this regard we could begin with writing a short paper about the Theses of SNB.

  1. Buddhism is an invention of twentieth century Europe.
  2. It is disguised christian-romantic thought.
  3. There was an event in India twenty-five hundred years ago.
  4. We hear a distorted echo of it now, and nothing but this.
  5. There is no original.
  6. Anatman went missing in Buddhism.
  7. Anatman implicates a specific meaning which goes against contemporary hyper-individualism.
  8. SNB aims to establish a responsibility which anatman implicates.
  9. Social relationships are not a natural given. The rules governing these patterns have to become visible to the practitoner.
  10. As to this task every present day tool can be used.
  11. Likewise every buddhist notion has to be put to the test (even anatman).
  12. Society today is far from being liberated. SNB is a force to make our golden fetters visible.
  13. SNB aims to understand the strange being the human is.

(That’s just off the top of my head)

Glenn Wallis: I’m down with all of that! I would make clear somewhere around #10 that study-dialogue communities are a particularly potent vehicle toward these ends. I am wondering if a party, maybe along the lines that Badiou spells out, is necessary. It would, of course, be a party of forces and infusions. Among other things, such as perpetually displacing static structures, forces and infusions will enable what Laruelle calls a “superposition of vectors,” whereby each mode of thought-practice “interferes” with the other, creating a potent new conjugation. That’s not as vague as it might sound. To get at the concrete possibilities of this idea, you’d have to imagine a group of thoughtful people sitting in a room, a facilitator, a practice (meditation?) conceived as corollary to unsentimental social engagement, and plenty of desire, passion, and— why not?—love.

About your second thesis, I would say that making explicit the taboos are indispensable for an emancipatory community. (Again, this assumes that we want to maintain, though under these new conditions, the primary Buddhist trope of liberation.)

In other words, the taboos mark the places where we’ve naturalized oppressive regimes of thought and social practice. I am thinking of the “unknown knowns” that, as Žižek reminds us, Donald Rumsfeld failed to mention. Sitting around our table or whatever discussing equality, we all know that Wallis hogs the conversation, and that we even sort of want and expect that from him, but how can we say so without pulling the threads out of the group fabric? Better not to acknowledge the fact. Best to keep it unknown. My own effort to reveal such repressed truths in the depths of the group is to give them voice. Let’s do an exercise every so often called Name That Taboo!

Matthias Steingass: In a way, my theses are connected to another point I want to make regarding your initiative. It is about meaning. You wrote in the last post “Worstward Ho!”:

For those of you who might like to participate, I want to emphasize that the purpose of ruining is not to perform intricate philological surgery on the x-buddhist “text” or, indeed, even to explicate its meaning. […] The purpose of ruining is to create a reading, thinking, living empirical individual, one who is able to actualize the emancipatory (whatever that might mean) thrust of decimated x-buddhist thought and practice.

You don’t want to explicate meaning, but you say the purpose is an individual actualizing an emancipatory thrust. If we don’t want to explicate, how can we think the process of the establishment of meaning otherwise? Because, if I understand you right, if you say there is emancipatory thrust, this is meaning (whatever that might mean). So in the light of my above two theses, how can we think and actualize community and organization based on non-explicatory development of meaning?

Glenn Wallis: I would encourage people to read Jacques Rancière’s The Ignorant Schoolmaster in this regard. I would quickly add, though, that I agree to some extent with Badiou’s claim that Rancière’s approach might hinder robust political-social action. I’m not sure. In any case, The Ignorant Schoolmaster is an extraordinary resource for thinking through this difficult issue that you raise; namely, that of the relationship between (non-)explication and emancipation (and its inverse: explication and stultification). It’s interesting to read Rancière in light of Freire’s idea of education as midwifery for critical consciousness, the latter which Freire equates precisely with emancipation. In short, I think the key is not to get too precious or literal about “not having an agenda,” and “non-explication,” and so on. We do have an agenda. We can’t avoid explication. We do have values. We have to start somewhere. But in light of what we have been saying about communication and community, we won’t stay there very long.

Matthias Steingass: I read The Ignorant Schoolmaster two or three years ago. I would have to re-read it more thoroughly to say something more about it. But it tells a very interesting story I experienced myself. Almost everything I know I have taught myself. English, for example, I learned from a bilingual book. This autodidactic style has pros and cons for sure. The relevant question here would be how does anyone come to use such a style. In my case, I adopted form a relatively early age onwards role models which showed how to learn and work as an autodidact. The great irony today is that the times never have been better for autodidactic learning, but the tools and materials at hand are seldomly used.

Image: “Dimensions of Dialogue.”

Posted in Constructivists, Speculative Non-Buddhist | Tagged: , | 48 Comments »

Worstward Ho!

Posted by Glenn Wallis on October 23, 2014

From a talk by Badiou.

From a talk by Badiou.

I thought I’d start writing on this blog again for a while. I’d like to use it to think through some issues related to the non-buddhism project. Specifically, I want to explore, more explicitly and robustly than before, the constructive side of the critical-constructive dialectic. Many of the posts on this blog and at non + x already present promising work in that area. As a particularly pertinent example, I suggest you read Tom Pepper’s essay “Taking Anatman Full Strength and Śāntideva’s Ethics of Truth.” 1

As before, the argument driving this blog is that Buddhist conceptual materials offer potent resources for thinking radical reformations of self and society in the contemporary West. (I am primarily concerned with western Buddhism.) And yet, the noun “Buddhism” (or what I call “x-buddhism”2) indexes a historical failure to unleash the force of its very thought. “Buddhism,” that is, names an obstinate containment of potentially dynamic human goods. The end result is that Buddhism everywhere functions as a conservative protector of the social status quo, however toxic, and as an ideological fortress spawning subjects whose treasured goal is merely to rest at ease therein. Paradoxically, therefore, we cannot look to Buddhism—to its teachers and defenders, to its commentaries and explications, to its communities and organizations—to assist us in ransacking its “refuge” and interrogating its residents.

Why? Because Buddhism suffers—Buddhists suffer—from a paucity of critique. This is true both internally and externally. Internally, Buddhists presume themselves to be in possession of a kind of science of the real (Sanskrit yathabhuta, “things as they are”), one that even possesses, in meditation, an infallible organon of reality. Externally, figures as discerning as Nietzsche and Lacan have inexplicably taken Buddhists at their word. The end-result is Buddhism as a visionary form of knowledge that, to the critic, appears to be woefully under-theorized and suspiciously irrealist, notional, and self-contradictory. (And it is for these reasons that its concepts and practices, as they are currently configured, cannot provide guidance to liberatory social/personal practices.) It is therefore necessary to make the case for critique. Hence, the need for a critical practice such as non-buddhism.

There is, however, another side to it. The other side is indicated in the new tagline, ruins of the buddhist real. The old tagline, an arsenal for thought, recommended taking up conceptual weapons for exploding the ideologically-thick walls of the x-buddhist thought-fortress. The new one suggests picking through the rubble, and carrying out promising-looking husk and hull.

So, this phase of the non-buddhism project emphasizes its performative and constructive aspects. It examines what might happen after the practitioner has ruined (decimated, cloned, flattened) the x-buddhist material. For those of you who might like to participate, I want to emphasize that the purpose of ruining is not to perform intricate philological surgery on the x-buddhist “text” or, indeed, even to explicate its meaning. Neither is it to recover some pristine “original” teaching corrupted by the ages. The purpose of ruining is to create a reading, thinking, living empirical individual, one who is able to actualize the emancipatory (whatever that might mean) thrust of decimated x-buddhist thought and practice.

To give you some indication of where I may be heading, here are a few issues and questions driving my thought. I hope you’ll join me with comments, experiments, reports, and even essays of your own. I should mention that this phase of the project imagines a participant who is actively engaged, or would like to be, in a communal practice setting. As Badiou says, sustained subject formation and social action are always a matter of ideology and organization. Maybe you’ll create a community if you don’t already have one.

  • X-buddhism has abandoned anatman. There is no existing form of x-buddhism in which an idealist, transcendent big-Other-type of entity does not loom large. What would a genuinely materialist (anatmanistic) x-buddhism look like? (And I don’t mean the crass materialism of people like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchins.)
  • A convicted anti-religious x-buddhism is the order of the day (think: secular, post-traditional, progressive, atheist + buddhism). Is that necessary? Is that even plausible? Given the demonstrable fact that these various “humanist” x-buddhisms are re-inscribing their thought with religious signs, why not just cut that secular-religious cord altogether? What happens if we take seriously the so-called “theological turn” in philosophy–that of, paradoxically, radical materialist-atheist thinkers such as Terry Eagleton, Alain Badiou, Slavoj Žižek (“only an atheist can be a Christian today”), or even that of the self-described “atheist Christian theologian” John Caputo?  What new coordinates for thinking-using x-buddhism might emerge?
  • One consequence of re-introducing anatman into a decimated x-buddhist practice is that practice itself, whether meditation or something else, will have to include a robust social aspect. (See the Pepper article.) Of course, x-buddhist forms of practice already have this aspect in the form of the sangha, along with its dharma talks, and so on. But given the kinds of subjects created in these communities, namely, Žižek’s  “perfect supplement to the… hegemonic ideology of global capitalism,” this only raises big questions such as:
  • What is the relationship between meditation (or any other practice) and doctrine? What happens when we realize that doctrine influences and even coerces meditation outcomes? Can meditation be used as precisely the opposite of a liberating practice; namely, as a binding feature of a covert ideology? What happens if we make the ideological function of the meditation-doctrine nexus explicit? Can meditation then be employed as something like a science of ideology? These questions raise further ones:
  • X-buddhism claims to illuminate the nature of mind. What happens, in practice, when we admit that it really just offers one of numerous conceivable frames for conceptualizing “mind”? What are the sine qua non components of what we call “meditation”? If we determine that there are such components (e.g., stillness, silence, and attentional proclivity directed toward the breathing body) what is the rationale for introducing additional components?A common feature of the rhetoric of meditation assumes its function as a practice of human liberation. What does that mean for us here and now? What does such a liberated (and liberating) subject look like?

Again, inquiries like these will probably only be of interest–will only have any frisson–if you are part of a community that takes up the thought and practice of x-buddhist materials. Because of the reactionary nature of the secular varieties of x-buddhism, and the obscurantist nature of traditional forms, it’s probably best to create a new group, and start from scratch. If so, I’d like to hear from you how it’s going.

1Tom Pepper’s essay “Taking Anatman Full Strength and Śāntideva’s Ethics of Truth.”
2Why x-buddhism?

Posted in Constructivists, Speculative Non-Buddhist | 22 Comments »

News and Updates (October 6: one new item)

Posted by Glenn Wallis on April 6, 2014

RonanPicScroll down for most recent updates.

This blog ran from May 2011 to March 2014. [I recommenced posting October 23, 2014.] Over 100 posts were published and over 6,000 comments written. Many of the comments are substantive essays in their own right.

If you are at all interested in the critical project called non-buddhism, this site offers you a wealth of material. The sites linked to the right will also be useful.

This phase of the project is over Yet furies remain aflight. As long as they do, I will post news and updates concerning the non-buddhist project.

Please let me know if you discover any interesting bits to share. You can do so by leaving a comment. (Comments are closed to public view, but I see them.)

If you want to be involved in current discussions on non-buddhist critical practices, here’s where to do so:

Non-X Discussion Forum
Non-X Wiki

The Non-Buddhist
Tutteji Wachtmeister
The Faithful Buddhist
Der Unbuddhist (German and English)
non + x (e-journal)
Dharma i okolice (Polish and English)
Non-x Reader

Peace and thanks.

For now, here’s what’s happening (most recent first; newest updates are in red):

. . . . . . . . . . . .

October 6, 2014 If you’re in the New York City area, you might want to register for “Superpositions- A Symposium on Laruelle.” It’s at Parson’s Center for Transformative Media, 55 West 13th Street. It is free, but pre-registration is required. The last I checked, fewer than a hundred tickets are left. Speakers include Alexander Galloway, Rocco Gangle, Katerina Kolozova, Anthony Paul Smith. If you’ve been reading the literature on Laruelle and non-philosophy, these names will be familiar to you. Here’s the symposium description. I’ll be there all day Saturday. Let me know if you’re going, and we can grab a coffee.

‘Superpositions’ refers to the non-philosophical practice of conjugating distinct strata of academic discourse on the model of quantum interference rather than classical logic, which entails a distinctive ‘equalization’ of the standard hierarchies of disciplines and knowledges. The outcome of such a practice remains largely unknown. Perhaps similarly unknown is the work of François Laruelle, inventor of what has been most recently called ‘non-standard philosophy’. Laruelle, once named “the most important unknown philosopher working in Europe today” (Ray Brassier, 2003) has developed an innovative and powerful repertoire of concepts across an oeuvre spanning four decades and dozens of books. His work will undoubtedly come to have a significant impact on the critical practices of the humanities; this symposium explores Laruelle’s work across its possible relations to contemporary issues in philosophy, critical theory and media studies.

October 5, 2014 An incredible new educational experiment is underway at the Global Center for Advanced Studies. Creston Davis is the mad genius behind the Center. You can read an interview with him at the Critical Theory blog. The faculty roster reads like a Who’s Who of contemporary thinkers: François Laruelle, Slavoj Zizek, Avital Ronnel, Michael Hardt, Jean-Luc Nancy, Catherine Malabou, Gianni Vattimo, Jean-Luc Nancy, Gayatri Spivak, Roy Bhaskar, Katerina Kolozova, and others. Yesterday, The president of the Center is Alain Badiou. To give an example of what is possible there, yesterday I sat in on a GCAS talk by Antonio Negri. Badiou will be offering a series of talks beginning next week. Visit the GCAS Facebook page for further information on that event. From the Center’s About Us page:

A new kind of school committed to ideas, art and justice for the oppressed.

It is our quest to create an impactful, transformative institution of higher education unlike anything the world has yet seen. In doing this we want to create a community of scholars, farmers, workers, and students who can add to this conversation–a conversation that is itself an act in the belief of the humanities, philosophy, literature, art, science, architecture, and poetry. We need each other to do this believing that banks and corporate interests should not continue to dictate the terms on which “education” is determined. We want to create an education that is inclusive, democratic, and committed to justice for the oppressed.

September 23, 2014 Many thanks to Matthias Steingass for his remarkable translations into German of the central non-buddhist text: Drei Texte des Spekulativen Non-Buddhismus. This translation is available in PDF format at Der Unbuddhist. Vielen Dank, Matthias!

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Posted in Critics, Speculative Non-Buddhist | 14 Comments »

Circles of the Same || Lines of Flight

Posted by Glenn Wallis on March 10, 2014

linesandcirclesI am going to put this blog on low burn. Super low burn. So low that you may not even see its glow. Maybe the glow will die out, and this site will remain as an archive. In any case, I am turning my attention to a new project. It’s not overtly related to non-buddhism in any way. The one thing I can say about it is that it swings back toward the creative end of the critical-constructive continuum. I’ll announce the launching of the new project when it’s ready. In the meantime, a few thoughts.This is some text!


The circle is an apt image for Buddhism, but not for the reasons that x-buddhism itself gives. The circle is apt because with x-buddhism it’s always ’round and “round we go. Nothing ever really changes. It’s just one of a multitude of rich x-buddhist ironies that one of its central tenets is impermanence, the claim that things don’t and can’t remain the same. Yet, for Buddhism itself, it’s just the opposite: nothing really changes. Buddhism is caught in a vicious circle of sameness. No, that’s not right, vicious doesn’t work here. It suggests dynamic energy and directed intention. X-buddhism lacks both. A better word is moribund: Buddhism is caught in a moribund circle. Picture a rickety old windmill–slowly wobbling around, creaking and cracking as it does.

Another unintended x-buddhist irony is found in the person of the Dalai Lama. He’s about as universal a representative that you can find in a non-centralized religion like x-buddhism. He’s everywhere. Everybody ❤ the Dalai Lama. World leaders seek his counsel (or at least they pretend to), millionaire Hollywood stars swoon over him, even American presidents have feted him. Yet, think about it. He calls himself a socialist and a Marxist. He speaks out against wasteful consumerism, social inequality, worker exploitation, and many more issues with rhetoric that is far left of the western political center.

Yet, no one outside of x-buddhism takes the Dalai Lama seriously. He’s just a cute prop. He’s happy Old Uncle at a cocktail party. Standing there in his quaint robes–just a Simple Monk!–as ignorant adorning fans ostentatiously make meaningless small talk with him. He’s has perspectives that could influence radical change in society, and yet… He’s limited to being a safe, ineffectual, prop. No one wants to hear him say things like, capitalism, it “only takes the money, then exploitation.” They just want him to fulfill their fantasy that the exotic East is the land of spiritual plenitude. The Dalai Lama is indeed the perfect representative of x-buddhism in the West.

Westerners favorable to x-buddhism have always injected their own hopes and desires into their chosen x-buddhist figure-type. From ancient times to the present, we’ve seen the Buddha as Greek thaumaturge, Francis of Assisi-like mendicant, enlightened rationalist, secular empiricist, scientist, even. The more it changes, the more it stays the same (hence: x). And ’round and around we go.

Wise-old-man-buddhism is nearly extinct in the West. (It’s sounding awfully like a death rattle in Asia as well.) The old hippies loved those wise-old-man teachers. And the love was reciprocated. Thus, hippie-buddhism was born. Hippie-buddhism is dying out now, too. Yes, it’s been that long. Many hippie-buddhist teachers have chosen younger hippie-like successors to ring their bells. Ostensibly new forms of x-buddhism, like mindfulness and secular-buddhism, are just hippie-buddhism in new jeans. (That makes sense when you look at the two old hippies who inspired those movements.) So, I suppose hippie-buddhism still has a few crusty stems cracklin’ in its pipe.

Now, a new x-buddhist type is emerging. This type, I believe, will soon overtake the old hippies. I mean the corporatist-buddhists. These are the younger x-buddhist figures who have come of age with the YouTwitFaceGoogleplex looming in front of them. They think x-buddhism–allowing, for a moment, that they think at all–as fully formed subjects of the panopticon. This new generation of x-buddhists fits the description of the “cynical ideologue:”

Slovenian philosopher and critic Slajov Zizek writes that we no longer live in an age where “they know not what they do,” but rather: “they know very well what they are doing, but still, they are doing it.” To make his argument, Zizek echoes the theory of German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, who argues that we have entered the age of “cynical ideology” whereby the demystifying correction of ideological camera obscuras no longer motivates social action – or in the words of French sociologist of science Bruno Latour, the critique has “run out of steam.”1

But none of this is new. If you don’t believe me, just read a good history of Buddhism. Merry go merry go merry go round, toot toot toot…


The theories and ideas first articulated on this blog were further worked out in Cruel Theory | Sublime Practice and experimented with on blogs such as The Faithful Buddhist and The Non-Buddhist. (Links below.) These ideas can help you see how x-buddhism maintains its sovereignty in an uncircumventable territory of its own making. They can enable you to slow down the world-conquering juggernaut that is The Dharma, mount its machinery, and peer inside. The theories will help you understand how x-buddhism operates as a subjugating army in the name of liberation. Like all good theories, non-buddhism will help you see what’s going on in the dark. It will also give you a weapon to kill or maim–you know, in self-defense. (Chose your metaphor.)

But here’s the thing: the rest is completely up to you. It’s up to those of you who are at or approaching fitting proximity to that crumbling monument to Brutalist architecture known as the Buddhist vallation. I guess I can leave the comments open here in case you want to finish up your conversations. I am packing up and moving on. Some of you, of course, will continue to stand around, waiting for the x-buddhist Godot. But some of you will want to go on. I recommend The Non-Buddhist as a forum for working out your ideas. And be sure to pay daily homage to the Buddha of our World Sphere, Tutteji Dai Osho. (Until it closes shop, The Faithful Buddhist as well.)

A good image for doing this work on your own is Deleuze-Guattari’s idea of the line of flight. A line of flight presupposes pausing for a while on an unstable stratum. This blog might be such a stratum. An entire book might be one, or a simple idea. A concept, model, a system of thought might serve as one. It will always be unstable because a line of flight requires impulsion, dynamism, and movement away from the stratum. To remain is to get trapped. It is to become territorialized. Taking flight means to experiment with conjunctions, initiate new intensities, engage in impossibilities, risk incomprehensibility.  You may take flight in a sober, even ascetic manner, employing caution, precision and care. You may also do so drunk, permitting yourself excess, risking error and remorse, even grandly entertaining the esoteric glow of dreams or the fumes of revolution.

Whatever you chose to do, will you just do it with passion, for fuck’s sake?

Image. Angel Estevez, “Lines and Circles”

1 “Affective Critique: Mediation as a Response to Cynical Ideology (Paper Proposal),” at Anarchist without Content.

Links. Cruel Theory | Sublime Practice 
The Faithful Buddhist
The Non-Buddhist
Tutteji Wachtmeister

Posted in Constructivists, Speculative Non-Buddhist | 13 Comments »

The Faithful Buddhist

Posted by Glenn Wallis on March 7, 2014

TFBBelow is a repost of a piece by Tom Pepper. He recently published it on his blog, The Faithful Buddhist. I asked him if I could repost it here because I thought that the larger non-buddhist readership would be interested in what he is saying. Comments are open. Be sure to see the comments on his blog, too.

From the beginning, I have viewed Speculative Non-Buddhism as a means to ignite a robust critique of x-buddhsm. The x-buddhist image of thought is so closed off to genuinely creative innovation, and its practitioners so complacently tradition bound, that nothing short of an explosion could force open a critique. As most readers of non-buddhist blogs understand, we believe that critique is a necessary companion to constructive change.

Tom Pepper played a vital role in this initial blast. I’m not going to eulogize him, though, because he’s not finished working with x-buddhist materials.

Taking a Lesson from Santideva

In his Siksa Samuccaya, Santideva warns against the dangers we will meet on the bodhisattva path, collecting a compendium of advice from Buddhist texts to help avoid the pitfalls of pursuing awakening. I’ve been thinking over his suggestions lately, and have decided I can’t do better than to follow them. So after this post I’m discontinuing this blog for the foreseeable future.

Santideva devotes about a third of his text to advice on protecting the self. This may seem contradictory at first, if Buddhism is understood to be devoted to the teaching of non-self; however, what Santideva has in mind here is not the purification or protection of some kind of atman. Instead, his interest is in preserving the collective enlightened mind, the mind of awakening, which is conventionally constructed in human practices, and so always faces the danger of being destroyed. It is imperative to avoid this, because of the difficulty of producing such a collective mind to begin with, and the rarity of another such mind occurring.

His advice includes avoiding bad companions of many kinds, from those who gamble and handle money, to those who engage in useless talk, to those who drink alcohol or engage in sports. It is important to “avoid showing any courtesy to” anyone who “lives by luxury,” and to avoid endless debate not seeking to uncover the truth.

He also warns us, quoting from the Upayakausalya Sutra, that we must never “impart the doctrine of emptiness to those whose minds are not prepared.” This, it seems to me, is one of the great dangers of the internet, where it is almost inevitable that those who respond to a blog will be mostly those who are not prepared to understand emptiness, and respond from fear and ignorance. In this case, trying to teach emptiness becomes like trying to teach a heliocentric model of the solar system to someone who has not yet begun to consider things like physics or mathematics. What you say seems so obviously untrue, is so clearly contradicted by one’s ordinary experience, that the response will only be that all of this abstract reasoning and excessive thinking is clearly wrong, a waste of time, over-intellectualizing, “clinging to views,” or “prapanca.” The response—that they are simply too ignorant, and too stupidly attached to their comforting beliefs, to be ready for this truth—can only be what the mainstream of Western Buddhism would denounce as “wrong speech.”

One who is prepared, of course, would not be offended by what might otherwise seem harsh or obnoxious speech—if what you say is stupid, if your argument is moronic, you would want to be told so in no uncertain terms, but only if you are ready to think clearly about the truth. Nobody prepared to handle the truth needs to be treated like a child making her first attempt at reading, and anyone at this beginning level is nowhere near ready to comprehend the truth of sunyata.

In recent months I have, almost daily, been called a variety of things, in emails, in comments I’ve rejected, and on other internet sites: asshole definitely leads the pack; second is probably prick or dick; among the mindfulness crowd, for some reason, fag and cocksucker seem to be popular with the followers of Think Not Hanh; the Theravadans prefer cunt or pussy; and, of course, the number of “mental masturbation” accusations from every crowd have gone beyond my ability to count. These, of course, are all comments from self-proclaimed x-buddhists, usually angry because I have criticized their teacher or school, and usually also including a statement that my criticism of accomplished teachers, or my liberal use of the terms moron and idiot, are not “right speech.” In defense of Think Not Hanh, a man claiming to have been a long-term resident of Plum Village emailed me that if he could find out where I lived he would come and burn my house down and murder my children; a follower of Thannissaro Bhikkhu, more restrained, only promised to “kick my ass” if he ever met me. I will pass over the irony of this kind of response, and even set aside the consideration of why so many x-buddhists find reference to bodily functions (either scatological or sexual) to be equaled as insults only by accusations of being homosexual or female. Instead, what I want to suggest is that the sheer number of these has convinced me that a blog like this cannot be of much use. I am not much bothered by these kinds of insults, but neither do I see them as useful speech, and they seem to be the most common form of speech my internet activities have generated. Santideva is right, I think, that what is “anartha,” useless or without purpose or value, unproductive, should be avoided.

There are of course many other kinds of arguments advanced, but most of them are the arguments of the moron, in the sense that Zizek uses that term in the introduction to Less Than Nothing: “the stupidity of those who fully identify with common sense.” To these, the only response can be: you are being a moron! The rest is up to them. But if one is not yet ready to encounter the delusive inadequacy of the Big Other, such a response is just as anartha as calling him a prick, asshole, etc.

What the Western Buddhist wants from Buddhism is not something I am interested in supporting; what I want to do with Buddhism, I have come to believe, cannot be done on the internet.

What does the Western Buddhist want? Well, from responses I’ve gotten here and as Speculative Non-Buddhism, as well as from what I’ve read on other websites, in Tricycle and popular books on Buddhism and what I’ve experienced in the sangha I participated in, I would say a fairly clear picture has emerged:

1) To believe that anything she already thinks is right. Everything is just a matter of opinion, and any arguing for one position over another is a sign of personal arrogance—so whatever you already think is okay, because, anyway, the real ultimate truth is beyond language.

2) To believe that anything he wants to do is okay. Because Buddhism has no rules we must follow (except that everyone is always right about everything and arguing is wrong speech, see #1). Do you make weapons of mass destruction for a living? No problem, just do it mindfully. Do you have stock in a company that employs children in sweatshops? Don’t worry, they will accumulate merit from their suffering. Do you make money by deluding people with fake psychological treatments that prey on their desperation and suffering? Don’t think too much about it, as long as you have good intentions. Remember, our eternal “true self” is unaffected by anything we do in this world, and we will go to eternal bliss when we die as long as we don’t think too much, don’t try to take political action, and have good intentions.

3) To believe she has an immortal soul that will reach eternal bliss regardless of what actions she takes in this (samsaric) world. This soul is, of course, not an “atman,” because…well, it just isn’t, that’s all.

4) To belong to a larger collective that assures him that anyone who tries to use critical thought or political action to change the world is childish, egotistical, arrogant, and is going to be reborn in this world instead of going to eternal bliss with the good Buddhists.

5) Most importantly, to get a little buzz, a kind of drug-like high, that makes it easier to avoid noticing the contradictions in the dominant ideology, and go on with the meaningless and alienated life of a subject of capitalism. So sitting with “pure awareness” of the body/breath/present moment is proclaimed as an “ideology-free” or “universal” or “non-dogmatic” practice, and the ideology of the subject it reproduces remains invisible—it becomes nothing more than a (slightly) safer alternative to robotripping.

What I’ve described should be familiar to anyone as the prevalent “postmodern” ideology of late capitalism. What Buddhism adds, for most people, is nothing more than a little additional exotic flavor, and the assurance that this is not at all a recent capitalist ideology but “ancient Eastern wisdom,” so it must be true.

What do I want from Buddhism? Well, I came to Buddhism in the naïve hope of finding a group of individuals with whom to create a collective awakening mind. I thought it would be possible to find others who were prepared to think about emptiness and conventional truth, and who would hold out no “untouchable” concept as transcendent and beyond consideration. However, for most of those I’ve encountered, the eternal truth that must never be considered is capitalism; for many others it is the existence of an eternal consciousness; for almost everyone, though, what must not be changed is the daily practice of our everyday lives within global capitalism—the study of the conventional nature of our minds must never be allowed to go so far as to change what we actually do on a daily basis, and things like meeting on a regular basis, and reading texts instead of watching baseball in the evening, are beyond the realm of the possible. Most who will accept that their minds are constructed by social practices remain unwilling to then try to change their minds by engaging in new social practices.

When I started this blog, I was hoping to mitigate some of these concerns by means of a warning and censored comments. So far, this hasn’t done much good—there has been little discussion of my posts here, and the same kind of moronic discussion of them just takes place on other sites. Also, when I began, I was hoping to get some contribution from others—I really don’t want to be a leader or teacher, but a part of a collective. Although many have mentioned writing something, to date nothing has appeared, from which I can only conclude my project is not of much real interest to others.

Given what most people want from Buddhism today, I’m not surprised. And yet, Santideva also warns us that one of the great temptations of Mara is the temptation to retreat from the world, and to seek contentment individually, in isolation. He quotes the Gandavyuha Sutra on the need to increase and improve the collective mind of awakening:

You must be earnest for the expansion of the City of the Mind by the diffusion of boundless benevolence throughout the world. You must be earnest for the defense of the City of the Mind by aspiration for the wide shelter of the dharma and for hostility to every principle of evil. You must be earnest to throw open the gates of the City of the Mind by putting the whole world in the possession of the reality of things.

I don’t plan, then, to give up on all practice and retreat into my personal contentment. I will likely spend some of the time I have spent studying and practicing Buddhism in attempting to “open the gates” to the collective mind of enlightenment in other ways, however small and futile. I plan to finish writing a novel that will no doubt never be published, and to write a play that will no doubt never be produced. But beyond these mostly self-indulgent pursuits, I will try to start a Buddhist group that can meet in person; instead of trying to engage the Western Buddhist community and its postmodern ideological practice, perhaps there will be one or two other people, eventually, here in Connecticut, interested in collectively exploring ways to remain faithful to the Truth of the Buddhist Event.

In the meantime, I’m planning to leave this blog up, as it is, until the end of the subscription term I paid for. And if anyone’s in CT and is interested in starting a madhyamaka study group, send me an email. We can’t meet at may house, unfortunately: the Plum Village avenger might find out where I live!


Tom Pepper

Posted in Critics, Speculative Non-Buddhist | 12 Comments »

Why Buddhism?

Posted by Glenn Wallis on March 1, 2014

boatWhat does Buddhism offer that we can’t get from any other system of thought and practice?

In this post, I am asking you to share your answer to this question. You can just drop a word or short phrase into the comment section. Don’t worry about formulating a long explanation. You can do that, of course, and it would be welcome; but my aim is to encourage as many responses as possible. I particularly hope to draw out the many lurkers on this blog. I can surmise or outright conclude from subscriber data, for instance, that at least two dozen prominent x-buddhist teachers are regular readers. I also know firsthand that a good number of Buddhist studies scholars read. Both of these groups must have quite firm answers to the question. A third source of valuable responses would come from the many committed x-buddhists who read here. And then we have all of you ex-x-buddhists. You must have thought about this question in some form already, and reached certain negative conclusions. If the 90-9-1 theory of blog participation is anywhere near accurate,1 we have a huge reserve of potential respondents. So, please, tell us what you think.

The question is at the heart of the non-buddhism project. You could even say that it is the very  desire to formulate an answer to this question that drives the project. Think of non-buddhism as a continuum. At one end are the destructive practices of radical critique, the effort to expose, to lay bare, to de-potentialize x-buddhism’s operation. At the other end are the constructive practices of using x-buddhist materials to think anew.2

In the Introduction to Cruel Theory | Sublime Practice, we ask whether Buddhism is fit for modern life. 

Many questions present themselves. Does Buddhism even yield useful knowledge anymore? Doesn’t science provide more satisfying models of, for instance, perception and cognition, than does Buddhism? Doesn’t philosophy better articulate the questions that seem to animate Buddhist discourse on meaning, language, and being? Doesn’t psychology offer more effective forms and models of mental health? In short, are Buddhism’s institutions and beliefs too cumbersome and unsophisticated to satisfy any but the most willing to believe? (8)

Please think about it, and share with us.

What does Buddhism offer that we can’t get from any other system of thought and practice?

EDIT: Just to make clear that I think there are (still, barely) compelling reasons to continue to work with x-buddhist materials, I think Tom Pepper’s work on the “event of buddhism” is an example of a justification. Have a look at “What Kind of Buddhist are You?” See also “Raw Remarks on Meditation, Ideology and Nihilism,” which raises the question whether x-buddhism might function as a science of ideology, as opposed to its current role as inculcator of ideology. We have created many texts that present (still, barely) compelling reasons for working with x-buddhist materials. I hope you’ll do some research.


1 The 90–9–1 principle “states that in a collaborative website 90% of the participants of a community view only content, 9% of the participants take part in discussions, edit and/or think actively about the content, and only 1% of the participants actively create new content.  90%  of readers, then, are lurkers who are, nonetheless, attracted and/or fascinated.” (Matthias Steingass in “How to eXplode x-Buddhism, part 1,” at The Non-Buddhist)

2 Tom Pepper’s hypertranslations are just one example.

Photo: Dave Gibbeson.

Posted in Constructivists, Interpreters | 104 Comments »

Introduction to Cruelty

Posted by Glenn Wallis on February 24, 2014

Nolde_Masks1911The idea behind the kind of cruelty envisioned in non-buddhism is not what most readers think it is. One fairly well-known x-buddhist teacher recently email-lectured me on the karmic error of promoting what he called “mental sadism” on this blog. That’s not what cruelty means here. The best way to give you a sense of the cruelty that we–the authors of Cruel Theory | Sublime Practice–are engaged in, is to present part of the Introduction to the book. I’ll do that further below. First, a few general remarks on cruelty. And please note that I am speaking for myself alone.

I take inspiration from Artaud without needing to mimic him. Like him, I want to stimulate a rigorous yet creative exploration of what I still find honest and true in x-buddhist materials. Rigor implies a careful persistence of thought–of thought in and as practice.1 Rigor is absolutely essential because of the extent to which x-buddhist teachers have molded the materials to support either the ancient ascetic dream of transcendence or the modern secular yearning for a soothing utopian aesthetic.

Rigor of thought is itself cruelty. Coupled with creative thought, it threatens to result in what Deleuze calls “a kind of ass-fuck” of x-buddhism, “or, what amounts to the same thing, an immaculate conception.” And like Deleuze, I can imagine that this rigorous-creative mounting from behind of x-buddhist materials might produce “a child that would indeed be [x-buddhism's] but would nonetheless be monstrous.”

The monster in this case, though, is the human, the person of flesh and blood. X-buddhists despise the human. In its place they seek to enthrone some idealized type. It is cruel to enable practitioners to come face to face with and experience the destabilizing potential inherent in x-buddhist, and realized in non-buddhist, thought and practice. I won’t say more about this issue because, in a significant way, this idea–of subjectivity, of types–is central to all three essays in Cruel Theory | Sublime Practice.

As I am practicing non-buddhist theory, an additional cruelty revolves round language. I want to engage–attract, excite, stimulate, repel, anger, disgust–my reader with a viscerally compelling language. This, too, is a necessary cruelty. X-buddhist teachers speak and write in a bloodless, eviscerated dream-language. Like Artaud, I use language to blow open chaotic, vital energies rendered precious through repression, and to thereby expand the range of affective, cognitive, and enacted possibility. To repressed x-buddhists, inured as they invariably are to the dogma of right-speech, for example, such language will necessarily sound out of bounds or “inappropriate.” I respond with a hearty That’s the point, bitches! Let’s find out what else lies over there, “out of bounds.” Let’s find out what perceived dangers, what disorienting potential, your veneer of compassionate right-speech is masking. I don’t view wrong-speech as a virtue in reverse. It is not a mere corrective, a soothing bass to add sweet harmony to the puritanical shrill that pervades x-buddhist discourse and training. It is a force, a cruel force, in and of itself.

I just recently discovered a call for submissions to a new journal, called Hostis. It, too, sings the praises of cruelty. I am sharing it here for a few reasons. It’s a beautiful piece of writing. It speaks as, and to, the stranger and the enemy. It might serve as a model for new non-buddhist texts, not to be copied, but to be contemplated and consulted. Every syllable echoes cruelty. Where I have spoken of conceptual and affective cruelty, it emphasizes the value of cruelty in the political sphere. It is a kindred spirit to non-buddhism, as I am practicing it. Finally, you just might want to submit a piece (link below).

Few emotions burn like cruelty. Those motivated by cruelty are neither fair nor impartial. Their actions speak with an intensity that does not desire permission, let alone seek it. While social anarchism sings lullabies of altruism, there are those who play with the hot flames of cruelty. We are drawn to the strength of Franz Fanon’s wretched of the earth, who find their voice only through the force of their actions, the sting of women of color’s feminist rage, which establishes its own economy of violence for those who do not have others committing violence on their behalf, the spirit of Italy’s lapsed movement of autonomy, which fueled radicals who carved out spaces of freedom by going on the attack (“Il Diritto all’Odio” – The Right to Hatred), the assaults of Antonin Artaud’s dizzying “Theatre of Cruelty,” which defames the false virtues of audience through closeness with the underlying physicality of thought, and the necessity of Gilles Deleuze’s ontological cruelty, which returns difference through the pain of change that breaks through the backdrop of indifference.

We are looking for submissions that defend cruelty…To remain consistent with the journal’s point of view, we seek material whose tone is abrasive, mood is cataclysmic, style is gritty, and voice is impersonal.

Hostis is a journal of negation. It emerges devoid of ethics, lacking any sense of democracy, and without a care for pre-figuring anything. Fed up with the search for a social solution to the present crisis, it aspires to be attacked wildly and painted as utterly black without a single virtue. In thought, Hostis is the construction of incommensurability that figures politics in formal asymmetry to the powers that be. In action, Hostis is an exercise in partisanship – speaking in a tongue made only for those that it wants to listen. The journal’s partisanship is neither the work of fascists, who look for fights to give their limp lives temporary jolts of excitement, nor martyrs, who take hopeless stands to live the righteousness of loss. Hostis is the struggle to be dangerous in a time when antagonism is dissipated. This is all because Hostis is the enemy.

And now, an excerpt from the Introduction to Cruel Theory | Sublime Practice.

I employ the word “cruelty” in the sense of an appetite for life, a cosmic rigor, an implacable necessity, in the gnostic sense of a living whirlwind that devours the darkness; in the sense of that pain apart from whose ineluctable necessity life could not continue…It is the consequence of an act… Everything that acts is a cruelty. —Antonin Artaud, The Theater and Its Double

Whereas the beautiful is limited, the sublime is limitless, so that the mind in the presence of the sublime, attempting to imagine what it cannot, has pain in the failure but pleasure in contemplating the immensity of the attempt. ―Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason

Everything that acts is a cruelty. And yet the theater, the sphere of Artaud’s own struggle, had devolved into a form of self-soothing diversion, creating a submissive public content to be “Peeping Toms,” gawking at lives that were not their own. Artaud’s sublimely impossible task was to forge this theater of complacency into an “immediate and violent” whirlwind that exposed to its viewers the raw truths of their lives. Only a theater that wakes up its audience “nerves and heart,” he believed, can approach this goal. Such a theater must be built on cruelty—on, that is to say, “extreme action, pushed beyond all limits.” If not pushed with such intentional zeal, the forces of delusion and self-satisfaction will overwhelm the vitality that is catalyzed by acts of lucid cruelty.

Everything that acts is a cruelty. What about Buddhism? Does it enable the cruel thought made possible by its sublime teaching, or does it lapse, like the theater of entertainment, into a falsely assuring aesthetics of the beautiful?

The term “Buddhism” evokes a hackneyed bifurcation. Here, we have a soft version that caters gently to the desiccated middle classes of the twenty-first century West. This version promises salvation in the form of diurnal restoration, like ease in the midst of stress or real happiness. There, we have a hard version, derived from the doctrines, practices, and institutions of Buddhism’s ancient and medieval Asian past. This version advocates for a virtuosic cataclysm known as “enlightenment” or “nirvana.” Both versions flourish by virtue of a curative fantasy as ancient as Homo sapiens ape: to emerge from life unscathed.

What use is Buddhism today? It is perpetually hoisted up as the elixir par excellence against the acidic tensions intrinsic to living in an ever-accelerating technological society. Its remedy? Gelassenheit in the midst of the infernal samsaric whirlwind. Is that it? Is Buddhism a modern-day Epicurean path to eudaemonia, a garden that “slakes the thirst with a natural cure?”

Many questions present themselves. Does Buddhism even yield useful knowledge anymore? Doesn’t science provide more satisfying models of, for instance, perception and cognition, than does Buddhism? Doesn’t philosophy better articulate the questions that seem to animate Buddhist discourse on meaning, language, and being? Doesn’t psychology offer more effective forms and models of mental health? In short, are Buddhism’s institutions and beliefs too cumbersome and unsophisticated to satisfy any but the most willing to believe?

The single most important question for us is: Is Buddhism fit for modern life?

The answer to that question is far from clear. Indeed, there is little evidence that it has yet to be addressed at all, and certainly not in any sustained manner. Neither those who embrace Buddhist teachings nor those who reject them are inclined toward such questioning. To the former, querying is threatening. It begets the possibility of unforeseen and undesirable transmutation, even destruction. To the latter, such questioning is irrelevant; for they have already foreclosed on Buddhism’s viability. So, who does that leave? Who will ask the question?

The purpose of this book is to engage in a creative critique of Buddhism. In doing so, we neither take for granted the salubrity of Buddhist teachings for the contemporary western world nor bar the possibility of renovation and application. We see, rather, in the very process of critique an opening. In order to exploit this opening, however, we find it necessary to create drastically new, and buddhistically indefensible, theorems.

This book is a radical laying bare of the brutal refusal of x-buddhism to honor its most basic pledge: abetment of liberation.

Cruel Theory | Sublime Practice consists of three parts. Each part addresses both theoretical and practical dimensions of Buddhism. Authored individually, each part nonetheless interacts with the concerns of the others. Those concerns include the formation of an autonomous subject in the face of Buddhism’s concealment of its ideological force; the possibility of a practice that thus serves as a theory or science of ideology; the reconstitution of practice as an organon of authoritative structures, including controlling social-conceptual representations; and the perception of Buddhism as the subject of a historical process. Perhaps the most salient theme running throughout the book concerns the crucial necessity of transfusing anemic contemporary Buddhist discourse with the lifeblood of rigorous, creative thought.

Will Buddhism in the twenty-first century West help fashion a liberated subject? Or will it continue to be a deceptive mythos spawning subjects who are content to rest at ease in the thrall of predatory capitalism? The three parts of the book share a common concern: to push Buddhism to the brink.

[Get it? Now, get to work!]

1 See, for instance, Patrick Jennings,”Critical Thinking as Spiritual Practice,” and Tom Pepper, “On Reading Hegel as a Corrective for Meditative Malpractice.”

Hostis. Here is a brief etymology of hostis.

Cruel Theory | Sublime Practice: A Revaluation of Buddhism

Painting: Emil Nolde (German-Danish, 1867-1956), Masks, 1911.

Posted in Constructivists, Speculative Non-Buddhist | 3 Comments »

Behold the Principle of Sufficient Buddhism

Posted by Glenn Wallis on February 22, 2014

subgeniusThis post is intended for readers who are, or would like to try, applying non-buddhist methods to actual x-buddhist materials (texts, dharma talks, rituals, etc.). I am providing user instructions for a particular weapon in the arsenal of the critique: the Principle of Sufficient Buddhism.1 I will offer a concrete example of this principle as it was employed by triratna-buddhist blogger Jayarava in a recent exchange with Tomek Idzik. This exchange took place at Jayarava’s Raves. (Link below.)

My contention is this. In his refusal to engage Idzik’s counter-argument to a point he must establish to advance his claims, Jayarava employs the Principle of Sufficient Buddhism. (You’ll see the Principle invoked, obliquely, throughout all of Jayarava’s writings, but directly, albeit in his own terms, in the final paragraph.) The point of this exercise is not to chastise Jayarava for being the poor and unfair interlocutor that he is here. I want to make a much bigger point:

The Principle of Sufficient Buddhism is the worm at the heart of x-buddhist dialogue. In fact, it is even more insidious than that: it is the primary determinant in how x-buddhists think– or “think,” since it is a debilitating force, a force that voids thought. Where thought is absent, genuine dialogue is impossible.

The wide application of the Principle of Sufficient Buddhism in x-buddhist writing and speech is tantamount to an admission by x-buddhists to the bankruptcy of x-buddhism–but let me be quick to add: in their hands.

If there were no Principle of Sufficient Buddhism, no such conceptual and dialogical operator, it is doubtful whether x-buddhism would exist at all. Why? Because uncoupled from the Principle, x-buddhists would not be able to hold x-buddhist ideas and practices together. X-buddhism would not cohere. Ideally, thus dissipated, x-buddhist postulates, all vitality lost, would slouch, one by one, over to The Great Feast of Knowledge.2 What would happen to them there? Would they be revitalized? Would they invigorate thought? Would they enhance local knowledges and thereby gain respect?

We cannot know what might happen because x-buddhists, as x-buddhists, refuse our invitation. They detest the democratic ways of the mob. They must at all costs protect x-buddhism’s aristocratic regency.

Try it. I predict that if you insist on laying the Principle to the side, your x-buddhist conversation partner with not be able to cope. S/he will attempt various maneuvers. An early maneuver will be to rattle off copious details–citations from the Buddha, from the sutras, from Buddhist history, from roshi, Eido, Joan and Jon. To every one of your objections, s/he will either recite yet more details or say that you are creating a strawman argument. Another maneuver will be to remind you that examples from the western history of ideas are irrelevant, they just don’t apply to timeless eastern wisdom (even though their dharmic claims are, so they say, universal). Your views will be characterized as being “incomprehensible.” A late maneuver, probably the final one, will be to accuse you of being angry, of lacking compassion and insight, of being wholly ignorant of the virtues of right-speech. In fact, your insistence on laying aside the Principle of Sufficient Buddhism will be given as a living example of why we need right speech.

Don’t take my word for it. Give it a shot. Start a conversation with an x-buddhist figure of your choice. A couple of things to keep in mind.

Non-buddhism, remember, is an immanent critique. It aims to show that and how x-buddhism, in the hands of x-buddhists, contradicts, restricts, and outright violates its very own postulates. In other words, non-buddhism is not arguing that x-buddhism is wrong. It is, rather, arguing that x-buddhism, as x-buddhists present it, does not cohere in the way that it must in order to be what it says it is:  specular knowledge, or “wisdom” concerning matters of ultimate importance to human being. In other words, x-buddhists understand themselves to be in possession of a comprehensive, phenomenologically verifiable organon from on high of “how things are.” On their own account, x-buddhism functions not as religion or philosophy do, but as science does. They claim for it the same kind of knowledge that science generates. Whether their object of investigation is human consciousness, perception, matter, time, or the cosmos, x-buddhists present the insights of x-buddhism as being as clear, precise, unambiguous, testable, empirical, and pragmatic as those of a science.

Is any given x-buddhism what its acolytes say it is? Or might it be, when all is said and done, just another variety of generic visionary knowledge, hardly distinguishable from Integralism, Quantum Mysticism, or Roman Catholicism? In the 21st century West, numerous x-buddhisms offer utopian refuge from the brutal barrage of techno-consumerist capitalism. These recent varieties show a striking family resemblance to the American self-improvement and self-actualization movements beginning in the 1890s, and the human potential movement of the 1960s.

The question for the critic is: what happens when we subject x-buddhist postulates to robust investigation? Does the x-buddhist account satisfy us? What happens when we invite our x-buddhist conversation partner to join us at The Great Feast of Knowledge? Is the invitation viewed as a threat. a hostile challenge? Does the conversation then mutate into a defensive slug fest? Does the x-buddhist change the subject? These are the kinds of things a critic has an eye out for..

And now, to our main attraction.

Tomek Idzik: Jayarava, thanks for this interesting piece. I agree with you, that MBT is not explicitly touted as an alternative or competitor to Buddhism. But I think that this emerging “folk religion”, as McMahan says, is not just a set of stress reduction techniques helping people with chronic pain. It is also another manifestation of this romantic reaction against scientific disenchantment of the world. In short, it is a cult of a fetishized “Present Moment”. What it tries to sell is the “Now.” The same “Now,” of which Metzinger says in his BNO as follows: “Although we subjectively experience ourselves as in direct and immediate contact with the <>, all empirical data tell us that, strictly speaking, all conscious experience is a form of memory.”

I would also add that this cult of the “Now” is a bastardized version of the twentieth century phenomenologists effort to, as in The Making … says McMahan, “reclaim things from their merely instrumental value (…) to reestablish the primordial intimacy between persons and objects in their everyday interactions. (p. 220)

So all in all, on the first sight it might really look that it is not “an alternative or competitor to Buddhism” but at a closer inspection it seems to provide a much more suited myth of a this worldly liberation than a transcendental Buddhists version of it which is unimaginable for a lay person today.

Jayarava: Hi Tomek

Thanks for your comment. Anyone who quotes Metzinger is always welcome :-)

I’d just say that for a “folk religion” mindfulness has a shit load of scientific papers backing it up. Nearly 6000 on PlosOne! So to me “folk religion” is a kind of bitchy diminutive designed to plaster over an inconvenient truth.

I’m not sure where you get all this “cult of now” stuff from. I know quite a few mindfulness teachers and that’s not what they’re on about as far as I can tell. I don’t know anyone who fetishises “now”. Most of the Mindfulness people are plugged into Metzinger or at least Damasio who popularised the idea on the basis of his research. They know these models of consciousness. But remember that Metzinger is arguing against phenomenology most of the time: he says we are naive realists and that how things seem is not how they are. This is interesting, but most of the time we only have access to how things seem and even with close attention we don’t see through the walls of the ego tunnel. Indeed Metzinger says this is impossible – he only knows more from studying the way that the sense of self breaks down. By carefully cross referencing all the errors of the self-model he can define it’s dimensions and functions, but he still cannot see beyond it in his own first-person experience. Whatever consciousness is in fact, we only know how we experience it. And this was the Buddha’s point in the first place. Especially in my root text the Kaccānagotta Sutta.

The approach of examining experience is very much older than the 20th century. McMahan is in danger of sounding like a man whose only tool is a hammer: everything starts to look like a nail. Examining experience is the technique par excellence of Buddhism. Such a phenomenological approach is central to all of early Buddhism and is epitomised by the Abhidharmikas. To say this is just a modern trend is to be ignorant of Buddhist history. There is Buddhism in Buddhist Modernism.

My preceptor and chief mentor in the Triratna Order now teaches mindfulness for a living. He and his wife cannot run enough classes in their area. And in each class there is one person who finds all this ‘watching your experience’ stuff really fascinating and wants to go deeper. So they have a little sangha building up of people fascinated by experience instead of bogged down in all the supernatural bullshit and top heavy doctrine that comes with Buddhism. My sense is that this is the future of Buddhism (which probably contradicts what I said above, but such is life).

Mindfulness as taught by Buddhist MBT practitioners may well be to 21st century Western Buddhism what Zen was to Japanese Buddhism in the 13th century.

Tomek Idzik: Jayarava, if you are really interested to know where I get the whole idea of this “cult of now” have a look at this paper (link below) and compare the ubiquitous element of the so called “present moment” in the rhetorics of mindfulness movement to what one of the main figures of this text – W. Sellars – dubbed “the myth of the given.” I claim that those “present moment” or “here and now” memes are just a vulgarized versions of the “myth of the given” or better “unexplained explainer” which was a symptom of a reaction against naturalism and science that came out from the camp of XX century phenomenologists/idealists like Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and others. In the paper Brassier writes that “the myth of the given [is] the idealist attempt to ground ‘originary’ intentionality in transcendental consciousness. Consciousness construed as originary condition of givenness becomes an unexplained explainer. This brand of transcendental idealism is inimical to naturalism, since if consciousness is the originary condition of objectivation, of which science is one instance, it follows that science cannot investigate consciousness.” (p. 9) This transcendental consciousness and its folk versions like “present moment” or “here and now,” etc., become contemporary fetishes – weak versions of the soul – that provide their worshipers a safe haven from the potentially depressing conclusions of contemporary science. Hence the crypto-religious flavor of the “cult of now”.

[GW. Link edited: Ray Brassier, “The View from Nowhere: Sellars, Habermas, Metzinger“]


Of course one can read it that way. Or one can take a Buddhist perspective. Not being educated in Western philosophy I don’t see the parallels from that sphere. I don’t even see them as particularly important as the influence on Eastern thinking begins to be syncretised by those very thinkers and it confuses the issues. But I certainly do see people teaching Buddhist ideas.

I think we’ll just have to agree to differ on this.

Original post and comments at Jayarava Raves.

1Principle of sufficient Buddhism. Parallel to Laruelle’s “Principle of Sufficient Philosophy,” which states that everything is philosophizable. X-buddhistic decision is similarly a pretension of that mechanism’s creators (i.e., x-buddhists) that all things under the sun are matters for x-buddhism’s oracular pronouncements, and that the totality of pronouncements (the network of postulation) constitutes an adequate account—a unitary vision—of reality. “Buddhism” thus names, for “Buddhists,” a sufficiency. As postulate deflation reveals, however, this view of sufficiency is maintained only insofar as x-buddhism successfully avoids conversing with the sciences and humanities at The Great Feast of Knowledge. This avoidance amounts to a myopia whereby Buddhism only appears sufficient. This appearance, given the blighted field of reality that it entails, amounts to buddhistic hallucination, whereby “the x-buddhist view of Y” is confused with—seen in place of—“Y.” (Cruel Theory | Sublime Practice, 138)

2 The Great Feast of Knowledge. X-buddhistic decision is a specular court of justice that rules from above. Its representatives include, for instance, Enlightenment, Compassion, Suffering, Delusion, Mindfulness. Consideration of any of these representatives devoid of the royal warrant provided by decision reveals these representatives to be, as buddhistically presented, unfit, unusable, unreliable, and even suspect, characters. For, deflation acts to make manifest the representatives’ display of self-importance, necessity, obviousness, assumed desirability, pretense to natural truthfulness, etc. Speculative non-buddhism escorts x-buddhism’s representatives to the Great Feast of Knowledge. Seated at the table there, the representatives must hold their own alongside of local knowledges such as art, philosophy, literature, biology, psychology, physics, and so on. From a speculative non-buddhist estimation, the x-buddhist representatives, devoid of their dharmic body guards (the network of postulation), lose all status in such an exchange. That status, founded on the specularity given in decision, is thereby deflated. Sitting at the Great Feast of Knowledge radically alters the contribution of x-buddhism’s representatives. (I hear art and evolutionary biology, for instance, holding forth passionately on the absolute necessity and glorious fruits of one of x-buddhism’s foremost undesirables, “delusion,” to take but a single instance). (Cruel Theory | Sublime Practice, 135-136)

Posted in Critics, Interpreters, Speculative Non-Buddhist, True Believers | 31 Comments »

Mineful Response and the Rise of Corporatist Spirituality

Posted by Glenn Wallis on February 17, 2014

This video clip is a dazzling and devastating testimony to the complete moral bankruptcy of the American mindfulness movement. Think of it as a microcosmic display of the Mindfulness macrocosm. The stage is the world. The protestors are agents of change. The people on the couch are mindfulness/x-buddhist practitioners. What happens is something right out of a brilliant Tutteji Wachtmeister send-up. (Links below.)

We are at the Wisdom 2.0 conference in San Francisco, just now, February 14-17, 2014. The New York Times describes it like this: “Founders from Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Zynga and PayPal, and executives and managers from companies like Google, Microsoft, Cisco … in conversations with experts in yoga and mindfulness.”

Speaker 1: “Every year, Google brings us some new exploration, and today it is: “Three Steps to Build Corporate Mindfulness”…pause…”the Google Way.”

Pan to our three mindful experts sitting so contentedly, smiling at ease…Oh, shit. What’s this?! Here come strange, uninvited, people. They’re making some sort of protest statement. Nervous laughter. Slick, hipsterish dudes come out like the cops and, like the cops, show whose side they’re really on. For some reason, they try to steal the protestors’ sign. It reads: “Evicition Free San Francisco.”

A protester shouts: “Wisdom means stop displacement! Wisdom means stop surveillance! San Francisco’s not for sale!” Below is a link to what the Heart of the City Collective is protesting, and the role that mineful Google plays in that. (“Mineful” is Richard Payne’s term.)

The Mindful-One on the couch says something with a chuckle. I can only make out the first and last parts: “maybe we should…so they don’t rush the stage.” It gets a big, nervous laugh. Then, he gets serious. So should you.

“This is sort of an important moment,” he proclaims. Is he about to tell us that “Corporations have historically had a giant footprint on public infrastructure, communities and the environment without paying for it, and Google is no different. They’ll avoid paying for privatizing our bus stops like they avoid paying $11 billion in federal taxes. When a company’s chairman publicly says, “We’re proudly capitalistic. I’m not confused about this,” you know Don’t Be Evil was just a sick joke of the Googlezillionaires.” (Link below.)

No, he isn’t about to tell us that. Of course not.

““This is sort of an important moment. We can sort of leave this moment as something we didn’t expect to have happen, and it happened, and it’s wrong. Or we can actually use this as a moment of practice.” More laughter and applause. An unslick, unhipsterish rent-a-cop repeats earlier slick cop’s attempt to steal the sign, and similarly fails.

Mindfulness master continues. “Check in with your body, and see what’s happening, what it’s like to be around conflict with people with heartfelt ideas that may be different than what we’re thinking. So, let’s just take a second and see what’s it’s like.”

All quiet. Solemn sitting with eyes closed, presumably tapping into the wisdom of the body, beyond all thought, beyond all such irritating and disruptive “heartful ideas.” Ahhhh. Pan to audience of middle-aged white people. Some are nervously looking around, like the newcomers to Sunday Mass. Some are initiated into the Way, and lower their heads in prayer mindfulness.

In under three minutes, the clip validates Slavoj Žižek’s claims that western x-buddhism, of which mindfulness has become a dominant variety, is the perfect partner for or “supplement” to our hyper-consumerist techno-capitalist corporations. Perfect for two reasons. First, it smears an ostensibly humanizing veneer on top of the unashamedly dehumanizing sprawling complex of entities known as American corporations, entities proudly devoted to greed, plunder, and inequality. Second, and more damning, because the Mindfulness Industry is engaged in the creation of the type of people who have no interest in actively changing the social conditions that drive them to mindfulness practice in the first place. The Mindfulness Industry creates a person who, as Žižek argues:

should rather renounce the very endeavor to retain control over what goes on, rejecting it as the expression of the modern logic of domination. One should, instead, “let oneself go,” drift along, while retaining an inner distance and indifference toward the mad dance of accelerated process, a distance based on the insight that all this social and technological upheaval is ultimately just a non-substantial proliferation of semblances that do not really concern the innermost kernel of our being.

Žižek concludes that, “The ‘Western Buddhist’ meditative stance is arguably the most efficient way for us to fully participate in capitalist dynamics while retaining the appearance of mental sanity.” (Link below.)

The question is whether the Mindfulness Industry is a deluded partner–a stooge, a chump, a patsy to its corporate master–or a hypocritical opportuni$t ready and willing to drop all pretense to being the beacon of substantive change.

X-buddhism has reached (descended to?) a new stage. To borrow Richard Payne’s term, this is the era of “Corporatist Spirituality.”1 No, the corporations are not finding God. They are finding mindfulness. Hallelujah! We’re all gonna be saved now! It should not be surprising that Google is grabbing hold of mindfulness. The Mindfulness Industry has spent the last few decades making itself attractive to Corporate America. The Mindfulness Industry itself enables Google to “incorporate it as a self-appropriated [secularized] strategy for productivity and for being useful to one’s employer, who has no commitment to you.” (Richard Payne, private message.)

How often I find myself thinking or saying the same thing about x-buddhism: what a wasted opportunity. Those three mindfulistas could have really made a powerful point about the nature of the “wisdom” touted in Wisdom 2.0′s press statement:

Wisdom 2.0 addresses the great challenge of our age: to not only live connected to one another through technology, but to do so in ways that are beneficial to our own well-being, effective in our work, and useful to the world.

Through our series of conferences, meet-ups, and workshops, Wisdom 2.0 strives to bring this conversation to the world in an accessible, innovative, and inclusive way. (Bold in the original.)

Instead of any sort of engagement along these line, we get the same old response. The same, tired, rehearsed, straight-from-the-book, borrowed buddhemic bullshit. (See ventriloquism: the mindful dude on the couch is moving his lips, but it’s tradition that’s doing the talking.) Nothing new or interesting whatsoever. Shouldn’t we expect something different? After all, it is a conference hosting x-buddhist luminaries like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Sharon Salzberg, Roshi Joan Halifax, Dan Siegel, and dozens of other bright-faced “inner explorers.” Shouldn’t we expect a more loving, or at least genuinely connected, response?

Not if we’re paying attention to the Mindfulness Industry, we shouldn’t.

Thanks to Richard Payne for sending me this clip.

1 “I would describe (not define, as that has a tendency to kill thinking) corporatist spirituality as the use of spirituality for corporate ends. (As a concept spirituality is also deserving of a hermeneutics of suspicion, but it is used here to identify the strain of thought being employed in the social dynamics of corporatist spirituality—a disembodying of the subject which becomes embraced by the subject.) In a very real sense, once churches or temples or store-front meditation centers or Buddhist seminaries become more focused on maintaining and growing institutionally, and employ spirituality toward the ends of institutional preservation and growth, they are also instances of corporate spirituality.” (Richard Payne, at Reflections)

Tutteji Wachtmeister

Open Letter to the Community from the Heart of the City Collective

Slavoj Žižek, “From Western Marxism to Western Buddhism

About Wisdom 2.0

Conference speakers.

Posted in Critics | 99 Comments »

The Fetish of the Present Moment

Posted by Glenn Wallis on February 1, 2014

clockA current western x-buddhist dogma holds that there exists “the present moment.” It is a dogma that is so passionately embraced by x-buddhists of all stripes, so universally imbued with wondrous properties, so determinative of x-buddhist beliefs and behaviors, that I’d elevate it to a fetish. The fetish of the present moment. There is even a new podcast by the Secular Buddhist Association called “Present Moment: Mindfulness Practice and Science.” I’d guess that the current outbreak of the fetish among secular-buddhists, broadly conceived, can be traced back to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s paradigmatic statement about “mindfulness:”

Mindfulness can be thought of as moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness, cultivated by paying attention in a specific way, that is, in the present moment, and as non-reactively, as non-judgmentally, and as openheartedly as possible. (Emphasis added)

Perhaps, there is no clearer evidence that the fetish is spreading far and wide in x-buddhist circles than a recent Guardian article with the headline:

Zen Buddhism teaches us of the importance of living in the present.

Forget about learning from the past and applying those lessons to the future: reclaim and expand the present moment

The author employs a rhetoric of time that is, I would argue, emblematic of a view that is fast becoming universally and unquestioningly accepted in x-buddhist circles. It also expresses or suggests values that increasingly inform x-buddhist thought and behavior. These values include, for instance, an attitude of quiescence; passivity in relation to social formations; the desirability of a non-thinking subject; privileging pristine understanding over messy active analysis; retreat from political action; belief in utopia; a sense of superiority.

The emphasis on the present moment is perhaps zen’s most distinctive characteristic. In our western relationship with time, in which we compulsively pick over the past in order to learn lessons from it, and then project into a hypothetical future in which those lessons can be applied, the present moment has been compressed to a tiny sliver on the clock face between a vast past and an infinite future. …

[Zen] tries to have you understand, without arguing the point, that there is no purpose in getting anywhere if, when you get there, all you do is think about getting to some other future moment. Life exists in the present, or nowhere at all, and if you cannot grasp that you are simply living a fantasy.

Without arguing the point, indeed!

A lot depends, of course, on what is meant by “the present moment.” The categories of past, present, and future obviously do a certain kind of useful work in everyday life. Who would deny that it makes sense for us to speak of the seemingly continuous, unfolding now as the present, yesterday as the past, and tomorrow as the future? This kind of temporal distinction is so basic to subjective experience and social necessity as to be rendered trivial. So why do x-buddhists, whether Secular or Zen, imbue being in the present moment with an exalted mana-like quality?1

I think an answer can be found in unblocking the assumption that “the present” implies something much more profound than a mere convenient temporal division. The place to begin this unblocking is in the premise of the “tiny sliver.” In x-buddhism, “the present” is accorded the status of a real existent. It is an actual pool of time situated between past and future. The present is as distinct from the past and future as the past is from the future. In the x-buddhist view, none of these times ever leaks into the other. Thus, the present is literally demarcated from past and future. It is a distinct reality, moreover, that, if inhabited by the practitioner, results in far-reaching qualitative, existential changes.

This x-buddhist dogma-fetish of the present is not new or even necessarily secular-driven. Here’s a traditional Soto Zen teacher on the topic. He uses Dogen (1200-1253) to support his assertions.

All Buddhist masters have affirmed that reality is the present moment–here and now. They affirm that the truth of this world is just that the universe exists at this time and at this place.

This statement is the sort of statement that, when someone makes it, we hear it and vaguely wonder–hmmm. But what do they actually mean by this statement. What is the present moment? How long does it last for? Does it have a length? For example, what part of what I am saying is the present moment, and why is it that, if Buddhist masters can make such a definite statement, the present still feels such a vaguely defined thing? The common understanding of the present means vaguely “round about now.”

But Buddhist masters go further than making a vague statement. For instance in Shobogenzo Genjo Koan, Master Dogen insists that:

“Firewood becomes ash; it can never go back to being firewood. Nevertheless we should not take the view that ash is its future and firewood is its past. Remember, firewood abides in the place of firewood in the dharma. Although it has a past and a future, the past and the future are cut off. Ash exists in the place of ash in the dharma.”

Here Master Dogen wants to emphasize that the present moment is instantaneous, cut off from the past and the future. Again this is not difficult to listen to, but can it really be true?

Zen Master Eido concludes that, yes, it really is true, the past and the future are completely cut off from the present.

A different perspective is taken at the Science Philosophy Chat Forum. Someone posed these questions about “a moment:”

How can a moment exist for us as humans in physical reality?
What is the smallest unit of “time”?
More to the point – What are the implications of your answers to these questions in terms of physics, neurology and the nature of the universe?

The reflections below contain rich materials for thinking “the present-moment” at the Great Feast of Knowledge.2 If these reflections have any validity, they should have significant consequences for x-buddhism’s rhetorical building block of “the present moment.” For instance, the response refutes the possibility of a past-free present (so does the x-buddhist theory of contingency, paticcasamuppada, but that’s another story). It renders absurd the x-buddhist dogma of “direct experience.” It also reveals Kabat-Zinn’s “non-reactivity” and “non-judgementalism” to be chimera of deluded observation and shoddy thinking. Anyway, maybe one of you, a reader, would like to flesh out further consequences of the scuttling of this pervasive x-buddhist rhetorical trope. There is plenty of good, suggestive material here for that work. For your consideration:

Contrary to theoretical philosophical discussions on the possibility/impossibility of the “present moment,” the neurological perspective solves many contradictions:

1) most sensory systems display adaptation, which means that their momentary discharge partly relates to the momentary stimulus, partly relates to the way the stimulus is changing (and therefore the past)

2) all neuronal circuits introduce variable delays in parallel processing of the same information, in such a way that the momentary activity of a neuronal circuit always combines “the present” and “the past”, i.e. the brain is constantly processing momentary information together with the way such information is changing in time

3) as a consequence of the above, the brain elaborates change with time with the same efficiency with which it elaborates current information, so that the “neurological moment” simultaneously is a representation of the actual moment, past events and the way things change out of and within ourselves.

1 See “Elixir of Mindfulness

2 The Great Feast of Knowledge is a speculative non-buddhist trope intended to capture a scene where x-buddhism’s representatives discuss their views and theories alongside of physics, art, philosophy, literature, biology, psychology, and other disciplines of knowledge. A central contention of speculative non-buddhism, of course, is that all forms of x-buddhism confuse knowledge of the world with discourses on knowledge of the world; and that we need a critical practice like The Great Feast to help us discern the difference. In such an exchange, X-buddhism loses all status as specular authority. That loss is significant because it permits a consideration of x-buddhism’s views on equal footing with the feast’s other participants. (From “Feast, Interrupted“)


Present Moment: Mindfulness Practice and Science

Master Eido’s article

Science Philosophy Chat Forum

Guardian article

Posted in Constructivists, Critics, Speculative Non-Buddhist, Uncategorized | 26 Comments »


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