Speculative Non-Buddhism

an arsenal for thought

News and Updates (July 28: two new items)

Posted by Glenn Wallis on April 6, 2014

RonanPicScroll down for most recent updates.

This blog ran from May 2011 to March 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):

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

July 28, 2014 Richard Payne offers more thoughtful comments on what he has dubbed “corporate spirituality.” The brief but pregnant piece is called “Power and Pedagogy.”

Autonomous Terrace has extended the discussion of “corporate spirituality” to include its use in educational institutions, and does so in a fashion that I think is both thoughtful and self-reflectively informative. AT’s focus is on the institutionalization of mindfulness practice in education, and the difficulties that imbalances of power create for those attempts. We note that educational institutions are also “corporate bodies” even if they are not for-profit corporations. In other words, the same kinds of dynamics, including imbalances of power, are at work there as in for-profit corporations. As AT notes, mindfulness is on offer as another “quick-fix,” that is, something simple (in conceptualization, if not execution) that will supposedly solve all/some/most of the problems plaguing the institution.

Hyper-sensitive defenders of mindfulness please note:

And with that tease, please have a look at Richard’s blog. He links to Autonomous Terrace as well.

Tom Pepper‘s The Faithful Buddhist seems to have gone private. I hope that’s the case, rather than that it has been canceled. Either way, that so insightful and intelligent and, yes, compassionate, a blogger as Tom Pepper has to flee the scene (the mob?) speaks volumes about the idiocy of contemporary x-buddhist discourse. Shallow, facile x-buddhist Facebookers and bloggers, by contrast, continue to belch out their precious comfort food.

Various discussions are kicking around the non-x forum. Have a look.

July 10, 2014 I’d like to bring your attention to a few important texts and discussions.

In “One For The Road: Buddhism and the Recovery Industry,” at The Faithful Buddhist, Tom Pepper writes:

I feel somehow compelled to take one last shot at making a point I’ve tried to make many times over the last three years—here, on Speculative Non-buddhism, and in Non+X, as well as in any number of online discussions. I’m going to end this blog with yet another mention of this issue because it is very important to me personally, and is something that has been, and will continue to be, seriously harmful and even fatal to many millions of people here in the U.S., and no doubt in the rest of the world as well.

To help make his case, Pepper discusses Noah Levine’s new book Refuge Recovery.

Levine offers the same old model of addiction and the subject we have inherited from centuries of Western and Christian attempts to solve the problem, with exotic-sounding terms and lots of references to The Buddha to make it seem novel. His book is even structured like the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, with steps to follow and a section of personal recovery stories for inspiration.

As you can expect from Tom Pepper, it’s razor sharp, no-nonsense writing and discussion.

At The Non-Buddhist, Patrick Jennings has written a piece called “Force of Creation; The non-Aesthetic.” It is a fascinating piece using some of Laruelle’s ideas to explicate paintings of the artist Phillip Guston. From the text:

When philosophy presents us with the dilemma – an essence transcendent of matter, biology, and the social, or a reduction to matter, biology, the social – this dilemma and its solution (on either count) just is the absolutizing move which Laruelle critiques as the mixture of the epistemological and the philosophical, of empirical investigation and philosophical generalizations. When science is left to itself, however, it produces open ensembles of knowledges, in which the findings of the sciences interact while remaining distinct – to lie alongside each other rather than being gathered up by philosophy as its raw material.

Laruelle sees his work as most alive when placed next to local knowledges, particularly the arts. Jennings’s piece is an excellent example. Hopefully, it will generate discussion and further similar efforts.

At Smiling Buddha Cabaret, NellaLou has written two thoughtful posts that might be productively read alongside of Pepper’s: “A Review of The Promise of Happiness,” by Sara Ahmed, and “Further Comments on Happiness.” From the always insightful NellaLou:

Happiness, as it is often framed, or as it is often dangled before us as some kind of tempting goal, is also a highly coercive concept and one that has often been used to disguise it’s use as a potentially oppressive means to reinforce and maintain the status quo.

At The Non-x Reader, John presents Jay Garfield’s essay “Taking Conventional Truth Seriously.” John writes:

Despite its under-representation in modern Buddhist discourse, there is a strong tradition of rejecting transcendence and establishing the importance of the conventional in Madhyamaka. As Jay Garfield notes, “conventional truth is all the truth there is” and “Despite the importance of the apprehension of ultimate truth, even after Buddhahood, omniscience and compassion require the apprehension of the conventional.”

Garfield’s essay, “Taking Conventional Truth Seriously: Authority Regarding Deceptive Reality,” examines the two truths in the works of Nagarjuna, Chandrakirti, and Tsong khapa, explaining an often mystified topic with lucidity. This approach to the two truths illuminates a Buddhist path that isn’t mystical or obscurantist and opens the door to The Great Feast of Knowledge.

In case you missed it, Tomek Idzik wrote an insightful and intelligent piece at his blog Dharma i okolice: “Buddha’s Mind or Neoliberal Self?

[I]t is not so easy to dump the whole responsibility for the failures of neoliberal transformations on the shoulders of various barefoot gurus. On the contrary, as evidenced by the proliferation of self-help discourses in Post-Soviet block for the past 30 years, one can much easier draw a straightforward conclusion that what in fact those “enlightened” gurus offer is the very panacea for a whole range of evils to which this neoliberal transformation has apparently contributed.

July 7, 2014 One of our more thoughtful commentators, Alan, just launched a blog, Tapp’s Last Crepe. Good luck, Alan! From his description:

“…there is nothing to express, nothing with which to express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express.”  –Samuel Beckett

Beckett famously said this of the painter Pierre Tal-Coat, but surely it applies to Beckett himself.  It is in the spirit of “nothing to express” that I begin this blog.  I may have some desire to express, but if I do, I don’t know why.  I may have some sense of obligation to express, but to whom or for what reason I do not know.  Regarding what it is that I wish to express, I don’t know that either.

So, a word about obligation to express and what to express.

Keep reading

July 4, 2014. A If anyone wants to help some people understand the non-buddhism project(s), chime at the Buddhism StackExchange. They’re stumbling over the usual confusions, I’m afraid. The old tedious anti-intellectualism is coursing through their comments, too. “Tommy” has a funny answer where he uses a logic analogy and inadvertently (I can only assume) state both A and not-A.

July 1, 2014 new blog dedicated to the non-buddhist critique! Non-x Reader: sapping the X-vallation. Here’s the description:

This will be a place for material related to the non-Buddhist project. At the moment, I’m planning on posting old pieces from the various blogs and articles from thinkers who have inspired them, and it may branch out to interviews, art, and original content. Contributions are welcome.

Think about contributing, will you? The most we can offer at this point in time is text–analyses of x-buddhist materials, reviews of books, theoretical tools and weapons. Someday, x-buddhist teachers will have to reckon with our productions. Given the old hippies and young Googleplexicrats who now control the x-buddhist discourse, my statement may sound quixotic. And yet, change is inevitable–though not necessarily for the better. So why not put lay down some raw materials for some future edifice?

June 12, 2014 Two thought-provoking new texts: First, Tomek Idzik’s, “Buddha’s Mind or Neoliberal Self?” From the essay:

it is not so easy to dump the whole responsibility for the failures of neoliberal transformations on the shoulders of various barefoot gurus. On the contrary, as evidenced by the proliferation of self-help discourses in Post-Soviet block for the past 30 years, one can much easier draw a straightforward conclusion that what in fact those “enlightened” gurus offer is the very panacea for a whole range of evils to which this neoliberal transformation has apparently contributed.

Nonetheless, I think that if one wants to understand to a certain degree the phenomenon of disrupted democracy in Europe today – especially if one happen to be an active participant of such self-help discourses – one cannot simply omit the apolitical overtones of messages spread by gurus like Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

Also, at the Non-Buddhist, “The Affective Aspect of Decision.” This piece is the kind of “evidence-based” critique that anyone who desires to wreak havoc on the shameful transcendental-thaumaturgical pretensions  of x-buddhist teachers will welcome. More work like this! Be sure to watch the video about the Danish teacher Ole Nydahl (if you can bear it). Again, the authors subject hard evidence gathered from the x-buddhist marketplace to a non-buddhist critical-theoretical claim. A German version, titled “Der affektive Aspekt der Entscheidung am Beispiel des x-buddhistischen Heiligen Ole Nydahl,” is available at Der Unbuddhist.

June 10, 2014 Tom Pepper has published a collection of his essays from The Faithful Buddhist. It’s available as a Nook Book for only $1.25 at Barnes and Noble. You can read what Tom has to say about it at his still-breathing blog. Relish once more such bonne bouches of wisdom from the Pepperspray Bodhisattva such as:

Being a Faithful Buddhist does NOT mean being a smiling, docile lamb, able to accept everything as it is and live in blissful comfort unbothered by the horrors in the world.  Any individual who can live like this, anyone who isn’t made rude and angry by the World we live in, is part of the problem, with no exceptions.

And remember that stupidity is not a private characteristic of the soul, but the effect of the practices an individual has been interpellated into: don’t be afraid to call a moron a moron!

Here’s the overview of the book:

This is a collection of essays written over the course of three years, and previously published one blogs or in an online journal. The essays are part of an attempt to reconsider Buddhism as it begins to grow in the western world. The title of the book is the title of Tom Pepper’s blog, and refers to the attempt to be “faithful” to what he considers the core truths of Buddhist thought.

Although these essays are mostly available on the internet, this collection was put together to make them more easily available in a convenient format, and without the expense and waste of printing the more than 250 pages of texts collected here.

It is the authors hope that those who have been interested in the projects that generated these essays will find in them some inspiration to continue and expand the critical exploration of Buddhist thought that is barely begun here.

June 6, 2014 A discussion is cracklin’ on Reddit about non-buddhism. One of the more interesting questions that came up there– “It’s one of those ‘the map is not the terrain’ kind of thing, isn’t it?”–is being carried on at the non-x Discussion Forum.

June 4, 2014 Patrick Jennings and Matthias Steingass have written a very clear and insightful short introduction to non-buddhism. As he says, there may be more to come. (I hope so.) His texts serve as an entrance to non-buddhist thought. I don’t know what it will take to get our current shapers and explicators of x-buddhism in the West to inject their thinking with some fresh ideas, but maybe they can start with Steingass and Jennings’s piece.

This post is a short introduction to non-buddhism. It covers the basics for anyone who is not familiar with non-buddhism and is meant to introduce the main points and act as a encouragement to further reading and research. We hope to write further short texts on particular points including decision, minimal transcendence, non-buddhism and meditation, the historical Buddha, ideological interpellation, and the connection between non-buddhism and critique off capitalism. These texts will be available to the newcomer as a separate category accessible from the top bar. You can find a German version of this text on Der Unbuddhist.

May 20, 2014. If you’re in New York City on May 30th, you might want to check out this panel: “Buddhism, Radical Critique and Revolutionary Praxis.” That discussion is just one panel in the “Left Forum” conference at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York (540 West 59 Street [59th and 10th Ave] NYC. The conference title is, “Reform and/or Revolution: Imagining a World with Transformative Justice.”

Once again, Left Forum is happening May 30th through June 1st in NYC…A unique phenomenon in the U.S. and the world, Left Forum convenes the largest annual conference of a broad spectrum of left and progressive intellectuals, activists, academics, organizations and the interested public. (Read full description here.)

Other talks that should interest readers of this blog include: “Hey Activists, Read This!: Why Progressives Should Read More Fiction;” “Music, Social Movements and Revolution;” and “Marx and the Alternative to Capitalism;”

I am very curious about the Buddhism panel. Unfortunately, I will be out of town then. If anyone does go, maybe you’ll write up a report for us, either here or at The Non-Buddhist. Let me know. (Thanks to Fionnchú and Matthias Steingass for the information.)

May 20, 2014. I posted the following query over at the non-x Discussion Forum. If you have any suggestions, please comment over there. Thanks.

I’m thinking that I still need to flesh out the idea of non-buddhist first names or first terms. I plan begin this summer. I offered a course last semester where people critiqued their own beloved ideologies (Beckett, Zen, My Family, Thoreau, MBSR, Poetry, Acupuncture, and so on). The one thing the students had trouble with was creating first names from the decimated babble emanating from their ruins. And these “students” are all mature adults with M.A.s and Ph.Ds. So, something is not clear about this crucial critical move. I also think that cloning x-buddhist concepts is the most constructive feature of non-buddhism.

I started to experiment with cloning on page 145 of CT|SP under “Coda: A Thought Experiment: Recalculating X-Buddhist Terms as Non-Buddhist First Names.” That title should give you a good idea of what I’m after. This, too:

“First name” or “first term” is a Laruellen concept. Laruelle defines first terms as:

Fundamental terms which symbolize the Real and its modes according to its radical immanence or its identity. They are deprived of their philosophical sense and become, via axiomatized abstraction, the terms—axioms and theorems —of non-philosophy. (Future Christ xxvi)

The basic question driving the project is this: What might foundational x-buddhist terms offer us once they are divested of their specifically x-buddhist ideological force and shorn of their decisional transcendence? Might they contribute collectively to a non-buddhist organon of what Laruelle refers to above as “the identity of the real”?

I am asking you to identify what you think are aristocratic x-buddhist terms. I have my own ideas, of course; but I’d like to hear yours. In the book, I treated the following:

Nibbida (revulsion, aversion, disgust) → Disenchantment. The truth of requisite disappointment.
Sati (present-moment awareness; mindfulness) → Ancestral anamnesis. The truth of the non-correlational memorial sacrifice.
Anicca (impermanence) → Vanishing. The truth of dissolution.
Anattā (no-self, insubstantiability) → social-symbolic identity. The truth of communal selfhood.
Suññatā/śūnyatā(emptiness) → nihility. The truth of void.
Papañca (conceptual proliferation, cognitive elaboration, diffuseness) → thinking. The truth of thought’s inevitability.
Paticcasamuppāda (dependent origination, conditioned genesis) → Absolute contingency. The truth of chance over law.
Sabba (the all) → The Universe. The truth of intransitivity.
Paññā (understanding, wisdom) → Perspicuity. The truth of immanental transparency.
Nibbāna/nirvāṇa (extinguishment, blowing out) → Extinction. The truth of annihilation.
Bodhi (awakening, enlightenment) → Flesh and blood humanity. The truth of human sufficiency.

So, what else? Thanks!

May 13, 2014. Tom Pepper and Patricia Comitini have launched a very exciting new e-journal, Imaginary Relations: A Journal for the Critique of Aesthetic Objects. The e-journal is intended for teachers, students, scholars, and theorists. The editors are currently inviting submissions. Here’s more:

Imaginary Relations seeks to return ideological critique and analysis to the study of literature and film. As the title indicates, we begin from the concept of ideology Althusser introduced in his well known essay “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses: Notes Toward an Investigation.” Recognizing that ideology is not an illusion or false consciousness, but a positive social practice which reproduces social formations, we seek to investigate how certain kinds of aesthetic objects function ideologically. Though Imaginary Relations suggests an Althusserian legacy, the journal recognizes a complex materialist history of ideology that predates and surpasses Althusser. As Fredric Jameson has remarked, “the ambiguity and the semantic slippages in a term like ‘ideology’ are as productive as they are intolerable; the dialectical use of such a term specifies it in a local textual situation, but mobilizes the presence of competing meanings … as a means of problematizing the issues themselves and making their complexity less avoidable” (Valences of the Dialectic, 317). This journal seeks to examine the competing meanings that ideologies generate; how ideologies are produced and reproduced in single cultural productions: poetry, fiction, drama, film, and television; how ideologies function to produce material practices, such as reading, and how those reading practices can work to reproduce and transform ideologies. The journal, therefore, focuses on the complex valences of ideology as positive and productive forces in culture that do, and can, transform subjectivities and social relations.

May 13, 2014. A hard-hitting and thoughtful post by Tomek Idzik at The Non-Buddhist called “Humophobia.” Join the stimulating discussion.

Reading texts such as Ajahn Chah’s Our Real Home, it’s relatively easy to see the way in which one of those realized types – an enlightened mutant called the arahant–is still, in the twenty first century, used to exploit human fears–Mun in this particular case fear of deterioration and death – in order to subjugate the flesh and blood of any potential reader. This particular case is an extreme one. It could easily shock the contemporary enthusiast of mindfulness, who very often know next to nothing about the bleak and terrifying side of a tradition from which her mindful practice (sati), supposedly, derives. Yet I think that this glaring example of x-buddhist parasitism allows us to portray what constitutes a common denominator for modern propagators of the mindfulness industry. In the general x-buddhist discourse, this denominator functions to strengthen the belief in the existence of variously defined defects supposedly inherent in man’s nature (very often called an “ego” in modern x-buddhist circles)–allegedly manifesting as lust, deception, hostility, ignorance, etc.

May 13, 2014. Good shit poppin’ over at the non + x discussion forum. Have a look at the “Buddhism is insidious” thread, for instance.

May 1, 2014, 2014. Is the emerging western x-buddhism just a (barely) refashioned version of “relaxationism”? Have a look at Tomek Idzik’s thoughtful essay “Zinn Industries’ Relaxationism” at Dharma i okolice (in English).

May 1, 2014, 2014. I asked Tom Pepper a couple of questions about art and ideology. Hopefully, you will join the conversation, and ask him some follow-up questions, or respond to his views.

April 24, 2014, 2014. A very interesting and potentially fruitful new direction at The Non-Buddhist: “A Reorientation,” by Patrick Jennings.

It seems a good time to reformulate our aim, given recent developments. Things have moved on. For my part, I think the project has passed the point where engaging with x-buddhists per se is of real interest. As I have said before, I would like to broaden it by exploring the concept buddhistically uninterpretable and what that might mean for discourse and personal/collective practice.

This requires an experimental space where we can produce texts without having to defend their rightness against some preordained version of the truth; a space free from the imposition of an arbitrary political, ideological or philosophical authority, for ourselves, our texts, or anyone commenting or posting here.

Which does not exclude sometimes forceful expression of a point of view, or critique of someone else view, or a legitimate sense that one should struggle for what one perceives as the most creative, practical or knowledgeable perspective. It means that we conduct engagement on the basis of equality and freedom from harassment.

April 6, 2014, 2014. Join the discussion on x-buddhist circularity at The Non Buddhist. Original post by Matthias Mauderer.

April 4, 2014, 2014. Alain Badiou talk in Athens, Greece: “True Communism Is the Foreignness of Tomorrow.” The relevance of many of the ideas communicated in this talk to non-buddhist thought is, I hope, not too difficult to see. (Thanks to NellaLou for the link.)

Thirty years ago there was an ideological wall, a political iron curtain. Today there is a wall that separates the jouissance of the rich from the desire of the poor.

Everything works as if sharp separations have to be drawn among living bodies according to their provenance and resources, in order for the single world of monetary signs and objects to exist. Today, I repeat, there is no world. That is, because the cost of the unified world of capital is the brutal, violent division of human existence into two regions separated by walls, police dogs, bureaucratic controls, naval patrols, barbed wire and deportations.

Why is it that so-called immigration has become a fundamentally important political question across the entire world? Because all the human beings who come, trying to live and work in different countries, are the proof that the democratic unity of the world is entirely false.

If it were true, we would have to welcome these foreigners as people from the same world as ourselves. We would have to love them like you would someone on a journey who comes to a halt just outside your house. But that is not at all the case. The great mass of us think that these people come from another world. This is the problem.

April 4, 2014, 2014. Two stimulating discussions at The Non-Buddhist: “Money is not our God: Selling Spirituality,” by Fionnchu; and “The Final Turn,” by Matthias Steingass.

April 4, 2014. Check out the developments at the nonbuddhist forum, such as a discussion of Badiou’s Ethics of Truth. While you’re at it, have a look at what’s in the works at the non-x Wiki.

March 31, 2014.. I just posted an interview with Ulrich Baer at Lines of Flight. We discuss poetry, photography, how art might inspire change in the world, and more.

March 29, 2014. Two very interesting and relevant essays and discussions at The Non-Buddhist blog: “‘Money is not our God': Selling Spirituality,” by Fionnchu; and “Cruelties of Thought,” by Patrick Jennings. Be sure to check out the comments as well.

March 29, 2014. “How the Self-Help Industry Hustles America,” an article from AlterNet, is relevant to anyone looking critically at x-buddhism. At least, it is if you think there is merit in my contention that contemporary western x-buddhism is basically nothing more than a buddhisized version of the age-old American self-help oversell. Here’s a quote from the articl:

The self-help industry is the modern secular version of our grounding myth. It’s a $10 billion annual business that sells its services by claiming that there is almost no problem–from weight loss to financial struggles–that can’t be overcome with grit, determination, and willpower.”

We can add to that list “with mindfulness.” You can read the article at AlterNet.

March 19, 2014. “The Final Turn,” by Matthias Steingass at The Non-Buddhist. In this post, Matthias announces his abandonment of the raft. Lesson: x-buddhism, which admonishes you to abandon the raft! incapacitates your ability to abandon the raft. Engagement with non-buddhism, by contrast, facilitates the process.

Matthias refers the reader to Craig Hickman’s essay at noir realism “Global Resistence and the Collapse of Civilization: Berardi, Deleuze, and others, in which he asks (!) “When will we ever come to an end of questions and begin to build a new sense of purpose and meaning?” This question may be what’s driving the people who have created the Non-x Discussion Forum and the Non-x Wiki (see below). Hickman offers some words that can serve as both encouragement and caution to those sifting through the rubble of their collapsed x-buddhism for materials with which to create new constructions.

Again and again, networked social movements around the world have called for a new form of democracy, not necessarily identifying its procedures but exploring its principles in the practice of the movement. … These networked social movements are new forms of democratic movements, movements that are reconstructing the public sphere in the space of autonomy built around the interaction between local places and Internet networks, movements that are experimenting with assembly-based decision-making and reconstructing trust as a foundation for human interaction. …The legacy of networked social movements will have been to raise the possibility of re-learning how to live together. In real democracy. (Manuel Castells, Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social Movements in the Internet Age. Wiley. Kindle Edition, p. 245)

March 19, 2014. Non-x Wiki created by the founders of the Non-x Discussion Forum to house non-buddhist terminology.

March 18, 2014. A conference on “Buddhism and Social Justice” should produce interesting materials for the non-buddhist critic-constructor. What can we expect? Just x-buddhist business as usual: hawking the fantasy of dharmic plenitude?  Or might x-buddhist models of social justice offer real-world solutions for us, here and now? Who is interested in thinking through a non-buddhist theory of social justice?

These papers look promising:

“Buddhist notions of justice and modern concepts of Human Dignity” (Claudio Cicuzza)
“On the ‘gentle violence’ of a stable social order” (Steve Collins)
“Buddhism as Colonialism: Mining and Social Exploitation on the Commodity Frontier” (Johan Elverskog)
“Political Revolution and the Commoners’ Cause  in the Transmission of the Cakrasaṃvaratantra” (Chris Wilkinson)

Paper abstracts and further information can be found at the Buddhist and Social Justice site. Here’s the conference description.

Moving away from a common perception of Buddhism as intrinsically a tradition of peace and justice, our project—based at Leiden University—seeks to explore the various ways in which historically Buddhist societies have shaped, transmitted, and adapted Buddhist ideas and ideals about equality, fairness, and freedom. We are further interested in  how (if at all) such societies have instantiated these ideas and ideals.

The intent of the conference “Buddhism and Social Justice” is to gather scholars to discuss Classical and modern Buddhist notions of justice and their real world reflexes. We will be most centrally concerned with Buddhist visions—implicit or explicit—of ideal (just) societies and the role of human action, as these appear, for instance, in the realms of freedom and its constraints, social hierarchy and mobility, economic opportunity, and power and self-determination.

March 18, 2014. An interesting conversation about a lengthy Facebook discussion in which Master Tutteji was labeled a “troll” and banned is taking place at Tutteji’s site. This blasphemous “Dogen” quote sparked over 100 comments on the Soto Zen Buddhism FB page.

dogen

March 17, 2014. I launched Lines of Flight. Here’s the About page.

March 17, 2014. Two posts worth a look by Master Tutteji. My Argument with Soto Zen, or How I Learned to Fear the X, and a follow-up to that one, Update. Join the discussion.

March 16, 2014. Non-X Discussion Forum just launched. Here is the forum description:

This is a place for people who are inspired or intrigued by the work at Speculative Non-Buddhism, The Faithful Buddhist, The Non-Buddhist, Tutteji Wachtmeister, Der Unbuddhist or similar sites. The aim of the forum is to facilitate collective effort at understanding and wielding these ideas and exploring unmarked territory.

There are no rules as-yet; just keep in mind the things that gave life to SNB.

One project I will start in a few weeks is a group book discussion, starting with Alain Badiou’s Ethics. It’s a fairly accessible work that helps illuminate what Tom was up to at The Faithful Buddhist and gives direction to what we could be doing here.

I also think this could also be a place to facilitate in-person meetups, and if anyone has good ideas on how to make that happen, let me know. The current thought is just to add an area where people can list their cities and see if anyone else is around. It would be neat to get that working with a google map, though.

Apart from all that, make this place what you will. Let me know about any ideas you have for the site (changes of format, discussion sections to add) or if you have a project I can help with in some way (even not-Buddhist projects related to critical theory, marxist critique, queering capitalism, social satire, you-tell-me.)

March 13, 2014. John L. Murphy’s review of Cruel Theory | Sublime Practice at The Journal of Buddhist Ethics. It’s an intelligent, well-informed treatment of the book. Let it serve as a point-of-entry into the text.

March 12, 2014. Scott A. Mitchell posted a thoughtful essay on criticism.

_____________

Image: Xuequo Yang, “Long-past Civilization.” (Thanks, Ronan.)

Posted in Critics | 11 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!


CIRCLES OF THE SAME

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…

LINES OF FLIGHT

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!

Namandabu

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"]

Jayarava:
Tomek

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“)

Sources

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 »

non + x, Issue Nine

Posted by Glenn Wallis on January 26, 2014

dada ironIssue Nine of non + x is up. The contents are:

  1. Gone with the Wind of Tarot: John Starr Cooke and the Esoteric Tradition in the West, by Camelia Elias
  2. The Truth of Anatman, by Tom Pepper
  3. How to Xplode X-buddhism, by Matthias Steingass
  4. Thinking as Spiritual Practice, by Patrick Jennings
  5. Žižek v. Buddhism: Who’s the Subject?, by Adrian J. Ivakhiv

non + x will serve two purposes. Our main goal for the e-journal remains to foster original and creative non-buddhist-oriented critical writing. We will also use it to consolidate some of the writing that is happening in various venues, both web-based and otherwise.

We know a lot of you out there are thinking creatively about the contours of a decimated Buddhism. We’ve heard many innovative ideas. Some of you have submitted essays. Many exciting and vital lines of exploration have been discussed in comments on ours blogs. We’d like to encourage you to throw the dice. Take a chance. Stand atop the Katahdin of your thought and, like Thoreau, make “Contact!, Contact! Contact!”–and tell us about it. Or take Deleuze’s advice and create something currently incomprehensible. Remember, anything from a well-argued essay to a dada poem or a wordless photograph counts. The crucial point is that it contributes to our goal of “wresting vital potentialities of humans from the artificial forms and static norms that subjugate them,” as Marjorie Gracieuse puts it. That “wresting” is the hard part. That’s the part you’ll have to think hard about. If you’re unsure what that goal entails, exactly, please ask. Remember, too, while we were originally animated by the project of wresting potentialities exclusively from x-buddhist materials, we’re now interested in any and all contemporary cultural forms.

I came across this call for submissions from a spanking new journal, called Hostis: A Journal of Incivility. I will say more about this journal, and its theme of cruelty, shortly. By way of injecting some wordblood into your deliberations on submitting to non + x, consider this:

We are looking for submissions that defend cruelty. In addition to scholarly essays, we are looking for any original work suited to the printed page: directions to dérivés or other lived projects, maps, printed code, how-to instructions, photo-essays, détournements, experimental writing, directions to word-games, illustrations, or mixed-media art. To remain consistent with the journal’s point of view, we seek material whose tone is abrasive, mood is cataclysmic, style should is gritty, and voice is impersonal. (Hostis)

A kindred spirit, indeed!

Visit non + x.

Posted in Critics, Speculative Non-Buddhist | Tagged: | 10 Comments »

Non-buddhist blotter, anyone?

Posted by Glenn Wallis on January 15, 2014

acidOi, readers! I’m just going to accept comments that flow out of the critical work that is fostered on this and a few other blogs (links below). Dealing with general questions and uninformed criticism is just too fucking tedious, yo. Besides, we have now placed a veritable shit-load of texts, tools, concepts, acids, acid, and weapons of crass destruction at your disposal. It’s just a matter of your picking something up and getting on wif it.

Contrary to every single x-buddhist teacher whom I have known, read, or listened to, I actually still believe in the liberating potential of x-buddhist concepts. To unleash the force of the concepts, of course, you have to cancel their specifically x-buddhist warrant and find a way to re-commission them. Think of what you could do with re-calibrated primary classical-buddhist concepts such as requisite disappointment, flesh and blood humanity, ancestral anamnesis, vanishing, social symbolic identity, nihility, thinking, contingency, world, surface, perspicuity, unbinding-extinction (nibbida, bodhi, sati, anicca, anattā, suññtā, papañca, paticcasamuppāda, loka, sabba, paññā, nirvāṇa). Imagine the kinds of subjects and social formations that could emerge from a robust, comprehensive, and intelligent inculcation of such values.

Don’t expect x-buddhist teachers in the West to do much with these concepts, though. If I am sure of anything concerning x-buddhism, it is that its teachers have created a self-perpetuating network of safe, conventional, middle-managers. I recently witnessed a recursion of this time-tested pattern. The teacher in a Zen center that I keep my eye on “transmitted” to one of his students. He had two long-standing students to consider. One was a feisty, gutsy, super-intelligent, creative, unconventional, and out-spoken young women. The other was a plodding, fuddy-duddy of a middle-aged man. This dude is really nice. He’s really likeable. He’s a paragon of compassion and right-speech. But, my god, is he an uninspiring, rule-worshiping, lame-ass of a human being. (Don’t worry, he’s a sensei; he can handle it–right?.) So, guess who received “transmission”? Yep. Maybe what is being “transmitted” is, after all, the mind of milquetoast or the lifeblood of the anemic Patriarchs. Anyway, this is an ancient pattern in x-buddhism. It goes a long way toward accounting for the abysmal failure of x-buddhist teachers throughout history to unleash the force of their received thought. Indeed, our non-buddhist critical apparatus may make it difficult for you to avoid the sad conclusion that x-buddhist teachers, the heirs of “The Enlightened One,” simply perpetuate “a form of deep stupidity,” as Matthias Steingass put it in a recent comment.

But, then again, once you get to work for yourself, you’ll certainly make your own discoveries, and come to your own conclusions.

Patricia Ivan made a comment here that can be used to make some more points. Patricia was responding to Matthias Steingass’s comment, in part, that:

Glenn, you mentioned recently that you would like to change the discussion into something more like a workshop. I think that’s one way to go and we should think about how this this could be implemented. At least this would mean that people taking part would have to confront themselves with the material which is talked about. There are more problems to go in such a direction but personally I don’t think that this has to be discussed any more in the open. I mean, our ‘critics’ do not even see our own most weak points, our own very stupid actions. They are really not worth [letting] look at our own internal discussions. (#72)

Patricia Ivan:

Yes, a “workshop” where you train followers in using SNB tools is what you are really after, not a public conversation or debate about the tools themselves. That, in essence, is what some of are trying to say. Thank you for clarifying it. (#73)

Read in the context of Patricia’s other comments in that thread, the last line is ironic. Okay. My reply is right below, rather than in the comments section.

Yes, that’s it, Patricia. I don’t mind a conversation about the tools themselves, but it has to flow from the user’s effort to craft something in his/her workshop. (Actually, I think in the future I’ll use war metaphors. See “Sutras of Flesh and Blood.”) You can train yourself. Like IT people say of certain computer programs: the theory is “intuitive.” Its features really do a certain kind of work when applied, and its not too difficult to navigate the apparatus. Also, its easily transferable to domains of interest other than the ones we identify, including x-buddhism itself. Maybe you can use it to critique non-buddhism. But why bother? I would hope you’d use it to dig into the more important issues that you have addressed here and elsewhere, like power dynamics and abuse of  authority in x-buddhist circles.

One last point, the word “follower” only works up to a point. Obviously, by entering our arsenal, you are taking our lead. Quite early on, however, you will look back and find yourself completely and utterly on your own.

Maybe we can alleviate some of the loneliness by turning this blog into a forum for  nomads and exiles. I don’t know. Maybe. Probably not. I don’t know.

By way of trying to disabuse readers of the belief that critique is quixotic and even futile (how many times have I heard that accusation!), I’ll just throw out the claim that, no, it’s just the opposite. Critique is always the prelude to real-world change. Every new form of some x, buddhist or otherwise, began with a sufficiently sustained critique of x. Some critiques are explicit, such as, say, the Frankfurt School’s or Marx’s. Others are implicit, such as the Secular Buddhist Association’s or Dogen’s Soto Zen. (I guess we could come up with some explicit x-buddhist critiques of x-buddhism–Nagarjuna is an example–but they are, without a single exception that I am aware of, ultimately self-defeating; for x-buddhism in the hands of its x-buddhist critics, is, in some form or another, inevitably salvaged and preserved as x-buddhism. Why is that?)

I am offering a course this semester called “Topics in Theory: Ideological Critique of Contemplative Practices.” The basic idea is to read through Cruel Theory | Sublime Practice, collect concepts and ideas–in short, tools and weapons–that enable the students to critically tinker with/attack some material of their choosing. “Contemplative practice” is conceived very broadly. Students are looking at texts by, for instance, Jung, Emerson, Beckett, x-buddhist teachers, and western acupuncture figures. Another student will analyze the website presentation of the Mind and Life Institute. Another will look at a book on creative writing. One will look at mindfulness/MBSR material. This is just the starting point. a point that, really, is already in the midst of things; for, the one condition is that the student choose material that lies close to his/her heart.

I’ll share with you some texts that we read in class as a kind of rough outline for the critical work we’ll be doing in the class. The texts serve equally well for the non-buddhist-oriented work we’re encouraging you to do. The specifics can be found on our blogs, non + x articles, and book Cruel Theory | Sublime Practice: Toward a Revaluation of Buddhism.

This statement by Deleuze is a good starting point. Some of you might be offended by his imagery. Deleuze, I’m sure, wouldn’t give a shit. (Think: style and attitude as integral features of one’s critical apparatus. The Secular Buddhists’ dogma of right-speech is an example of a style. Bataille’s scatological rhetoric, etc.)

What got me by during that period was conceiving of the history of philosophy as a kind of ass-fuck, or what amounts to the same thing, [as] an immaculate conception. I imagined myself approaching an author from behind and giving him a child that would indeed be his but would nonetheless be monstrous.

So, please, go forth, dear Readers, and beget your very own monsters of sublime cruelty.

Here’s some shit you might want to bear in mind. Think of these concepts as bricks to use in constructing a critical image of your material. That reminds me:

A concept is a brick. It can be used to build a courthouse of reason. Or it can be thrown through the window. ― Brian Massumi, “Translator’s Foreword: Pleasures of Philosophy,” Deleuze and Guatarri, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. xii.

General concepts

[Critique] is not the promise of happiness, nor the promise of freedom. It is always immanent critique, the turning of thought back upon itself…This is the way that some of the so-called “social truth content” comes out of critique: It exposes the authority that concepts have over us. My suggestion is that one way to think about critique is in terms of looking for ways in our thinking to break the authority our thinking has over us. In that sense, there is nowhere to go outside of our own capacity to think. —Lydia Goehr

[The goal of critique] consists in wresting vital potentialities of humans from the artificial forms and static norms that subjugate them. —Marjorie Gracieuse

When someone asks ‘what’s the use of critique?’ the reply must be aggressive, since the question tries to be ironic and caustic. Critique does not serve the State or the Church, who have other concerns. It serves no established power. The use of critique is to sadden. A critique which saddens no one, that annoys no one, is not a critique. It is useful for harming stupidity, for turning stupidity into something shameful. Its only use is the exposure of all forms of baseness of thought. . . . Critique is at its most positive…as an enterprise of demystification. ―Gilles Deleuze (I replaced “philosophy” with “critique”)

Anyone who is close to him and enters into conversation with Socrates is liable to be drawn into an argument; and whatever subject you may start, you will continually be carried round and round by him, until at last you find that you have to give an account of your entire life; and when you are once entangled, he will not let you go until he has completely and thoroughly sifted you. —Plato

No one is more ridiculous than a [critic] who wants to be liked. —Friedrich Nietzsche

Critical theory at its most abstract and general level … begins as a formal ‘negativity.’ As a dissenting motif, it selects some tradition, ideological premise, or institutionalized orthodoxy for analysis. As immanent critique, it then ‘enters its object,’ so to speak, ‘boring from within.’ Provisionally accepting the methodological presuppositions, substantive premises, and truth-claims of orthodoxy as its own, immanent critique tests the postulates of orthodoxy by the latter’s own standards of proof and accuracy. Upon ‘entering’ the theory, orthodoxy’s premises and assertions are registered and certain strategic contradictions located. These contradictions are then developed according to their own logic, and at some point in this process of internal expansion, the one-sided proclamations of orthodoxy collapse as material instances and their contradictions are allowed to develop ‘naturally.’ —David L. Harvey

Destruktion/deconstruction. When tradition thus becomes master, it does so in such a way that what it “transmits” is made so inaccessible, proximally and for the most part, that it rather becomes concealed. Tradition takes what has come down to us and delivers it over to self-evidence; it blocks our access to those primordial “sources” from which the categories and concepts handed down to us have been in part quite genuinely drawn. Indeed it makes us forget that they have had such an origin, and makes us suppose that the necessity of going back to these sources is something which we need not even understand. —Martin Heidegger

Subjectivity. [In critiquing The Hunger Games,] I’m going to try to avoid the simplistic assessment of moral content, and discuss ideology in the sense I have defined the term before; specifically, what kinds of subjects do the readers of these books become by reading and enjoying them?  What is the function of the practice of reading The Hunger Games in the reproduction of the existing social formation? It is my argument that this novel serves to produce and reproduce a subject of late capitalism willing to consent to live in ignorance and delusion, happy to give up its right to live as a human subject in return for the mere fantasy of imaginary plenitude.  In the terms of the echoes of Roman Empire that run throughout the series: The Hunger Games trilogy serves to produce good slaves for the global empire of Capital. —Tom Pepper

Plenitude. In Lacanian terms, the resolution of the Oedipal complex depends upon entry into a Symbolic system.  The individual must move out of a more thorough immersion in the Imaginary and into the Symbolic system of the Other, into language.  The Imaginary, in the Lacanian sense, is the realm of bodily experience of and interaction with the world, the organization of our perceptions.  As the individual enters the Symbolic, there is a sense of loss, a sense that the language requires a level of abstraction causing us to lose some of our direct experience of the world.  This loss can generate the fantasy of “Imaginary plenitude,” the desire to return to this (never actually existing) state in which we had a direct, unconstructed, pure and “full” perception of the world, as well as the instant and effortless gratification of every wish through thought alone.  The entrance into a Symbolic order does require the acceptance of some loss, the loss of the possibilities of the nearly infinite other Symbolic structures we could have entered; in addition there is the necessary exclusion, the reality that no Symbolic system can ever fully include every possible experience of the world—a Symbolic system is always incomplete.  Accepting this loss, and entering the Symbolic system, requires containing the fantasy of Imaginary plenitude (often perceived as a female or maternal excess of threatening incoherent presence), usually with the help of the moral restrictions or code of the superego (often in the form of the forbidding law of the father).  When this works properly, we are interpellated into the ideology of our social system, and we become good subjects, working as we should, perpetuating the system that has created us. —Tom Pepper

Utopia.  Q. Why should students study utopian thought? A. Such thought requires that we, students and teachers alike, dare to ask what we mean when we use the concept “ideal”? What is it that is truly preferable? This a question and topic whose consideration enriches every current subject in modern sociology. The study of utopian thought uncovers hidden assumptions about possibilities about “human nature,” the workings of history, and the ability of humankind to craft a society and life that honors us all. It helps us better appreciate how long and hard humankind has wrestled with certain deep-reaching utopian questions of a sociological bent; e.g., how can a society provide fairly for all? How can we craft a society closer to our heart’s desire.

This work requires that we look unflinchingly at society’s dystopian aspects, both on-going and preventable possibilities…lest we be blindsided by horrific scenarios we might have avoided sharing. No amount of preventive and humanistic preparation is too much. It teaches what is necessary if we are to get there (“utopia”) from here; that is, if we are to artfully combine directed social change with valuable aspects of social stasis. Or, as Andre Gide said,”People cannot discover new lands unless they have the courage to lose sight of the shore.” — from “Utopian Thinking in Sociology: An Interview with Art Shostak”

Rhizome. Let us summarize the principal characteristics of a rhizome: unlike trees or their roots, the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature; it brings into play very different regimes of signs, and even nonsign states. The rhizome is reducible to neither the One or the multiple. It is not the One that becomes Two or even directly three, four, five etc. It is not a multiple derived from the one, or to which one is added (n+1). It is comprised not of units but of dimensions, or rather directions in motion. It has neither beginning nor end, but always a middle (milieu) from which it grows and which it overspills. It constitutes linear multiplicities with n dimensions having neither subject nor object, which can be laid out on a plane of consistency, and from which the one is always subtracted (n-1). When a multiplicity of this kind changes dimension, it necessarily changes in nature as well, undergoes a metamorphosis. Unlike a structure, which is defined by a set of points and positions, the rhizome is made only of lines; lines of segmentarity and stratification as its dimensions, and the line of flight or deterritorialization as the maximum dimension after which the multiplicity undergoes metamorphosis, changes in nature. These lines, or ligaments, should not be confused with lineages of the aborescent type, which are merely localizable linkages between points and positions…Unlike the graphic arts, drawing or photography, unlike tracings, the rhizome pertains to a map that must be produced, constructed, a map that is always detachable, connectable, reversible, modifiable,, and has multiple entrance ways and exits and its own lines of flight. (G. Deleuze and F. Guattari)


Some examples and texts:

Matthias Steingass

Tom Pepper

Tomek Idzik

Tutteji Wachtmeister

Patrick Jennings

Adam Miller

non + x

Posted in Critics, Speculative Non-Buddhist | 48 Comments »

 
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