Speculative Non-Buddhism

an arsenal for thought

Flinching

Posted by Glenn Wallis on August 26, 2011

Barry Magid is one of a handful of self-described Buddhist teachers whose work I unhesitantly recommend to others. I do so because of his clear-eyed assessment of, on one hand, the potential and limits of Buddhist practice and, on the other hand, the cunning machinations of us homo sapiens apes. As a result of the former, he courageously places Buddhism in dialogue with Kohutian psychoanalysis, invokes Wittgenstein on language, and solicits the views of contemporary poets and ancient skeptics alike. Because of the latter, he is able to perspicuously illuminate reflexive but unfruitful meditation strategies, such as the curative fantasy and the secret practice.

Barry Magid’s lucent, no-nonsense approach stems, I suspect, at least in part from his close association with Charlotte Beck, his teacher in the Ordinary Mind School of Soto Zen. (Magid received “dharma transmission” from Beck in 1999.) As Magid says of Beck in his recent memoriam to her:

It is not an overstatement to say that Joko Beck transformed the face of Zen in America, not in the least by making it the face of a woman. She was among the first generation of Westerners to inherit the dharma from their Japanese masters, at a time when a focus on the experience of kensho, or awakening, led to a dismissive attitude toward problems that were “merely” psychological… She put dealing with anger, anxiety, pride, and sexual exploitation of students into the center of what we must deal with in our practice. (“In Memoriam: Joko Beck;” in Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly, Fall, 2011.)

The singular and great contribution of the Ordinary Mind School—as exemplified by Beck, Magid, and Pat George in Philadelphia—to Buddhism is precisely their courageous, uncompromising insistence on bringing all of oneself into practice. This accomplishment may seem slight, given that much of Buddhist rhetoric claims to do just this (“don’t ride your donkey to look for your donkey,” etc.). But Beck saw in traditional Zen’s tendency to bulldoze, in glorious machismo, through, say, depression, anxiety, and doubt, a debilitating “emotional by-passing,” and instead “worked to restore a sense of emotional reality to a scene that had become increasingly plagued by scandal and misconduct by our allegedly enlightened role models.” (Ibid.)

In highlighting such features of Charlotte Beck’s teaching, Magid had an opportunity, in his “In Memoriam” Buddhadharma piece, to present an unambiguous and honest picture of her legacy.

He did so. And then something happened. A flinch. Who flinched—Magid or Beck?

In a sense it does not matter, for flinching is endemic to Buddhist discourse. Ultimately, it is Buddhism that flinches. So of course the living proxies for Buddhism will do so, too. In any case, that someone like Barry Magid or Charlotte Beck can do so is, in my eyes at least, irrefutable evidence that “Buddhism” is perilously close to being a eudaimonistic subterfuge. (Let’s take Magid at his word that the flinch I perceive stems from something that his teacher “never failed to emphasize.”)

The flinch that I am referring to occurs in this paragraph:

When students were preoccupied with transformation, she [Charlotte Beck] took what was in danger of becoming a toothless Zen cliché—being just this moment—and turned it into the challenge of having no hope—a radical acceptance of the totality of the present. Yet she never failed to emphasize that at the bottom of the well of self was deep joy. A lifetime of teaching about death and dying was summed up as “this too is joy.”

Something does not add up here. Being (cliché-free) “just this moment” + “having no hope” + “radical acceptance of the totality of the present,” does not = “deep joy.” It equals whatever happens to be the case. Maybe you’ll find joy—for a moment. Maybe you’ll discover life-sucking Angst. Neither Buddhism, meditation, Charlotte Beck, Barry Magid, Buddhadharma Magazine, nor “the Buddha” can legitimately provide the warrant for what the above formula will produce for any actual living entity.

Elsewhere, Magid himself invokes Wittgenstein’s dictum that philosophy should leave everything just as it found it. A more recent formulation of the idea that philosophy (for us, Buddhism) has no business providing the end sum of our existential calculus, is from Ray Brassier:

Philosophy would do well to desist from issuing any further injunctions about the need to re-establish the meaningfulness of existence, the purposefulness of life, or mend the shattered concord between man and nature. It should strive to be more than a sop to the pathetic twinge of human self-esteem. (Nihil Unbound)

What, if anything, should Buddhism “strive to be”? Magid beautifully expresses a reasonable candidate in the very terms of the calculus he provides. It might strive, namely to inculcate an attentional proclivity toward “just this moment” and the disposition of “having no hope” and “radical acceptance of the totality of the present.” It should not strive to be a pollyannish “sop” to the yearnings of our desiccated middle class for “real happiness” and ease in the midst of “stress” and the “overcoming of suffering” or anything else indexed by Buddhism’s/mindfulness’s endless inventory of affirmations.

Speculative non-Buddhism sees in Beck’s (Magid’s?) move a missed opportunity, and something more serious as well. Magid’s evocative language encourages the practitioner to put the powerful equation to the test. But he doesn’t leave it at that. Instead he, Beck, and all of Buddhism shore up the existential nullity (or indeterminate X) instigated by the equation with what amounts to an ideological sandbag: “deep joy.” The “bottom of the well” and the “deep” are not given in the equation. They are smuggled into to it by merchants of hope. They are instances of a transcendent, specular, all-seeing-from-above dharmic dream of what should be/we would like to be the case. They are not, by any means, necessarily what is.

The “deep joy” at the “bottom of the well of self” is a new, uniquely self-help-obsessed-American Zen cliché; one, moreover, that flashes the sharp teeth of all “spiritual” salesmen—and saleswomen. For it locks the practitioner into the endless pay loop of should-could-want-would-like-deep-joy.

As for me, I will commission Charlotte Beck’s postulate of have no hope, and see what happens.

________________

Links:
Barry Magid’s Ordinary Mind Zendo site.
Buddhadharma Magazine. Interestingly, although the excerpt that the magazine provides includes just two brief paragraphs, one of them is the “deep joy” paragraph. I read this selection as an attempt to assure the reader that while the article inconveniently juxtaposes the words “no” and “hope,” he/she should just go ahead, read on–there is hope after all!

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38 Responses to “Flinching”

  1. NellaLou said

    Appreciate your critical thinking on these topics in general and today this line struck me in particular.

    “They are smuggled into to it by merchants of hope.”

    Merchants being the operative word in many cases.

  2. What, if anything, should Buddhism “strive to be”? Magid beautifully expresses a reasonable candidate in the very terms of the calculus he provides. It should strive, namely to inculcate an attentional proclivity toward “just this moment” and the disposition of “having no hope” and “radical acceptance of the totality of the present.” It should not strive to be a pollyannish “sop” to the yearnings of our desiccated middle class for “real happiness” and ease in the midst of “stress” and the “overcoming of suffering” or anything else indexed by Buddhism’s/mindfulness’s endless inventory of affirmations.”

    Nice paragraph…I see ‘striving’ as self-conscious idealism that can only bind – double bind one into thinking there is something other than just this, to attain.

  3. Tom Pepper said

    I’m not sure I would say that Magid “flinched” here; that would suggest that he backed off from something, that he didn’t want to make the consequences of his ideas explicit. I think that this assertion of joy, this eudaemonic Buddhism, is always his ultimate concept. He has consistently presented the idea of anatman in a highly “palatable” way: non-self means, of course, that you have a self, just one that is always changing, growing, evolving, improving, and not stuck in the meaningless rut of your dull suburban life. He is perfectly right that too many people practice Zen (or any kind of Buddhism), to produce this sense of a superior self, and that many mistake very ordinary insights about themselves for visions of reality. As he has put it, they think they are “seeing reality directly . . . without acknowledging all the ways that unconscious processes and organizing principles continue to operate, both on a personal and cultural level” (Ending the Pursuit of Happiness, p. 17). This is true enough; unfortunately, he is unable to see his own attachment to a permanently developing self as the post-Romantic construction it is, so deeply ingrained in our personal and cultural unconscious that we cannot even see it. This is probably why he prefers Kohut’s self-psychology to the psychoanalysis of Freud or Lacan, who would want to strip away the beliefs and values to find, right where we expected to see the deepest core of the “self,” a gap in the symbolic order produced by social systems (of family, language, education, and all our other ideological formations).

    Sure, Magid claims he is radical, and that the acceptance of change is “painful” and “difficult,” that we must abandon our “secret practice” designed to make us content. But while he holds up a frightening image, he is handing out the promise of a better, happier, “joyful” self, only so long as “everything is the same as when we started”: just don’t go trying to actual change anything in the real world! As a teacher of British Romanticism, Magid’s books sound horribly familiar to me. All we can change (and all we need to change) is our mind–the common slogan of post-modernity, as it was of Wordsworth. Everyone likes to think he is being a real rebel while he improves his “self” and finds a state of bliss.

    I wonder if this board could be an opportunity to discuss this terrible collusion of psychology and Buddhism, this attempt to co-opt Buddhist thought and practice into the psychology industry’s effort to produce more “content” and placid citizens of late capitalism?

  4. I will give an example of how Zen work on difficult emotion has helped me. I just wrote a nice sized paragraph in response to your post. I tried to copy and paste it onto Word but it did not work. The then stupid WIFI system broke in to my system and took me off your site. I lost my post. I was very pissed for a few seconds and then it was over. The equanimity that can be obtained is quite incredible.

    As far as Joko Beck, I don’t know whether she was experiencing joy or she was talking about the possibility. I can say that my own work with being present with emotion is not fun, it is not joyous, in fact it is often the “pits”. Yet over time there is a remarkable transformation that is unexpected. For various reasons that would take a book to expound on, this degree of accomplishment is rare in Zen.

    In finality, I definitely agree with you that residing in the present is whatever it is, joy may be a possibility but suffering is much more likely in any given circumstance. In no instance can one assume that: being in the moment = joy. The only possible exception in the (theoretical?) state of enlightenment. I believe in the possibility of enlightenment, but am not sure if anyone has ever attained it. I believe that the Buddha is probably a fictional figure because his teachings were much to fundamentalist to come from someone who was enlightened.

  5. Jayarava said

    There’s a place and a time for hope. And a place and a time for abandoning it. No one teaching is appropriate to all people all the time. People can die for want of hope – abandoning it willingly speaks of a level of comfort and safety that many people around the world lack. Abandoning hope is the ultimate bourgeois statement of defiance, eh? “Fuck it, I don’t need *hope*, I’ve got everything I need right here!” Could this teaching have come from anywhere except the USA?

    There is this unfortunate tendency in humans to equate pleasure with happiness. But we take this motivation and channel it. Hence the goal is described as the greatest pleasure: mahāsukha, deep joy, etc. It’s only a metaphor. All teachers say things to motivate their students–it’s called upāya-kauśalya, yes? To motivate people we need to appeal primarily to emotions. Are you taking it literally and intellectually for rhetorical purposes?

    I love the way we make these dark references to people making their living from teaching meditation and Dharma. If someone would pay me to teach about what I love, I would jump at the chance. BTW I hope your book is selling well Glenn. ;-)

  6. Tom Pepper said

    Can I offer a response? It is surely true that abandoning hope can be the “ultimate bourgeois statement of defiance,” the excuse for those living in comfort to leave things as they are. On the other hand, the abandonment of belief in deep and transcendent meaning can be a very radical attitude prompting those who are less privileged to demand their fair share here and now. We need to be specific about what kind of “hope” is being abandoned.

    It seems to me that what Magid is offering is a kind of “hope” that is a much more American attitude than the masochistic reveling in despair more common to the European bourgeoisie: the belief that all our suffering comes from deep within, and we only need to adjust our attitude to find real joy. This is easy enough to believe in the vast American suburb, where the tv is always on, the suv always full of gas, and the fridge is always full. It’s harder to believe you only need to meditate to find joy if you’ve been evicted and can’t buy shoes for your kids.

    As for skillful means, well, that’s another matter. It is far too common, in my opinion, to claim skillful means as a justification for anything we desire. In the Pali canon, skillful means is more often a matter of the correct practice or attitude to reach enlightenment, or finding the right metaphor to make a concept clear to an audience; it is only later that it comes to mean deluding your audience to trick them into following your path. Skillful means should be a way of teaching the truth, not using delusion to “motivate.” The latter kind of skillful means is very much the production of ideologies, and the kind of thing a “non-buddhist” approach would want to step back from, and examine critically.

  7. Thank you, Tom. About your final comment, first: would you care to write a post, just to prime the pump in a way you see fit? I’d love that.It’s a great fit for this blog. I would frame it with my own–[clearing of the throat here] Speculative non-Buddhism’s–brief comment.

    Now, to your first comment. I do think that Beck/Magid back off from something–something, in fact, of presumed primary importance to the entire Buddhist project. What I am calling flinching is this tack of equivocating between praxis and dogma or theory. Really, its a recoiling from, an evasion of, a possible (theoretical) conclusion following from one’s own premises (about practice). I am arguing on this blog that when Buddhism’s postulates are decommissioned and its vibrato silenced, it, Buddhism, becomes unfit to take the significant place that it claims for itself at the table of knowledge. To my ears, you make this point implicitly when you employ your knowledge of British Romanticism to cast light on one of Magid’s rhetorical moves. When I perform some of these moves that I do (decommissioning, etc.), I see what can fairly be described as, on one hand, null value terms populating–indeed undergirding–Buddhist praxis discourse (sunyata, patticcasamuppada, anatta, etc.), and, on the other theoretical intrusions that effectively import foreign values into those terms. That move constitutes a flinch.

    Magid’s account of Beck’s teaching is a perfect instance of this move: 0 (being just this moment) + 0 (having no hope) + 0 (radical acceptance of the totality of the present) = ∞ (deep joy).

  8. Barry Magid said

    This is a fair and philosophically sound critique. As I have said elsewhere, Buddha might have said Life is Suffering and left it at that. Impermanence is inescapable and our practice is first and foremost a confrontation with our avoidance of this reality. But Zen is not just a matter of swallowing bad tasting medicine. The experience of long sitting also opens he door of joy- when we cease our protests against life as it is we experience the poignancy and joy that life emerges changes and departs. I don’t hold this out as a carrot or antidote or promise. But it is my (and Joko’s) first hand report from the front lines.

  9. Greetings, Jayarava. It’s always a pleasure to have you drop by.

    I see your response as an admission that Buddhism might just be a “sop to the pathetic twinge of human self-esteem” after all. As I write this, hurricane Irene is pummeling toward me. I hope it isn’t too destructive. But that “hope” is not the “hope” that the blog post and (I used to think, Beck/Magid) advocates abandoning. Buddhism hoists itself onto the platform of exigent knowledge. All of its terms are thereby hoisted along with it. “Abandoning hope” is, from the heights, not what you say; it is, rather, “know as clearly as possible your biological-existential contingency, and know, too, what conclusions may fairly be drawn from there.” May you hope that storms don’t obliterate your house? Of course! May you hope that you will escape unscathed the facts of contingency. No!

    Your second paragraph perfectly illustrates my contention that Buddhism deals in ideological subterfuge. And one of its most pernicious mechanisms is precisely upāya-kauśalya. So, allow me to expend on this theme (from my “Buddhist Manifesto” piece):

    “Skillful means, skillful means,” interjects my interlocutor. But this old saw was originally just a cleaver ploy of later Buddhists to say and do, in the name of the Lord, whatever they wanted. (In the oldest literature, the term that we routinely translate as “skillful means,” upāya-kauśalya, more commonly denoted “clever ploy,” as in Jataka 98.) Grab hold of skillful means, and sooner or later you will find yourself slipping slipping into the slope of anything goes—even prayer to God. God? Because we would not go to Him, He kindly came to us: as dharmakaya buddha, gohonzon, mandala, bodhisattvas, the precious guru, the loving lama, the lineage, the statue, the magic beads, and yes, even the bejeweled Buddha. None of our philosophers’ intricate philosophizing can undo the advent.

    As for your last paragraph, I don’t understand. It seems like there is a lively point for discussion in it, but I can’t quite tease it out. Would you mind expanding? Who, for instance, are “we” and what are “these dark references” and who are the “people making their living from teaching meditation and Dharma”? My books? The two Random House books sell well. The tantra book is too academic for popular consumption, but most university libraries own a copy. My new boo, the Pali reader, is slow out of the gate. But, I sense that you were asking an entirely different question–or, really, of course, making a point. Namely?

    Thanks, as always, for stopping by, Jayarava.

  10. Thank you for your comment, Barry. I appreciate it.

    I am sure you’ll agree that each of us has to submit our own first-hand report. It’s wonderful that some reports contain descriptions of deep joy. But I can’t submit a report based on what you or Charlotte Beck or the Buddha discovers on the front lines. That report would be untruthful. Why are some first-hand reports from the front lines universalized by tradition (and its present-day teachers) as necessarily desirable, as a special species of experiential truth-telling? And what effect does it have on students when teachers make such reports openly? What are teachers doing when they do so?

    Several additional implicit (rhetorical) questions animate my post: What is the relationship between meditation practice and any given conceptual framework we use to articulate that practice? To what extent does the framework disrupt the practice? Why use a framework at all—why not simply employ the practice, thereby radically minimizing conceptual infrastructure?

    My hunch is that the answers to every single one of these questions expose the institutional wiring through which courses Buddhism’s ideological juice.

    Acceptance of life’s realities for us biologically conditioned beings may, for many, be analogous to “swallowing bad tasting medicine.” But is it really Zen’s/Buddhism’s business to ameliorate our distaste? It may be meditation’s function to do so; but, for me, there is a world of difference between the two nouns. Meditation is organon and process; its outcome is fluctuating, individual, and, hence indeterminate. Zen/Buddhism is system and prescription; its outcome is predetermined by others’ first-hand reports (like a rumor).

    –Joyously submitted from the front lines of Glennwallisland. Guaranteed to be accurate as of—now. For who knows what tomorrow’s report might contain?

  11. Matthias Steingass said

    Well… I have to say a something, also regarding your other post “raw remarks…” Until I get the time to write it down this may suffice as a hint to the one and only authentic practice: http://buddhagoespop.jimdo.com/error-404/ – Sometimes reality makes the best comments.

    [NOTE to readers from GW: If Matthias's link takes you to an actual error page, try http://buddhagoespop.jimdo.com, then click "error 404."]

  12. Dosho said

    Glenn,

    Thanks for inviting me to view your piece on flinching here. Good work! I’m most struck in this post by the line, “Ultimately, it is Buddhism that flinches.”

    I’m reminded of the koan about the wind and flag – what moves? What flinches, us or Buddhism? So I think you’re pointing to something very important here.

    And although one cause of flinching is pandering to the audience by promising joy after all this just this business, another source imv, is our human proclivity for something else. That isn’t the enemy either. Just hope.

    Warm regards,

    Dosho

  13. Thank you for your comment, Dosho.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but, somewhat ironically perhaps, your comment helps me to further illuminate the point I am making in that it exemplifies the need for making that point.

    I think that the cause of flinching is the incorrigible refusal of the Buddhist teachers in our midst to let the practice of meditation—sitting in stillness and silence, coalescing with phenomenal reality—do its work, and instead laying before that sitting clichéd Zen/Buddhist “grooves of borrowed thought.”

    “Zen/Buddhism,” in my reading, means: a refusal to allow things to remain naked and alone, as they are. “Zen/Buddhism” means: a patronizing insistence on standing alongside of naked reality.

    I’d really like to hear your comment on the post titled “Buddhists of Oz?.”

    Thanks again for dropping by.

  14. Dosho said

    Glenn,

    “Standing alongside” is not the enemy either … but not really the point of Zen.

    “Buddhist teachers” are quite a diverse group so I’m reluctant to endorse anything that applies to all or even most, outside a heartbeat, etc. If your point is that we tend to use Buddhism to give people what we think they want or what will keep them engaged long enough to really practice and what we think will sell … I agree that happens more often then I think is healthy. I’ve also written about that.

    Buddhism, though, is not one thing or perspective.

    Peace

    Dosho

  15. Jayarava said

    Hi Glenn,

    Cheers, I find your blog stimulating, if somewhat mind boggling at times (having no education in Western philosophy).

    It seems I have not understood your use of the word ‘hope’. And that has lead me to admit that Buddhism “sop to the pathetic twinge of human self-esteem”. I’m not sure what this means either, or why what I wrote implies such an admission. It’s not a phrase I’d willingly put my name to. It has to be said that I am not awakened and subject to wrong views. Perhaps I cannot help but express them, even when I aim for the truth?

    Surely if you are using a word in a non-standard way, then it is up to you to note that, and say why? That would help prevent misunderstandings. Otherwise it’s kind of a trap isn’t it? Waiting to be sprung on the unwary.

    I studied chemistry. In 3rd form we learnt that atoms are like little balls that bounce around. Then the next year we learnt that this model was too simplistic, and that we should think of atoms as little solar systems with planetary electrons orbiting a solar nucleus. Then the next year another more sophisticated model, and so on for the next 8 years to the end of my B.Sc. The models being taught to us became increasingly sophisticated until we were discussing the implications of quantum mechanics for chemistry and calculating orbital energies.

    I was given a series of models for thinking about chemistry that were (more or less) appropriate to the level of chemistry I was practising, and the complexity of ideas and mathematics I could cope with. I don’t look back and think that my chemistry teachers had lied to me, or that they were dealing in “ideological subterfuge”. The same kinds of simplifications are used in teaching languages – we learn about the regularities before we learn that language is not always regular. A Pāli primer, for example, is not an exercise in subterfuge, it is a simplified introduction to a world of considerable complexity and ambiguity.

    So how is Buddhism any different? If we teach a beginner something simplified which encourages them to practice we can only be delighted when they come back saying “that can’t be right”. A good teacher then says, “you’re right” and gives them a more sophisticated model to work with. Just as I did not learn quantum mechanics in the 3rd form because it required a lot of integral calculus that I was not taught until my second year at university. I don’t see what the problem is. When you teach the declension of nouns in -a for the first time do you include the fact that there are Magadhan forms with a nominative singular in -e, or do you wait for the right moment, especially given that your students may never encounter one? Is that ideological subterfuge, or skilful means?

    I see the primary role of the Buddhist teacher as encountering people to practice. Imparting information is secondary. I may be atypical in this. No one approaches practice, at least initially, with pure motives. We want something from it. But practice is a leveller. It doesn’t really matter why you start because if you continue then you will be changed by it, and will see practice itself more clearly. Anyone who has practised for many years knows this. I know it. You probably know it too, yes?

    I’m looking at your “Buddhist Manifesto” extract and I’m just puzzled. I understand skilful means in the traditional sense of things taught to encourage people to practice. You have once again a more private definition it seems. I don’t dispute that Buddhists have from time to time abused their position. But aren’t you throwing the baby out with the bathwater? I’m asking myself “who is being got at in this manifesto?” BTW Are you suggesting that a Jātaka usage should determine a Nikāya usage? As an admittedly amateur philologist, I find that quite an unlikely scenario. More likely it just means that yet another pre-existing word or phrase was put under the Buddhist yoke and *changed it’s meaning* in the process. Like your definition of “hope”, eh?

    What you seem to be suggesting is that the things we Buddhists talk about are something other than models of varying sophistication; something more like an absolute truth. I see Buddhist discourse as primarily and overwhelming methodological. The most important thing is for students to practice and have their own experiences – instead of dining out on the experiences of literary figures or teachers. And though, as you know, I am personally critical of much Buddhist discourse I don’t much care what someone believes if they are practising and manifesting the values I uphold. In fact I know many really great people whose beliefs occupy the full spectrum of woo thinking. Including my mum who is a fundamentalist Christian missionary, but a fine person for all that.

    My last paragraph was related to your phrase “all “spiritual” salesmen—and saleswomen” and to a follow up comment by someone else. Given that you make your living at least in part from selling the Dharma in book form I thought that was an ironic phrase for you to use. Did you not? Personally I have no problem with people making a modest living from teaching the Dharma.

    I get the feeling that you are criticising something I’m not really in touch with – maybe it’s something about your milieu in the USA? But I don’t really get it. I have my own criticisms, but they are not the same ones.

    Best Wishes
    Jayarava

  16. [...] with this conundrum an email arrived pointing me to a delicious post by Glenn Wallis on “Flinching.”  As frightened as I am by the depth of Wallis’ erudition, I was compelled by his [...]

  17. mknick said

    I know I’m just another member of the dessicated middle class (actually my problem is water retention), but when I read a phrase like “sop to the pathetic twinge of human self-esteem” I don’t see anything I can associate with practice. In my humble experience, you can’t practice mindfulness very long without being mindful of the emotional connection we share with others. This is the basis of compassion, and compassion is the basis of real joy (I didn’t believe it either until I experienced it). One of the things to be mindful of and compassionate toward is that we are all pathetic beings with habitual reactions to our existential condition, like wanting to feel better about ourselves. Delusive reactions are what we work with in practice — no amount of philosophizing will ever change that, nor will condemning other people for their particular set of delusions.

  18. Greetings mknick. Thank you for visiting this blog, and for taking the trouble to comment. I sense passion and concern behind your words. That’s wonderful.

    I think you and I are in agreement about the most important matter here (human pathos). As you detected, though, there is a slanted difference, given a few moves that I perform on some of your words and assumptions–moves derived from Speculative non-Buddhism heuristics.

    Maybe start at the end, then work our way toward the beginning. Philosophizing–giving careful and concerned thought to our human existence–can, I think, change what is contained in your particular “that.” Look, for instance at the major terms you provide: delusion, delusive reactions, compassion, basis of compassion, real joy, mindful, mindfulness. When we perform certain acts on these terms, they became, as presented, unusable and even suspect. I mean acts that: deflate the terms’ display of self-importance, obviousness, necessary desirability, etc.; disrupt the complex network of postulation in which the terms are embedded (some version of “Buddhist teaching,” for instance); cancel the warrant on the terms’ claim to some sort of truthfulness, and so on. Seated now at the great table of knowledge, the terms must hold their own alongside of art, philosophy, literature, biology, psychology, and so on. In my own estimation, the terms, devoid of their dharmic support system, lose all specularity in such an exchange, and have but little to say. (I hear art and evolutionary biology, for instance, holding forth passionately on the absolute necessity and glorious fruits of “delusion.”)

    Performing such moves, the terms of your comment, furthermore, begin to look like moves in a game of someone else’s devising (“the grooves of borrowed thought”). In performing a Speculative non-Buddhism analysis, I am not taking issue with that apparent fact; I am just saying that the methodology casts these–and all other Buddhist/mindfulness utterances–in this light. “Borrowed thought” is what happens when a person reaches for Buddhism (mindfulness, etc.) as dispensation–as providing necessarily adequate explanatory terms. It is the opposite of Keats’s negative capability: “that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.”

    So, I can now say why I employed Ray Brassier’s phrase “sop to the pathetic twinge of human self-esteem.”

    Sop. When Buddhism (and its innumerable variations, hidden and overt) prophesies some sort of final redemption, such as “deep joy,” enlightenment, nirvana, stress relief, and so forth, it is acting like a sop in several senses of the term: it is whetting your appetite; it is drenching you in promises; it is luring, baiting, and bribing you; it is, as my friend James Friel puts it, assuring you that there will be a payoff for your troubles.
    Pathetic . It is deplorable, heartbreaking, lamentable that human beings are baited by sops. Why: because while the sops are empty, human existence, as is, sop-free, is full.
    Twinge. The spasm of wanting-too-much. The throb of this-is-not-enough.
    Human self esteem. We are homo sapiens apes who desire to be gods.

    Thanks again. I hope you’ll stay in touch.

  19. Tom Pepper said

    Mknick,

    This is the kind of response I can never quite understand. In other venues, I just give it up, but maybe in this kind of discussion you’ll be willing to respond to my serious puzzlement. Where does the terror of “philosophizing” come from, and how did it become associated with Buddhism? Surely Buddha did quite a bit of it, as did Nagarjuna, Vasubandhu, Candrakirti, etc. How has it come to be commonplace to say that Buddhism requires us to abandon attempts at thought?

    Surely we need to recognize the limits of our concepts, to engage the aporia, but unless we engage in philosophizing, we aren’t likely to have a clear sense of what those limits are. I can say that I believe (also because I have experienced it) that philosophizing can greatly reduce those delusive reactions. Unless we have a clear idea of what we are trying to do, meditations practice is just a waste of time. Let me quote Christopher Norris’s explanation of Badiou’s theory concerning the capacity of thought: “what accounts for the capacity of thought to transcend any current, however limited state of knowledge is the development of certain formal operations through which those limits show up symptomatically by acting as constraints on the quest for a more advanced, conceptually adequate mode of understanding.” This symptomatic constraint is the point at which we practice, but it helps if we have done the philosophizing to establish the “formal operations” first.

    Why the hostility to thought? If someone isn’t up to wrestling with Nagarjuna yet (or Badiou for that matter), there are always more basic conceptual “constraints” to begin with. We all have them, all the time.

    Perhaps it has something to do with the idea of “emotional connection with others”?Emotion is one of those terms that tends to conflate very different things; very often, it is a term used to cover those “thoughts” we are most strongly attached to, and don’t want to examine. What do you mean by “emotional connection”? Surely, compassion doesn’t require a strong emotional attachment?

    I really think it is also important to recognize the difference between attempting to remove a delusion and attacking the person who has it. It is never okay to just say “oh well, that’s her delusion, let her have it as long as it makes her happy.” Delusions always bring suffering to others, even if the deluded person is perfectly “happy.” Think, for example, of the delusions of those who thought that asbestos was a miracle substance; it made them rich and comfortable, and they didn’t even intend to harm others, but it is still a delusion that must be removed to help end suffering.

    In Gassho,

    Tom Pepper

  20. Jonah said

    ‘Unless we have a clear idea of what we are trying to do, meditations practice is just a waste of time.’

    Isn’t that sort of maybe the opposite of what Glenn is saying? And if I am wrong, which would be great, what exactly ARE we trying to do?
    But if you tell me, and then I do it, would that be any different than if I watched Jon Kabat-Zinn talk to some liberal arts college on Youtube and decided that being really happy all the time sounded super great and started counting my breaths every morning during my 2-hour commute to Trenton?

    Or is it possible to be goal-lessly curious? Would that be ideal, or pointless? If pointless, what is the right motivation for practice?

    wondering things,
    jonah

  21. Tom Pepper said

    Jonah,

    Good questions. I don’t know for sure if what I’m saying opposes what Glenn says. I don’t think it does (that is, I don’t think he is opposed to philosophical thought), but I may be wrong (he may have a different sense than I do about the result of philosophical thought).

    I think there is a big difference between what I mean by that admittedly ambiguous phrase “clear idea of what we are trying to do”, and what someone like Kabat-Zinn might mean by it. That is, in one sense, we can have a “clear idea” that we are trying to produce “bare attention” of the present moment–but this, to my way of thinking, is still a waste of time. For me, a “clear idea” would require much more thought about whether such a thing as “mindfulness” (in the way MBSR defines it) and what it would do if it were possible to achieve. When I talk about having a clear idea of what we are trying to do, I mean understanding the nature of the human subject and what effect various practices are likely to have, to the limits within which human thought is able to determine these things (so far). Kabat-Zinn’s postivist/empiricist epistemology and atomist theory of the subject is quite a distance from the limits of human thought so far.

    So practicing MBSR may, in fact, reduce your stress, but it is a waste of time if your goal is to progress toward enlightenment, and to help reduce suffering for all sentient beings. For a Buddhist, that is the motivation for practice–not reducing my stress so I can get through my day in the cubicle without developing an ulcer; this is a fine goal, too (nobody wants ulcers) but it isn’t the goal of Buddhist practice.

    To understand, clearly see, to comprehend–whatever metaphor you want to use–the true nature of human subjects and of reality, and of their relation to one another, is the first step in trying to end suffering. My understanding is that Buddhist practice needs to help us gain that understanding, and then help us attain, and maintain, the equanimity and perseverance to work for changes that will end suffering for all.

    If we give up on thought too early, and assume everything is unknowable, we are wasting our time. Roy Bhaskar has a wonderful expresion “TINA formations,” apparently a comment on the Thatcher government’s attitude that “There Is No Alternative”, so we settle for a bad compromise. If we cut off thought too quickly, we wind up with TINA formations, poor solutions to problems that could have been solved if we wanted to face their real causes (which, of course, England’s capitalist government in the 80s did not, any more than ours does now).

    It is my opinion that too many people stop and “meditate” at the point of reaching a very soluble “problem,” because they are unwilling to face the consequences of thinking it through. We need to learn to go all the way to the limits of thought, and not cut thinking off preemptively when it becomes uncomfortable.

    Yikes, another long, rambling post. I hope this clears up my position. If it doesn’t, feel free to ask for clarification and I’ll try again. As for Glenn’s position, I can’t say for sure that I’m not contradicting him, but I don’t think I am.

    Gassho,

    Tom

  22. Jonah said

    Thanks for the clarification, Tom. I didn’t exactly realize the Buddhist perspective you were coming from–I guess I haven’t been through enough of this blog’s backlog.

    A few posts back, Glenn said:
    ” “Borrowed thought” is what happens when a person reaches for Buddhism (mindfulness, etc.) as dispensation–as providing necessarily adequate explanatory terms. It is the opposite of Keats’s negative capability: “that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.” ”

    Also, in the main text:
    ” [Buddhism] should not strive to be a pollyannish “sop” to the yearnings of our desiccated middle class for “real happiness” and ease in the midst of “stress” and the “overcoming of suffering” or anything else indexed by Buddhism’s/mindfulness’s endless inventory of affirmations.”

    These seem to more or less gel with your definition understanding the nature of the human subject and what effect various practices are likely to have, to the limits within which human thought is able to determine these things (so far); where the tension arises, to me at least, is when you begin to talk about the goals of enlightenment and subsequently the end of suffering for e’rybody. It seems to me this is where you leave the realm of “being in uncertainties”, and enter similar terrain as, say, mindfulness–maybe a little more noble than preventing ulcers, but equally as, you know, twinge-sopping. And really, is the goal of ‘understanding the nature of the human subject’ that different from Magid’s purported “attachment to a permanently developing self?” Isn’t self knowledge a kind of self improvement? Regardless, all of the above involve hope, direction, intention, no?

    Then again, if the act of sitting down to practice is predicated on some kind of motivation (excepting those lucky people who instinctively cultivate boredom as part of their natural routine), is it possible to ‘have no hope, and see what happens’?

    Going in circles, I think. Sorry about the lack of clarity–I am struggling to reconcile, is all. Practicing my ‘negative capabilities’.

  23. Tom Pepper said

    First of all, yes, understanding the nature of the human subject is absolutely different from attachment to a permanently self. For one thing, the nature of the subject is that there is not permanent self, in fact no self at all except as an effect of a structure, and that self cannot develop. Understanding and self-improvement aren’t really the same.

    As for ending suffering, well, that may seem a bit “soppy,” I guess. A better way to put it would probably be to produce the conditions in which it is possible for all beings to stop suffering. This is, of course, completely different from the kind of contentment promised by mindfulness. It sort of like the difference between going to have a root canal and going out to dinner; one will end suffering, but the other is much more pleasant.

    And Kabat-Zinn may have hope, because his practice may actually succeed in preventing ulcers. As for my “self,” I don’t expect to end suffering for all beings in my lifetime. I do practice with that motivation, but if I needed hope I would already have given up.

    Gassho,
    Tom

  24. Greetings Jayarava. Thank you for your thoughtful and illuminating comment. I find the nature of on-line exchange difficult because, unlike in spoken exchange, I feel compelled to respond to virtually every single sentence before me. As a textual scholar yourself, I am sure you understand this compulsion. So, although it feels inadequate to me, I will respond to whatever strikes me as the gist of your words. (I put your opening sentence in quotation marks as reference points. I hope it doesn’t create a misrepresentation of your sense.) Someday, I hope we have a more thorough face to face dialogue.

    Jayarava: “It seems I have not understood your use of the word ‘hope’” etc.

    Glenn: I mean hope for some final redemption (nirvana, awakening, destruction of the defilements, abatement of wrong view, etc., etc., etc.). By ‘sop” I mean a holding out to practitioners of some payoff for their troubles (peace, ease, equanimity). Here’s how I put it to another commentator:

    Sop. When Buddhism (and its innumerable variations, hidden and overt) prophesies some sort of final redemption, such as “deep joy,” enlightenment, nirvana, stress relief, and so forth, it is acting like a sop in several senses of the term: it is whetting your appetite; it is drenching you in promises; it is luring, baiting, and bribing you; it is, as my friend James Friel puts it, assuring you that there will be a payoff for your troubles.
    Pathetic . It is deplorable, heartbreaking, lamentable that human beings are baited by sops. Why: because while the sops are empty, human existence, as is, sop-free, is full.
    Twinge. The spasm of wanting-too-much. The throb of this-is-not-enough.
    Human self esteem. We are homo sapiens apes who desire to be gods.

    Jayarava: “It has to be said that I am not awakened and subject to wrong views.”

    Glenn: This sort of statement is precisely what I mean by affective decision. I explain in detail in a paper I am working on, but in brief it can be summed up as a spontaneous, habituated—hyper-reflexive— reaching after Buddhist categories (awakening, wrong views) as necessarily adequate explanatory concepts.

    Jayarava: “Surely if you are using a word in a non-standard way, then it is up to you to note that, and say why?”

    Glenn: I thought that the context of the post, namely Magid’s memoriam to his teacher, provided the context for the usage of “hope” (Magid’s “deep joy” at the bottom of self, for example).

    Jayarava: “I studied chemistry…I don’t look back and think that my chemistry teachers had lied to me, or that they were dealing in ‘ideological subterfuge…’ The same kinds of simplifications are used in teaching languages – we learn about the regularities before we learn that language is not always regular. A Pāli primer, for example, is not an exercise in subterfuge, it is a simplified introduction to a world of considerable complexity and ambiguity. So how is Buddhism any different?”

    Glenn: Science builds into itself the disruption and alteration of even its most foundational theories. Language acquisition is necessarily step-wise. Neither, furthermore, requires the practitioner to subscribe to a worldview. Buddhism is different on many counts. Buddhism, for instance, even the most “secularized” and ‘atheistic,” functions as a religion. It seeks to form individuals in its own image. Buddhism decides what constitutes a “worthy,” noble,” awakened,” etc., individual. The individual encounters in Buddhism a pre-established model of human being. The Buddhist individual, moreover, can only be formed insofar as s/he participates in the person-forming institution of the sangha. It is, finally, within that sangha that the person learns to conform to the thoughts and actions prescribed therein. Participation is deemed adequate only to the extent that the participant exhibits signs that s/he reflexively subscribes to the groups dharmic worldview. Now, much of this process obtains to being trained as a scientist or a speaker of German. But the crucial difference is that neither science nor German requires you to form yourself in its image. Science and German are applied, limited, instances of human knowledge. Buddhism is a cosmic dispensation.

    By the way, a Pali primer can certainly be “an exercise in subterfuge” if it is framed by the dharmic dream as a means to exigent knowledge.

    Jayarava: “When you teach the declension of nouns in -a for the first time do you include the fact that there are Magadhan forms with a nominative singular in -e, or do you wait for the right moment, especially given that your students may never encounter one? Is that ideological subterfuge, or skilful means?”

    Glenn: It depends on how the knowledge is framed. I studied Sanskrit with a pandit in India who believed that Sanskrit constituted the one and only access to universal truths (as manifest, of course, in Vedic and Shaiva texts and oral teachings). So, yes, the teaching of declension can be ideological. “Skilful means” is an unusable term since it is a move in the Buddhist game only—it doesn’t belong to common discourse. Skillful teaching? Sure, if by that you mean effective.

    Jayarava: “I see the primary role of the Buddhist teacher as encountering people to practice. Imparting information is secondary. I may be atypical in this. No one approaches practice, at least initially, with pure motives. We want something from it. But practice is a leveller. It doesn’t really matter why you start because if you continue then you will be changed by it, and will see practice itself more clearly. Anyone who has practised for many years knows this. I know it. You probably know it too, yes?”

    Glenn: Yes, I agree that practice is the point. But practice what? And to what end? If I derive my answers to these question from Buddhism, than am I not merely asking the practitioner to subscribe to the same program that I do? I agree, too, that practice is a “leveler.” But what it levels, in my experience, is precisely “Buddhism,” and the belief in, the subscription to, the exigency of the dharmic inventory.

    Jayarava: “I’m looking at your “Buddhist Manifesto” extract and I’m just puzzled. I understand skilful means in the traditional sense of things taught to encourage people to practice. You have once again a more private definition it seems.”

    Glenn: My definition is not private. It’s just saying that if we dislodge the term from its ideological (traditional) moorings, it can mean all sorts of things, even the opposite of what Buddhists want it to mean. I give an alternative example of how we might view the term. It’s all quite public. I don’t care about Jatakas and Nikayas and all of that.

    Jayarava: “I’m asking myself “who is being got at in this manifesto?”

    Glenn: All Buddhists, everywhere and at all times. I would now formulate the answer as: all those who are beholden to buddhistic decision.

    Jayarava: “What you seem to be suggesting is that the things we Buddhists talk about are something other than models of varying sophistication; something more like an absolute truth.”

    Glenn: I do hold that what Buddhists talk about is “absolute truth.” A “Buddhist” is precisely that person for whom truth is to be found in the minute inventory of the dharmic dispensation—The Dharma is The Norm [from my article—don’t tell the editors): “the cosmic Ought machine establishing the Scale of the All, the physical and perceptual-conceptual cosmos, in relation to humans…The specular omen pontificator of samsaric contingency. Like God, Justice, Logos, Rta, The Dao, and so on, The Dharma (English: The Norm as buddhistic trinity of dispensation, truth, and cosmic structure) is the architect of the cosmic vault and the keeper of its inventory.” So, yes, I think Buddhists are merchants of an Absolute.

    Jayarava: “I see Buddhist discourse as primarily and overwhelming methodological. The most important thing is for students to practice and have their own experiences – instead of dining out on the experiences of literary figures or teachers.

    Glenn: I agree. So let’s not burden the practitioner with manipulative contrivances drawn from the dharmic font of affirmations.
    From Philip Levine’s poem, “The Simple Truth.”

    Some things
    you know all your life. They are so simple and
    true
    they must be said without elegance, meter and
    rhyme,
    they must be laid on the table beside the
    salt-shaker,
    the glass of water, the absence of light gathering
    in the shadows of picture frames, they must be
    naked and alone, they must stand for
    themselves.

    “Buddhism” is a term for “not letting things stand for themselves.”

    Jayarava: “And though, as you know, I am personally critical of much Buddhist discourse I don’t much care what someone believes if they are practising and manifesting the values I uphold. In fact I know many really great people whose beliefs occupy the full spectrum of woo thinking. Including my mum who is a fundamentalist Christian missionary, but a fine person for all that.”

    Glenn: To that, I say, beautiful. The more I see for myself what you mention here (about you mother, for example), the more I wade into the indeterminate, unformed, and unsecured sea of human contingency. (“Buddhism” is not to be found in the sea. The sea is none of Buddhism’s business.)

    Jayarava: “My last paragraph was related to your phrase “all “spiritual” salesmen—and saleswomen” and to a follow up comment by someone else. Given that you make your living at least in part from selling the Dharma in book form I thought that was an ironic phrase for you to use. Did you not? Personally I have no problem with people making a modest living from teaching the Dharma.”

    Glenn: Surely, it must be clear that I do not “sell the Dharma.” Neither do I teach “the Dharma.” I teach, it is true, with dharmic utterances in front of me and my students, in the form of texts and prescriptions for meditative practice and so on. We often think alongside of “the Dharma.” But we open up dharmic utterances and have a close look. (How else do you think I discovered the ideological impulse hidden in buddhistic discourse, or the invariability of buddhistic decision?) Some of my students (and believe me, I detest that word—any suggestions?) want to put some things back together, but it never comes out as anything a traditional Buddhist would recognize as “the Dharma.” My earlier books were an attempt to interpret Buddhist texts and teachings in a generous light. Now, my concern is critical engagement. Perhaps the best testament to my not-teaching-the-Dharma is the tension that my presence causes in an institute founded by committed Buddhists. I think such tension makes for a great educational environment. At the same time—and here’s the kicker—it makes for a poor indoctrinational one.

    Jayarava: “I get the feeling that you are criticising something I’m not really in touch with – maybe it’s something about your milieu in the USA? But I don’t really get it. I have my own criticisms, but they are not the same ones.

    Glenn: I think that my critique applies to every single Buddhist word, written and uttered, in books, blogs, dharma halls, private conversation, and beyond, throughout the world, throughout all of time and space without remainder. “Buddhism” is a world-conquering juggernaut from which nothing can escape. My critique examines that juggernaut, its trajectory and scope.

    Jayarava: Best Wishes

    Glenn: And to you, my friend.

  25. Robert said

    Hello Tom,

    I think I understand and appreciate the general points you make. I do have a question though. What is it about suburbs that makes it a haven from suffering? I have lived in the suburbs for a long time, and I have witnessed neighbours lose children and partners to devastating diseases, struggle with mental illness and so on. I am not trying to score a point in defense of suburban living, I raise this because suffering is a big piece of the puzzle that this blog will need to think about. I agree that whatever consolation or joy (if any) can be derived from the practice of meditation should never mask structural causes of suffering and lead to their acceptance. But are you suggesting that some types of suffering are somehow different or even more real? In speculative non-buddhism are old age, sickness and death in or out of scope?

    many thanks.

  26. Tom Pepper said

    That’s a good question. I think of the suburbs as not an actual escape from suffering, but as an attempt, which they certainly have been, to escape having to witness things like poverty, pollution, overcrowding, all the effects of the production of wealth that enables the suburbs to exist in the first place. I tend to use it as a metaphor for the attempt to make all suffering invisible, like the myth of Buddha’s childhood palace.

    And certainly there must be a distinction made between those kinds of suffering we can prevent and those we cannot. People will always get sick and die, not matter what kind of social formation we have. There will always be natural disasters and uncontrollable weather. They aren’t more “real,” but they are things we need to accept, and Buddhist practice can help reduce the suffering they cause (at least, it has in my experience). The really difficult part is NOT to accept as unavoidable those kinds of suffering we could actually prevent.

  27. Nick Coletta said

    Hi Glenn,

    I enjoy reading your blog and your salty approach as much as I am confused by much of your, as well as the commenters, references to philosophy, buddhism and poetry. You really have a knack for language precision- I imagine that is attributed to years of dedicated work and study.

    I think that I catch a decent glimpse of where your mind is with all of this, despite not being a longtime Buddhist practitioner (or much of a practitioner at all), and certainly not a teacher or scholar.

    I have two questions that I hope you could answer and I also imagine they might provide an interesting response. Something here seems to be bothering me and maybe you could clear it up:

    1. With all this of this bullshit (I really can’t think of a better word), why do you still remain dedicated or at least attached to Buddhism? What keeps you in the territory?

    2. You said:

    I think that the cause of flinching is the incorrigible refusal of the Buddhist teachers in our midst to let the practice of meditation—sitting in stillness and silence, coalescing with phenomenal reality—do its work, and instead laying before that sitting clichéd Zen/Buddhist “grooves of borrowed thought.”

    Then, would you consider yourself as some sort of “meditationist” ? What about the fact that meditation, just like Buddhism, is a prescribed practice that needs the same critical analysis and cleaning up of the same sort of bullshit ?

    Take care.

    Nick Coletta
    -one time visitor to the Won Institute in Glenside

  28. Hi Nick. Great questions. Toward an answer (though those questions are deceptively difficult):

    1. A couple of years ago, I was on the verge of doing just what you suggest. In my terms, I was going to unhitch my wagon from the Buddhist juggernaut. I looked into counseling psychology programs as well as creative writing ones. After giving it a lot of thought, though, I decided to spend a couple of years articulating and presenting my reasons for unhitching. That “explanation” is Speculative non-Buddhism. I have never, in thirty-some years of Buddhist involvement, uttered the phrase “I am a Buddhist.” Over the years, I have considered myself to be “doing Buddhist things,” like meditating, bowing, reciting mantras and liturgy, and so on. But now, I can’t even say that. Why–well, on to your next question.

    2. I no longer “practice meditation” for the reasons given on this blog–this business of removing what now seem to me to be coercive, ideological frameworks such as “The Dharma,” “Buddhism,” “mindfulness,” and so on. You yourself articulate my reasons for doing so; namely, “meditation, just like Buddhism, is a prescribed practice that needs the same critical analysis and cleaning up of the same sort of bullshit?” What is “meditation” minus the dharmic/mindfulness extravaganza that is made to accompany it? I am in the process of exploring that question. For now, I am working with the following hypothesis.

    Hypothesis:Sitting still and silent with attentional proclivity toward the tactile breath is, like sleep and hygiene, useful to me.

    No framework. No extra language or models. No paraphernalia.

    I am more interested in exploration than in conclusions. Really, it never ends, this exploration. One reason that I am suspicious of frameworks and prescribed language and models is precisely because they seem to say: “exploration already fulfilled; all that’s let for you to do is to sign up–subscribe!”

    I like this statement from Emerson:

    A man of genius or a work of love or beauty will not come to order, can’t be compounded by the best rules, but is always a new and incalculable result, like health. Don’t rattle your rules in our ears; we must behave as we can.

    Thanks again, Nick. I hope I answered what you asked. Let’s keep in touch.

  29. @ Jayarava & Glenn

    Concerning this exchange:

    Jayarava: “It has to be said that I am not awakened and subject to wrong views.”

    Glenn: This sort of statement is precisely what I mean by affective decision. I explain in detail in a paper I am working on, but in brief it can be summed up as a spontaneous, habituated—hyper-reflexive— reaching after Buddhist categories (awakening, wrong views) as necessarily adequate explanatory concepts.

    I too found the Jayarava’s statement odd. I certainly don’t think there is such a thing as an “enlightenment” which then guarantees only correct views. I understand the function superhero myths — but dislike them when they are put forth as reality.

    But I am not sure that is what Jayarava meant, nor am I sure Glenn agrees with me. You guys write challenging, wonderful essays — I was just wondering if I was close on any of this?

  30. Dear Sabio. I just read all of the posts at The Existentialist Buddhist Damn. You have been doing some heavy lifting on my behalf. I appreciate it doubly. First, that you’ve been–what’s the word? I don’t even know what to call it–sticking up for me? defending me? setting the record straight? talking sense to people who aren’t all that interested in actual discussion?–I don’t know, but thanks for that. Secondly, that you actually explain what I am saying, and in your own terms, as your own understanding. I stick by my principle of in spiritu ludi, yet know how serious play can be. You understand that; and I am grateful.

    I have completed a draft of a paper called "Speculative non-Buddhism," which explains more explicitly what I am up to. Two of my concepts (there are many more really) touch on your question above. One of them is “buddhemes.” It is a term that is meant to capture the sense of “phonemes” in linguistics. Here is my definition:

    Buddhemes. The iterative vocabulary that comprises virtually one hundred percent of buddhistic discourse. It is displayed on blogs, in magazines, in dharma talks, in canonical literature, in secondary books, in dialogue, and on Facebook pages. In reflexively speaking and writing in buddhemes, Buddhists effectively reduce reality to the descriptive terms provided by Buddhist discourse. Significantly though, buddhemic usage evades its own ostensible indexing of empty reality by simultaneously repopulating reality with, and on, its own terms. In the Speculative non-Buddhism heuristic, such reflexive usage appears as symptomatic of not only decision, but of ideological subscription. Buddhemic speech usurps the practitioner’s potential expression of his or her own lived process. Buddhemic utterance, like the employment of all borrowed language, is a sign of evasion, of taking comfort in the warm embrace of the thaumaturgic sangha. But it does so at the expense of the very purpose that that community is (ostensibly) meant to serve, namely, the combustion of representational delusion vis à vis empty reality.

    The second, related, term is “ventriloquism.”

    Ventriloquism. The Buddhist manifesting Buddhist representation via speech. An instance of the Buddhist as “the shape of the [dharmic] World.” Evidence of ventriloquism is the predictable iteration of buddhemes in everything from canonical literature to dharma talks and blog posts.

    Somewhat vague still, but getting clearer, I hope. My book digs in even further.

    Again, thanks a million for “representing” my thoughts at Seth’s blog; but, even more so, for expressing your own, perhaps, compatible, understanding.

  31. @ Glenn

    I am happy that my writing perhaps approximates some of your thought and intent. I must say, even to get through what you wrote above I had to use a dictionary. Mind you, I love foreign languages and even specialized languages — as long as, with all their needed effort, they offer me a portal to a land I enjoy exploring.

    Here are some examples of what I looked up while reading your response:

    (1) “in spiritu ludi”: Latin: “In the spirit of play”. I had to Google translate that one. I don’t know any English cognates for “ludi”. I am curious if we agree a bit about “play” — which I value deeply. If you care, see my short post: “Life is a Game

    (2) Iterative: a repetitive process which each time better approximates a solution. [I am familiar with this in Math/Computers. In linguistics it is used to discuss words with repeated sounds: pani-wani(Hindi: water), waku-waku(Japanese: excited). But I am not sure of your meaning. I am guessing your means "The technical, in-house vocabulary of Buddhism which are used over and over."]

    (3)buddhemic: (as in “buddhemic usage” and “buddhemic speech”]: not sure if this is the same as “buddhist usage” or if it is a neologism of buddhist + endemic.

    (4 & 5) “ostensivle indexity” – not sure // “empty reality” — not sure. But you used them in a sentence that I took to mean: They want to call reality “empty” but then they fill it full of fluffy comfort terms.

    (6) “thaumaturgic” — Performing miracles. Which made me smile thinking of your phrase: Thaumaturgic Sangha — Where a miracle seeking group of Buddhist seek comfort in their Asian religion with miracles of sorts while still comfortably feeling they are a step above theists. This reminded me of my post on a Zen Priest praying for a tree.

    So, what is the title of your new book? Who will publish it? Will it have a glossary? I’d be glad to help create one. Reading your prose is more like reading poetry — but at least I can actually get close to feeling what you may be saying which is more than I can say for many poems. Smile

  32. David Greenwood said

    I am wrestling with the tension between “radical acceptance of reality” versus “producing conditions in which it is possible for all beings to stop suffering.” Or should the first term be “recognizing” or “accurately perceiving” reality, in which case the tension disappears, but which implies that we, Buddhists and quasi-Buddhists and post-Buddhists should all be social activists. Does “reality” include sociopolitical realities? (he asked, holding his nose). Or does one need to reach some level of Buddhist-like understanding before daring to change the world, since it’s so easy to make things worse instead of better?

    Gassho,
    David

  33. Hi David. Great questions. I, of course, don’t know the answers. But if I may say something about how your questions look when placed before Speculative non-Buddhism heuristics:

    I ask, in the “Flinching” post, what, if anything, Buddhism might strive to be.That “might,” though, is programmatic–it’s my idea of a possibility–a possibility, moreover, based on the terms given by Barry Magid (the “calculus” of presence, “no hope,” “just this moment,” etc.). As it stands, Buddhism delivers endless injunctions about the world and what we should do about it (you refer to “Buddhist-like understanding,” for instance). From a Speculative non-Buddhism standpoint, Buddhism, and its present-day proxies, has no business doing so. “Buddhism,” I contend, offers no knowledge of the world. What it always and ever offers is its own representation of the world, of reality. Is it a representation worth considering? You can’t know this from within Buddhism. “Buddhists” names a person who is the shape of the Buddhist world. From within that world statements like “radical acceptance of reality” and “compassion” and “stopping suffering” have a certain given place. They are what I call “buddhemes.” In an article I am working on, I define buddhemes as: The iterative vocabulary, phrases, and sentences that comprise virtually one hundred percent of buddhistic discourse. In reflexively speaking and writing in buddhemes,..Buddhists effectively reduce reality to the descriptive terms provided by Buddhist discourse. Significantly though, buddhemic usage evades its own ostensible indexing of empty reality by simultaneously repopulating reality with, and on, its own terms. In the Speculative non-Buddhism heuristic, such reflexive usage appears as symptomatic of not only decision, but of ideological subscription. Buddhemic speech usurps the practitioner’s potential expression of his or her own lived process. Speculative non-Buddhism suspects that buddhemic utterance, like the employment of all borrowed language, is a sign of evasion, of taking comfort in the warm embrace of the thaumaturgic sangha.

    So, how do those terms you use look when cured of their symptoms? How does “reality” look when confronted with a minimalized ideological apparatus? Does, indeed, “reality,” emptied of buddhemic representation, include sociopolitical realities? Who decides “worse” and “better”? What’s your next step?

    Speculative non-Buddhism aims to clear a space for thinking Buddhism afresh. The problem, I am discovering, is that in the process of re-describing Buddhism, Buddhism becomes unrecognizable to itself and to its acolytes. But what matters more, Buddhism or life? What if the former fails to serve the latter?

    Peace and passion to you, David.

  34. David Greenwood said

    Isn’t all language–not just buddhemes (love the coinage)–borrowed? Me, poissonally, I haven’t invented hardly no language myself, at least, not lately. (My parents told me that as a toddler I referred to meat as “chawbowm.”) Isn’t any attempt to verbally convey reality at best a fragmentary, selective, approximate poor thing? To me, the question is whether buddhemes are useful. To what end? To further the values I hold dear. Some of which I acquired through, you should pardon the expression, Buddhist practice. Who decided them? I think of my brain as a sort of parliament, with batches of neurons, trapped in grooves to greatly varying degrees, subject to all the various nature/nurture influences of our non-dual world, and mysteriously generating a resultant response. So the world decided them, with my body/mind the vessel.

  35. Tomek said

    Glenn, after reading the description of The Dharma in your heuristic, where you say:

    “(…) The Dharma is the buddhistic hallucination of reality. In its decisional function, The Dharma is the transcendent-immanent operator that synthesizes the purely immanent dyad of spatiotemporal vicissitude (samsara) and contingency (paticcasamuppada). The hallucinatory quality results from the fact that The Dharma is a function of a purely idealized (transcendent) grammar that produces oracular statements infinitum about the finite world (immanence). The Dharma is the buddhistic gathering together (under the authority of The Dharma) of reality‘s posited (by The Dharma) splintered whole, which splintering is exhibited by the (dharmically indexed) world condition articulated (by The Dharma) as spatiotemporal vicissitude-contingency.”

    The following interesting fragment from Magid’s Ending the Pursuit of Happiness caught my eye:

    “Our realization of the Dharma can take place anywhere, at any time, within any form of life, because the Dharma—the basic fact of the impermanence of all things—is constantly manifesting itself everywhere and in everything that changes.” (p. 159)

    Those two fragments became even more interesting, when in Brassier’s Nihili Unbound I found the following words:

    “Correlationism insists that there can be no cognizable reality independently of our relation to reality; no phenomena without some transcendental operator – such as life or consciousness or Dasein [or Dharma?] – generating the conditions of manifestation through which phenomena manifest themselves. In the absence of this originary relation and these transcendental conditions of manifestation, nothing can be manifest, apprehended, thought, or known.” (p. 51)

    It seems that without intermixing the warrant of the Dharma in the first place, no manifestation of any phenomena, including “deep joy”, wouldn’t be possible. It’s becoming clearer how such “correlation” is needed “to re-establish the meaningfulness of existence, the purposefulness of life, or mend the shattered concord between man and nature.” Such intermixing, instead of being a good recipe to “end the pursuit”, seems to be just another inescapable desire – to realize the Dharma which “is constantly manifesting itself everywhere and in everything that changes.”

  36. Tomek (#35).

    It seems that without intermixing the warrant of the Dharma in the first place, no manifestation of any phenomena, including “deep joy”, wouldn’t be possible. It’s becoming clearer how such “correlation” is needed “to re-establish the meaningfulness of existence, the purposefulness of life, or mend the shattered concord between man and nature.” Such intermixing, instead of being a good recipe to “end the pursuit”, seems to be just another inescapable desire – to realize the Dharma which “is constantly manifesting itself everywhere and in everything that changes.”

    I think that’s a very astute observation. (I think you meant to say “no manifestation…would be possible,” right?) You mention “inescapable desire.” That alludes to a concept that I would like to see flow into contemporary x-buddhist discourse: dharmic desire. Two central x-buddhist tropes are, of course, that (1) desire is where all the trouble begins, and (2) The Dharma constitutes the necessary knowledge for “cooling” desire, and so forth. Really, though, “The Dharma” names a quite particular object of desire. The Dharma is not knowledge of the world; it is the longed-for object of desire that keeps the decisional juggernaut rumbling. Dharmic desire is the life blood of ex-buddhism. It populates the sangha-refuges, it animates the thaumaturgical ritus, it begets the entire spectacle that is x-buddhism.

  37. Tomek said

    The Dharma is not knowledge of the world; it is the longed-for object of desire that keeps the decisional juggernaut rumbling. Dharmic desire is the life blood of ex-buddhism. It populates the sangha-refuges, it animates the thaumaturgical ritus, it begets the entire spectacle that is x-buddhism.

    That’s right I meant “no manifestation…would be possible.”

    What you say brings me back to what you wrote elsewhere, namely to your ideological suspicion definition, which begins with the statement, that “Buddhism is nothing if not a vortex of participation and identity.” If Dharma doesn’t refer, as you say, to the knowledge of the world, then the often repeated constatation heard in x-buddhistic circles, that Buddhist teachings somehow work in the lives of its followers, should be understood as all those effects produced on the emotional and social (institutional) level rather then on the epistemic one. So even if “insight” is another central trope in Buddhism, when it’s seen through your prism, it’s not a practical method of achieving x-buddhistic realization, but turns out to be just a rhetorical element in the intricate dharmic construction propping up the ultimate object of desire, the Dharma. Further in the definition you write that: “Such features [prescribed practices (social, linguistic; devotional, contemplative, etc.)] describe not a contestable program of knowledge or skill acquisition, but rather an ideological system of indoctrination.”

    So in the first place your critique is not concerned so much with the “decisional” sphere as with the supreme knowledge claimed by x-buddhistic discourse; with the fact that Buddhism presents “itself as principal representer of exigent human knowledge,” when according to your way of thinking “Buddhism indexes an occlusion of the world.” (Nascent article p. 9) If you destabilize this purported knowledge, then the “decisional” aspect will be revealed, which in turn may lead the disenchanted, awoken dreamer to look for more realistic ways of being in the world.

  38. […] commentary surrounding it, I was struck by the controversy that bubbled up in 2011, beginning with Glenn Wallis’ criticism of you and Joko […]

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