Speculative Non-Buddhism

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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

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26 Responses to “The Fetish of the Present Moment”

  1. rkpayne said

    Dear Glenn, Thank you for noting the implausibility of acting responsibly on the basis of a philosophical pseudo-problem—”only the present moment exists!” The consequences of mindfulness practice understood in this John Kabat-Zinnish way is revealed by the trivially self-promoting and ill-informed article by Dan Hurley “Breathing In vs. Spacing Out” (New York Times Magazine: Jan 14, 2014; http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/19/magazine/breathing-in-vs-spacing-out.html). In both cases there seems to be a confusion of method and goal. While it is good to stop, watch your breath or whatever in the present moment, that is not the goal. If it were everyone who had been lobotomized would be a Buddha. It is no doubt easier to go with the flow of popular religious culture’s Romantic preconceptions of the purity of mind in its natural state (which means what? before thought?), than to actually think about the significance of such claims. As I heard a film critic say recently, “It is hard work to think. It is absolutely excruciating to have to think twice.” So instead we get: “Take my advice. Don’t think. And especially, don’t think about whether my advice is good.”
    best, Richard

  2. poepsa said

    So, I’m confused: how does Eido write “Here, Master Dogen wants to emphasize that the present moment is instantaneous, cut off from the past and the future” and then quote David Bohm: “Rather the moment now is the essence, because all the past and the future that we will ever know are in this moment. The past and the future are now, in so far as it has left any impression, whatever has happened is now. And our expectations are now. Thus we could say that now is the starting point.” It seems though Bohm is hyper-valorizing the “present,” he sees it containing all time which seems different from Eido saying the present is instantaneous. Bohm even points to whatever happened is now because it has left impression….

    Also interesting to see a zen teacher denigrate the ‘religion of science’ for articulating what I’ve always thought a central concept of ‘the buddha’ (contingency/causality).

  3. NellaLou said

    This fetish of the present reminds me of Xeno’s paradox. All the Buddhist marathoners never reaching the “finish line” (letting loose the raft, etc metaphors).

    The Bodhisattva perspective encapsulates this very well, with one version including, “Not until the hells are emptied will I become a Buddha; not until all beings are saved will I certify to Bodhi.

    Rather like the excessively mannered individuals trying to enter a doorway.

    “You go first, please.”

    “No you go first, I insist”

    “Oh no, really you must go first”

    & so on.

    One is forever caught then in the paradox.

    Regarding time, I’m somewhat taken with the “vertical time” idea, which has been articulated in the Brahmajala Sutra (as one of the 62 wrong or speculative views). Time being a construction, past, present and future co-occurring in consciousness (memory, projection, etc) due to senses, etc.

    Beliefs about time vary between cultures so drastically it renders the fetishization of any one perspective a somewhat ridiculous exercise. This was the primary point made in the Brahmajala Sutra.

  4. wtpepper said

    Of course this is not just x-buddhist dogma, but essential to hegemonic capitalist ideology. As Althusser says in Reading Capital, “for each mode of production, there is a peculiar time and history,” and the ideology of temporality that dominates capitalist is the “eternal present.” Clearly, this temporal experience would be worse than useless in, for instance, a primarily agrarian economy, right? But when every hour of “time” has a fixed exchange value, each moment is part of the same eternal present. Of course, in reality, there is still change occurring, real historical difference—the capitalist continues to accumulate dead labor power in machinery and money, to increase dominance over the individual who cannot even conceive of change or any action that might produce a different next “present moment.” The point is to make the real temporality of increased capitalist accumulation invisible to most participants–history is over, and the present goes on for ever.

    Fredric Jameson, in an essay called “The End of Temporality” published about a decade ago, discusses this: “the historical tendency of late capitalism—what we have called the reduction to the present and the reduction to the body—is in any case unrealizable: human beings cannot revert to the immediacy of the animal kingdom (assuming indeed the animals themselves enjoy such phenomenological immediacy). There is a resistance to this pressure…”

    This eternal present is both undesirable and impossible, and so calls up these social practices to keep at bay the threat of thought about change and causation, and to pathologize the human desire for real agency and liberation.

    Kabat-Zinn’s is probably the most extensive such ideological project. And the impossible contradictions are clear enough, if one has the patience to wade through his nauseating hundreds of pages of vague, confused, cliched and empty metaphors about waves and stars and flowers etc. He insists that the capacity for mindfulness is universal, but then devotes considerable attention to explaining who is “not yet ready for the timeless” (apparently, one must be already properly interpellated to engage in this practice—one must be prepared to “trust the present moment, accept whatever we feel or think or see in this moment…let go into the full texture of now,” accepting the illusion of positivist fullness of the present, denying the existence of aporia, lack, or dialectics, embracing, in short, the fantasy of imaginary plenitude). Then, we should “observe the choices we make and their consequences,” but we must never “judge” the choices or consequences as in any way bad—this “eddy of dissatisfation” is proof that we are thinking and not “in the moment,” we should recognize and experience and understand and remember, but somehow do all this without any thought, in the “original mind, free from all concepts.” The mind-numbing sheer volume of mixed metaphors and poor writing in Coming to Our Sense is no doubt meant to stand in for the actual presence of a charismatic leader and enthusiastic group—because this ideology of temporality is, in fact, at least partially realizable so long as there is a social practice in which to realize it. Anyone who can suffer through such a book is likely rendered temporarily incapable of real thought, reduced the level of an animal, and so able to stay a little longer in the illusion of the “eternal present” of capitalist temporality.

    Now, of course, such “staying in the present” is done under coercion by prisoners, addicts and mental patients, and just yesterday I met someone who said her job is to do this in all the classes in an elementary school—spending two half-hours a week in each classroom forcing children to be “mindful” to improve their classroom behavior and academic performance. Perhaps this is a good sign, though—when so many people have to be “forced” to pretend to believe in an ideology, one can assume it is not a very effective ideology at all.

  5. Excellent scuttling ,Glenn.
    Is the “science” of meditation in your sights? Somehow, I don’t think so. Anyway we all know, “Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”.

  6. Excellent critique — thanx. I never liked that phrase and you give good reasons for my intuitions.

  7. Patrick jennings said

    Re 4#

    Jameson makes a very perceptive link between post decolonization and the existentialist reduction to ‘the sense of a unique subjectivity and a unique existence in the present.’ He describes this as a ‘relatively positive’ development so long as we identify it with what he calls’ the explosion of the experience of unparallelled otherness’ in the form of the exercise of collective agency of hundreds of millions of formally invisible beings, by means of the worldwide anti-colonial struggle.

    It is the explosive fact of decolonization that now sweeps these comfortable categories away and confronts me with an immense multitude of others, which I am called upon to recognize as equals or as freedoms. But in our present context the point to be made has to do with the impact of this recognition on the experience of the bourgeois self for it is the proliferation of all these innumerable others that renders vain and inconsequential my own experience of some essence I might be, some unique life or destiny that I might claim as a privilege (or indeed as a form of spiritual or existential private property). The stripping away of that form of temporality ,the security of the ego or the unique personal self—is comparable to the stripping away of universals in a nominalist age; it leaves me alone with my unique present, with a present of time that is anonymous and no longer belongs to any identifiable biographical self or private destiny. It is surely this demographic plebeianization of my subjectivity that is the achievement of existentialism and that is prolonged into the poststructuralist campaign against the so-called centered subject, a progressive direction as long as the reduction to the present is conceived in this essentially political way and not translated back into interesting new forms of subjectivity as such.

    As Jameson says this is exactly the post-modernist move:

    …where the reformulation of depersonalization in terms of time (along with the failure of the worldwide revolutionary movement) leads to renewed privatization.

    Jameson makes a connection here that bears directly on the x-buddhist ‘fetish of the present moment’. This essay is full of such insights into the way such ‘privatizations’ are made possible by concrete realities; the other two important one’s being the dominance of finance capital and stock exchange speculations over an experience of temporality conditioned on old style production, and the explosion in the use of communicative technologies, both of which make of the past and future inconsequential backdrops to the ‘eternal now’ of that other great capitalist fetish—money, money, money.

    X-buddhists will never make such connections as long as they remain within a form of self-sufficient thought, or what amounts to the same thing, no thought at all.

  8. Soren said

    Hello Glenn and other enthusiasts,

    I was wondering if you would consider getting a life or at least taking me off of the listserv.

    You hate the very thing you have learned so much from. Your American and you’re proud. Yeah yeah yeah we get it.

    Good luck with the shit show.

    Asshole.

    Soren

  9. Wow, too much meditation for Soren — way too in touch with the present moment!

  10. Soren (#8). Coming from a follower of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, I’d say your comment shows you’re making progress. Really. We refer to Master Hanh as Think Not Hanh (here’s a book I bet your sangha hasn’t told you about). But your comment shows a remarkable capacity for original thought.

    I see you are a leader of WAKE UP PHILLY! Young Buddhists and non-Buddhists for a Healthy and Compassionate Society. I’m in the area, too. Who knows–maybe we’ll cross paths on our respective journeys–compassionate (yours) and shit showy (mine).

    About removing you from the listserv, you do that on your end.

    In meta, gash, and namnasty.

    swimoutfree (#5).

    Is the “science” of meditation in your sights? Somehow, I don’t think so. Anyway we all know, “Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”.

    Meditation and practice more generally are major topics in our critical work. The topic has been scuttled in way too many posts and comments here and elsewhere to summarize for you. You’ll have to do that work yourself. Let me know how it goes.

  11. Sabio (#9). As a fervent anti-right-speechist, I am always thrilled when dharmically repressed x-buddhists let loose with some dirty. Of course, they tend to quickly reestablish their mindfulness, and retract their dirty in the form of some sort of display of compassion. After all, the superiority of the Dharmic Brethren must be reasserted, even if passive-aggressively.

    I like Soren’s spit and huff. I hope he won’t have it mindfully lobotomized out of him. Hopefully, we’ll hear from him in the future.

  12. Well put, Glenn, I hope the catharsis frees the wild, stary eye pre-buddhist Soren to wreck havoc on his happiness castle.

  13. Glenn (10) I’m sure you’ve scuttled meditation (scuttling is truly your gift) but how can you be taken seriously if, as you say, you teach meditation that is “rooted in tradition”, that’s a quote from the Who catalog, which also states that a “contemplative professional is an efficient professional” and that meditation is amenable to a corporate setting.
    It seems hypocritical.

  14. swimoutfree (#13). Now you sound lazy. Dig deeper.

  15. Glenn # 10 ..regarding Soren as a prototype reaction, Yes, there is nothing quite as vindictive and vicious as x- buddhists whose buttons are pushed when it comes to their precious project, i.e. “themselves” and their ‘enlightenment’. All those years of self-absorbtion, and working so hard to stay ” in the moment’ and all their ‘tonglen’ practice out the door in a flash of personal nasty attacks against anyone that questions their lifelong project of obtaining ‘pure consciousness’ and being in the moment. It’s only the ‘tip of the cognitive dissonance’ they can’t bear when their precious constructs and life’s work are challenged and insight into exactly how much ‘peace’ is being cultivated .

    The “present moment” myth is part of the continued ‘dumbing down’ of the west, so that we don’t notice the world around us, don’t pay attention to history and how it repeats itself, or ‘see’ the social economic political conditions that are creating mass austerity to return us to more feudal times. Corporatism and creditism LOVES Buddhism as the new world religion. They learned so much by ‘outsourcing’ in Asia.

    This is a purposeful social conditioning of the west to incur ‘quietism’ among the masses so we can become more like India and Old Tibet, where massive poverty was ignored and a caste system thrived and whole populations were ‘enthralled’, their ‘gaze turned inward’ in pursuing their ‘future enlightenment’ and accepting their ‘karma’ at the real cost of both their present and their ‘future’ , thus ensuring mass conformity and creating indifferent populations that have been at the mercy of corruption and kleptocracies for centuries. We, in the west , are already well on our way as these concepts have permeated our culture now and not ‘accidentally’. Corporatism and Creditism learned so much when outsourcing in Asia about how to create ‘quietism’ with no bloodshed.

    One could trace the trajectory since the early 70′s when western generations starting pursuing the ‘present moment’ through Hindu/Buddhist paradigms, and gave up on social and economic change and a willingness to tolerate more and more corruption and suffering all around them and ‘doing nothing about it’ since it is “all an illusion” . Don’t forget the
    ‘it’s all an illusion’ part of the passive nihilist paradigm, when mass Buddhist concepts take over a society and the populations become ‘bystanders’ to their own fate, imprisoned in the trance of the present moment.

  16. @ Chris Chandler,
    I must say, that I have met similar ironic vehement among many progressive, liberal Christians who claim loudly that their religion is all about love and forgiveness. So I wonder if it is actually any practice that does this, but instead neither practice do anything for the folks who like to fantasize moral, emotional superiority. Who to run to that faster and with a more desperate clinging identity than those who hope for so much better than what they are stuck with.

    Maybe it just confirms that self-righteous religiosity is found everywhere among x-buddhists, non-buddhists (speculative or otherwise), christians of all flavors and atheists too.

    Maybe it is not the short-coming of mindfulness rhetoric per se.

  17. Daniel said

    Great article Glenn. Dogen’s Genjokoan seems to me one of his more coherent works, maybe because it is one of his earlier writings, a work done prior to his ascent into the non-thinking clouds . As Dogen continues in his writings, he seems to further spin off into this weird religious OCD where all logic is thrown out the window. I imagine this dude manically writing, smokin’ some serious zen crack i.e. perseverating on his own enlightenment, writing multiple meanings,connections, and layers ad nauseum to the point of incoherence, ritualizing everything etc. etc. He thinks he’s showing off his dharmic fancy footwork, “floatin like a butterfly and stingin’ like a bee” However in reality, he’s just being a crackhead, a “schizotypal metamagical” nonthinker.

    For more on schizotypal metamagical thinking I recommend checking out Dr. Robert Sapolsky’s lecture on religiosity. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WwAQqWUkpI It’s a long lecture but well worth a look see.

    Regarding the firewood/ ash paragraph, I think Dogen is trying to show both sides of HIS nondual reality: The equation goes something like this:
    (conditioned, time-bound, before-and-after, existent, relative) + (unconditioned, timeless, present-moment, sunyata, absolute ) = enlightenment,dharmata, suchness, thusness, dharma position

    Students are seen as being stuck in the 1st part of the equation, the relative. The solution is sunyata via more mindful, present-moment living. The practice of emptying oneself of all thinking,judgements,emotions, direct experience, etc. and just being present.

    Glenn, do you know of any basis for this “present-moment” fixation that can be traced back to the buddha’s earlier teaching?for example sunyata? Obviously critical thinking and some emotional intelligence would help to balance some of the blatant anti-intellectualism and emotional repression we see today in x-buddism? Any other solutions? Specifically, I’m curious how you manage to teach meditation without all the transcendent hoopla? without all the cliche phrases? I imagine it must be a little tricky not to suggest/alter the experience to those being instructed.

    with fiery palms and piquant feet pressed together,
    Daniel

  18. Glenn (14) Ouch! Unfortunately guilty as charged. (Did you hear about the jurisprudence fetishist? He gets off on technicality.)
    It’s said that which is painful instructs so maybe I should thank you.
    I have been digging on the site, per your suggestion, and have much found much food for thought (a veritable feast).
    If x-buddhist really believe their trope regarding, ” hindrances as being vehicles to greater clarity”, you would think they would welcome criticism and investigate the discomfort that comes up for them.
    You ended one of your comments to a secular buddhist with, “Metta my ass”. That is a great line.. It has the potential for a very funny skit. Someone said a book of philosophy could be written entirely in jokes. I’d like that.
    ” The Power Of Negative Thinking” helped me to verbalize some vague feelings of unease that came up whenever I would visit some x-buddhist site and the tools of analysis you provided are helpful to this non-philosopher.
    Thanks. Adios amigo and ” Metta My Ass”

  19. Daniel said

    Like swimoutfree, I’ve been reading more of this blog. It seems many people posting on this blog are ex-buddhists, and like myself, have questions regarding if there is any value left in the x-buddhist paradigm. It’s been about 3 years since I set foot in a zendo, however I still question what value, if any, zen ever had in my life. I still wonder if there is something useful left in x-buddhism after it has been “decimated”? BTW, I don’t intend to demean the real work presented on this blog with my weird wackiness. I’ll leave the clowning around to Glū ten-Shin. Anyway, these are questions that still come up for me, and could not really be asked when I practiced within x-buddhist sanghas. X-buddhists really DO NOT like critical questions, nor do they like clowning around.

    Glenn you wrote:

    “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.”

    I agree with the above unfortunate consequences that result from so much focus on present- moment practice. I have experienced some of those consequences firsthand. Yet, I still wonder if there is a way to arrive at a different result without destroying all of what x-buddhism has to offer. For example,is there any value in awareness/mindfulness practices? Any value in meditation at all? What is meditation without all the suggestive teachings? without all the transcendent hoopla? Can awareness practices be balanced with other practices such as critical thinking?(BTW, good article by Patrick in non+x about critical thinking as practice.)

    My previous Dogen equation isn’t quite convoluted enough, actually he’s supposedly using Tozan’s silly five ranks throughout Genjokoan and the Shobogenzo. I wonder if the Mayahana and Vajrayana adherents have warped buddha’s original teachings(ex: Satipatthana Sutta) into something that can’t be saved by adding schemata such as Tozan’s five ranks? Also, It seems by equating the present-moment with anatta and sunyata, they give the present-moment a zero value, thus making it timeless and equivalent with the timelessness of the absolute, mystical empty truth. Somehow this making of the present-moment into a special transcendent refuge evolved out of buddha’s original teachings. Years ago, I practiced with a Soto teacher who tried to remove this transcendence from the practice,and from meditation. It was kind of refreshing.

    Glenn, actually, the reason I asked how you go about giving meditation instruction is because, for a year or so, I organized a non-affiliated sitting group. I found it very difficult not to give beginners some kind of generic schpeel about mindfulness, body awareness, or”just sitting”. I ended up getting fed up with the after-meditation “spiritual” discussions and sanctimonious pretentiousness of some of the participants. It ended up with me just leaving the group in the hands of a Thich Nhat Hanh admirer. How exasperating that was!

    Keepin’ it real,
    Daniel

  20. Hi Daniel, #19

    Re your question:

    Is there any value in awareness/mindfulness practices? Any value in meditation at all? What is meditation without all the suggestive teachings? without all the transcendent hoopla? Can awareness practices be balanced with other practices such as critical thinking?

    We have some thinking going on at The Non-Buddhist in the thread commencing from Tsongkhapa: In Praise of Relativity; The Essence of Eloquence.

  21. Daniel said

    Hey Matthias
    Thanks, I’ll check it out.

  22. Further thoughts on the ‘fetish of the present’ and how Corporations are using it to turn us into jolly drones:

    Excerpt from “The Tao Jone Index” by Leo Wieseltier The New Republic literary editor:

    “Even though I am still very shy, I find myself able to project a quiet but unmistakable self-confidence, whether I am meeting world leaders like Barack Obama, speaking to a large audience, or dealing with a traffic police officer. … In most situations, when interacting with people, I let my ego become small, humble, and mostly irrelevant, while focusing on bringing kindness and benefit to whomever I am interacting with. … I am amazed by how much my simple aspiration for world peace has resonated with so many people.” The man who wrote those words must be insufferable. I have never met him, but I have read his book. It is called Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace), and he is Chade-Meng Tan, an engineer at Google, Employee Number 107, known officially as the “Jolly Good Fellow (which nobody can deny),” whose job description is “enlighten minds, open hearts, create world peace.”

    “My own heart” Leon W writes “his book has turned to stone. It is a work of the most obnoxious contentment, and a precious document of the sanctimony and the insularity of Silicon Valley. It is also an insidious example of what used to be known as industrial psychology, or the managerial promulgation of doctrines of the mind that will pacify workers and motivate them for “high performance.” In the case of Google’s in-house lama, the instrument of the corporate mind-fuck is Buddhism itself”.

    From <http://www.newrepublic.com/article/washington-diarist/magazine/103092/google-buddhism-business-chade-meng-tang-corporation

  23. Daniel (#19).

    Glenn, actually, the reason I asked how you go about giving meditation instruction is because, for a year or so, I organized a non-affiliated sitting group. I found it very difficult not to give beginners some kind of generic schpeel about mindfulness, body awareness, or”just sitting”. I ended up getting fed up with the after-meditation “spiritual” discussions and sanctimonious pretentiousness of some of the participants. It ended up with me just leaving the group in the hands of a Thich Nhat Hanh admirer. How exasperating that was!

    Somehow, meditation still holds my interest–barely, though. I should say meditation or something like it, because the x-buddhist and x-spirituality varieties are, as far as I can tell, vehicles for covertly inculcating an ideology. There is lots of evidence for this assertion. I don’t want to go over it all again, but if you enter “meditation” into the search field in the upper-right corner of this blog a bunch of posts on meditation will come up. The comments, too, generally have a ton of material for thought. So, I hope you’ll find the time to wander through that landscape. Let me know.

    Chris (#22).

    Someone just sent me a link to a youtube video that is incredibly revealing on the point you make. I don’t want to say any more since I intend to write a post on it. If I don’t, I’ll send you the link.

  24. Soren said

    You all assume wrong that I am some smiley Zen wannabe who as some of you imply, yet to awaken to the truth underneath the happiness castle. I don’t subscribe to any system of thought. I’m simply annoyed with this blog and question the value of replacing critique for stillness and meditation especially when stillness and meditation are the roots for this blog. Fuck a mindful lobotomy but I also have to say fuck a critique inside of a bubble. Mindfulness as a concept is by definition already unmindful. I’m mindful I am probably wasting my time writing this post, I’m mindful I probably sound like a frustrated X Buddhist who doesn’t know where else to put his frustration. So ? What are you bringing to the table??? Criticism is useful but it’s also a smoke acreen for power and control. Maybe you are all more comfortable in this avenue of thought but I resent the fact that you would talk about a man like Thich Nhat Hahn like that. He has helped more people than you have.

    No namaste, metta, just regular awkward human shit.

    Soren

  25. Soren (#24).

    I resent the fact that you would talk about a man like Thich Nhat Hahn like that. He has helped more people than you have.

    Can you point out to us where you think the piece on Thich Nhat Hanh gets it wrong? Are you referring to “Thich Nhat Hanh’s Imaginary Soul“? Something else?

    no namaste back at ya…

  26. ” … 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.”

    Oooh! Thank you for pointing where and how my thinking about my experiencing has sometimes gone awry! To “reify” is “to consider or make (an abstract idea or concept) real or concrete,” [American Heritage Dictionary] which (in some curious perhaps) is to say to conflate or confuse something actual or real with a terribly inadequate conceptualization or representation….

    What could be more preposterous or ridiculous than nostalgia (and romanticization) for a loss of “the present” as an object, a thing (a think)…? Try and push the flypaper away with your bare hands, though! Consider the sheer effort to “become present”! “I’ll achieve presence eventually, with so much hard work!”

    Still, who has not remembered the infinitude, spaciousness and openness of having fallen out of “time” — precisely the “time” which has a “sliver”? And who could help him/her self, stop him/her self from nostalgic homesickness, longing to “return” or to propel forward — anywhere or when than here and now?

    However “cruel” our thinking, no amount of thinking addresses the flypaper, which is not a thought, not a word, not a belief, but a habit of withdrawl, of longing and waiting, of seeking, desiring…. And the desire itself is no enemy! It cannot be swept aside or defeated.

    Whatever may be useful in “the Dhrama” is probably the breath. Not the idea of the breath. Not a longing for freedom…. Nothing much. Just this.

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