Speculative Non-Buddhism

ruins of the buddhist real

Buddhism in the Age of Trump

Posted by Glenn Wallis on May 30, 2017

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Begins June 13, 2017

What should a socially-aware person make of Buddhism today? It presents itself as the treasure house of enlightened ideas and practices that were formulated by a gifted teacher who lived in India twenty-five hundred years ago. Followers of Buddhism, east and west, tell us that this man’s teachings accurately identify the real conditions of human existence. If true, that is quite a remarkable achievement. It would mean that an ancient diagnosis of human experience still pertains in our hyper-accelerated, ultra-technological modern society. It also suggests that Buddhist thought contains antidotes or even solutions for negotiating both our zombie-like consumer-capitalist system and our current political catastrophe. Is such a correspondence possible? Does Buddhism have anything of consequence to teach us today?

In this five-week seminar we will read and discuss Buddhist writings that deal with a range of questions, such as psychology (what is the person?), ethics (how should we act?), ontology (what are the properties of being?), and epistemology (how can we know?). Our focus will be on considering how Buddhist thought and practice might provide resources for the better understanding the present situation. No prior knowledge of Buddhism is assumed.

Learning Objectives

  • Become conversant in basic philosophical positions of Buddhism
  • Creatively apply these concepts to the social, political, and personal present
  • Hone dialogical skills
  • Increase your critical vocabulary

Our main text is: William Edelglass and Jay Garfield (eds.), Buddhist Philosophy: Essential Readings (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009). Additional readings will be either be provided as handouts, as an html link, or shared over Google Docs and/or emailed.

Week One: Buddhist Philosophy: “Introduction;” “Metaphysics and Ontology;” Noa Ronkin, “Theravāda Metaphysics and Ontology: Kaccānagotta (Saṃyuttanikāya) and Abhidhammatthasaṅgaha. Online: “Metaphysics”; “Ontology.” Handout: on Laruelle’s critique of phenomenology.

NOTES: What is true or real about our lives, society, and world is intimately wedded to “how things are.” Metaphysics and ontology give thought to this matter of “being.” As abstract as it may seem, this is subject matter that we all muse about in our more serious moments. Moreover, giving thought to what you understand the constituents and nature of “being” (things, events, being itself) to be is very much an ethical exercise. For, assuming that consistency is a component of integrity, our views always entail particular commitments. For good measure, we will expose ourselves to Laruelle as an antidote to philosophy’s (and Buddhism’s) belief in it’s own sufficiency concerning these matters. Finally, how can you translate all of this into practical action in today’s world?

Dates: Tuesdays, June 13, 20, 27; July 11, 18
Time: 6-8:30 pm
Cost: $195
Location: Cultureworks, 1315 Walnut St, Suite 320, Philadelphia, PA 19107
Instructor: Glenn Wallis

Register here
Details and FAQs about Incite Seminars.

Posted in Interpreters | 5 Comments »

Only Don’t Know! Reflections on a Thoughtless Life

Posted by Glenn Wallis on May 13, 2017

John Cage, “The Return: Bearing Gifts to the Village.” Zen Ox-herding Image #10

By Jonathan Earle*

My conversion to Buddhism happened in a church bathroom.

I remember flushing the toilet and watching the water disappear to who-knows-where. I scrubbed my hands and examined my face in the mirror, thinking, “I’m going to be doing this for the rest of my life.”1 Becoming a Buddha would take my whole life, surely. I imagined a path spiraling out endlessly before me. It was a terrifying and exciting thought. I guess I would call that my, “conversion experience.”

I must have been thirteen years old. I was in the bathroom of the local Unitarian Church at a Friday evening meeting of the Springwind Zen Center.2  I had gone to several meetings by this time. They usually consisted of sitting meditation for twenty minutes, walking meditation for ten, sitting another twenty, and then a discussion with the group’s leaders Troy and Carlo. I didn’t quite get the point of meditation and I didn’t quite get the point of the strange, circular kind of language Zen people use to talk about what they do, but there was something that they possessed and I lacked. They: Those wild, old Zen men from the kōans.3  I was fascinated by stories of these masters performing miracles and giving laconic answers to enigmatic questions. I was captured by the mystique,4 believing it to be profound. Even my American Zen teachers seemed to be completely at home in a radically different way of seeing and being in the world. What had they figured out that I hadn’t? I supposed it could be summed up with the one word, “enlightenment.” In the bathroom that evening, I was prepared to spend my whole life getting there.

I have re-told this memory enough times that it has become a myth: I’m certain that whatever content it once had has been thoroughly re-inscribed by new meanings. In the past I’ve said of this story, “It was a gut feeling. I just knew that there was something about this stuff (i.e., Zen) that was real.” I no longer think of my “conversion experience” as a pre-conceptual recognition of timeless wisdom. Maybe Zen does indeed intimate to something true, but the mystical experience of a believer cannot verify that truth. I write this today as an incorrigible icchantika: a slanderer of the Three Jewels.5

I used to imagine my life as a path—a thoroughly Buddhist image. Before I came to Buddhism, I was lost. An innumerable number of causes and conditions had fortunately brought me onto the right path and I had no choice but to follow until the end. I don’t think of my life so teleologically anymore. I try to think of it in a more aleatory way: An innumerable number of contingent conditions coalesced and that juncture, that temporary node, is “me.” And one of the big knots of sub-nodes that makes up the “me” is Buddhism, and on one of the deepest roots in one of those sub-nodes is my bathroom mirror revelation. It’s just a useful literary device, a trace. The conversion experience is a symbolic beginning.

The purpose of this essay is to confess—to give an account of how I became and un-became a Buddhist. This is an impossible task, but I hope to draw out some of the innumerable forces at work in my becoming and unbecoming. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Constructivists, Critics | Tagged: , , | 37 Comments »

Mindfulness, Yet Again

Posted by wtpepper on April 8, 2017

Last Monday, Tricycle’s “Daily Dharma,” an email offering inspiring quotations from the magazine’s essays, contained a passage from the essay “What’s So Great About Now?” which takes a critical stance toward the popular practice of mindfulness meditation. A reader of this blog sent me a copy of the essay suggesting that I would like it, as it seemed to him to confirm my own criticism of mindfulness.

I thought I’d take a little time to respond this essay, for two reasons. First, the critique of mindfulness in this essay is absolutely not something I would agree with, and what better way to waste a rainy afternoon than one more futile attempt to clarify my own position? Second, the most common complaint I’ve heard since the first essay I ever wrote on SNB (other than that I am an obnoxious jerk, of course) is that I offer only criticism, and don’t produce a positive alternative practice; so I would like to use this essay to try, one more time (and probably, again, futilely) to explain how critique is in fact the positive practice we need to engage in every day.

In “What’s So Great About Now?”, Cynthia Thatcher argues that the common understanding that we will be happier if we just stay in the present moment is a serious error:

“The current myth among some meditation circles is that the more mindful we are, the more beauty we’ll perceive in mundane objects. To the mind with bare attention, even the suds in the dishpan—as their bubbles wink in the light—are windows on divine radiance. That’s the myth.”

Her argument is that the goal of mindfulness ought to be almost the exact opposite: to recognize how unsatisfactory absolutely every “sense-object” is, so that we might “lose all desire for them.”

It might seem, because Thatcher is critical of mindfulness, that I would agree with her Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Uncategorized | 22 Comments »

Philosophical Concepts for Thinking

Posted by Glenn Wallis on March 13, 2017

Time to Register!seminar

Our next seminar begins April 5.

Philosophical Concepts for Thinking

Hannah Arendt famously condemned Adolf Eichmann not for being an inhuman monster who methodically arranged Nazi death camp logistics. No, she condemned him for being all-too-human in his refusal or inability to think. Are we thinking today? This seminar is a kind of smorgasbord of concepts from western philosophy that are aimed at enhancing our capacity for incisive and expansive thought. We will read extracts from, for example, Hannah Arendt, Gilles Deleuze, Georg Hegel, François Laruelle, Jacques Lacan, Alenka Zupančič, and Peter Sloterdijk.

Our lively discussions are serious yet relaxed, challenging yet fun.

If you are in the Philadelphia area, please consider joining us! And please help spread the word.

Time: Wednesdays, 6pm-8:30pm
Dates: April 5-May 3 (five sessions)
Location: CultureWorks, 1315 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Cost: $195
Instructor: Glenn Wallis

Go here to register

Two reduced rate scholarships are available. See FAQs.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions at inciteseminars@mail.com

inciteseminars

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Buddhofascism: B. Alan Wallace, for instance

Posted by Glenn Wallis on February 11, 2017

buddhistswastikaBelow is a reposting of Tom Pepper’s essay “Atman, Aporia, and Atomism: A Review of B. Alan Wallace’s Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic.” But first, an explanation.

Last night I was reading Wallace’s Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic for a section of my book, Critique of Western Buddhism (see my previous post, “Slogging Through Buddhist Writing.”)

Then, this morning I read an article in the New York Times on how Trump’s “ideological guru,” Steve Bannon, has an affinity for the ideas of the Italian figure Julius Evola (1898-1974). Evola was a proponent of what is known as Traditionalism.  (Links at bottom.) Very briefly, Traditionalism is closely aligned with Perennial Philosophy’s belief that  all humanity shares a transcendental unity via the “brightly shining… unconditioned… pristine awareness” (115) that is our “primordial consciousness,” which “transcends all conceptual frameworks” (24). So, given that this glorious “ground of becoming” (102) is our birthright, why isn’t humanity basking in “an eternal, timeless bliss, or nirvana” (47)? Goddamn modernism and materialism, that’s why. The Traditionalist’s task thus becomes one of “breaking the ideological chains of materialism that shackle the minds of scientists and the modern world at large” (239). It is not difficult to see why Traditionalism had a love affair with the far right wing parties of Europe, old, neo(-Nazi), and Nouvelle(-Droite).

Anyway, as I was reading the piece on Evola, my thoughts kept turning to B. Alan Wallace. Maybe it had something to do with passages about how Evola, in his book The Revolt Against the Modern World, “cast materialism as an eroding influence on ancient values,” as the Times article says. Maybe it had to do with Evola, Bannon, and Wallace’s shared, seemingly insatiable yearning for the reestablishment of a transcendent moral order that would, among other cataclysmic ends, “restore meaning to the universe” (72). Maybe it has to do with the fact that every single one of these quotes (with page numbers) is a quote not from a right-wing Traditionalist, but from Wallace’s book. Yes, Wallace’s views graft seamlessly onto fascist-aligned totalitarian Traditionalist thought.

Before allowing myself such a drastic conclusion, I did some research. I visited Mark Sedgwick’s blog. He’s quoted in the Times piece, and rightly so; he seems to be the leading scholarly authority on Traditionalism. Much to my pleasure, Sedgwick refers to Richard K. Payne’s article, “Traditionalist Representations of Buddhism.” So, I read that article. It is a tour de force. Every practicing Buddhist should read it. Payne’s article was no doubt timely and relevant when it was published in 2008. But it is even more so today. The article is rich in lines of thought and conclusions to be drawn for the identity of Western Buddhism and of Western Buddhist subjectivity. The one that I want to mention here is this: much of contemporary Western Buddhism (as well as its Religious Studies and Buddhist Studies scholarship) is deeply implicated in the anti-rationalist “experience fundamentalism” that it shares with the Romantic strains of Traditionalism. Given that such “experience,” as a Buddhist-Traditionalist rhetorical trope, is invariably presented as “inherently veridical, and to be epistemologically privileged” (Payne, 180, 182), the path to a kind of totalitarianism of thought, to a hierarchical institutionalized authoritarianism, is cleared.

Wallace looms yet again. This time as a Buddhist St. Paul, an uncompromising evangelist, declaring the good news of the all-seeing Buddha’s epoch-making “contemplative revolution” (147).

Given the advent of Trump, Le Pen, Brexit, the AfD (Alternative for Germany), and so on, the term “fascism” is no longer a mere pejorative: it has reverted back to its role as a legitimate cultural-political descriptor. My point here is not, of course, that Wallace is fascist in the way that a violent brown-shirted thug is. I don’t know Wallace personally. My point is that his text (via his “Buddhism,” Dzogchen,” and this and that mostly Tibetan teacher) has resonances in contemporary fascist thought. I am suggesting that we may find in Wallace the same kind of unconscious (?) collusion with a cultural-political-spiritual fascist ideology that we find with, say, Jon Kabat-Zinn in relation to neoliberalism or Stephen Batchelor in relation to a neo-Orientalist colonialism.

At the very least, Wallace’s Buddhism may be akin to Christofascism, which is to say, it is comprised of a veneer of spiritualized, cosmic meaning-making lain over a functionally totalitarian and apocalyptic traditionalist ideology. Spiritualized apocalyptic thought, whether of the New Age or Traditionalist variety, involves beliefs about the end times of the old world and the coming of a new world. This new world is augured not by collective social action but by some sort of “contemplative revolution,” by, in Wallace’s terms, “liberating people from a state of unknowing (agnostics) to becoming knowers (gnostics) of ultimate reality” (147).

Anyway, the final step of my research led me back to this blog, and to Tom Pepper’s essay. He uses different language. His argument is cool and reasoned. Still, a careful reader will not fail to notice that it’s all in there.

The age of Western Buddhist innocence has passed. What comes next?

[NOTE: Pepper’s essay first appeared under the post title “Feast, Interrupted.” Have a look at the 94 comments to get the full force of the original discussion.]

—Glenn Wallis


Atman, Aporia, and Atomism: A Review of B. Alan Wallace’s Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic

By Tom Pepper

By any measure, we would have to acknowledge that B. Alan Wallace is a major player in Western Buddhism. In the last eight years he started the Santa Barbara Institute of Consciousness Studies, published nine books, and is engaged in the International Shamatha Project. He has impressive credentials, with a Ph.D. from Stanford and a stint as a Tibetan monk ordained by the Dalai Lama. He has created himself as the leading authority on the relationship between Western science and Buddhism. His latest book, Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic (a title that would seem to have been chosen to invite comparison with Stephen Batchelor’s Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist) is subtitled “A Manifesto for the Mind Sciences and Contemplative Practice.” The book sets out to argue that Buddhist contemplative practices can contribute to the scientific study of the mind, which is currently running hard down a dead-end in its attempts to map the mind onto neural activity. Along the way, Wallace argues against a reductive, materialist philosophy of science, and for a particular version of Tibetan Buddhism, as the correct way to finally understand human consciousness.

I first came across Wallace’s work many years ago, with a book called Choosing Reality: A Contemplative View of Physics and the Mind (the word “contemplative” was changed to “Buddhist” in later editions, apparently for marketing purposes). I picked up the book because as a Buddhist who is also interested in philosophy of science, I thought perhaps Wallace was going to get beyond the popular misrepresentation of quantum theory that says that we “create” a particle by observing it. I was hoping he might be trying to demonstrate that both Buddhism and quantum physics could be understood from a realist perspective. That is, I thought he was going to choose reality; instead, Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Uncategorized | 15 Comments »

Slogging Through Buddhist Writing

Posted by Glenn Wallis on January 24, 2017

spiritual-bypassingI have a favor to ask readers of this blog. First, let me procrastinate.

When Freud published his Interpretation of Dreams in 1900, casual readers must have been sorely disappointed. The book appeared during “one of the most significant moments in the history of ideas on dreams” (Lusty and Groth, 10). Books on dreams and dream interpretation had been proliferating at an extraordinary rate for decades already. The ideas emanating from these books, moreover, were finding their way into fields ranging from the fine arts to the hard sciences. The period from the mid-eighteenth century to the early twentieth century, in short, witnessed “the unprecedented interest in dream writing and interpretation in the psychological sciences and the migration of these ideas into a wide range of cultural disciplines and practices” (Lusty and Groth, 10). The bulk of these books, often first serialized in popular magazines, however, offered the same kind of simplistic revelatory, predictive pseudo-knowledge and facile moral guidance as today’s popular dream guides. Indeed, as he complained to his friend Wilhelm Fliess, Freud detested having to read through even the much more limited literature on dreams by serious writers such as Aristotle and contemporary scientists: “If one only didn’t have to read, too! The little literature there is already disgusts me so much.” Slogging through dream studies, he griped, was “a horrible punishment” (Gay, 106).

We might wonder, then, why Freud chose such a personally unappealing topic, one that attracted a decidedly undiscerning audience. We might find an answer in his opening salvo, where he immediately obliterates all pretense to easy consolation and even easier solutions to life’s vicissitudes—the very stuff that the average reader would have expected from a book with the title Interpretation of Dreams.

In this volume I have attempted to expound the methods and results of dream-interpretation; and in so doing I do not think I have overstepped the boundary of neuro-pathological science. For the dream proves on psychological investigation to be the first of a series of abnormal psychic formations, a series whose succeeding members—the hysterical phobias, the obsessions, the delusions—must, for practical reasons, claim the attention of the physician.

What forbidding and nasty-sounding words: pathological, abnormal, hysterical, obsession, delusion! And what dark omen of the real this physician portends!

Working on A Critique of Western Buddhism,  I feel an affinity to the Freud of Interpretation of Dreams. I, too, find it unbearable yet necessary to read Western Buddhist writing. (I know that sounds uncharitable. But it is true.) I also see an astonishing parallel. Like Freud with his dream material, I still hold out that there is something there that just may advance productive thought, thought that enables us to progress toward what Marx calls our real and sensuous interests. But I might be dreaming.

This leads me to the purpose of this post, namely to get your recommendations on which authors, living or dead, constitute a representative selection of contemporary Western Buddhism?  More specifically, which authors do you see as the most consequential thinkers on what I am calling x-buddhist first names for the real: impermanence (anicca); no-self (anatman); suffering (dukkha); emptiness (śūnyatā); dependent origination (pratītyasamutpāda); wisdom (prajñā); things as they are (yathābhuta); and liberation (nirvāṇa)?

I have my own ideas. But I am curious to hear what others think.

It will be impossible to disable the common Western Buddhist strategy for deflecting criticism, namely, the appeal to exception. The appeal to exception, come to think of it, fits in well at the dawn of the Trump era:”your example is irrelevant because my teacher/text/sangha/mind offers an alternative meaning.”

So, please, suggest away!

____________

Sources

Natalya Lusty and Helen Groth, Dreams and Modernity: A Cultural History  (London: Routledge, 2013).

Peter Gay, Freud: A Life for Our Time (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1998).

Posted in Constructivists, Critics | Tagged: | 52 Comments »

Incite Seminars

Posted by Glenn Wallis on December 30, 2016

inciteseminarsI am launching a new project in Philadelphia called Incite Seminars. It will consist of mainly 6-week, 15-hour courses on what I feel are crucial and timely topics. The emphasis is on the humanities; so, we will explore material, old and new, from philosophy, literature, psychoanalysis, theology, and beyond.

I am inviting other educators to join me. I am also talking to several activists organizations about creating a humanities course for historically underserved communities (something along the lines of the Harlem Clemente program). Please contact me with any ideas or interests you may have.

For now, I am kicking it off with the following seminar:

Critical Introduction to Buddhist Thought

Buddhism is enjoying great popularity in the West. This is not surprising. Buddhist thought, after all, claims to offer wise insight into many of the weighty matters that concern us today. This seminar will explore foundational Buddhist ideas. It will, however, do so critically. That is, we will also be asking whether or not Buddhist thought is up to the task of stimulating meaningful personal and social change here and now.

Time: Wednesday evenings, 6-8:30pm, February 15-March 22.
Place: CultureWorks, 1315 Walnut St., Suite 320, Philadelphia, PA 19107
Cost: $195

You can find more information at my website. Here’s the Facebook page.

If you’re in the Philadelphia area, please consider joining us. It is sure to be lively and stimulating. Thanks!

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments »

Criticism Matters

Posted by Glenn Wallis on December 14, 2016

handbookI contributed the chapter below to Ronald E. Purser, David Forbes. Adam Burke, Handbook of Mindfulness: Culture, Context and Social Engagement (Basel: Springer Publishing, 2016) (link at bottom). It’s a big book, 500+ pages, with over 30 contributors. Many of those contributors will be familiar to readers of this blog; for example, David Loy, Richard Payne, Ronald Purser, and Bhikkhu Bodhi. I find the new, but obviously well-informed, voices, such as Zack Walsh, Per Drougge, and Edwin Ng, and many others, refreshing. I applaud the editors for their unorthodox group of contributors.

The title may give the impression that this is yet another of the proliferating paeans to the mindfulness industry or a How-To book. The book’s five parts reveal, however, that it’s up to something else:

Part I: Between Tradition and Modernity
Part II: Neoliberal Mindfulness Versus Critical Mindfulness
Part III: Genealogies of Mindfulness-Based Interventions
Part IV: Mindfulness as Critical Pedagogy
Part V: Commentary

As the first sentence of the Preface says, “This volume is a critical inquiry into the meaning of mindfulness today.” From my first perusal of the book, it seems that the degree of criticism varies from curry mild to habanero hot. Some pieces seem to be not at all critical; but I’ll have to take a closer look. In any case, the book should augur a new phase in the reception of mindfulness in the West. Let me know if you would like to review the book for this blog.

The final Part consists of only two chapters: Rick Repetti’s, “Meditation Matters: Replies to the Anti-McMindfulness Bandwagon!” and my “Criticism Matters: A Response to Rick Repetti.” As I understand it, the editors invited Repetti to offer a mindfulness-friendly voice to the overall critical tone of the volume. They then decided that his response itself merited a reply. And so they asked me to do so. Repetti’s background is philosophy. His chapter is over twenty pages long. Obviously, I couldn’t summarize or respond to his piece in its entirety; but there should still be some tasty pickins on the plate.

Criticism Matters: A Response to Rick Repetti

Glenn Wallis

Rick Repetti has written a lengthy, somewhat sprawling, rebuttal to four criticisms leveled against contemporary “mindfulness.” I offer here my reaction to his text in the form of reader response criticism. I’m not using “reader response” in its technical sense. I just mean to convey that I will not be commenting on each of his complicated meanderings or analyzing his copious analogies or dissecting his various examples. That would be too much. I will instead read through his text, pause at those points that strike me as salient, and then offer my more or less spontaneous response to them.

The [W]hole

To begin, I have some comments about the piece as a whole. As I read the synopsis I found myself questioning the viability of Repetti’s overall argument.  That is, I had to wonder whether he was making the right refutations. By “right” I mean refutations that other defenders of contemporary mindfulness would find necessary and significant. To be more specific, would other refuters of the so-called McMindfulness critique concur that the four objections that Repetti singles out for treatment are indeed the decisive issues to be addressed?  If not, what would be the point of responding to his defense of these objections? Mindfulness proponents would simply dismiss my response as an irrelevant straw man argument, even if the straw man was fashioned by one of their own. On reflection, two things occurred to me. First, I have in fact come across these four objections elsewhere, in both formal and informal settings. So, I do think that Repetti is addressing criticisms that mindfulness proponents deem worthy of refutation. Second, it occurred to me that my response will all but certainly be accused of being a flimsy straw man attack anyway. Whether they are aware of it or not, mindfulness proponents are fast gaining the reputation of being people who are less than fully open to the full force of the criticism leveled against them. They employ various rhetorical strategies for evading the brunt of some critical point. It would be a useful project for someone to chart and analyze these strategies. I was considering whether I should take that approach here; namely, present a kind of rhetorical criticism of mindfulness. Then it occurred to me: Repetti’s piece is valuable not because it defends mindfulness against certain objections, but because it exudes the very spirit of the mindfulness community’s engagement with criticism tout court. Along the way, Repetti’s piece exhibits two stock mindfulness rhetorical responses to criticism. I call these two responses respectively conceptual shape-shifting and covert idealism. I’ll say more about each of these strategies below. The point I am making here is that Repetti’s piece is instructive because it performs the rabbit hole that is “mindfulness.”
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Secularists | Tagged: , , | 17 Comments »

Althusser Today

Posted by Glenn Wallis on November 15, 2016

If anyone in the Philadelphia area is interested, I’ll be driving to Princeton for this roundtable. Send me an email. Bosteels is the author of The Actuality of Communism and the translator of Badiou’s Theory of the Subject.althusserevent

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

Writing With Pencils and Eating Brownies: What Can Enlightened Brains Do?

Posted by wtpepper on September 30, 2016

Fifteen years ago there was a documentary series on HBO called Kindergarten.  The show diylab500x309followed a group of kids in the course of their school year, filming their interactions until they became almost oblivious to the cameras.  In one episode, a girl is showing her classmates something she wrote.  One classmate, apparently amazed at her friend’s ability to write, asks “How do you write those words?”  The girl replies simply “I used a pencil.”

Clearly this doesn’t answer the question intended, but it does in one sense answer the question asked.

Part of my argument here will be that the advocates of a biological account of the mind are using the same kind of response as this little girl. However, while she simply didn’t understand that her classmates couldn’t write as well as her yet and so misunderstood the question, they ignore the real problem, refuse to understand the question, and then claim they have provided an answer.  What they offer is an explanation of something (the girl really did use a pencil to write the words), but not one that says anything about the real problem they have pretended to solve.  Neurological accounts of things like enlightenment, or of thought in general, simply offer up an account of one of the efficient causes of the thing in question; this is not much different from explaining that I wrote this by tapping keys on a computer, and just asserting that accounts for things like how I arrived at the meaning I am attempting to convey.

Furthermore, I am going to suggest that in the case of what I will call the reductivist version of x-buddhism, this evasion serves to produce a pernicious kind of neoliberal ideology.  Among these reductivists I would include the advocates of mindfulness as well as all of those who suggest that Buddha was in some way a neuroscientist, or that Buddhist teachings are borne out by neuroscience, or that enlightenment is in some way a brain state dependent on some kind of neuroplasticity. All of those who believe we can reduce enlightenment (or happiness, or contentment, or awakening) to the level of bodily processes (neurons firing or sensory perceptions or feelings of comfort) are asking their followers to believe something false about the world, because that false belief is integral to the neoliberal ideology they hope to produce, and to profit from.

In part, my response was motivated by the recent release of Shinzen Young’s Book The Science of Enlightenment. However, I will use this book only as an example of the pervasive mistaken assumptions common to the reductivist x-buddhists. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Constructivists, Critics | Tagged: , , | 53 Comments »

 
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