Raw Remarks on Meditation, Ideology and Nihilism

[I will be high in the Alps (high up, that is) and largely internet-free, until early August. I would like to leave you with a few stray, suggestive, unprocessed, and probably irresponsible remarks about meditation practice. These remarks stem from a chapter of a book that I am working on. Although I won’t be able to respond now to your comments, I hope you will nonetheless “talk amongst yourselves.”]

As I was about to post my raw remarks on meditation, a comment by Tom Pepper arrived on the “What is non-Buddhism” page. I encourage you to read his comment. Tom’s questions, insights, suggestions, and general attitude exemplify the kind of thinking needed for the work that I am hoping to stoke, or indeed incite, on this blog. After reading his comment, I went back and selected different raw fragments, ones that might better speak to his remarks.

Tom’s approach effectively suspends Buddhism’s system of postulation, challenges its axiomatic regency, and cancels its warrant of truth by opening Buddhism to the influx of foreign ideas. For instance, he says to Buddhism, “let me introduce you to Louis Althusser;” and, “please meet the acquaintance of literary theory.” I contend that Buddhism’s mien is altered—perhaps radically and unrecognizably—in the company of the wider community of thought and practice. This altered mien invites, indeed requires, a “re-reading” of Buddhism, one that, moreover, stimulates a re-visioning of Buddhism’s possibilities.

Tom writes, for instance:

Philosophy can either be an ideological practice, or it can be a critique of, a science of, ideological practices. I think Buddhism, because it requires a kind of practice itself, may be able to transcend that division. More like critical realism’s theory of transformational model of social activity, we can do science and ideology at the same time. Personally, I would like to see Buddhism function as a practice in which we can gain critical distance from, and knowledge of, our ideological practices, and attempt to produce better more effective ones.

Speculative Non-Buddhism sees “Buddhism” as a descriptor of precisely an ideological practice. Buddhism is nothing if not a vortex of participation and identity. It aims, both explicitly and implicitly, to form particular types of subjects in its own image, and to do so on the basis of prescribed practices (social, linguistic; devotional, contemplative, etc.) accompanied by robust institutional commitment. The fact that we must perform the kinds of methodological moves that Speculative Non-Buddhism makes (e.g., disruption, devitalization of charism, curvature, disinterest) further suggests the ideological nature of Buddhism; for Buddhism’s self-evaluation insists on an epistemological break with subsequent, and merely other, forms of knowledge (see the post on Metzinger and Jayarava).

Speculative Non-Buddhism is deeply curious about the role that meditation practice might play in transcending the division between ideology and self-reflective critique. The raw remarks that I present below stem from a re-reading, and hence a re-commissioning, of primary classical Buddhist postulates; namely, disenchantment, ancestral anamnesis, vanishing, phenomenal identity, nihility, conceptual proliferation, contingency, world, surface, perspicuity, unbinding-extinction (my translations of, respectively: nibbida, sati, anicca, anattā, suññtā, papañca, paticcasamuppāda, loka, sabba, paññā, nibbāna/nirvāṇa). My, still speculative, contention is three-fold: (1) these postulates can be (re-)read to constitute the Buddha’s calculus, understood here, briefly, as the qualification of real-world limits; (2) the calculus, thus re-commissioned, subsumes nihilism, and (3) meditation is, for the practitioner, precisely an organon of nihilistic dissolution.

Ray Brassier says of Laruelle’s non-philosophy project: “Non-philosophy is a theoretical practice of philosophy proceeding by way of transcendental axioms and producing theorems which are philosophically uninterpretable.”

Fit to my purposes, that statement reads: Non-Buddhism is a theoretical practice proceeding by way of classical Buddhist axioms yet producing theorems which are buddhistically uninterpretable.

Now, some raw, disjointed remarks on meditation. (For now, I assume as “meditation,” the contemplative-analytic practice prescribed in the Anapanasati Sutta of the Pali canon. If that’s too much for you, understand: sitting still and silently, attending viscerally to the breathing body/the sensorial field. “The protagonist” = Siddhattha Gotama, the Buddha, whom I view as a literary figure, like Plato’s “Socrates.” Both men were historical figures overwritten by their literary idealizations.)

  1. Meditation places you at the threshold to analytic ruin. You may temporarily stave off the inevitable with any number of fantastic conceptual constructions. In this case, you turn back. Another possibility: You engage the analysis, but only to palliative ends, and fall short of ruin. Still another possibility: You choose not to flinch from a central fact. This fact is inexorable and inevitable. It is rendered doubtful only by virtue of the darkest human ignorance or through an act of a gargantuan will to denial. If the history of the world is any indication, this fact is portentously hideous. If the history of our cultural institutions, of our language, of our very biology is any indication, no greater menace faces humanity. The fact: dissolution. Not flinching before the presence of dissolution, you cross the threshold and don’t turn back.
  2. Dissolution is self-evident. It obtains immediately in every instance of perception, conception, and sensation. Over greater spans of time, such as a lifetime, it is made evident through memory and comparison. Science traces it over eons, before the advent of human beings. Dissolution is instantaneous and continuous. It is to extinction what a molecule is to mass, argon to vapor. Extinction describes more than the absolute cessation of objects and entities: it describes the condition that negates even the possibility of their being further extinguished. Extinction is patient: it waits for the final instance. Its purview is immense and vast. It sees its object after millions of years. Dissolution occurs in the midst of things—in the salience of their rising, persisting, and fading away. Its view is minute and narrow. It sees its object in an instant of intimate if destructive embrace. Yet, being instantaneous and continuous, dissolution is not extinguished. Although a concept itself, dissolution is one that hovers near the fact it names, rendering it intelligible. Dissolution as concept lends lucidity to what, without it, remains a dark, foreign, and harrowing domain. The concept dissolution makes possible the thinking of the fact of dissolution. Yet, thinking is mere thinking. The facts of human being seem to necessitate no constraint to human thinking. Thinking is often contentedly at odds with being. Intelligibility and lucidity, by contrast, though characteristics of thinking, suggest thought wading into the surging sea of immanence.
  3. Meditation is an organon of dissolution. Unlike the flights of fancy enabled by discursive thinking, meditation entails relentless immanence. It is rooted in sensorial embodiment. Even thinking appears, in meditation, as physicality—as immanent fact itself. Meditation is a laying bare. It is to consciousness what skin is to the body, namely, organic interface, exposure to, and coalescence with environment. Both, skin and meditation, are organs; they are tools, means, of knowing, hence organon. Meditation is the laying bare of body to body in and of itself, of sensation to sensation in and of itself, of thought to thought in and of itself, of each to the other, of each to the whole, and of the whole to environment. As organon, meditation, like skin, is rooted in the surface of things.
  4. The jaunt I invite you on is for curious explorers with light loads. An explorer, you may have already observed: A fortunate event has occurred in the history of human thought. The invigorating river of nihilism has bubbled forth once again from the dank underground. Look! Oh, how it glistens as it rolls like the steed of Khaos through our fallow earthly fields! Nietzsche has served resolutely as an unsurpassed guide to this jolting vista. There he stands—how courageous, how lonely—before the scene, and declares: “I praise, I do not reproach, its arrival. I believe it is one of the greatest crises, a moment of the deepest self-reflection of humanity. Whether we recover from it, whether we become master of this crisis, is a question of our strength—It is possible.” Indeed, Herr Nietzsche, it is possible; but that sentiment of yours presupposes another; namely, that we recognize the crisis. Do we, in fact? Do we really self-reflect, as you suggest? To which our guide responds, like the Athenian bumble bee, with a question of his own: “Is it not the case that all human institutions are intended to prevent us from feeling our lives, by means of the constant dispersion of our thoughts?” Indeed! Hence, the steed romps invisibly before our flitting eyes. It surrounds us, saturates us—like radiation. And yet, we are impervious to its presence. We are masters of denial, virtuosos of diversion. Nietzsche, of course, did not conjure up this gushing river of nihilism; he was merely the rare person who sees and then admits that it has burst forth from the underbelly of society and now lies exposed on the surface before all with eyes—and courage—to see. He saw it, even if his fellow humans did, and still do, not. Eventually, though, our guide, dear, lonely Nietzsche, retreats into his stone sanctuary of Eternal Return, stretches his legs, and is seen no more.
  5. Fortunately, a fresh guide has arrived at the crest of our roaring vista: Ray Brassier. Listen well, and consider: “Nihilism is not…a pathological exacerbation of subjectivism, which annuls the world and reduces reality to a correlate of the absolute ego, but on the contrary, the unavoidable corollary of the realist conviction that there is a mind-independent reality, which despite the presumptions of human narcissism, is indifferent to our existence and oblivious to the ‘values’ and ‘meanings’ which we would drape over it in order to make it more hospitable.” (All Brassier quotes from Nihil Unbound.) A common trope in the modern commentaries of the protagonist’s teachings is that he denied a “mind-independent reality.” I myself have stated it thus elsewhere. So, a clarification is in order. The clarification involves an equivocation of terms. The protagonist does not posit the nonsensicality of a mind-independent reality—a material world that proceeds and will eventually post-date human existence. Rather, he renders such a material world irrelevant. Irrelevant to what? To his project of unbinding from the human pathologies that ensue from self-centered delusion. One such species-wide self-centered delusion is, of course, the notion that we humans are a necessary, even eternal, fixture of the world. The “mind-independent reality” that Brassier refers to names the world that geologists, paleontologists, and astronomers know from their data. In scope and nature, humans are, in that view, mere specks in space, blips in time, inconsequential to the colossal whole. The protagonist’s purview is much more limited. It is miniscule in comparison. He says, “What happened before your advent here, and what, if anything, follows your demise, is piffle to me. My concern is what to do in the ever-vanishing time being.” So, the protagonist begins his description of human subjectivity with the givenness of mind-independent reality, aka. the physical world, pointing out simply that “there is form” (rūpa). For the protagonist, form is constituted, as ancient physics usually has it, from earth (solidity), wind (distention), water (cohesion), and fire (heat). “Consciousness” is not a separate entity; it is a transparency that arises and vanishes with form. From “there is form,” the protagonist proceeds to map the unfurling of perception. One significant feature of perception, he teaches us, is that it frolics in form. Perception, from our vantage point, precedes reality because it fashions the only mode of reality that interests the protagonist: perceptual reality. Perception does so in the sense that a dolphin—via its very actions, the flap of its fluke, the snort of its anterior trachea—forms the primordial waters in which it immediately plays. Did the ocean exist before the appearance of that frolicking dolphin? Will the ocean exist after the last of the great Delphinidae have vanished? Interested as the protagonist is in our conceptual “worlding” (papañca)—akin to the dolphin’s frolic—this question is irrelevant to his project. Not irrelevant, though, are the narcissism and the draping of our presumptions: the narcissism of our presumption of being cosmically significant selves, and the excusable yet consequential presumption of our draping the world in meaning, value, purpose—in, that is, significance of all sorts. “Nature,” our new guide continues, “is not anyone’s ‘home’ … Philosophy [and let us add: Buddhism, religion, spirituality, yoga, meditation, etc.] 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. Nihilism is not an existential quandary but a speculative opportunity.” The degree and extent to which it is indeed an opportunity is precisely the meditator’s task to determine. Engaging the task, however, presupposes the relinquishment of bequeathed meaning and purpose. Meaning and purpose turn out to be but further iterations of thinking; and what clear-eyed meditator has not discerned that “Thinking has interests that do not coincide with those of living; indeed, they can and have been pitted against the latter”? Finally, to those of you who reflexively respond, “even if it’s true, we must shore up against this impendence; we must insist on new meanings; at all costs, we must say yes!” consider this: “Senselessness and purposelessness are not merely private; they represent a gain in intelligibility. The cancellation of sense, purpose, and possibility marks the point at which the ‘horror’ concomitant with the impossibility of either being or not-being becomes intelligible.” Can that be?

24 responses to “Raw Remarks on Meditation, Ideology and Nihilism”

  1. Tom Pepper Avatar

    I find this kind of work very encouraging. I don’t know about others, but I have long since tired of the surfeit of meditation guides, and well known teachers who have “been to the mountain top,” that endlessly repeat the same tired approach to meditation. I’ve been to retreats and teachings with some very well known people and felt they had nothing to offer; they only wanted to use vipassana or samadhi as a kind of relaxation technique, to achieve a state of contentment, of mindless contentment and the illusion of equanimity. It always seems to me that the Buddha was after something much more challenging than contentedly sipping our tea and staring at a flower and not being bothered by the horrors in the world around us.

    It seems that what you’re after is a kind of meditation practice that can help us to see the constructedness of our most fundamental and taken for given experience of the world. In the book your quote, Nihil Unbound, Brassier refers to this experience as “phenomenal primitives,” and argues that they are not some kind of pure awareness of the world, but are already theory saturated by our common-sense knowledge and our use of language. He suggests that we can find a way to analyze the “un-conscious, sub-symbolic processes through which phenomenal consciousness is produced.” I would agree, and I think this is what Buddha was after. Meditation can do this, but not if we understand meditation as trying to stop all thought and just “experience.” The whole point is that such experience is purely ideological, and if we ever could stop all thought we would just be living the effects of somebody else’s thoughts, those that came before us and constructed those “phenomenal primitives.”

    I would, then, want to avoid privileging the sensory, the “sensorial embodiment” as an escape from “discursive thought.” Instead, it might be better to maintain the distinction between kinds of thought–that which is ideological, and that which is not. Some thought is part of the way we interact with the world, and reproduces our relations to our conditions of existence; other thought attempts to describe those conditions of existence. This is sort of like the difference between our mode of transportation (our ideology) and our map of the world (our non-ideological knowledge). Certainly, our mode of transportation will influence what kinds of map we draw, and vice-versa, but the distinction can still be useful. It is all too common today to denounce thought altogether; western Buddhism usually greets any attempt at thought with cries of “discursive thought” or “fixed views.” This usually results in wallowing in our ideologies with the delusion that we are experiencing ultimate reality. Clarifying the epistemological status of different kinds of thought might help avoid this anti-intellectualism of contemporary western Buddhist ideology.

    I admire Brassier’s attempt to escape the insistence on finding transcendent meaning. Buddhist has suffered from this ever since Buddhists felt the pointless need to defend against western buddhologists’ charges that Buddhism was nihilistic. Why deny it? It is nihilistic, and that is one of the reasons it can help us avoid suffering in the here and now. However, I cannot help thinking that Brassier is still stuck in the old atomist approach to language and cannot quite grasp that language doesn’t arise from neural processes at all, but arises between subjects. Once we see symbolic systems as intersubjective, the problem of solipsism disappears, not to mention the problem of reductionism. I haven’t finished his book yet (I only started reading it after reading your post), so I may turn out to be wrong, but I would be quite surprised if he changes his tack midway. I also wonder why, as a philosopher working on defending realist epistemology, he has chosen to completely ignore the work of Roy Bhaskar; Bhaskar’s book Dialectic: the Pulse of Freedom seems to me to solve some problems Brassier is wrestling with (and is also, I think, a very “Buddhist” philosophy).

    I we could escape the notion that symbolic meaning arises in an interaction between a brain and the world, and instead understand that it arises in the interaction between two individuals, we could begin to solve the problem of how our “phenomenal primitives” are constructed and how we might change them. If meditation can hope to help us escape the trap of naturalizing our bodily sensations and our emotions, it must use some kind of thought, and must involve interaction between two or more “minds.” It also must be a mediation practice that sets such radical defamiliarizing as a goal, and not one intended to keep us contentedly noticing our breath.

  2. Robert Avatar

    A good post, and an interesting response from Tom Pepper.  Just a few questions.  

    I find meditation a confusing activity mostly resulting in chaotic states of mind no different from the free association stream of consciousness that I experience when rather than meditating I am just walking down the street or driving my car or whatever.  This is not to diminish meditation. Something is happening that keeps me coming back for more.  But what the hell is it?  And how do we get from my ordinary meditative and slightly cowardly and stupid mental state to something so noble, and dare I say it, meaningful, as entering the threshold of ruin, not flinching and bravely pushing forward?  Maybe my question is, if that is what we do when we meditate, how come it doesn’t feel like that?  What am I doing wrong, so to speak?

    Thanks for this.

  3. Glenn Wallis Avatar
    Glenn Wallis

    Hi Robert. Thanks for your comment. And a real and heartfelt one it is. I am just now getting back from several weeks of staring at mountains. So, it’ll take a few days for me to process Tom’s and others’ recent comments. I do look forward to doing so.

    But, having just stared at mountains for several weeks, responding to your comment comes perfectly naturally and spontaneously.

    “Meditation” as I am proposing it, is nothing but sitting alongside of empty realty. I don’t mean empty reality to suggest shunyata, Buddhist “emptiness,” “things as they are,”or any other second-order naming game. A dark irony is at hand: such terms, and the buddhistic project that endorses them, are, in my estimation (having worked with them for decades now) hallucinogens. Buddhistic “emptiness” occludes empty reality. Sitting in stillness and silence can help a person to see this barest fact of the human apes’ existence: empty reality. That seeing is what I mean as “analytic ruin.” It is a seeing of the most banal, uninteresting, unremarkable, indeed, vacuous type imaginable. It is, in other words, contrary to anything “noble.”

    What you call “chaotic states of mind no different from the free association stream of consciousness” is, it seems (and a neuro-scientist student of mine concurs) evidence of your membership in a very strange species: the human ape. Congratulations! How can such a phenomenon be a problem, then? How can human traits constitute a problem to human being? How can you be doing anything “wrong”? Those who see merit in this questions litter the world–and particularly the Buddhist, spiritualist, yogic, meditative, self-help, etc., etc., world–with reems of advice about how to “overcome” and “improve” ourselves. Not flinching means sitting alongside of empty reality, and not adding reality-occluding, hallucination-causing representations (the kinds, for instance, that Buddhist meditation literature excels in). “Pushing forward” is better put as “staying put” alongside empty reality. You are right, it requires courage.

    Thanks a million. More later . . .

  4. msteingass Avatar

    The only way to be a buddhist is to be none. That‘s my way right no to put it – being ever more disgusted with lots of western buddhism. Eight years ago I began to practice earnestly after having an ,interest‘ in buddhism since being a teenager. Nearly thirty years ago I practiced the Raja Yoga (Patanjali) for quite some time and I think this helped me a lot when I came about the Tibetan Mahamudra- and Dzogchen-traditions. I mean I knew to sit for longer periods of time, to breath, to attend, not being washed away too much. What also helped me was my practice for more then fifteen years as a trader in the financial markets. Traders sometimes begin „talking their position“, meaning rationalizing a position they hold which they would not hold if the would not hold it. In a certain way this is true, in my opinion, for a lot of buddhism and particularly the tibetan buddhism as I got to know it.

    The meditation techniques of Mahamudra and Dzogchen, the „view“ as they call it, have strong deconstructing elements (although this is anachronistically said). I think this comes to what you describe as „an organon of dissolution. Unlike the flights of fancy enabled by discursive thinking, meditation entails relentless immanence“. And their purpose would be, if their could be one, what Tom Pepper says about „Buddhism function[ing] as a practice in which we can gain critical distance from, and knowledge of, our ideological practices, and attempt to produce better more effective ones.“ This is something what I deem also a rather political them and praxis.

    But these possible outcomes of these tibetan traditions are buried under hundreds of years of strict obedience to a social system which is very very conscious about rank and order and which developed a strong tendency of preserving tradition at any cost. The sometimes rather anarchistic views of the tantric siddhas, which they themselves developed as a reaction against a monastic buddhist system in India which became more and more self-serving and stiff fifteen-hundred years ago, are strangely buried under a cloud of baroque camouflage. The western public adheres to these draping much more than to the essential insights about learning to attend to „Meditation [as] a laying bare“ – as you put it.

    In the last years a began reading european philosophy – Heidegger, Derrida, Foucault, Stiegler and much more towering around me – and I still try to find an understanding of these, but one thing is clear to me: these, and others more, have possibly a much clearer understanding of what Nagarjuna sensed as dependently co-arising, than most Rinpoches. Needless to say that it is impossible to talk about such themes with most western buddhists.

    Today I went one more time through buddhist blogs in the english speaking world – living in germany having even less variance and tolerance concerning unorthodox views as in the US – in search for really interesting, thinking humans having an interest in ,buddhism‘. But the outcome was as ever. Not even the hardcore- and punk-buddhists have much to offer.

    I can find much more insight with Nabokov who said Reality is the one word which makes sense only when written in quotation marks, or with the jesuit Karl Rahner who in his „Grundkurs des Glaubens“, gives astonishing, clear, intelligible heidegerian descriptions of the human condition which I never will find with any of the jet-setting buddhist teachers. The point is I thought for some time now, that buddhist praxis could in a certain way be a complement of the western philosophical discourse – the latter in most cases lacking any agenda how to work the deconstructive cure into the human fabric.

    Perhaps you can imagine my astonishment coming about your site. For example what you write under point 7. Here somebody is able to talk about meditation without depending on a jargon about mindfulness, one-ness and similar empty signifiers. Or the task of the meditator as you define it, to determine to what degree and extent nihilism is indeed an opportunity, is a thought i like – at least in the context in which you put it. „The cancellation of sense, purpose, and possibility marks the point at which the ‘horror’ concomitant with the impossibility of either being or not-being becomes intelligible.“ – this makes ,sense‘ to me.

  5. Glenn Wallis Avatar
    Glenn Wallis

    Hi Tom, Thanks a million for your comment. I’m afraid I won’t respond in a satisfactory manner here; but the reason is that I am hard at work on two extended pieces (an article and a book) that expands on issues that your comments have stimulated me to give thought to (Buddhism as ideology, the role that meditation might play as a “science” of ideology, and the issues raised by this comment–for instance, “phenomenal primitives”).

    But a few comments. I think that the most crucial task for what I am calling Speculative non-Buddhism concerns the phenomenal primitive called, hmmmm, well, why not call it “empty reality”? I have in mind something like Francoise Laruelle’s “radical immanence.” I cannot think can’t imagine, anything of more importance to life than having a clear idea about what this term might be gesturing toward. Let’s suggest that the term stumbles in the direction of reality shorn of any given “hallucinatory” (Laruelle’s term) representation–the kind provided by systems of thought. I don’t mean, of course, some pristine reality beckoning us from beyond the veil of language and thought, etc. On the contrary, I mean for the term empty reality to name the most banal, disappointing, uninteresting, unremarkable, indeed, vacuous, fact of life. With apologies to Wallace Stevens, I mean: nothing that is not there, and the nothing that is. (Maybe it’s what Heidegger was after with “the Nothing,” although Germanic capitals are cause for alarm.) The primary purpose of enacting Speculative non-Buddhism’s postulates is to encourage us 200,000-year-old homo sapiens apes to settle alongside of empty reality. Dispelling occlusion of empty reality—which occlusion ensues from buddhistic representation—constitutes Speculative non-Buddhism’s very purpose. Against the narcissistic impulses of us apes to reify and aggrandize our evanescent cultural fictions, empty reality must not be re-inscribed as buddhistic shunyata, no-self, “things as they are,” dependent origination, and so on. Empty reality is given in the “just so” of everyday life. The term “empty reality” as a phenomenal primitive, if I understand brassier correctly, is used because it names the intimately real, the radically immanent, while refusing to pluck the heartstrings of the soul’s vibrato. Buddhicized terms, like shunyata, do just the opposite. Shunyata, for instance, is Joe Jikyo Jones Roshi to empty reality’s Joe Jones; namely a rhetorical flamboyance that serves to occlude what it purports to name precisely because it overwrites what it names (with its rhetorics of display—its grandiosity, cultural-historical complexity, etc.). Buddhists may attempt to comment on empty reality; but, in doing so qua Buddhists, this would amount to yet another inscription of buddhistic decision—yet another turn on the circularity of the dharmic dispensation. Empty reality is not an issue for Buddhism. Empty reality is nothing at all. To a great extent, the term “Buddhism” names a particular manner of representationally stylizing empty reality. As terms such as shunyata intimate, finally, a dark irony is at hand here: Buddhism encodes its own undoing. But no Buddhist is able to undo it. That would be impossible. (Hence: non-Buddhism.)

    I think that the frantic attempts of the world to shore up meaning against nihilism is really an attempt to evade the “phenomenal primitive” of empty reality. In joining in in this endeavor, Buddhists are being dishonest with themselves.

    I would like to hear more about why you “cannot help thinking that Brassier is still stuck in the old atomist approach to language and cannot quite grasp that language doesn’t arise from neural processes at all, but arises between subjects.” I am still working through Nihil Unbound. I have read several chapters several times. The book has sent me on time-consuming errands, like finally getting clear about Kant’s basic project in the critical works, and about the general so-called correlationist thesis. I have also taken long excursions in the strange world of Nick Land. Even though I still cannot see why Meillassoux’s conclusions stemming from science’s ancestral statements matter for us here and now (except for radically expanding our perspective, which, in turn, serves to reduce our absurdly high estimation of ourselves), nor am I clear about the need for a new “realism” (again, except as perspective enhancing) Brassier’s work strikes me as absolutely essential to come to terms with. He is offering crucial insights, moreover, to anyone thinking about Buddhism these days. About why he does not refer to Bhaskar, why don’t you ask him?

    Anyway, sorry for the incompleteness and muddledness. I do appreciate your taking the trouble to read and comment here.

  6. Glenn Wallis Avatar
    Glenn Wallis

    Grüß Dich, Matthias! Thank you for your comment. “The only way to be a buddhist is to be none” and “Reality is the one word which makes sense only when written in quotation marks” have been added to my crypt of blogdada poetry, for future assemblage. Herzlichen Glückwunsch!

    Reading your words, I felt like, “yes, I know this landscape:” the interest in Buddhism from an early age; experimentation in various forms; serious study of specific forms (I also spent five years in Hotel Dzogchen-Mahamudra); hard questions to my zen teachers, who spoke of no-zen and ridding oneself of zen stench and not being a dreg-sluperer and not replacing my head with another, etc., etc., yet clutched their precious zen like a soldier does his crucifix in the dark. And I know, too, the disconcerting image of Buddhism in the mirror of dialog with serious western thought. How trite, how incautious, indeed how ignorant of the history and modalities of serious thought, Buddhist writers are today! (And can I add: how goddamn boring!)

    It is, as you say, incredible that Buddhism has been encoded with its own undoing, yet all we get are the finance-dealer-like “talking their position” that you speak of. (Indeed, have you perhaps accidentally stumbled on a crucial feature of buddhistic flinching-before-its-own-conclusions: economics?)

    Assuming that the desire to find salient “descriptions of the human condition” is what motivates our consideration of Buddhism along with other forms of knowledge, it is endlessly frustrating that Buddhists cannot shake themselves from what I call, following Francoise Laruelle, “decision.” I think this idea of decision goes some way, at least, in explaining the intransigence and myopia that you and I have encountered in dialog with Buddhists. I am working on an article about this issue for December publication, so I can’t say much here; but in short, buddhistic decision is the governing syntax of all things “Buddhist.” It has an affective as well as cognitive dimension.

    Affectively, the word “Buddhist” names a person who has performed a psychologically charged determination that Buddhism provides a significant degree of thaumaturgical refuge. In this sense, decision is an emotional reliance on or hopefulness for the veracity of Buddhist teachings. As such, affective decision violates the methodological spirit of all legitimate knowledge systems, whether in the sciences or in the humanities. Because Buddhism cloaks itself as a purveyor—indeed, as the purveyor par excellence—of the most exigent knowledge available to human beings, this violation cancels the very warrant that Buddhism grants itself as supreme organon of wisdom. In so far that affective decision operates on personal identity and worldview, this particular machination of decision, moreover, provides the inroad for ideology into Buddhism. Thanks Tom Pepper, I’ll have a lot to say in the article about the ideological features of decision.

    Decision, in its cognitive dimension, consists in the positing of a dyad (and countless ensuing sub-dichotomies) that serves to split reality in an attempt to comprehend reality, together with a unifying structure that grounds the dyad transcendentally. “Decision” is thus meant literally. It involves a cutting off, a scission, of reality in the positing of particular terms of representation. The purpose of scission is to come to an understanding of the actual, immanent world. In the very process of understanding, though, decision divides the world between ostensibly evident immanence and ideally grounding transcendence. The decisional division is between (1) a major dyad, consisting of a conditioned given and that which conditions it, a fact, and (2) a prior synthesis necessary for guaranteeing the unity of the dyad. In being both intrinsic to the dyad and constituting an extrinsic, transcendent warrant, synthesis is thus a “divided unity.”

    I’ll have a lot more to say about decision in the article. To the point you raise in your comment, though, I am claiming that this decisional operation constitutes the structural syntax of buddhistic discourse, and, in so doing, governs all such discourse— the most scientistically covert and the most secularly liberal no less than the most religiously overt and most conservatively orthodox. Oh, and let’s not forget: punk and hardcore Buddhists, too! Without it, there would be no Buddhist discourse, no such utterances, no Buddhism, no Buddhists. Buddhists qua Buddhists, moreover, are incapable of discerning the decisional structure that informs their affiliation because admittance to affiliation ensues from a blinding condition: reflexivity. Indeed, reflexivity is commensurate with affiliation: the more instinctive the former, the more assured the latter. Optimally, Buddhism, like all ideological systems, aims for hyper-reflexivity. The degree to which this goal is accomplished, however, is also the degree to which decisional structure, the very “internal structure” of all of Buddhist discourse, becomes unavailable to the Buddhist.

    Let us continue our dialog with one one another yes, but most importantly with “reality.”

    Thanks, again.

  7. Tom Pepper Avatar

    I would absolutely agree that the Buddhist attempt to define “emptiness” all too often becomes a production of ideology, the “hallucination” of an ideal state of bliss that guarantees the permanence and incorruptibility of our true self or “buddha nature.” Laruelle’s project, as far as I understand it, is to critique the ideological component of the discourse of philosophy, and whether or not he has done it in the most useful way, this is surely a worthwhile effort. Non-Buddhism, as a distancing and critique of the ideological element of Buddhism, is surely needed if modern, western Buddhism is going to be anything other than the support for late-capitalism that Zizek has described it as.

    Ultimately, though, I think that Laruelle’s “radical immanence,” and Brassier’s attempt to recover what is useful in it, becomes no more than another aesthetic solution to the problem of knowledge. The argument that “determination in the last instance involves an ascesis of thought whereby the latter abjures the trappings of intellectual intuition as well as of objectifying representation” (Nihil Unbound, 139), is a return to an aesthetic perception as the escape from idealism and duality–the moment of unifying the abstract and the particular in a perfect “sensory manifestation of the idea” that transcends the dialectic. This is one result of the implicit atomism is Brassier’s thought: he simply ignores the absolute contingency, the socially constructed nature, of any such aesthetic perception. Radical immanence seems, ultimately, to depend on a dehistoricized aesthetic–and the dehistoricized aesthetic has been, at least throughout the modern era, a mode of producing conservative ideology. I apologize if this is a bit abstruse and abstract. As I’ve mentioned before, brevity is not my strong suit.

    To be more concrete about this: the problem of atomism is most startlingly illustrated in Brassier’s confidence that neurological science and mathematical modeling will produce a “science of cognition.” This idea that the “mind” is produced in the interaction of a neurological brain and and external world, and that all of language and thought can be mathematically modeled in terms of individual brains interacting with stimuli, is an absolute dead end. Clearly, the “mind” arises when two brains need to interact with one another, in language, to negotiate a construal of the world. The symbolic capacity of our brains is dependent on interaction among multiple individuals, in a social formation. Radical immanence seems to me to still fall into this trap of atomism, and to be very close to Kant’s notion of pure apperception, that aesthetic moment outside of all language that guarantees our mind corresponds to the way the world really is. But surely such aesthetic moments are produced in socially constructed language and function as not more than the ultimate capitalist ideology–a sensory experience of absolute exchange value.

    All of our “phenomenal primitives,” even those that we define as the most uninteresting and banal, are thoroughly theory-saturated, produced in language and social practices, and never really “primitive” at all. The insight of Buddha’s thought, it seems to me, is that this was all clear to him–and he saw the goal of the contemplative as understanding exactly what the causes of even his most “natural” thoughts are. When meditation teachers focus so much on “returning to the breath” and “stopping our discursive mind” they are ignoring most of the early Buddhist teachings. Basically, they are encouraging us to produce that Kantian experience of “pure apperception,” and then mistake it for the ultimate real, the radical immanence if you will, instead of examining how it arises, what causes and conditions produce it.

    When meditators finally admit that they don’t really succeed at stopping their stream of consciousness (as in Robert’s comment, below), they are often treated as failures. But I found that this was the place to begin: once I could learn to “observe” my stream of consciousness, I could begin to see the total absence of a core, controlling self. This endless stream of thought is simply the cacophony of discourses in which “I” take part, my biological self “linking into” this symbolic network, not producing it atomistically out of perceptions of the world.

    Examining the causes and conditions that give rise to the discourses that construct my own thought would be a Buddhist meditation practice that does not attempt to produce an ideology, but to examine how and why our ideologies are constructed. All too often we hear Buddhists insisting that “all paths are good” and “there is no goal,” but what else are such claims except an insistence that Buddhism should produce ideologies and never try to examine (and certainly not change) the social systems those ideologies support.

    A non-ideological Buddhism would need to try to end suffering for all beings, to eliminate the socially produced structures that cause suffering, and not just find a way to escape reality in an aesthetic experience produced by meditation. Buddha said we need to accept impermanence and anatman, but we do not need to accept oppressive social formations–even the ones that construct our “phenomenal primitives.”

    Anyway, I’ve proven again that concision is not one of my strengths. I’m looking forward to your article, Glenn. Keep up the good work!

  8. Erick Avatar

    Given the presumed radical approach of this blog, I must confess I’m a bit surprised that meditation nonetheless occupies in your perspective a position of praxilogical and epistemological privilege that parallels in many ways conventional Western Buddhism. Wouldn’t a truly serious speculative non-Buddhism seek to displace, devitalize, mute or deflate – to use some of your own language – this golden calf of Buddhist charism within the Western Buddhist ideological imaginary? Isn’t meditation one of the most omnipresent and unavoidable fetishes within the Western approach to Buddhism? Despite a rising awareness that it has not occupied the ideological heights of living traditions of Asian Buddhism in the past and that its contemporary prominence is in part a consequence of a global, cosmopolitan modernist project of reconstructing Buddhist authority and practice in the colonial and post-colonial eras, Western Buddhists simply cannot think of Buddhisms without meditation. It is at the center of their imagining of it, and the practice of meditation is simply magical in the mana-like consequences it can produce. From well-being and therapeutic renewal, to pleasurable somatic intimacy with the world and transformed emotional psychic structures. Even here in the comments it has been advanced as a liberating technique for cracking open the ideological implications of sub-conscious cognition to the critique of unequal social structure. But really, can the praxis of meditation bear all of this weight, this burden, this hope?

    I’m not suggesting mediation is unproductive, futile or shouldn’t be engaged in. But that it is perhaps more humble and fragile than imagined. Why not put it in its place, alongside the whole range of actions and praxis that is historically available from within living traditions? What of other acts of (social) production in other registers such as aesthetics, ritual/performative, narrative, the moral cultivation of the self? Is meditation really the best technology for speculating about non-Buddhism, or the most important dimension of social praxis to focus upon?

  9. Matthias Steingass Avatar
    Matthias Steingass

    I came to the point this spring where I thought it useless to use the term “meditation” anymore. I am engaged in a project which has to do with Focusing (Gene Gendlin). In this project I wanted to conduct an experiment with a practice called “calm abiding“ – „śamata“ in sanskrit. This practice is not strictly buddhist but it is considered a so called meditation practice and it does very much what the english name says. Preceding the preparation of the experiment I induced a discussion about what every body considered as „meditation“. The outcome was that there was a wide range of opinions about what meditation is and is not and in the end I was not able to simply introduce „calm abiding“ because it seemed impossible to overcome the emotional connotation which runs with the term „meditation“. And it was not only the emotional ballast the term had onboard, there was also a categorial confusion. People would talk about their kind of meditation only signifying it with the term meditation, then the next would start to talk about a different kind of meditation doing the same, labeling it simply as „meditation“. It was like talking about soccer and tennis only naming it „sport“. Hey, that‘s not a sport, you have to use a racket to hit the ball.

    I think this applies here too. At least partly. Glenn talks about meditation as “dissolution. Not flinching before the presence of dissolution, you cross the threshold and don’t turn back.“ This seems, in the context he provides, very specific to me – although very far reaching, or to put it differently, not quite a beginners practice. But in any case he makes a point in describing what he means. Now, you are perfectly right in saying „meditation [is the] the most omnipresent and unavoidable fetishes within the Western approach to Buddhism?“ But you mean something different and you name it when you describe „the practice of meditation [as] simply magical [with] the mana-like consequences it can produce“. We have the same problem here as I above, we conflate different techniques to one term.

    I would very much prefer, if we would label different „technologies of the consciousness“ with different terms which would be, like in any other area, carefully defined. (Although this, of course, puts us in the extra-difficulty of getting into the problem of how a definition and description of a „technology of the consciousness“ might pre-affect the very action and/or outcome which is envisaged – but this is nothing new anyway.) These technologies would co-exist side by side with other technologies of the consciousness like, for example, hermeneutics. The latter, put together in action with a calming abiding, an abstaining from the overwhelming occupation, not to say colonization, of the consciousness nowadays by products of the culture industries, which very much produce also the western buddhism, could very well lead to a „cracking open [of] the ideological implications of sub-conscious cognition“ and it‘s social and individual implications. But of course the one praxis of meditation, defined as a mana-like ambrosiaticum, would not and could not do this. You are perfectly right in criticizing the latter, but please let us not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

  10. Matthias Steingass Avatar
    Matthias Steingass

    Hallo Glenn

    Thanks for your reply. As an autodidact in nearly everything I know, I sometimes have to hit these hotspots. Brassier, Laruelle, Meillasoux etc., are all new to me. But hitting this hotspot it is at once clear that there is something very important. I am not so sure if this is true for buddhism. Going through your articles, the replies and everything I come to ask myself, what still interests me in buddhism in spite of the fact that I see it more and more as a boring undertaking of rigpa-salesmen and the like, a “sop” for a human self-esteem which gets more and more humiliated by nature‘s more and more obvious indifference regarding the humanity? But is it really necessary to feel humiliated when I realize that I am possibly not more (and not less) than a conscious contingent something? And I have to ask, if this attitude of being not only not humiliated but feeling all right within this, as something which is not a mere pose but a felt immediate reality, is the beginning or the end of an undertaking which is named buddhism? And I mean with this an ,original‘ buddhism not the modern carton-version of it (with “original” of course I don‘t mean „his true words“ but more something like an essence… or non-essence). I mean, with the realization of being unimportant in the great evolutionary game, perhaps this is the beginning of a question which really matters with buddhism as part of the knowledge of mankind: how to be an ethical being? Nothing new, really, but non the less still important.

    Regarding some other points you made I look forward to say more. Hopefully you don‘t mind my sometimes faulty english and you don‘t mind participation in a style which is academically untrained and which is sometimes very associative.

    I only wanted to put in this passing note because I am off to Zurich and Luzern now for a few days. In Luzern in the KKL concert-house I will hear Maurizio Pollini again – what a great conscious contingent something when he plays Copin or Boulez! And this is also something which makes me wonder, why a lot of those buddhists hear only this strange and dull dharma-music? I don‘t hear classic music very often and I think AC-DC is not the worst rock ’n‘ roll band but this oily stuff: no way! I think maybe wonderment, amazement, curiosity, thirst for knowledge and unimpeded creativity together with the ability for a certain kind of relaxation which is calm, not easily irritatded and wide awake might be something very non-buddhistic, no matter it focuses it‘s interest on music or what ever.

    Thanks for being, M.

  11. Erick Avatar

    I very much agree with notion that many (most?) folks are not actually talking about the same thing when they speak about “meditation”. I quite like your analogy with sports, and confused discussions at cross purposes about tennis, soccer and even other sports, while everyone thinks they are talking about the same activity. People often disagree, in fact, on what is the baby and what is the bathwater!

    Hence, I do not mean to throw out the baby with the bathwater. First, I recognize and appreciate the value of meditation (as I understand it, of course); it fosters skills and capacities of empirical consequence. I just happen to think these are much narrower, humbler and limited than much of the value ascribed by others to meditation. Sometimes these skills and capacities are even obscured and lost in that extravagance of riches. Second, in the spirit of Speculative non-Buddhism it does seem valuable to me to also put meditation in its rightful place alongside a wide range of other technologies of consciousness found within and beyond living Buddhist traditions of praxis. And then of course there are also technologies of self, of intersubjectivity, and of other sorts that also need to be valued and cultivated. The fetishistic hypervaluation of meditative technologies of consciousness within Buddhism seems to me both distractive and destructive, actually. I was simply suggesting that in a project of Speculative non-Buddhism, such a leveling and re-valuation struck me as an important task. Hope that makes it a bit clearer.

  12. Robert Avatar

    Thanks, Glenn, I appreciate your response, and it was altogether helpful, but I am afraid only up to a point. I would like to try again. I may well misunderstand some of what you are saying. Anyway, here goes.

    I am puzzled by the implied mechanics of meditation as you present it. When I say mechanics I mean the inner logic, how you get from applying a technique (e.g. attention on the breath) to a realization (e.g. seeing empty reality). How can that be? Why does one lead to the other? And how can this occur without a pre-established context of thinking and understanding?

    Next there is the problem of language when we describe this process. I simply don’t know what the words mean. What is it like to sit in the absence of reality-occluding hallucinations? Is that even possible? It sounds lofty, but lofty I am told is not what we are aiming for. What does it mean to stay put and not flinch in the face of empty reality? How do you do it? How do you take this notion that sounds so grandiose and meaningful and turn it into an experience that is banal, empty of meaning and real?

    Elsewhere, in a response to a question by Erick, you refer to meditation practice as having undergone an audit by speculative non-buddhism and having been found ready for business. I am puzzled by this statement. What I read in this particular blog, and in your earlier response to my question, remains essentially one variation of the buddhist narrative supporting meditation that I have encountered lots of times before. Namely that meditation leads to some kind of realization about the true nature of reality, it just does, and the admonishment that this true nature is not phony like all the others, no, this one is true. Lots of thinking in a non-buddhist speculative vein remains to be done for this notion of meditation to be audited and found true.

    I better shut up and go sit. I may learn something.

    Many thanks. This blog is a real godsend. Oops.

  13. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Hi Robert. You are not misunderstanding: you are asking great questions. What makes them great, in my eyes, is that they are operating on a minute nerve of thought and language. I think, for instance, that your questions expose a certain degree of rhetorical flourish on my part. For instance, the only way to answer your questions in the first paragraph is to admit that, yes, you are right: the trajectory from sitting > realization can not be shown to be obvious, necessary, or true. Any claim that it is so is only (to jump down to another point you make) a re-inscription of the old buddhistic decisional mechanism (toward the dharmic dream of “awakening,” etc.). About your question, “And how can this occur…,” I have had an idea, for several years now, to get a group of people together–people with no prior involvement with “meditation”–teach them to sit still and silent, and ask them to take pains to express, in some creative form, what they see or learn or understand via sitting. My hypothesis would be that they would inevitably invest the practice with values carried over from prior commitments (to art, philosophy, religion, etc.) and that these values would be made manifest in their linguistic/creative practices. So, I think that you are right that the outcome that I am stating (for now) as a “value” (perspicuity concerning human finitude and perpetual temporal-physical dissolution) requires “a pre-established context of thinking and understanding.” So, minus my rhetorical flourish, which you have exposed (in my view) as a serious conceptual lapse, I would say that I am interested in exploring what might constitute–and then positing as practice prescription–a minimal constraint. (I broach this issue in many posts at Ovenbird; for example: “Epitomes” and “On Not Improving.”) Positing such, though, does indeed presuppose a value. I posit as a value: an unflinching awareness of dissolution. Why? Because I hold, along with Emerson, that only then are we “present at the creation.” (So, another value appears, and so on.)

    This statement of value is what leads me away from a Buddhist framework for articulating meditation. Once this framework is exposed as framework, as, that is, the kind of coercive machinery that you suspect even I am employing, we can discern the distinction between “empty reality” and “reality-occluding hallucinations.” (Again, it’s pointless and fruitless for me to pretend to posit absolutes here; so phrases like “empty reality” and “reality-occluding hallucinations” are better heard as akin to poetry’s evocations rather than philosophy’s definitions.) “Buddhism,” in light of the non-Buddhism heuristic, constitutes precisely a particular practice of naming (via its interminable dharmic inventory). To the degree that the practitioner subscribes to that naming, thereby becoming the very shape of the buddhistic thought-world, it is hallucination. It’s an “irritable reaching,” cognitively and affectively, toward buddhistic terms and categories and explanations and consolations as necessarily salutary or, indeed, explanatory of human experience. “Empty reality” is an evocation and provocation to look carefully in order to discern whether there is, indeed, a difference between the asservations of a hyper-framework such as “Buddhism,”and, well, something else. What is that something else? When I look, it appears banal, right-there, uncomplicated, uninteresting as anything other than what it is, namely, banal, right-there, and so on and on. How do you do it? At this point in my explorations, I have a hunch that Baudelaire, for example, is more helpful in this regard than is the Buddha.

    To your last paragraph. When the Speculative non-Buddhist audit is performed on meditation, meditation is seen to be a bloated entity, a kind of conceptual Ponzi scheme. But something has, so far, survived the audit nonetheless. What survives as ready for business is meditation minus the framework, Since it is the framework that constitutes it as “meditation,” in particular, “Buddhist meditation,” in the first place, the audit forces a fresh conceptualization of what “it” is. I am still doing this work. My book is the full treatment of the topic. In brief, I would say that when I sit in the particular fashion that makes “sitting” something categorical other than all other activities, here’s what’s happening: I am still and silent with an attentional proclivity toward some object or another (breath, tactile sensation, etc.). Interestingly, these same three components are the basis for speculation on human potential, creative breakthrough, and conceptual insight by people as far apart as William James, Aurthur Rimbaud, assorted evolutionary biologists, Soren Kierkegaard, Isidora Duncan, Mark Rothko, and many, many others. “The true nature of reality” for such people is not some sort of spiritualized, universalized, or even eudaimonized value. It is, however, a worthy category of distinction-making. I am not taking anyone’s word for it. What I am doing is taking Occam’s razor, experimenting with cautious yet expressive language and epitomized practice, and seeing what happens. When it veers toward the cliffs of old narrative, then it has gone astray.

    Please keep the project honest by continuing to pose your difficult questions. Yet another value: the orienting-task of the question.

    As parting food for thought, if I may press Nick Land into service (with apologies).

    [Sitting] is a transgression against transcendence, the dark and unholy rending of a sacrificial wound, allowing [an understanding] more basic than the pseudo-[understanding] of instrumental [thought and practice]. The heart of [sitting] is the death of [hope], the violent absence of the good, and thus of everything that protects, consolidates, or guarantees the interests of the individual personality. The death of [hope] is the ultimate transgression, the release of humanity from itself, back into the blind infernal extravagance of the sun.

    (The Thirst for Annihilation, p. xix.)

  14. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    Hallo Glenn

    Yes reality. But what is this all about? Buddhism, Meditation, (non)philosophy?

    I try somehow to get a grip, a theme here and I have the feeling it is not (only) the above mentioned. Perhaps it is about knowledge and a certain form of honesty.

    I think, perhaps a central thread or theme or take on what is going on here is about intellectual honesty. I come about the thought watching a video with a lecture by Thomas Metzinger which you link to on Ovenbird. He cites Kant: „Man, as a moral being, has a duty to himself towards the truth.“ To me the point seems very clear regarding non-buddhism. It is the ability to take a position in which, very decisively, one asks a question. Or perhaps better, one has a certain stance or attitude or bearing in regard to one‘s own position. An attitude which respects doubt as a signal that there might be something unresolved as a pointer to a possible next step and not as something which has to be suppressed. A lot of doubt in buddhism is simply suppressed on the ground that one is not enlightened enough to really understand. This is being not honest to and in oneself. If there is doubt one has to engage in investigation, thinking, learning, whatever. In any case suppression is no option.

    Kant is using the german word „Wahrhaftigkeit“ in the quote, which is not simply „truth“ as it is translated in the english version of Metzinger‘s speech, but more like „truthfulness“, „honesty“, „veracity“ – the unwillingness to tell lies. This points to a certain quality of the trait I mean. This is not about truth in-itself but truth for-us. Now, here we touch the philosophy of difference, the correlationism, the decision (as I understand the problem at this point). With the for-us we are at least investigating, we are at least looking for a correlation which in an asymptotical move gets closer to the limit, which at last is of course nothing but an, albeit useful, idealization which is never reached. I think buddhism-now is still searching the in-itself and is still in an antiquated mode of looking for how to come to an end with this nagging feeling of doubt. It is not giving itself the benefit of doubt and it is far from for-us – philosophically and literally.

    For example pure apperception. Since Freud, with all we know now how memory works, with the knowledge of neuroscience emerging, with the constructedness of social knowledge we can see how even pure apperception simply might be an emergent quality which is dependent on subsystems that that emergent quality itself cannot see. That‘s for-us. Tibetan buddhism, for example, today takes pure apperception as „the nature of mind“ or „rigpa“ selling it – literally! – as the way to immortality. That‘s in-itself.

    Now, what is the trait I mean? I am not sure – and that‘s it. Being honest with this feeling of doubt, this intricate something, has nothing to do with a neurotic habit which impulsively is ever stumbling on to the next fad (MBSR will be gone in 10 years). That it is unclear is not a disadvantage but it is the creative power itself. From the intricate insight emerges.

    And here also comes in the power of calm abiding, being at ease, sitting, whatever. „Meditation“ as it is propagated today is always something thetic. MBSR is for getting rid of stress. The blissful experience which might come up from „the bottom of the well of self“ is just another experience (not the worst, one must admit, but it‘s simply a physiological function with no self required). The thought „this is just another experience“ is just another experience. The gap between thoughts through which pure apperception might shine is an experience and on and on it goes. Real simple minded buddhists do not get to the point of the infinite loop. They simply repeat 3 billion mantras. More advanced buddhist get stuck in the loop of just-another-thought and then retreat to repeat 3 billion mantras. But the infinite loop is perhaps the decision, the difference, the correlation – and the uneasy intricateness at this junction is like the well of creativity which giveth forth nothing readymade. Calm abiding – only to give it a name and meaning other than the ugly word: „,meditation“ – is the development of the ability to be as this intricate forever not ready.

    The benefit of doubt is the relaxed attitude which accepts, which is at ease with knowledge as an ongoing process in which doubt is simply the mighty force pressing forward.

    Intellectual honesty then is what might have motivated people like Socrates or Gautama to put a stop to speculation where it begins to lose it‘s way in the land of fancy fairy-tails about reality – where it transforms speculation to dogma. It is to remain in doubt at the border of not-knowing (and to shave daily with Occam‘s razor). Both put up a stop-sign, Gautama with his unanswered questions and Socrates with his „I know I don‘t know“. In both cases one can speculate if the stop-sign was not rigorously respected by themselves or if it was not respected by their descendants. In the case of Gautama, reincarnation creeped in in spite of the fact that he abstained from saying something about an afterlife, in the case of Socrates, anamnesis is the speculation about the question of where knowledge comes from. In any case, even if both where 100%-inventions, one can see the attitude.

    From 2500 years ago to Kant, to Thomas Metzinger, to non-philosophy and speculative non-buddhism this might be called the approach of non-flinching or simply of curiosity.

    Maybe there is also a hint of an invariant here which leads further… I am not sure.

    But I am sure, for once, that this is not so clear as it could be and I have to apologize for putting here a lot of words which might be non-sense.

  15. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    Hello Eric

    I have to apologize because you made it clear in your first posting that you don‘t intend to through out the baby. I definitely have been unmindful.

    I would suggest to abandon the word „meditation“ altogether and to see how certain kinds of thoughtful behavior can promote interaction.

    Perhaps a big step forward would be to stay with the development of meaning in interaction as it unfolds from the hither and thither of conversation on all levels of talk, gesture, movement, expression and so on.

    But at first, in a lot of instances, the observation of the development of the arising of interaction could be trained because the intricacy from which all those social gestures come is normally not observed. In this sense there is a training of being with or in or as the the stream of consciousness, of experiencing this facticity of bodily sensations, feelings, thoughts, rushes of emotion, fatigue, daydreaming or knowing the difference of the latter from presence as such.

    Maybe there are some preliminaries or auxiliaries like attention to breath or the corner of the room where the dog sleeps to refine awareness of one‘s own stream of consciousness. But this is no end in itself. And there lies your point I think.

    The importance lies, perhaps more, in the skills which could be developed from there. Social skills which are able to go with the ongoing generation of meaning in interaction. Maybe some techniques like the Bohm-dialogue or Ruth Cohn‘s Theme-Centred Interaction or Gendlin‘s Focusing help to facilitate and develop this. With the development of this skills would come the widening of the possibilities of the interacting group and the downing of ideological thinking which looses it‘s grip as it becomes clearer how it arises from contingent sources. In this sense a simple technique like calm abiding could be part of a wider spectrum of developmental practices.

    With kind regards, Matthias

  16. Um was es geht! « Der Unbuddhist Avatar

    […] Du entscheidest, dich von einem zentralen Faktum nicht abzuwenden. Dem Faktum das sich unerbittlich und unausweichlich aufdrängt. Eines, das man nur durch freiwilliges Exil in selbstgewählter Umnachtung in Zweifel ziehen kann – oder durch den kranken Willen der Verleugnung. Wenn die Geschichte der Welt eine Andeutung dafür sein kann, dann ist es eine ungeheuerliche Scheußlichkeit. Wenn die Geschichte unserer kulturellen Institutionen, unserer Sprache, unserer Biologie eine Andeutung darüber ist, dann gibt es für die Menschheit keine größere Bedrohung: Das Faktum der Auslöschung. Und ohne diese Gegenwart zu meiden, im Gegenteil, ihr zugeneigt, gibt es einen Übergang und kein Umwenden. (vgl. Glenn Wallis: Raw Remarks on Meditation, Ideology and Nihilism) […]

  17. Tomek Avatar

    This clarification that the very notion of an “intransitive dimension” is at the heart of the issue is very helpful. In the meantime, what do you think of of Meillesioux’s thesis in After Finitude or Brassier’s last chapter (I think) in Nihil Unbound? (comment # 39 from The Power of Negative Thinking thread)

    Glenn, I chose to move this discussion here, because this issue of “transitive/intrasitive” dimention seems to be one of the main themes of this old post, don’t you think so? But a propos your question. Those guys, of course, have much in common with each other. Like that there exist non-human, mind independent reality, which can be think differently than in our usual (folk-psychological?) anthropocentric way – not as a “sense” or other correlate of consciousness but can be think mathematically or scientistically. And then that there is something like a “pure speculation”, detached from all the practical, worldly or human needs, and that this speculation is the proper method and realm of philosophy. But still I wonder if there might be some other potentially fruitful ways of “direct” thinking the things-in-themselves than this, in a way, still idealistic mathematical intuition or natural science mathematized? How about other kinds of practices, practices that can be an alternative for this hegemony of mathematics and scientism, some other beneficial ways of non-discursive “thinking”? Is the domain of phenomenological investigation or else, as they call it, enactivism by definition excluded from this kind of non-correlative thinking the Real? How about “meditation”? Take for example the ritualized buddhahood enactment – can that be even remotely understood as buddhistically camouflaged “pure speculation” on the Real? Is there any clearly distinguishable borderline that runs between the embodiment, phenomenality and the Real that prevents to take such a form of physical presence as something more “thoughtful” than just a “pure bliss”?

  18. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Hi Tomek (#17). Yes, I agree. In a way, this post is central to the entire project—as I am developing it. (Thankfully, others are doing things with “non-buddhism” that I am not, or at least doing it differently in important ways. You are all invited to do so. Now, get to work!).

    I want to remind readers that the original point of departure for your comment #17 here is #38 at “The Power of Negative Thinking.” The issue there, and in previous comments by Tomek, Tom Pepper, and me, revolved around the issue of the distinction between “the transitive” and “the intransitive” realms. The former has to do with human-constructed social-cultural-ideological formations, while the latter, with mind-independent, human-independent realities. The question at the heart of the discussion is whether or not certain x-buddhist terms can be used to identify those “truths,” or whether they may, as x-buddhist, hence, ideologically implicated, terms hinder the identification. It’s more complicate than that. Go take a look, reader, if you like.

    Anyway, to you point here, Tomek:

    But still I wonder if there might be some other potentially fruitful ways of “direct” thinking the things-in-themselves than this, in a way, still idealistic mathematical intuition or natural science mathematized? How about other kinds of practices, practices that can be an alternative for this hegemony of mathematics and scientism, some other beneficial ways of non-discursive “thinking”? Is the domain of phenomenological investigation or else, as they call it, enactivism by definition excluded from this kind of non-correlative thinking the Real?

    I do not think this kind of pure “phenomenological investigation” is possible. Your quote of Loka Sutta (S 12.43) is interesting in this regard for a few reasons. For instance, it shows that the scope of the canonical protagonist (the Buddha) was limited to the subjective sphere. In the quote he says, This [form, contact, desire, becoming] is the origin of the world. What do you think, Tomek, is he making what counts, in our current discussion, as a claim about the transitive world or about the intransitive world? To me, the question is answered by the fact that this refers to the subjectively dependent individual sensorium. That this says nothing about anything that lies beyond the scope of the sensorium. And, as I understand it, it is precisely with such matters that the term “intransitive” is meant to be useful. Science is a powerful method for investigating the intransitive realm. And for science to be at all intelligible (and who, other than religious fundamentalists, does not, on the whole, think it at a minimum intelligible?) science requires a priori, as a basic working part, a world without humans, the intransitive realm. As Roy Bhaskar says:

    it might be objected that the very idea of a world without men is unintelligible because the conditions under which it is true would make its being conceived impossible. But I can think of a world without men; and I can think of a world without myself. No-one can truly say “I do not exist” but that does not mean that “I do not exist” is unintelligible; or that it cannot be meaningful, just because it cannot be truly said. (Realist Theory of Science, 47)

    Relatedly, you suggests that “equating anicca and pratītyasamutpāda with ‘intransitive dimension’ turns the meaning of those terms upside down.” I wonder if those terms cannot be used at both registers. Both apply to my sensorial-conditioned, socially-culturally-ideologically driven situation; and both, thus, can be verified “phenomenologically” via that same sensorial apparatus. Both apply, as well, to nature, the cosmos, the infinitesimal–in short, to Meillassoux’s “arche-fossils;” and both can be verified via the organon of the intransitive, science.

  19. Tomek Avatar

    I wonder if those terms cannot be used at both registers.

    Glenn (# 18), if we agree that “canonically” the primary area, and most likely the only area (loka), that anicca and pratītyasamutpāda refers to, why even bother to wonder to use those terms at the intransitive or “arche-fossils” register?! Didn’t you once write the following words?:

    Shunyata, for instance, is Joe Jikyo Jones Roshi to empty reality’s Joe Jones; namely a rhetorical flamboyance that serves to occlude what it purports to name precisely because it overwrites what it names (with its grandiosity, cultural-historical complexity, etc.). Buddhists, as the shape of Buddhism, may attempt to comment on empty reality; but, in doing so qua Buddhists via buddhemic utterance, this would amount to yet another inscription of buddhistic decision – yet another turn on the circularity of the dharmic dispensation. Empty reality is not an issue for Buddhism; it is none of Buddhism’s business. (Nascent Speculative Non-Buddhism, p.18

    Can’t we easily replace shunyata with anicca and pratītyasamutpāda, can we? Both just another instances of rhetorical flamboyance that can in the same manner overwrite the intransitive or “arche-fossils” and pollute it with buddhistic decision.

  20. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Tomek (#19).

    Can’t we easily replace shunyata with anicca and pratītyasamutpāda, can we? Both just another instances of rhetorical flamboyance that can in the same manner overwrite the intransitive or “arche-fossils” and pollute it with buddhistic decision.

    I think that if we are discussing an idea within its cultural-historical-doctrinal context, it is advisable to retain the original term. I think we have a better chance of understanding what Heidegger was up to when we–from our side–make the effort to wrap our heads around the term Dasein than when we too quickly jump to “Being” or “being there.” But, once we have determined that what we are dealing with has significance beyond the particular system of thought, then I think that we should replace the original term with an equivalent in our own language. If we decide the former but don’t then “translate,” that would be, in my view, an unnecessary rhetorical flamboyance. So, the determining feature for me is whether or not we see in the term or concept a “truth.” If it is a truth, it can be spoken in any human language.

  21. Tomek Avatar

    Both [anicca and pratītyasamutpāda apply, as well, to nature, the cosmos, the infinitesimal–in short, to Meillassoux’s “arche-fossils;” and both can be verified via the organon of the intransitive, science.

    Glenn, in the previous comment I forgot to say that the above words puzzled me when I compared them to the remaining part of your statement (#18). When I started to read the comment I found that you clearly prefer to apply those two terms just to the loka, or as you say, sensorium, which I think, can also be called “the world of experience”. “(T)his,” you said ”refers to the subjectively dependent individual sensorium.” That is, I thought, what I expected to hear from you, namely, that the origin of this world is precisely the dependent origination, pratītyasamutpāda as understood in the canonical context.

    You didn’t agree with me that there is any possibility of the phenomenological investigation of the intransitive, and said that only science can determine it, investigate the traces of the arche-fossils, or say, anticipate what Brassier calls “posteriority”. Then at the end, suddenly, you made unexpected turn and said that pratītyasamutpāda, the dependently arising process supposedly responsible just for the origin of this subjective sensorium, can as well be applied to “nature, the cosmos, the infinitesimal”, that is the world without humans. What impulse makes you to say this? Why not to leave those ideas how they were understood within their “cultural-historical-doctrinal context” and stop extending them on the natural world? Don’t you thing that eventually the tradition of natural sciences starting with Galileo, Newton, or Leibniz is much more suitable to deal with the change in nature? Why pretend that premodern x-buddhistic tradition were in a position to observe it? What’s the point?

  22. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Hi Tomek (#21).

    Don’t you thing that eventually the tradition of natural sciences starting with Galileo, Newton, or Leibniz is much more suitable to deal with the change in nature?

    Yes, I do think that;. Funny, after I wrote the sentence you give, I thought I should retract or revise it, so that pratītyasamutpāda and anitya apply, at the least, only to the particular x-buddhist cultural-historical-doctrinal context (as a manner or style of thinking and speaking) or, at best, to the shared transitive realm of human experience (as truths, ones that can moreover be transcribed as “contingency” and “impermanence”). Does that make sense?

    By “the phenomenological investigation of the intransitive” do you include scientific method, including mathematics?

  23. Tomek Avatar

    Glenn (#22), thanks for your clarification. I think that those attempts to extend x-buddhistic impermanence and dependent arising on nature (the intransitive) is one of the most potent ways to distribute the dharmic hallucinogen in the contemporary discourse, especially on the level of that so called convergence of Buddhism and science.

    I have to say that your take on meditation as an organic interface, organon or tool of knowing the environment (the intransitive?) has been inspiring. It for example provoked questions such as: Is the “worlding” (papañca) part of the intransitive or just a representation of it?. How about it being just an opaque element of the broader transparent borderline between the representation and the intransitive? On the other side, attempting to imagine phenomenological investigation of the intransitive from the third person perspective turned out to be hopelessly oxymoronic. Metzinger in his BNO (p. 83) says that only “… neurophenomenology is possible; phenomenology is impossible”. But then I also found the following quote in BNO (p. 632), which helped me to understand his neurophenomenological approach from the perspective of classically understood self-knowledge. “Meditation” as organon of knowing seems to be very useful part of that approach:

    Once the principle of autoepistemic closure has been clearly understood on the neurocognitive level, one can define the goal of continuously minimizing the transparency of the PSM. This is in good keeping with the classical philosophical ideal of self-knowledge: To truly accept this ideal means to dissolve any form of autoepistemic closure, on theoretical as well as on phenomenal levels of representation—even if this implies deliberately violating the adaptivity constraint Mother Nature so cruelly imposed on our biological ancestors. Self-knowledge never was a purely theoretical enterprise; it also involves practical neurophenomenology—the sustained effort to epistemically optimize phenomenal self-consciousness itself. It is interesting to note how this traditional principle also unites Eastern and Western philosophy. My prediction is that, in the centuries to come, the cognitive neuroscience of consciousness will eventually support this old philosophical project of integrating theoretical progress and individual psychological development in a much stronger way than most of us may expect today. The contribution cognitive neuroscience finally makes to the philosophical projects of humanity will be a significant one, because, at its core, cognitive neuroscience is the project of self-knowledge. As I have tried to show in this book, phenomenal selfhood originates in a lack of attentional, subsymbolic self-knowledge. Phenomenal transparency is a special kind of darkness.

    So what was initially tempting to me when I saw you using the term “meditation” as an organon or tool of knowing – that “darkness” – was to see “meditation” as a sensory-interface enabling to investigate qualia as informations that are only “attentionally and discriminatively” available, beyond the grasp of any concepts (“an analytically strict definition[s]”). By the way, it was Metzinger who originally coined the term “phenomenal primitives”, his alternative name for “qualia”. Metzinger’s point of view is that

    “qualia, in terms of an analytically strict definition—as the simplest form of conscious experience in the sense of first-order phenomenal properties—do not exist. Rather, simple empirical considerations already show that we do not possess introspective identity criteria for many simple forms of sensory contents. We are not able to recognize the vast majority of them, and, therefore, we can neither cognitively nor linguistically grasp them in their full content. We cannot form a concept of them, because they are ineffable. Using our new conceptual tools, we can now say: Simple qualitative information, in almost all cases, is only attentionally and discriminatively available information. (…), it means that subjective experience itself does not provide us with transtemporal identity criteria for the most simple forms of phenomenal content.” (BNO, p. 82-3)

  24. Tomek Avatar

    Glenn (#18),

    Your quote of Loka Sutta (S 12.43) is interesting in this regard for a few reasons. For instance, it shows that the scope of the canonical protagonist (the Buddha) was limited to the subjective sphere.

    I’ve returned to what you wrote, because I again came across this interesting fragment from AN 4.24, which goes as follows:

    Monks, whatever in the cosmos — with its devas, Maras, & Brahmas, its generations with their contemplatives & brahmans royalty & common people — is seen, heard, sensed, cognized, attained, sought after, pondered by the intellect: That do I know. Whatever in the cosmos — with its devas, Maras, & Brahmas, its generations with their contemplatives & brahmans, their royalty & common people — is seen, heard, sensed, cognized, attained, sought after, pondered by the intellect: That I directly know.

    I’d like to look at it from a sightly different angle. It came to me that limiting the scope of canonical protagonist to the subjective (sensorial) sphere plays very well into the hands of those contemporary proponents of x-buddhism, that very often unwittingly still act today according to the interpretations of the buddhistic literature set in the XIX century by various orientalists. This interpretation was based, as far as I know, on a very selective reading of the canonical sources, it was an attempt to depict Buddha as an exceptionally rational figure modeled on Victorian gentleman. In other words, Buddha was supposed to teach sensible doctrine surprisingly compatible with the basic tenets of the European Enlightenment, which was empirical, rational, compassionate and relied on personal experience and verification. But as we can see in the above fragment the direct knowledge of the Buddha is not limited just to the ordinary perceptions and even if we accept “all” as referring to sense data, this in no way comprises the far-reaching epistemic claims. So don’t you think this schematization of Buddhist doctrine as rational and empirical is rather questionable? That it is a form of demythologization that attempts to erase claims that do not easily connect with modern understanding of knowledge and conflates those that do with modern epistemological approaches? Finally, that it is to ignore explictly religious elements of the Suttas but at the same time to cloak the decision with the very elements that would otherwise threaten to debunk it?

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