Speculative Non-Buddhism

ruins of the buddhist real

X-buddhistic Hallucination

Posted by Glenn Wallis on September 22, 2011

In sum

A crucial fact, easily forgotten, devoid of which my critical practice of speculative non-buddhism would be just one more of the infinite iterations of x-buddhism: speculative non-buddhism is concerned with reclaiming from x-buddhism the person of flesh and blood, who lives in the world of stone and shit, emptied, that is to say, of the dharmic dream.

X-buddhism” indexes a sacrificial rending from reality. Its rhetorics of display, whether secular or religious or anything else, constitute an act of high pageantry, whereby empty reality is both ruptured and repaired. But the sacrifice and its sacrament are confined entirely to a circle of x-buddhism’s own creation. Reality remains untouched. X-buddhism does not offer up knowledge. It is a matrix of hallucinatory desire—the manufactured desire of the x-buddhist for realization of x-buddhism’s self-created world-reparation.

____________

The purpose of this blog is to work toward a new critical theory of Buddhism. The theory, “speculative non-buddhism,” is emphatically not yet another iteration of Buddhism. And the purpose of the theory is not to move cumbersomely through the morass of Buddhist canonical and secondary literature making proclamations apropos of this or that doctrine.

My ambition here is both more limited and farther reaching than that. The theory that I am developing is concerned with western cultural criticism in the present. My proximate “problem situation” is the urgent issue that is unfolding in the English-speaking world and Europe; namely, what form contemporary reconfigurations of Buddhism might or should take. Certain directions have been gaining traction, such as those that style themselves secular-, progressive-, atheist-, agnostic-, liberal-, and post-traditional-Buddhist. Another aspect of this problem situation is this: as these secular, etc., groups gain adherents in the West, traditional organizations, such as the various Zens, Tibetans, Theravadins, Vipassanas, etc., are stating their claim to “Buddhism” with increasingly vehement proprietorship. A forthcoming special edition on so-called “Secular Buddhism” in the international Journal of Global Buddhism testifies to the critical mass that this issue has accrued.

As a critical theory of the main term of all of these emerging Buddhisms, Speculative non-buddhism can contribute to this contemporary discourse. But it can do much more as well. Speculative non-buddhism is a thought-experiment that poses primarily one question: shorn of its transcendental representations, what, if anything, might x-buddhism offer us? That very formulation, however, makes an assumption that is not shared by most of the x-buddhisms, ancient and modern. Indeed, from its earliest days down to the latest Existentialist Buddhist or whatever blog post, Buddhists have taken as their very reason for being precisely the necessity of an anti-foundational or anti-metaphysical account of human existence. Many, if not all, of the new forms of x-buddhism pride themselves on their empirical, phenomenologically-oriented, scientifically-allied approaches to “the Dharma.” An animating contention of speculative non-buddhism is that every single form of x-buddhism—from the most scientistically covert and the most secularly liberal to the most religiously overt and most conservatively orthodox—is founded on an identical transcendental syntax. This shared feature renders every single form of x-buddhism without remainder indistinguishable from every other form of x-buddhism. Given Buddhism’s self-presentation as organon of radical immanence, this fact is as insidious as it is ironic.

Overview

In this post, I will give a very brief overview of the three primary functions of speculative non-buddhist critical practice. The first step in considering what Buddhism may offer us once it is shorn of its transcendental representations is, of course, to show that it is indeed laden with such representations. So, the first aim of the theory is to uncover Buddhism’s syntactical structure (unacknowledged even by—especially by—Buddhists themselves). The second aim is to serve as a means of inquiry into the sense and viability of Buddhist propositions. And the third, is to operate as a check on the tendency of all contemporary formulations of Buddhism—whether of the traditional, religious, progressive or secular variety—toward ideological excess.

(i) Decision. The first aim of the theory is to uncover Buddhism’s syntactical structure. I claim, furthermore, that this structure is unacknowledged by Buddhists themselves. What would be gained in such a syntactical “uncovering,” one that is, moreover, ostensibly unavailable to those most beholden to it?

My original impetus for speculative non-buddhism came from reading François Laruelle’s work on non-philosophy. Given the Buddhist terrain, however, something more than a mere transplanting of non-philosophy on to non-buddhism is required. That fact first became apparent to me when considering how Laruelle’s notion of “Decision” applied to my subject, Buddhism.  Laruelle’s notion turns on a cognitive maneuver; I add to that an affective one. Here is Laruelle’s definition of the decisional structure of philosophy (via non-philosophy’s operation thereon):

Non-philosophy typically operates in the following way: everything is processed through a duality (of problems) which does not constitute a Two or a pair, and through an identity (of problems, and hence of solution) which does not constitute a Unity or synthesis. (“A Summary of Non-Philosophy:” ¶2.1.2).

X-buddhistic decision has both an affective and cognitive dimension. Affectively, the word “Buddhist” names a person who has performed a psychologically charged determination that Buddhism provides thaumaturgical refuge from life’s contingencies. In this sense, decision is an emotional reliance on or hopefulness for the veracity of Buddhist teachings. The reason that I contend that both aspects of decision are occluded from the Buddhist stems from this affective quality. Admittance to buddhistic affiliation, namely, ensues from a necessarily blinding condition: affective reflexivity. Indeed, reflexivity appears to be commensurate with affiliation, for the more instinctive the former, the more assured the latter. (In the extensive version of this idea, I explore the analogy to linguistic reflexivity, which is measured in degrees of fluency and, hence, automaticity.)

Cognitively, decision is the mixing of the immanently given world, namely, empty reality (the world of flesh and blood, of timber and stone) as, in Buddhist terminology, spatiotemporal vicissitude (samsara) and causal contingency (paticcasamuppada), with its transcendently given warrant, The Dharma (the norm: the author and protector of the vault of cosmic wisdom). Buddhism claims to offer exigent, superior knowledge concerning human being (i.e., of the immanently given). To do so in the terms that it advocates (exigency, superiority, etc.), however, Buddhism must intermix its essential “identity” (The Dharma) with its own description of “difference” (spatiotemporal vicissitude/causal contingency). This operation constitutes an inescapable circularity. The premise (The Dharma is the case), is contained in the conclusion (thus spatiotemporal vicissitude-contingency), and the conclusion, in the premise. In other words, the entire decisional structure of Buddhism amounts to an explanans (The Norm: The Dharma), that is always and already present in every instance of the very explanandum (phenomenal manifestation: spatiotemporal vicissitude-contingency), and an explanandum, every instance of which always and already attests to the truth of the explanans.

Buddhistic syntax, I contend, is a fecund supposition of uncircumventable validity that manifests as infinite iterations of “X-Buddhism.” Again , I welcome counter-examples to the claim: all x-buddhisms, without a single exception, operate via decision.

(ii) Heuristics. The second aim of the critical practice is to serve as a means of inquiry into the sense and viability of Buddhist propositions. Speculative non-buddhism aims to suspend the machinations of Buddhism’s structural schemes, rhetorical tropes, and decisional strategies so that the investigator may gain a fresh perspective on Buddhist thought and practice. Toward this end, I am creating an extensive heuristic. The heuristic consists of numerous exploratory postulates. These postulates, moreover, are being designed to be operational: any non-buddhism investigator may apply them to his or her xo-buddhist data. At present, I envision the heuristic as taking the form of a glossary. Examples of terms that I am developing as postulates are: Aporetic dissonance; Buddhemes; Curvature, Disruption; Devitalization of charism; Principle of sufficient Buddhism; and Ventriloquism. As a fuller example, the definition of “Buddhism:”

Buddhism. An explicit representation or thought-world founded on a universally accepted syntax, or decisional structure. As the history of the tradition exemplifies, this structure permits perpetual mutation, wherein decision is re-inscribed in ever-developing expressions of “x-buddhism.” Doctrinally: a specular, ideological system founded on teachings given canonically to a literary protagonist named “the Buddha.” Aesthetically: a consistently recognizable rhetorics of display (texts, costumes, names, statuary, hair styles, painting, ritual artifacts, architecture, etc.). Institutionally: the manufacturer and conservatory of buddhistic charism. In the terms of its own rhetorics, “Buddhism” names the principal and superior representer of exigent human knowledge. Yet, as mentioned earlier, given the inexhaustible inventory of reality engendered by buddhistic decision—indeed, given the very syntax of decision itself—Buddhism can be formulated and arranged in innumerable guises. The word “Buddhism” thus indexes a consistent multiplicity: consistent, given its omnipresent decisional syntax; multiple, given its protean adaptability. The history of Buddhism shows it to be, to cite Laruelle, “the articulation of a universal market where the concepts are exchanged according to specific rules to each system, and from an authority with two sides: one of the [buddhistic] division of work, the other of the appropriation of part of what the market of the concepts produces”—for instance, morphological innovations, such as MBSR, Soto Zen, or Secular Buddhism.

The investigator may choose to perform a critical-constructive dialogue with Buddhism on the basis of discoveries made via the heuristic—articulating, for instance, what a “Secular Buddhism” might look like given the operation of  speculative non-buddhism postulates. As stated before, however, speculative non-buddhism itself is wholly disinterested in any reformulation of Buddhism.

(iii) Ideology. The final task of my theory is to operate as a check on the tendency of all contemporary formulations of Buddhism—whether of the traditional, religious, progressive or secular variety—toward ideological excess.

On its own account, x-buddhism is a systematic program of personal transformation and social reproduction whose ideas—beliefs, goals, actions—derive not from individual agents, but from a pre-established putative norm, in this case: The Dharma. X-buddhism is thus nothing if not a vortex of participation and identity. It aims, both explicitly and implicitly, to form particular types of subjects, and to do so in its own image. The basis of it transformational program is, furthermore, its own prescribed practices (social, linguistic; devotional, contemplative, etc.). All of this is, finally, accompanied by robust institutional commitment (what I called hyper-reflexivity). In the future, I will use speculative non-buddhist heuristics to explore to what extent such features describe not a contestable program of knowledge or skill acquisition, but rather an ideological system of indoctrination.

Speculative non-buddhism postulates permit the investigator to be constantly alert to any signs in buddhistic decree that indicate a comprehensive view of self, society, and cosmos. Indeed, the very fact that, unmolested by the kinds of methodological moves that speculative non-buddhism makes, The Dharma operates unseen (it’s just “how things are”), may be evidence of the ideological machination of x-buddhism.

In sum

A crucial fact, easily forgotten, devoid of which my critical practice would be just one more of the infinite iterations of x-buddhism: speculative non-buddhism is concerned with reclaiming from x-buddhism the person of flesh and blood who lives in the world of timber, shit, and stone, emptied, that is to say, of the dharmic dream.

“X-Buddhism” indexes a sacrificial rending from reality. Its rhetorics of display, whether secular or religious or anything else, constitute an act of high pageantry, whereby empty reality is both ruptured and repaired. But the sacrifice and its sacrament are confined entirely to a circle of x-buddhism’s own creation. Reality remains untouched. X-buddhism does not offer up knowledge. It is a matrix of hallucinatory desire—the manufactured desire of the x-buddhist for realization of x-buddhism’s self-created world-reparation.The purpose of this blog is to work toward a new critical theory of Buddhism. The theory, “speculative non-buddhism,” is emphatically not yet another iteration of Buddhism. And the purpose of the theory is not to move cumbersomely through the morass of Buddhist canonical and secondary literature making proclamations apropos of this or that doctrine.

Image source.

22 Responses to “X-buddhistic Hallucination”

  1. David Greenwood said

    If I understand the above — I’m not sure I do, since I am not trained in formal philosophy — you are finding a lot of bathwater in Buddhism. Since it is a creation and practice by and of us fallible human beings, some bathwater is more than likely. But is there a baby in there somewhere? For instance, the Precepts seem to me to be ethically admirable. If you are striving towards a cleaner belief system that still enhances humane values, more power to you. As an atheist/agnostic Zen fellow-traveler, I’d be delighted to learn about it. Or is “speculative non-Buddhism” a totally analytic exercise?

  2. Great questions, David. The last first. Speculative non-Buddhism is an analytic practice, if by that we mean that its heuristics can be used to break open Buddhism’s axioms for consideration. (For that reason, I prefer to think of it methodologically more as “puncturing.”) Only once we do some of that analysis can we start looking for some baby in the bathwater, as you put it. The heuristic has a principle called postulate deflation, which allows us to consider carefully some idea or structure, say the precepts, but to consider it unmolested by Buddhism’s charism-surging, grandiose network of postulation. Disentangled from the dharmic One, we may then ask, how do the precepts look? (In my own view, if you’re interested, they look pretty shabby.)

    So, to answer your first question: we will never know about some purported “baby in the bathwater” until we do this work. That, at least, is a guiding assumption of the critical practice that I am developing and promoting on this blog.

    One final point. If I can convince you of just one matter, I hope it is that I am not doing “formal philosophy.” Like you, I am untrained in that discipline. I am not interested in philosophy here; but I am interested in thinking–in giving the matters raised here over to thought, just to see what happens.

    Thanks.

  3. Katey Macht said

    Any ideas about the anti-intellectualism among American Buddhists? It really bugs me. People who are afraid of, as you say, giving things over to thought scare the shit out of me. Does anyone else wonder about this anti-intellectualism?

    Example. This is from today’s Secular Buddhist Facebook page re your post:

    Person 1: Too fuzzy of a prose style to comprehend.
    6 hours ago · Like

    Person 2: yes, a translation or the Cliff’s Notes version would be most helpful
    3 hours ago · Like

    Person 3: I would like to see that blog post translated into Sanskrit. Anyone up for the challenge? 🙂
    3 hours ago · Like

    Person 4 seemed to get the point of some of teh post, at least.

    WTF?

  4. David Greenwood said

    It seems to me that the person who has come up with the phrase “person of flesh and blood who lives in the world of timber, shit, and stone” must be fully aware of the power and specificity of Anglo-Saxon words. Conversely, I would urge him to be chary of high-flying Latinate and Greekish words. Here are some phrases which I don’t really understand:

    Transcendental syntax
    Organon of radical immanence
    Syntactical structure
    Affective reflexivity
    Buddhistic decision
    Spatio-temporal vicissitude-contingency
    Explanans; explanandum
    Aporetic dissonance; Buddhemes; Curvature, Disruption; Devitalization of charism; Principle of sufficient Buddhism
    Decisional structure
    Exigent human knowledge
    Hyper-reflexivity

    Now my previous self-image of being a reasonably literate person may have been quite mistaken. Or perhaps, Mr. Wallis, more attention could be paid to simplicity of communication, even if your expectations of the literacy of your audience need to be lowered a bit. Perhaps the folks quoted by Katey Macht feel the same way.

    Best wishes from a person of flesh and blood who lives in the world of timber, shit, and stone.

    David Greenwood

  5. Hello David. Thank you for your comment. I hope you’ll stay around awhile.

    Many people have commented on the blog on my language. Have a look around, if you are so inclined.

    Stylistically, speculative non-Buddhism is, at turns, lyrical and aggressive. It seeks expression in a language that punctures, that hacks at, the precious vallation encircling the magma charism of Buddhism.

    Those seeking a cure from homo sapiens apeness or shelter from the “disease of the earth” should probably stay away from this blog.

    But as a “reasonably literate person,” you must (i) own a dictionary , and (ii) have a good imagination. I don’t have the prejudice that elevates virtuous Anglo-Saxon and debases “high-flying Latinate and Greekish” language. I like high-flying. I am Icarus…

    seared by the sun, fallen from the sky.
    Just look at me, flapping my plumage like a silkie
    Flopping my wings that are no wings at
    All but naked arms.

    Dropped through the air
    Like an unfettered sail
    To the lush field where
    The ancients slaughtered goats
    In blood-soaked sacrifice,
    Goats whose throats
    Gurgled consonants when slit,
    I lie abashed awing oooing ohing howling sense-

    less vowels in the grass.

    http://glennwallis.com/blog/2010/06/04/why-i-cant-write-or-save-my-life/

  6. What the fuck, indeed, Katey. Thank you for raising this issue. I have asked myself that question since I was a fresh-faced fifteen-year old staring hopefully at the good roshis and senseis and rinpoches who sat before me, stammering some facile nonsense or another in barely decipherable English.

    Why, indeed? I know it’s not for lack of intelligence. We see enough evidence of intelligence, I think. Is it laziness? Is it willful ignorance? Is it simply a symptom of ideological indoctrination? Is it protectiveness? After all, if you compare Buddhist ethics with, say, Derek Parfit’s, the former looks pretty silly, or at least embarrassingly platitudinous. Maybe there are other good reasons for the anti-intellectualism of contemporary Buddhists; but someone else will have to do the thinking on that one. I will continue to develop my thought in the form and style and vocabulary and syntax, etc., etc., that I see fit. Remember, I am at heart an Emersonian:

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

    Thanks, again.

  7. Brad said

    In your reply to David you mentioned the precepts “look pretty shabby.” I was wondering if you would care to elaborate on this, Glenn, perhaps in this thread or in some new post sometime. Do you feel the precepts are too extreme or rigid (I can think of countless examples where I feel the ethical thing do would be to tell a lie, or perhaps even kill) or do you think they don’t go far enough (they don’t exactly tell you to not buy clothes manufactured in sweat shops, do they?)?

    Many thanks,
    Brad

  8. Hi Brad, nice to hear from you.

    A major impetus to my formulating “speculative non-Buddhism,” is the fact that I have always read Buddhism in conjunction with other modes of thought. I express that way of reading with the image of escorting Buddhism to the Great Feast of Knowledge, where it encounters, biology, physics, continental philosophy, analytic philosophy, Marx, Freud, psychoanalysis, poetry, and so on and on. Reading in this way creates serious problems for Buddhism. Most generally, Buddhism’s specular-vision-from-above (its dharmic warrant, its claim to an “enlightened perspective”) becomes a shattered mirror. Speculative non-Buddhism then asks Buddhism to pick up its shards, and take a seat at the Great Feast of Knowledge. You and I can then listen in on X-Buddhism’s claim that, for instance, one should refrain from killing. Well, then the questions start pouring in: what about the objections to that notion given consequentialist thought? what about in cases of attack or self-defense? is degree of sentience not a factor (plants? animals?)? what about euthanasia? suicide? what about…what about…It goes on a long time.

    My point is that we don’t know anything about “Buddhist ethics” until we subject it to the larger community of knowledge. (Or put the other way around: all we ever know is what it itself already tells us.) Buddhists do not take this approach because, by definition, they have already determined that Buddhism is a form of complete, indeed superior, knowledge of human being. They thus just circle round and round within X-Buddhism’s predetermined sphere of reality. My idea of postulate deflation tries to puncture this circularity and allow X-Buddhism to drift back to the “world of timber, shit, and stone”—empty reality, Level 1, Place Here, The-void-of-any-but-the most-rudimentary-representations.

    That X-Buddhists are, as far as I can tell, content to endlessly recapitulate Buddhist ethical buddhemes when discussing ethics or moral philosophy is, furthermore, an example of ventriloquism: X-Buddhism speaks; the X-Buddhist just moves his mouth. This fact is evidence that the aim of such discourse is not ever-increasing pellucidity of human existence; the aim is, rather, to preserve X-Buddhism. This preservation is what I call a sacrificial rending.

    Whatever the topic of discussion, X-Buddhism insists on bringing its entire network of postulation to bear on it. In the book I am working on, I define this network as follows:

    Voltaic network of postulation. A totality that constitutes the Buddhist dispensation. It is the totality of premises, claims, propositions, presuppositions, beliefs, axioms and so on coupled with the totality of utterances, talks, interpretations, commentaries, sub-commentaries, secondary literature, and so on. Because of the colossal and intricate accrual of this twenty-five hundred year old dispensation, infinite X-Buddhisms, each complete in itself, may be generated from this network.

    It is only once I unplug Buddhist ethical claims from their larger network of postulation that they begin to look problematic. (For, what, for instance, would be their guarantor?–we have cancelled the transcendental warrant of the dharma and we have debilitated buddhistic charism, and so on.) , It is in my reading of Buddhist ethics, from the classical precepts to Shantideva and beyond, alongside of others at the Great Feast of Knowledge–Aristotle, Kant, Hannah Arendt, Augustine, Derek Parfit, Oprah Winfrey–that they appear shabby. Buddhist ethics, void of their dharmic support system, are generally some combination of trivial, trite, poorly-conceived, platitudinous, vacuous, unfeasible, and outright silly, I include, by the way, the Majestic Dharma King With No Clothes here: compassion.

    Hope I contributed to your question. If not, let’s keep going. Thanks, Brad.

  9. David Greenwood said

    As an agnostic/atheist Zen fellow-traveler, I have understood the precept of no killing as a starting point — don’t kill without a damn good reason. Those reasons, of course, depend on the wider knowledge that you suggest. It seems to me a very good general attitude. I’ve never met a Buddhist who interpreted it literally and universally. So I don’t find it shabby — incomplete, perhaps. But every verbal representation of an important prescription is incomplete, so that doesn’t bother me. I have frequently had occcasion to repeat the teaching story of the two monks and the woman in her Sunday best at the edge of a muddy patch — it seems to properly qualify precepts by reminding us that compassion (you should pardon the expression) and common sense are necessary parts of a skillful decision process.

    If I understand you correctly, you are objecting to some sort of exclusivist Buddhist doctrine. I find that something of a straw man, since the teachers I have encountered have always presented the Dharma as an addition to, rather than a substitute for, other traditions of wisdom. At least that is how I have understood them. If your experience has been otherwise, I can understand your polemical approach.

  10. Hello David. Thanks for your comment. My comments about ethics and all other elements of the dharmic dispensation are targeted to canonical expressions. Now, we may want to include in “canonical” the utterances of teachers past and present. (My “Flinching” post does this.) But to do so we need a rule: those utterances must be lain before the public at large. When people speak of “my experience” or say things like “my teacher doesn’t say that,” and so on, we have broken a general and necessary rule of discourse: the data must be shared. (This rule limits the danger of attacking straw men.)

    I was saying that canonical Buddhist ethics look shabby–incomplete, often trite, Sunday-schoolish–when brought into dialogue with others who have thought long and hard about the issues. I mentioned a bunch of people, none of whom agree with one another, and none of whom I agree with (except, maybe Oprah). The point was that Buddhist ethics, and all the rest, might stand tall when alone, but shrink when in dialog–maybe: we don’t know until we do the work. Hence, my further point that Buddhists seldom do such work because of reflexive commitment to Buddhist verity.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “exclusivist Buddhist doctrine.” Do you mean something like the Vinaya, or some limited, say, tantric ethical system? Not sure.

    I have not yet come to a polemic. I am asking questions that are left unasked by a person bound to buddhistic decision. Once I apply the heuristic and do some of the work that I am advocating, I may make statements that sound polemical to a Buddhist. My view is rather that my statements are uninterpretable in the polemos of X-Buddhisms. I am wholly disinterested in that struggle. Once I have completed my critique, Buddhism and I will go have a beer, hug, and part ways.

    By the way, I hear you doing something like criticism in your comment above. You seem to be thinking along with some Buddhist ideas. I applaud that approach, of course, and, indeed, encourage you to take it further.

    One more thing: those teachers you mention who “always presented the Dharma as an addition to, rather than a substitute for, other traditions of wisdom”–I’d push them a bit to say what they really think. I can all but guarantee that their particular X-Buddhism always comes out on top. If so, that is emphatically not the kind of dialogue I have in mind for the Great Feast of Knowledge.

    Peace and passion to you, David.

  11. […] the hoi polloi-lamas with their pseudomodern magical world view or if he falls victim to the role x-buddhism has reserved for […]

  12. Brad said

    Thanks for the response Glenn. I appreciate your point of view and the time you take to respond so thoroughly to comments from total strangers.

    I essentially agree with everything you have written above. I’ve found myself, the last year or so, removing Buddhism from the pinnacle of my thought-world and contextualizing it with other modes of inquiry: religious, philosophical, and scientific (the last is at odds with Buddhism far, far more than the popular press and “secular Buddhism” would let on, I think). I may not “get” your language at first reading, but I think what you are doing is actually, ironically, more in line with real “bodhi” — real “awakening” than the endless books that are churned out each year by the big Buddhist publishers. You are serving as pointer to Buddhism’s own delusions, and that of her follower’s. Keep on plowing through with the deconstruction project, taking up for Buddhism what Nietzsche did for Christianity! Only then can we really survey the grounds and see what is worth building for us today.

    As for Buddhist ethics: I’ve always gotten the impression, at least in the American Vipassana scene which I am most familiar with, that ethical discourse has, perhaps, been far too naive, adolescent and “boy-scout-ish.” Don’t tell lies. Don’t misuse sex (whatever *that* means!). Don’t kill. Frankly, such language always seemed simplistic to me and reeked of my Christian fundamentalist past. And, of course, such a situation is a breeding ground for hypocrisy, self-righteousness, passive-aggressive attitudes and a host of other psychological neuroses just under the surface of the all-too-happy and “nice” Dharma scene, where the metta is always cheap and the willingness to engage the truly agonizing paradoxes of ethics is kept comfortably outside the sangha walls — perhaps in some philosophy department or at a gathering of radical activists, or whatever is left of them. I think Zizek was right to call Buddhism today a modern opium of the people. Maybe he’s the real Bodhisattva here?

    Your comments regarding Buddhist ventriloquism are spot on. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard Buddhist “practitioners” rattle off all the right dharma shibboleths just like many of the faithful Christian fundamentalists did with their particular brand of “church talk” in my youth. It’s scary, honestly. Maybe that’s just the human condition, though? Maybe there will always be a herd just waiting to be told what to say, do and believe? I hope not. I suppose, at the very least, it’s better they are puppets to Jack Kornfield than Rush Limbaugh. Progress, perhaps?

    One last thought: I’m not sure if you are familiar with the work of Hans-Georg Moeller’s “The Moral Fool” but I think he offers a very refreshing “amoral” approach to ethics that seems a lot more approachable than the simultaneously heavy/simplistic Buddhist discourse that we find in the Pali canon and Tricycle magazine. His approach to contemporary ethics is philosophical Taoism and I believe he’s really onto something. But maybe he’s just as misguided. Who knows?

    Thanks for keeping us thinking,
    Brad

  13. Hi Brad. Thanks for your comments. I appreciate them. And I look forward to reading what Hans-Georg Moeller has to say. How could you not be interested in an “amoral” approach to morality? I love language like that–language that twiddles with my pre-existent and all-too-comfy cognitive neuro-pathways.

    It sounds to me like you have already performed some of the actions that constitute a speculative non-Buddhist approach. “Removing,” for instance “Buddhism from the pinnacle of my thought-world” and “contextualizing it with other modes of inquiry: religious, philosophical, and scientific.”

    I wonder if you wouldn’t be interested in writing a post for the Secular Buddhist blog on the fact the science is “at odds with Buddhism far, far more than the popular press and “secular Buddhism” would let on.” You touch a nerve there, and it needs further massaging. Will you think about doing it? I am sure Ted would be interested. Or maybe it would fit in here even?

    I cannot, of course, comment on whether what I write is in line with “bodhi” or not because that would be to hook myself to buddhistic decision. But I will take the Nietzsche part of your comment!

    Thanks, Brad.

  14. Brad said

    Hi Glenn,

    I’d love to write a piece on this subject, in part to clarify my own thinking on the matter. Perhaps it’s not just science in particular but, more broadly, “rationality” that I feel is more at odds — or, at the very least, is not necessarily “joined at the hip” — with Buddhism than it’s secular practitioners would let on. There seems to be this assumption that, apart from rebirth and other supernatural elements, the entire early Buddhist system of values, phenomenological report and practice is almost on the same footing as some sort of logical “proof” or that the Buddha was an ideal skeptic who would feel perfectly comfortable signing the latest “Humanist Manifesto.” I think it would behoove them to let their skepticism reach a little further into this all-too-comfortable picture.

    I’ll see what thoughts I can put together and let you and Ted know. It may take a few weeks but I would love to do it. I don’t have a science, academic Buddhist or philosophical background apart from my own independent forays into these areas so I will be approaching the topic as an amateur looking for feedback. At the very least I hope I can further raise some questions for discussion. I may just end up saying a lot of what you have already pointed out in my own words.

    Till then, looking forward to more “philosophizing with a hammer” on this blog…

    B.

  15. Tomek said

    Glenn, I am very intrigued by this fragment from “X-Buddhistic Hallucination”:

    ““ X-buddhism” indexes a sacrificial rending from reality. Its rhetorics of display, whether secular or religious or anything else, constitute an act of high pageantry, whereby empty reality is both ruptured and repaired. But the sacrifice and its sacrament are confined entirely to a circle of x-buddhism’s own creation. Reality remains untouched. X-buddhism does not offer up knowledge. It is a matrix of hallucinatory desire—the manufactured desire of the x-buddhist for realization of x-buddhism’s self-created world-reparation.”

    I wonder how this fragment can be used in illuminating the machinations of the most fundamental tenet of Buddhism – 4 noble truths. Am I wrong thinking that the first postulate, that there is suffering, constitute this, what you call, “sacrificial rending” or “rupture of the empty reality”? And then that the rest of the three “truths” are supposedly helping to repair this unfortunate state of being? Is someone who subscribes to this kind of framing of reality – who “decides” to take part in this “sacred rite” – the real victim of this sacrifice? The victim whose contact with “empty reality” is occluded by this buddhistic hallucination of escaping, unscathed? Who instead of broadening his knowledge of the empty reality becomes ventriloquising “monomaniac”?

    Best, Tomek

  16. Hello Tomek (#15). Thanks for those great questions. I’ll try to answer concisely and clearly. But ultimately, I will just have to think more about it. (That’s the force of a good question.)

    Reading your multi-part question as unitary, I would answer, “yes.” In fact, your comment reads like a concise summary of a central idea of the non-buddhism theory. There might be one slight twist, though.

    The “suffering” postulated in the first noble truth (I call them “preeminent realities”) is not a commonsensical, naturalized, ideology-free, or otherwise harmless notion. The fact that the term is normally left untranslated as dukkha is, to me, a piece of evidence that something is amiss here. The term, the notion, is doing a particular kind of work. Unlike a colloquial sense of “suffering” or “pain” or “unease,” it is, moreover, not a lone bystander. In fact, what we need in order to decipher the meaning and sense of “suffering” in the first noble truth is nothing less than the entire x-buddhist doctrinal infrastructure. Another way of saying the same thing is that the doctrinal infrastructure, or what I call the “voltaic [i.e., charged, electrified, juiced] network of postulation,” constitutes the Rosetta Stone of the dukkha hieroglyph. We learn how to understand “suffering” just as we learn to understand any other piece of language: as an element in a complex grammar. The complex grammar in this case is “Buddhism,” or really some x (Zen, Theravada, Vipassana, etc.) form of Buddhism (hence “x-buddhism”). And a person is an x-buddhist to the extent that he or she can reflexively think and act in accordance with this grammar. So, in so far as the four preeminent realities machinate as–as you say–to indicate a rupture from reality and then to offer a repair for that rupture, x-buddhism is, I say, a form of hallucination.

    The reason I say this is that the rupture and repair proffered by x-buddhism is not of reality: it is of x-buddhism’s representation of reality. Reality can not be touched by x-buddhism. Reality is unavailable to x-buddhism–it is foreclosed to x-buddhism’s representations and deaf to its proclamations. This idea hinges, of course, on a specific and somewhat idiosyncratic view of “reality.” I give an explanation of what I mean by the term in the article. Here, I can add to that description and say that, along with Laruelle, I think any talk of “reality” has to remain forever axiomatic. If it isn’t, we just begin piling up a new slew of representations and proclamations. So, the simplest thing you can say about reality, or the real or radical immanence, is that it is that which provides the first condition for all thought and being. What more needs to be said? Well, systems such as x-buddhism never stop saying things about it, and, again, in so doing, create for the subscriber to the system a rupture from radical immanence. (This is where the twist to your comment might come.) The postulate dukkha, it turns out, is only a representational rupture, not an actual one. That is, it is a posited rupture. The actual rupture takes place because the x-buddhist practitioner reflexively accepts and acts on (and thinks along with) this posited rupture. The result is an actual rupture–from radical immanence itself.

    Another idea hovering around this one is that of what Laruelle call the “stranger subject.” The idea of the stranger subject answers questions such as: what is the purpose of one’s recognizing the x-buddhistic decisional act? What is gained? What is lost? Does “recognizing the decisional act” amount to yet another promise of enlightenment—a non-buddhist enlightenment? Does it merely constitute a new specular vantage point from which to craft our wise pronouncements vis à vis the world? In short, how might we characterize the person for whom x-buddhistic representation is rendered transparent? In the briefest terms, an apt motto for the non-buddhist stranger subject might be: “sabotage all representation!” For, as Laruelle writes, “The Strangers are radical subjectivities.” For Laruelle, a given Y is “radical” if it correlates precisely not with some system of representation, but with “the real” or immanence. The stranger subject’s identity is concomitant with that of the real. It is, says, Laruelle, “determined-in-the-last-instance by the real, or radically immanent Ego.” It is what one becomes when one thinks and acts along-side of radical immanence. Another way of saying the same thing is that the stranger subject is the subject of the self that has evaded alienation from the real by resisting representation, thereby effectuating radical immanence. So, using a concept like the stranger subject is to answer “yes” to those last several questions you ask regarding the subject of x-buddhism, the practitioner and subscriber to its world. That person’s knowledge of the world emptied of the dharmic dream-world is, as you say, thereby diminished. That is a terrible result–a terrible irony–given that the ostensible point of the entire dharmic enterprise is “liberation” and “the destruction of delusion” and the “overcoming of suffering,” and so on.

    About “zero-degree of reality.” I am working with Laruelle’s conception of “radical immanence.” This is different from the contemporary realist’s thesis (which I also agree with) that, in Freud’s terms, “inanimate things existed before living ones.” Since you have Brassier’s Nihil Unbound, look on page 128 for a summary of the different ways Laruelle expresses his idea of “the real.” I think his idea of a non-positional axiomatic real allows us to get on with our work. In non-buddhist theory, we can simply “clone” x-buddhistic postulates such as emptiness (sunyata) and reality (sacca) and radical contingency (paticcasamuppada) and many others, unhinge them from the greater system of postulates, and thereby come, I think, to a similar concept, but one better suited to our purposes since it rests on x-buddhist ideas themselves.

    I meant to be brief. I’ve certainly raised more questions than I have answered; but, that’s what dialogue is for–right?

    Thanks, Tomek!

  17. Tomek said

    >>(This is where the twist to your comment might come.) The postulate dukkha, it turns out, is only a representational rupture, not an actual one. That is, it is a posited rupture. The actual rupture takes place because the x-buddhist practitioner reflexively accepts and acts on (and thinks along with) this posited rupture. The result is an actual rupture–from radical immanence itself.<<

    So first, I assume, that an initial impulse to buy into this representation rupture, the postulate of dukkha, ultimately comes from – as you write in the beginning of the Nascent article – "this atavistic yearning to rise above the status o Homo sapiens." And then, after the impulse, comes decision, which in turn activates this hallucinogenic screen of reflexivity, this kind of weapon that every dreamer of the dharmic dream is wielding every time it is said, for example – defending his/her hope – that the notion of dukkha is really just a hieroglyph in the complex grammatical structure, and has nothing to do with immanence. And thus, in the end, the posited rupture turns into an actual one. So in a sense the buddhistic salvation comes from being forever sealed from zero-degree reality by the hope – manifesting as decision and reflexivity – of reaching the end of dukkha; that is, ironically, realizing something that can only exist and be realized within this specific representational reality. This nonetheless leaves palpable traces in the immanent world in all sorts of ways: acts, behavior, institutions, and so on …

    Glenn, I also wonder what do make of those modern, naturalized, secularized renditions of the 4 preeminent realities, as you call them, such as Batchelor's ELSA, pragmatically (therapeutically) oriented system of easing suffering, very broadly (terrestrially-psychologically, socially) understood? He seems to completely undermined any notion of other-worldly transcendence and still calls his system 'Buddhism'. I am aware, that you say that “every single form of x-Buddhism – from the most scientistically covert and the most secularly liberal to the most religiously overt and most conservatively orthodox – is founded on an identical transcendental syntax”. But still I wonder, how – from your perspective of Speculative non-Buddhism – you see Batchelor's ELSA representations (embracing suffering and acting towards the end of it) leads to the rupture, that is alienation, from radical immanent reality? Don't you think that this posited rupture might be in the end quite beneficial for it's users in the immanent world? His ideological opiate, ultimately unproblematic and harmless? In other words, does the sabotage of all representations, that you mention, has to be so merciless, to succeed?

    Thank you

  18. Tomek (#17). Thanks for the really thoughtful questions and comments. I start with your last one.

    does the sabotage of all representations, that you mention, have to be so merciless to succeed?

    A crucial principle of speculative non-buddhism is that, whatever goods a practitioner may want to take from the how-to-live marketplace that is x-buddhism, s/he must take as well the part that shows him/her the exit, the part that undoes the whole thing. Ideas like “emptiness” can do the job. BUT: as long as “emptiness” remains—as it inevitably does—yet another aisle in the marketplace, yet another node in the voltaic network of postulation, s/he will remain forever in the marketplace. Ironic does not, for me, capture the state of affairs of a system that posits freedom yet entraps.

    I originally wrote, and then erased, a long answer to the above question that framed it in terms of what I call “proper proximity.” But then it occurred to me that, really, the question you ask is most valuable as a question. That is, it is the kind of question that, when continually asked, becomes a crucial part of the practice (of thinking, of being, of living). So, I ask myself: does the sabotage of all representations have to be merciless to succeed? And I ask again, and again. I agree with Laruelle that an axiomatic assertion of “radical immanence” is a necessary and valuable point of departure—it–the real–constitutes what it is ideally “to succeed.” Therefore, “the sabotage of representations” is a line of trajectory toward “radical immanence.” Ultimately, the practitioner decides what constitutes “success.” But for me, I want to breathe the same air as people like Beckett and Thoreau and Cioran and Wallace Stevens and Dickinson—people, that is, who at least expressed a goal of living life as close to the bone as humanly possible.

    Your first paragraph. That is a really sensitive summation of the basic thrust of the “hallucination” argument. I can’t say it any better than you do:

    “And thus, in the end, the posited rupture turns into an actual one. So in a sense the buddhistic salvation comes from being forever sealed from zero-degree reality by the hope – manifesting as decision and reflexivity – of reaching the end of dukkha.”

    Beautiful. And then you make a comment that harbors a very important critique of that position:

    “This nonetheless leaves palpable traces in the immanent world in all sorts of ways: acts, behavior, institutions, and so on.”

    The reason I call that a critique is that it makes an incisive point–it cuts at the slab of meat I have prepared for my critical oven. If I understand correctly, you are saying: even if the decisional act is–or were to be–founded on a delusion, its effects are nonetheless real, for those effects unfold in the real world. Is that right? What would an analog look like? How about a movie or a work of fiction. I can read a novel and be affected in ways that, say, cause me to alter my behavior. Is that an example? Is it something like Wallace Steven’s idea of a “supreme fiction”?

    Paragraph two seems to be a gloss on the last sentence of paragraph one. Is that right? The questions you pose there are really important. I have dealt with this issue elsewhere, and will try to dig it up. My short answer is that I think the work Batchelor is doing is very important. He is taking crucial, courageous steps, as I put it, out of the x-buddhistic vallation and into the empty world—or from the infinity of x-buddhistic certitude toward zero-degrees of radical immanence. So, to answer directly, yes and no (! what did you expect?!). Yes, I think that what Batchelor–and we should mention, Ted Meissner of the Secular Buddhist Association–is doing is beneficial. It is, in a limited sense, doing some of what I am proposing here; namely, removing certain postulates from the x-buddhist equation, deflating other postulates, valorizing a skeptical stance toward tradition, and so on. But to use the imagee I gave above, Batchelor is still shopping in the x-buddhist marketplace. Some products he pulls off the shelf and throws in his basket; then comes home and cooks up a meal. Other products he just passes by. (Same with Jon Kabot-Zinn, though he also tears off the x-buddhist labels and puts on his own.) A result of Batchelor’s position is that he is still consuming a diet of x-buddhism. For him, x-buddhism still issues the bulk of existential answers. He is nourished by x-buddhism. He, and many other non-traditional x-buddhists, still remains under its influence: he is thinking within its strictures. Speculative non-buddhism is an attempt to remove oneself sufficiently from the marketplace of x-buddhist ideas (=ideology). “Sufficiently, in the present sense, would mean neither nourished by nor beholden to x-buddhism. My trope of “accidental exile” is meant to capture this aspect of the critique.

    Is his ideological opiate, ultimately unproblematic and harmless?

    This question implicitly points to the reason I am so concerned about ideology, or I should say unchecked, blind ideology. The opiate can, as the metaphor suggests, become a form of addiction. It might also, of course, provide comfort and salve in times of real need. One assumption of non-buddhism, of course, is that culture, too, provides such succor; so that we don’t need to subject ourselves to potentially toxic thought-systems when something else will do. I use the move of postulate deflation to help get at what seems to be an optimal amount of “opiate” (i.e., representation, reflection, cultural accoutrements). Of course, what one person considers optimal another considers excessive. So, we always seem to come back to the issue of what it is we want our system, our practice, our ideology, etc., to do for us.

    Really, these questions and comments of your beg for face to face dialogue. My response here is by no means meant to settle anything. It’s meant to invite yet another response. Maybe someday we can have a conference. Thanks!

  19. Tomek said

    Glenn, I’d like to come back to the following fragment from your above essay:

    “An animating contention of speculative non-buddhism is that every single form of x-buddhism—from the most scientistically covert and the most secularly liberal to the most religiously overt and most conservatively orthodox—is founded on an identical transcendental syntax. This shared feature renders every single form of x-buddhism without remainder indistinguishable from every other form of x-buddhism. Given Buddhism’s self-presentation as organon of radical immanence, this fact is as insidious as it is ironic.”

    Actually, I am a bit puzzled by the way you accentuate Batchelor’s moves. First you say things like “He is taking crucial, courageous steps, as I put it, out of the x-buddhistic vallation and into the empty world—or from the infinity of x-buddhistic certitude toward zero-degrees of radical immanence” and then you place him in the “x-buddhist marketplace” and let him go shopping, saying things like “he pulls off the shelf and throws in his basket; then comes home and cooks up a meal. Other products he just passes by.” Eventually you say, that Batchelor is “still consuming a diet of x-buddhism. For him, x-buddhism still issues the bulk of existential answers. He is nourished by x-buddhism. He, and many other non-traditional x-buddhists, still remains under its influence: he is thinking within its strictures.”

    What strikes me is that you seem to paint a picture of Batchelor as one of those picky consumers of the x-buddhistic transcendental syntax, not an active, actually one of the most persuasive to many Westerners today, manufacturer of that very syntax. That’s why I asked you in one of my previous comments about his ELSA system – his contemporary rendition of the 4 preeminent realities – what do you make of it? Aren’t they the heart of the whole grammar? If so, how to explain his “courageous steps (…) toward zero-degrees of radical immanence”, as you say, and on the other hand his active dissemination of his ELSA? Don’t you see contradiction here? Irony? Or maybe his ELSA has been somehow removed sufficiently from that market and is “neither nourished by nor beholden to x-buddhism.”? There is no dharmic Warrant lurking behind it. And indeed, Batchelor is a real exile, not x-buddhistic thaumaturgus officiating at that rite where empty reality is both ruptured and repaired.

    +

  20. Hi Tomek (#19).

    Oh, sorry, I did not address that part of you question. And, yes, I do see the ambiguity in my comments about Batchelor’s work. I will be unambiguous here. I think he, as you say, is “actually one of the most persuasive to many Westerners today, manufacturers of [the x-buddhistic decisional] syntax. His “Embrace, Let Go, Stop, Act” (as discussed, for instance of page 160 of Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist, is, indeed, “at the heart of the whole grammar.” His entire explication is, quite literally, surrounded by traditional x-buddhist renderings. The first thing you read after his paragraph explaining ELSA is, “Siddhattha Gotama…” That is, to my ears, yet again the x-buddhist ideological interpellation–calling you back to the fold. In fact, there are very, very traditional x-buddhists who have a way similar to ELSA of explicating the four noble truths for contemporary audiences.

    I do think that Batchelor (with ELSA and beyond) upholds the dharmic warrant. I do think that he functions as a thaumaturge. I do not think he is an exile. I would say the same for the entire Secular Buddhist movement. Really, they change nothing significant in Buddhism because they perpetuate the transcendental decision; hence, Secular Buddhism is pure x-buddhism. They are robustly involved in one of the most telling signs of x-buddhistic reflexivity: infinite exemplification. Engaged in such interminable exemplification, Batchelor, Secular Buddhists, and all the others, just spin around and around, shoulder to shoulder, on the dharmic pulpit.

    That comment leaves no ambiguity, I hope. My saying that Batchelor is courageous is a result–now that you’ve made me reflect more on it–of how I responded to his interpretations of x-buddhism years ago, when I was still trying to interpret x-buddhist teachings in a generous light. From that perspective, he seemed to propose innovative, even somewhat radical changes. But from my current perspective, you are right, those changes seem anything but innovative and radical: they seem through and through status quo. So, thanks for giving me the opportunity to clarify.

    What is your view of Batchelor’s work and of ELSA? What is your thinking on these issues?

    Thanks a million!

  21. Tomek said

    Glenn (#20),

    You write, “His entire explication is, quite literally, surrounded by traditional x-buddhist renderings. The first thing you read after his paragraph explaining ELSA is, “Siddhattha Gotama…”

    Don’t you think that, there is something else, even before mentioning the name of the protagonist, that can be quite interesting from the perspective of Speculative Non-Buddhism, namely, the first sentence of the paragraph explaining ELSA acronym, which goes as this: “This template [ELSA] can be applied to every situation in life.”?

    In your above essay, I find two statements, that I think can be applied to that sentence:

    (1) “Buddhism claims to offer exigent, superior knowledge concerning human being (i.e., of the immanently given)”, (2) “In the terms of its own rhetorics, “Buddhism” names the principal and superior representer of exigent human knowledge.”

    Isn’t that (Batchelor’s) sentence the very first sign of x-buddhistic rhetorics, the first decisive maneuver in the creation of, what you call, “specular oracularity”? The maneuver, that is a kind of response to “an atavistic yearning to rise above the status of homo sapiens ape and to escape, unscathed, from empty reality.”? If “[x-buddhistic] decision is an emotional reliance on or hopefulness for the veracity of Buddhist teachings” (you write in Nascent … article), then Batchelor’s claim that “This template [ELSA] can be applied to every situation in life”, is a perfect example of offering thaumaturgical refuge. ELSA acronym (meme) then being remembered and constantly turned in somebody’s head, can first, do a work of magical mantra, psychologically protecting it’s host in “every situation in life” and second, inspire him/her to – what Batchelor says at the very end on the chapter – “build the kind of civilization that he [Siddhattha Gotama] envisioned.” Which sounds to me as an example of what I wrote in one of my previous comments, to “leave palpable traces in the immanent world in all sorts of ways: acts, behavior, institutions, and so on.”

    Then in another place in your essay I read the following:

    “In the future, I will use speculative non-buddhist heuristics to explore to what extent such features describe not a contestable program of knowledge or skill acquisition, but rather an ideological system of indoctrination.” And also “X-buddhism does not offer up knowledge. It is a matrix of hallucinatory desire—the manufactured desire of the x-buddhist for realization of x-buddhism’s self-created world-reparation.”

    I wonder how would you respond to the claims made by Batchelor in another place in chapter 12 of his book (the same chapter where the paragraph explaining ELSA comes from), where he says something that sounds completely contrary to what I just quoted from your essay. For example he writes:

    “(…) the Four Truths are injunctions to do something rather than claims to be believed or disbelieved.” (p. 153) or “The Four Noble Truths are pragmatic rather than dogmatic. They suggest a course of action to be followed rather than a set of dogmas to be believed. The four truths are prescriptions for behavior rather than descriptions of reality.” (p. 154)

    These are, at least to my ears, statements, that openly describe the 4 noble truths (ELSA in Batchelor’s idiom) as a very pragmatic “program of knowledge or skill acquisition”, and they “suggest [seemingly very practical] course of action to be followed”.

    What in your opinion creates occlusion in this kind of rhetorics? If I read the detailed explanation of Batchelor’s ELSA:

    “Rather than shying away from or ignoring what is happening, embrace it with mindful attention; rather than craving to seize it or get rid of it, relax one’s grip; rather than getting caught up in a cascade of reactivity, stop and stay calm; rather than repeat what you have said and done a thousand times before, act in an empathetic and imaginative way.”

    , I don’t have an impression that those steps are somehow psychologically naïve. I imagine, that most of his readers find it as a proof that Batchelor’s secular “Dharma” is something enlightening, rather then something that can potentially lead to occlusion. Or maybe fragments as such, not accompanied by more explicit buddhemes as “Siddhattha Gotama” and warrants as ““This template can be applied to every situation in life”, are harmless and beneficial? And when “shorn of its transcendental representations” can be practically used in life.

    +omek

  22. Hi Tomek (#21). Thanks for those great questions. I really think you could produce a valuable essay for this blog on this very topic. You could just continue in the same vein as this and your related comments. Think about it, will you?

    [Batchelor writes:] “[t]he Four Truths are injunctions to do something rather than claims to be believed or disbelieved.” (p. 153) or “The Four Noble Truths are pragmatic rather than dogmatic. They suggest a course of action to be followed rather than a set of dogmas to be believed. The four truths are prescriptions for behavior rather than descriptions of reality.” (p. 154)

    These are, at least to my ears, statements, that openly describe the 4 noble truths (ELSA in Batchelor’s idiom) as a very pragmatic “program of knowledge or skill acquisition”, and they “suggest [seemingly very practical] course of action to be followed”.

    What in your opinion creates occlusion in this kind of rhetorics?

    I think the fact that ELSA are, just as Batchelor says, “prescriptions for behavior,” signals the beginning of occlusion. The behaviors they initiate are not obvious or even self-evident. Their sense and import require nothing less than the entire network of buddhist postulations–albeit in a reconfigured secular or atheist aspect. What does “embrace suffering” mean? It means virtually anything you decide it means. Why should you want to “embrace suffering” anyway? Any answer given here would count as an answer. And we could ask many such questions. This infinite set of what counts as an answer points to vacuity. But ELSA is not vacuous; it has definitive meaning. But–and here’s the thickening of occlusion–vacuity is staved off and definitiveness achieved through the proliferation of numerous additional prescriptions; namely, the network of postulation of which ELSA is but one node. So, if you want to know what “suffering” means, just locate the proper node within the network, and you’ll get your answer. This answer, furthermore, will help you know what “pragmatic” action “embrace” entails. And so on and so forth. As Tom Pepper’s essay “Samsara as the Realm of Ideology” argues, this fact alone is not a problem. It is just an instance of ideological “world” formation. I agree that we can’t help but to live in some sort of constructed “world.” The decisive question for me is whether the “truths” of that world (truths in Badiou’s sense, as explained by Tom) include a robust, insistent, and unfailing organon of ideological formation. If not, I call that a system “occlusion.” Any model, such as ELSA, that is grafted onto the x-buddhist power grid necessarily over-determines the adherents beliefs, understanding, and behavior. I think it is disingenuous to say, as Batchelor and the Secular Buddhist do, that their “prescriptions for behavior” are categorically distinct from “descriptions of reality.” What lies behind the prescriptions, what makes them prescribable in the first place, is that they cohere with a view of reality. The prescriptions for behavior are the superstructure; the (tacit, perhaps) description of reality is the base. So, for me, hiding that machination from the adherent constitutes one mode of occlusion; and shading the eyes of the follower with x-buddhistic representations and reflections from the possibility of other “truths” and “worlds,” constitutes another mode.

    [Batchelor] “Rather than shying away from or ignoring what is happening, embrace it with mindful attention; rather than craving to seize it or get rid of it, relax one’s grip; rather than getting caught up in a cascade of reactivity, stop and stay calm; rather than repeat what you have said and done a thousand times before, act in an empathetic and imaginative way.”

    I don’t have an impression that those steps are somehow psychologically naïve. I imagine, that most of his readers find it as a proof that Batchelor’s secular “Dharma” is something enlightening, rather then something that can potentially lead to occlusion. Or maybe fragments as such, not accompanied by more explicit buddhemes as “Siddhattha Gotama” and warrants as ““This template can be applied to every situation in life”, are harmless and beneficial? And when “shorn of its transcendental representations” can be practically used in life.

    But they necessarily resist becoming shorn of the representational matrix that undergirds them. Not to do so would be impossible qua x-buddhist. The entire x-buddhist refuge would collapse.

    Someone could surely use the template; but in order to be harmless, he would have to add a component that cautions against ideological adoption of the system. Maybe then it would be a useful option in experimenting with optimal living. But that usage takes skill–and I don;t mean the x-buddhist “skillful means.” The voltage coursing through x-buddhist and other such teachings is very powerful and alluring. People are attracted to systems that proffer answers. The entire non-buddhism project is about shutting off the dharmic power station and seeing what, deprived of dharmic juice, still hums and buzzes with life.

    Think about that essay!

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