Speculative Non-Buddhism

ruins of the buddhist real

Meditation and Control

Posted by M. Steingass on January 14, 2012

“Keep on selling me my future and I’ll keep on wearing my disguise.”

Meditation lies at the root of the myth of Buddhist exceptionalism. The cataclysmic event known as “awakening” and its aftermath (liberation, the overcoming of suffering,  perfect peace of mind, etc.), was, we are asked to believe, ignited by the Buddha’s practice of sitting meditation.

A central concern of speculative non-buddhism is to explore the relationship between x-buddhist doctrine and its meditation practice. One impetus to this investigation is the curious fact that practice seems invariably to verify doctrine. That fact raises the suspicion that x-buddhistic practice is impotent to effect anything even remotely resembling “liberation,” and, on the contrary, functions as a tool that reinforces established x-buddhistic ideology.

Or is such hallucinatory coercion only the result of subsuming “meditation” under “Buddhism”?  I present you here an essay, “Meditation and Control,” by Matthias Steingass, that gives thought to what might happen if we invert this equation. Such a move is necessary, says Steingass, for, “meditation as a sub-set of x-buddhism is logically unable to see more than that which this framework and setting are able to reveal.”

Along the way, Steingass presents a provocative case for the vampiric demands of our technological society on our attention. In sum, he asks: (1)  “What is our situation; how is it influenced socially by technological-economic forces? (2) Can meditation be of help in our situation? (3) What might the nature of such a practice be? (Glenn Wallis)

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Meditation and Control

By Matthias Steingass

A distinguishing characteristic of the situation we live in is that our attention is very much in demand by media everywhere we go the better part of our waking time. The combined average time of media usage is over eight hours per day. TV-usage alone in Europe and the US is generally around four hours per day; advertising is literally everywhere our senses reach, and the content we are exposed to via this steady input does not seem to be a flow of information we process consciously as much as a stream in which we live with a lot of bait bobbing for our attention.

I am not concerned here with promoted products—with the ads and fads washed around in this hotchpotch. Rather, I am interested in the values which are transmitted to us through this multiple media frenzy. That the definition of beauty for example is inscribed into the consumer via this steady infusion is a more obvious case; but what about more subtle messages concerning, for example, moral values, what to expect from life, what goals to accomplish and how to reach them, notions of fairness in interacting with my partner, neighbors, colleagues, competitors or even with somebody hostile and hateful? Another question: how does this steady stream of media input influence our consciousness on even more basic levels? Does it do so; and, if it does, how does it alter our capacity for deep thinking, how does it affect attention span, and what is its influence on the  synaptogenetic level (neuronal development in childhood)—on a child not even two or three years old, exposed to this never sleeping, maniacally colorful maelstrom, moving, shifting, whispering, magically conjuring I-want-everything-and-I-want-it-now? If you’ve ever seen a child in front of a TV, you know how completely attention can get hooked.

My question is, can meditation be—together, perhaps, with other practices—a form of attention-control? And if this is indeed possible, can such a practice have some kind of impact on hooked attention?

In my view, the situation is very problematic. It is not only that attention is hooked and we are manipulated at a very basic level of our being. It is that attention is a scarce commodity over which the fight is on, and that we as living beings are the one‘s producing this raw material around which our society in the age of information is revolving. This is not a paranoid fantasy about some Matrix in which we live (that film anyway is a false metaphor with that pill Morpheus gives Neo in order to see real reality). One can make a compelling case about how certain forms of reality and social norms are generated, and how these realities and norms we fill with life are destroying basic, essential forms of interaction.

The French philosopher Bernard Stiegler analyses the situation in depth in his book Taking Care of Youth and the Generations. He cites Primo Levi in his introduction: “Not to consider human beings as things is to escape the total humiliation and demoralization which leads to spiritual ruin.“ It is an inadequate understanding of the technological thrust of our culture which leads to the conception of the human as just another thing, and, with this, to the destruction of spirituality—or to name it more fitting to the situation now in which spirituality is also a commodity: Responsibility!

Can meditation do something about this situation? If one has learned about meditation in a Buddhist context one would think it necessary to put this question to Buddhism itself. Is Buddhism able to see this problem of attention as raw material which is produced by humans who are treated as things? Buddhism declares itself to be a soteriological problem-solver which knows all about the human situation. From this point of view it seems logical that Buddhism is a solution in this situation and that meditation then is part of the solution.

But is this so? Is meditation a sub-set of Buddhism? I don‘t think so. In a certain sense, I would put it the other way around: Buddhism is a sub-set of Meditation. Buddhism is a multifaceted patchwork of theories about mind, social behavior, the meaning of life, speculations about the from and where-to of Dasein. As such, it is just another culturally conditioned answer to the question that the ape who has to confront seeing his own death must ask himself. In contrast to this conditioned answer, meditation, as a „natural“ ability to think in a certain way, is a given to this ape. It is a present of life —or seen from the theory of evolution, it is the developed ability to be present with the representation of parts of the environment in a mode of nowness, while this representational nowness-system is transparent to itself.

Buddhism in this context is, like many other known, unknown, long forgotten and yet to come cultural developments, inventions, innovations and creative solutions of the Homo sapiens,just one answer—an answer, furthermore, that has to compete with all other answers. It is in no way a superior answer; and as Glenn Wallis’s article on this blog, “Nascent Speculative Non-Buddhism,” shows [link below], it is more likely caught in a circularity of defining reality and giving answers to this defined/constructed reality without being conscious of the act of definition, which rather invents a certain reality, while stipulating that this definition/construction is the last and ultimate answer. Buddhism is unaware of the fact that it is in itself a representational act. The inability to see this is partly due, I think, to the transparency of consciousness as an island of nowness, an island which cannot see, or only to a limited extent, its foundational structures—which, as far as it concerns moral values, are to a good extent, or maybe for the most part, built by the attention-harvesting culture industries. Seen from this angle, with Buddhism being unaware of the situation and being itself a product sold to the consumer, it is part of the problem, not of the solution. If the Buddhism in question is a x-buddhism as seen from non-buddhism then by definition it is unable to to do something about the social situation in which the human as such is raw material with his attention as his central organ to be exploited. “The Dalai Lama MasterChef” ” [link below], seen in this light, is an example par excellence of how Buddhism is put to work to exploit consumer attention.

Meditation as a sub-set of x-buddhism is logically unable to see more than that which this framework and setting are able to reveal.

Contrary to this, meditation as an ability of consciousness for  introspection, to look for the limits of introspection and to think about representations as representations is part of the becoming aware of the possibilities and limitations of consciousness.

Seen from this angle meditation must also examine buddhistic postulations about meditation and its object. For example in Tibetan Buddhism, the so called luminous or space-like mind or mind-itself is seen as an immortal entity. Does this  impression hold? In light of what we know today, the impression of immortality might simply be a misinterpretation of the transparency of consciousness. If consciousness is limited in its ability to see its own foundational structures and if it calms down enough, while staying alert, to contemplate awareness as such, then it very well might regard this seemingly unborn, deathless, sky-like crystal clear space as immortal—simply because it cannot see the mortality of its foundational structure.

Furthermore, while some forms of meditation might, as is claimed, have positive effects on personal health, on interpersonal interaction, on sociality, etc. (and while this might have to do with learning to dissociate from compulsive behavior), there is on the other side no source for knowledge down there in this clear cool well of calm abiding. The Buddha certainly did not find knowledge about quantum physics sitting under the bodhi-tree. If sitting in calm awareness, in relaxed dissociation from content is of value, then as the foundation of knowledge in the sense of Thomas Metzinger’s phenomenal self-model and not as knowledge itself or as a channel which leads to knowledge somewhere in a mystical way without simple learning. Perhaps the direction is of importance here. To dig deeper is impossible. The bare, utter, naked awareness is the invisible concrete wall which is permeable only in deep sleep and death—in the sense that the self-model there, hereafter, does not exist, is unthinkable. In the opposite direction, mind unfolds in myriad strategies because of the need to ask questions.

So the answer to the initial question seems to be: Yes, meditation can be of support for a better life in terms of health and sociality; but with consciousness transparent to itself it cannot, out of itself, gather knowledge about itself. As Thomas Metzinger puts it: “From the structure of our own inner experience, epistemological claims are not yet deducible.” With this conclusion one can say meditation alone is unable to see the problem situation sketched above.

This has far reaching consequences not only with view on the immortal Buddhist mind but also in view of our own socially contingent character structures. If we want to become better beings, more tolerant, politically aware, morally grown-up, less addicted to a surrogate-life full of tomorrows which never come; and if we must doubt at the same time the ability of introspection to reveal the formative powers of our value-systems, then the very important question arises: how can we judge the quality of our knowledge?  I think non-buddhism tries to give an answer here.

Meditation as relaxed and calm dissociation from content might contribute to this if it establishes a calm base from which the search does not try to reach ever more further inwardly but from where it reaches out to the other. In the problem situation Bernard Stiegler sketches in the book mentioned above, this other is in danger of disappearing. He or she, the being we live with, disappears behind a smoke screen of fake sociality. Disappearing —and this is the main point—because we loose control of our own attention. The situation we live in is a situation in which our attention is the commodity which really counts as economic fuel, a commodity which is of crucial importance for the market. It is not, of course, a commodity that is physically traded at the CME (the Chicago Mercantile Exchange), but it is one which is nonetheless at the heart of our being and therefore at the heart of being with our fellow human beings. If we switch on the TV, then a feature film, a soap, reality-TV, a cooking show with some celebrity shaman as guest—these are nothing more than the tools to lead our attention to its maximum alertness when the next commercial starts. What the TV-company sells to the advertising company, and further, to the producer of bliss and happiness forever, is our attention. It is brain time—literally— on which they trade. Our brain time.

In a sense the price per minute payed for a commercial is the market quotation for attention. This is one of the defining features of control-society. Attention is its main commodity. The term „control-society“ should not be confused with “surveillance-society.“ The latter situation is the one which, especially after 9/11, is in full bloom. Data-scanning and gathering in every manner here and data protection, privacy, the fight for the right of anonymity there, are the two antipodes fighting. Control-society is a much less debated item. It is by definition much more difficult to discern because it is the entity which controls the individual by bringing him to the point where he willingly and joyfully consents to the norms governing his society. It is a control which is not experienced as control. The term stems from Gilles Deleuze, who coined it more than twenty years ago in an astonishingly farsighted text entitled “Post-scriptum sur les sociétés du contrôle.“ In this short text, Deleuze develops further Foucault‘s historical analysis of the disciplinary-society and the sovereignty-society. The latter, being the oldest form, is typical for the feudal state in which the sovereign is in full charge over life and death of the individual. From this form in Europe with Napoleon the change to the disciplinary-society was completed. This is the society in which the individual is disciplined via family, school, barracks, factory, and so on. A highly hierarchical social order is typical here, while the following control-society which is our home now, developing strongly since the second world war and especially since the roaring sixties, is a relatively flat hierarchy in comparison. A further distinctive feature here is that this (information) society shifts its main emphasis from workforce to brainpower whereby the exploitation shifts to the attention which is produced by the brains. One could say the consumer is the new proletarian, and that it is no longer his workforce that is exploited but his attention.

The analysis Bernard Stiegler offers shows in detail that the way the attention of the citizen is harvested and strained is destroying the possibility of individuation, and with this, responsibility on every plane of society from the most basic—the love of two as “an atom of transindividual universality, as the first degree of the individual‘s passage to an immediate beyond“ (Badiou)—to the most general—the question how life in this civilization will go on. Control-society, not as an entity controlled by a secret organization like the Illuminati or a hidden agenda of the government ,but as an autopoietic institution, is deaf to this. It has by the very nature of its being no possibility of gathering knowledge about itself with the tool of simple introspection. So if one wants to understand the social fundamentals of our irresponsibility, of our moral failure, it is not enough to sit down and train in meditation. Meditation as attention-control from and for the individual can be  part of the solution if it is accompanied by learning and the widening of the horizon of knowledge in unforeseen directions—directions that are not, and cannot be, redacted by institutions mostly busy supporting themselves instead of engaging in real, risky interaction.

In this context here I want to propose meditation as a tool of gaining control of our own attention. In the freed space which can develop in this way there must then be learning. The free space itself is not enough and can, as every pharmakon, become poisonous. A cleared space within as a result of meditation can only be understood as a basis and not as an ultimate aim. It would be a base in which one would refuse to let one‘s attention be exploited and it would be the basis from which a new learning could develop, a learning that would try to understand the situation of the human in relation to technology and program industries and the relation of these forces vis-a-vis  attention and responsibility. Meditation as a clearing becomes a weapon against the parasitic forces of attention exploitation—and it protects and supports thinking as the original capability of the Homo sapiens.

This all is very cursory. The main questions again are: 1) What is our situation, how is it influenced socially by technological-economic forces? 2) Can meditation be of help in our situation?  (3) What might the nature of such a practice be?

To develop this case further, there is some reading to do: Bernard Stiegler’s Taking Care of Youth and the Generations is the main reference point to deal with the question of our situation. Thomas Metzinger‘s Being No One, or the summary of this in his “Grundkurs Philosophie des Geistes, Band I,” is a first approach to deal with the question of consciousness and to look from here—not vice versa —on older discussions about this phenomenon, and, specifically, to assess what is in general usage fuzzily called “meditation.“ Regarding the latter, I would suggest  a look at  Longchen Rabjams A Treasure Trove of Scriptural Transmission (Chapters 9 and 10) in Richard Barron‘s translation. Longchen Rabjams “natural meditative stability“ (tib: bsam gtan) is an important term here that needs to be looked at. What is left of “natural meditative stability“ when it is shorn of its transcendental ornamentations remains to be seen.

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Matthias Steingass is the founder of the German-English language blog Der Unbuddhist. Matthias studied math and economics. He has worked in the financial markets for the past seventeen years. Matthias has also worked as a musician (bass and sampling). In addition to his career, Matthias is currently pursuing his interests in philosophy while at the same time pursing music again, this time as a songwriter.

Matthias can be reached at: matthias.steingass@web.de

Links

Meditation and Control” pdf file (Articles page)

Nascent Speculative Non-Buddhism

The Dalai Lama MasterChef

Photograph: From an advertisement for Philips Aurea flat screen TVs.

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85 Responses to “Meditation and Control”

  1. “In the freed space which can develop in this way there must then by learning.” I imagine there’s a typo here, and Steinglass means “be” learning, there must be learning. In other words, once one struggles with the phenomenology of a “freed space” in meditative practice, then the release, if only temporary, from the stream of both media and one’s adaption to media (“media” being all the culture, etc.), once this swirl of image and idea and belief is calmed, once the phantasmagoria of distorted belief lifts, then one is free to…think new thoughts! …have a different experience of this project we call the self! …rest in the case of what-is! …move in a different direction, make different decisions! Excuse me, I sound excited at the possibility.
    I am reminded of Wilfred Bion’s definition of mental health, which was the capacity to learn from one’s own experience. That is, if we can calm our own minds, quiet the fantasia that rises between ourselves and what-is, then living itself will begin to teach us. We move beyond the neurotic stasis of repeating endlessly, without learning. Bion had gone through World War I, an officer taking orders from higher-ups, moving his doomed men from one hump of mud to another, all without meaning or purpose or order or sensibility. He knew well the chaos that lies behind the illusions of a triumphant self. He never bought it.

  2. Hi Molly. Great to hear from you (here)! I fixed the typo in both the post and the pdf. Thanks for pointing it out. Bringing someone like Bion into the discussion is very much in the spirit of the project here. It’s an instance of the Great Feast of Knowledge.

    My non-buddhist curiosity is to what extent a meditation practice–or something like it–might serve, despite its rhetoric to the contrary, to perpetuate a particular fantasia, namely, the x-buddhist fantasia (and “mindfulness” is included in that moniker). If it is “liberation,” for instance, as defined by tradition, then where are we vis-a-vis liberation as defined by, say, Wilfred Bion, which may ask of us something quite different from the x-buddhistic variety? It would turn out not to be “liberation,” but some prescribed display of group mind (the grooves of borrowed thought). Hence, meditation, in such an instance, merely serves the status quo ideological framework of the x-buddhist community.

    My interest–and I believe I can add Matthias’s, too, as expressed in his article–is whether “meditation” (though that term itself might already distort our thinking about it) might aid in moving us “beyond the neurotic stasis of repeating endlessly, without learning” the x-buddhistic playbook, and continually enacting its network of postulation.

    I expect this discussion of “meditation” to be a long term project in and of itself.

    Thanks again, Molls!

  3. Joop said

    Hallo Matthias, Glenn
    Buddhism doesn’t exist; there are several buddhist traditions, several buddhisms. Perhaps these have something in common.
    One of the topics some of these buddhisms have, is the insight of DUKKHA.
    Most times the examples given of what dukkha is in buddhist teachings are oldfashioned
    But what you are telling Matthias (as far as I understand) is a superbe description of dukkha in the 21th century !
    So buddhism (the buddhism I prefer, that in which dukkha is an important concept) can describe the realityn of today.
    Can it solve it too? Hardly. Not on a collective level. Perhaps for some individuals, adults without a family or other obligations

    And then meditation
    Meditation doesn’t exist, there are everal meditation-methods with big differences between them; and especially with different aims, wordly and nonworldly. Most of the aims are to difficult to realize.
    And perhaps impossible to realize. But so what, one can try?
    A discussion abou ‘meditation’is only useful when one exactly describes the kind of meditation (for example samatha, vipassana, metta, contemplation, visualization, etc) and the instructions belonging to it.
    You propose “meditation as a tool of gaining control of our own attention”, that’s an worldly aim and makes me think on the mindfulness of Kabat Zinn, a therapeutic tool as a tranlsation of ‘insight meditation’ aka vipassana.
    I prefer another aim, more (but not perfect) in line with the soteriologic aim of buddhism:
    meditation as a tool of seeing the world as a madhouse, of having no illusions, releasing any illusion about meaning of life.

  4. David said

    I find it amusing that you consider meditation to be useful as a tool for learning and analyzing how our attention is bought and sold since this topic is obviously of great interest to you. If “spirituality” is of great interest to someone then meditation is the door into cosmic awareness (of course we are trapped in our human capacities so sure we could be fooling ourselves about the meaning of our cosmic awareness but no harm done in being a fool). I enjoy the sense of sight, so for me meditation helps me to increase the pleasure and experience of sight in ways that are hard to explain. If I was a frog meditation would help me be better at catching flies, relaxed and alert.

    I don’t find any poison in meditation (vipassana style) and I don’t feel a need to make meditation a tool for learning as you seem to because I am not predisposed to having learning be such a big deal. Thank goodness not everyone has the same predispositions as I do! I also don’t consider meditation a goal or ultimate aim. It is simply a technique to employ that results in numerous benefits depending on the practitioners nature and belief system.

    As for TV and such, there is an off button. Perhaps in the future that will not be the case but for now we can choose not to participate.

  5. Hello Mollylayton

    I tend to think that meditation as I understand it can develop or help in the direction to „have a different experience of this project we call self“, even to „rest in the case what-is!“ – as you say. But I am very reluctant to speak/write about this because it can be easily misunderstood. I think the second part of the equation, „learning“ or perhaps better „education“, is of great importance here. Bernard Stiegler, in the book I mention, comes to the conclusion that today the culture industries (media, marketing etc.) short-circuit the educational process. With this process he means the development of a critical consciousness in a Kantian sense – the ability to see on the one side the value of the inherited but to see also the necessity to develop it further. The latter might be what you mean with „move in a different direction“. The short-circuiting of the intergenerational educational process leads to a different form of education which depends exclusively on discrete learnable elements and where emotion is put to work exclusively to establish a direct relationship between the product and the consumer – whereby knowledge also becomes a product to be consumed. In this form of ,education‘ the intergenerational aspect is excluded – the relationship and warmth which develops (in an optimal case) between the generations and in which knowledge is embedded. This leads to the situation that „learning“ today is something very different from Kant‘s critical consciousness and what he said about it in the context of enlightenment. So to refine my case about meditation I should say that there has to be not only meditation as a pharmakon to help hooked attention but there has also to be a relearning of learning. In this regard I find it very interesting to read about Wilfried Bion‘s thinking. In the english wikipedia-article (which doesn‘t look so bad) about Bion I read „thoughts exist prior to their realization. Thinking, the capacity to think the thoughts which already exist, develops through another mind providing α-function (A theory of thinking, 1962, p. 83) – through the ,container‘ role of maternal reverie.“ This might be a parallel to the intergenerational learning Stiegler mentions in his book. Stiegler develops his case with the help of Freud and Kant and so you mentioning Wilfried Bion is very much in place here (and will help me to learn more).

    I think only with meditation as something as a ,natural‘ ability to calm down while staying fully alert and after relearning learning (if necessary), what you talk about could develop, namely „to think new thoughts“. If learning is only the input of discreet knowledge elements, then learning about meditation is already hampered. In this sense meditation and the kind of learning one pursues seem to have a very important relationship. I would say, if somebody is learning in a style which is deprived of the lust for knowledge, the desire to know more, which is a (never ending) process without a stop attached like enlightenment (this time in the buddhist meaning) and if such a person sits in front of a meditation teacher whom s/he deems endowed with the „hidden causal essence“ then in any case „new thoughts“ will not emerge. If on the other side there is the possibility to engage in critical thinking while learning about meditation then something creative might ensue.

    I also think in such a environment it might be very valuable to talk about experience. I think to search for terms and for verbal expressions which ,feel right‘, which ,fit‘ the experience one has (or has not), is of value because this gives expression to a living and vital relation between meaning and experience – in opposition to the cold relation of dogmatic transcendental claims and their complement, a zombie-like immanence of wishful thinking. But critical here is that the critical faculty has already been developed (or is developed at the same time) because otherwise what ,feels right‘ and what ,fits‘ might be just another iteration of the „grooves of borrowed thought“.

    A word in regard of the terms I use.

    Joop,

    I am fully aware of the fact that there are different forms of meditation. I use the term anyway (for the time being). First, as you can see in my text I try several times to specify what I mean. See for example „relaxed dissociation from content“. In regard what I wrote in the paragraph above this term has a certain ,living‘ meaning for me, it ,fits‘ certain experiences I know/have. I know such a meaning is not easily transferred via writing. I have also, I must say, the tendency to intentionally be obscure and ambiguous sometimes. That is why I like the term „dissociation“. It is used also as a description of a psychopathological condition. The differences in meaning in certain contexts provoke irritation which can serve as an opener for conversation. I like that.

    It is clear that, as Glenn says, the term meditation in itself may distort what we think about the thing in question. But for the time being I have no other term and I simply expect somebody reading my text to try to think along and glean from it what I might mean. I abstain from using technical terms because they are often used in a x-buddhistic sense to talk about dogma not experience. Also there is another difficulty. You mention „samatha“ and „vipassana“. The usage of these terms are often a typical example of the kind of disconnected knowledge particles mentioned above. Often one is expected to, first, practice „calm abiding“ and then when the mind is calm and clear, second, one begins with „insight meditation“. Unfortunately the human mind isn‘t not always that easy to handle. A calm abiding might easily translate into an insight about the functioning of mind, self, experience, bliss, whatever – and it might be the other way around too. So what do you do if you are to practice shamata and an insight pops up? You ignore it because you practice shamata? I think it is not that easy and therefore I cannot say I talk about vipassana as you intimate. – And if you say: „A discussion about ‘meditation’ is only useful when one exactly describes [it] and the instructions belonging to it“ – then you just might land in the trap Glenn describes in the second paragraph of #2.

    As with „dukkha“. That too I would not use. The „control-society“, the „exploitation of attention“ are well defined terms with which one can work. Why use „dukkha“? A x-buddhist would nod to me with a wise smile in his face and then would go on to prescribe the whole set of psycho-medical admonition he has at his command. He would add, „oh yes, what you describe, this comes all from craving. But there is freedom and there is a way to freedom: Just follow the eightfold path.“ He would invite me to come to his sangha we would burn some incense… ok, I am getting cynical. But do you get what I mean?

    If the eightfold path is used as atomized knowledge and as such sold to the consumer it is worth nothing. And even if it is not atomized knowledge and instead somebody works to integrate it (I have no doubt there are people around here which do this in an ernest and to be respected way) then there still is all the knowledge we now have. There still is a situation which is very different from the time when somebody like „the protagonist“ might have lived. In this regard I don‘t think that „dukkha“ can describe the reality I try to describe in my text very accurately.

    So thank you very much for your approval but let‘s rather go on and find our very own words.

    David, I am not sure if you get what I mean with meditation. I know my wording can look a bit mechanical. But I have written now, see above, I hope, some thoughts which should make it clearer that it is not about a „tool“ in the sense of the pill Morpheus presents Neo in The Matrix.

    What you say about the off button… sadly it is not that easy. Many small children sit with a TV for hours a day, with special programs tailored especially for them. They are formed in the depth of there very being without having the option to turn it off. They simply learn that that what is called control-society is their natural habitat.

  6. David said

    Where I live in Mexico this on/ off thing is not so much of an issue. The dozens and dozens of young children on our block or two play in the streets with scraps of cardboard, plastic bottles, balls, and the occasional four wheeled toy. TV’s cost too much money and electricity is quite expensive. Then, due to lack of employment and low wages, the cost of going to “public” schools and modeling adults, they often grown up with nothing to do but hang around the streets. Play time is over. So much for the advantage of no TV.

    Last week a group of Chinese shoppes mobbed an Apple Store in China while waiting to purchase the new iThing. Many got their bodies hurt, many more seemed to be suffering from raging desire. Perhaps just one generation ago the mad shoppers parents were without much electricity and struggling to feed their family, not to unlike the families on my block. Who wants to choose which life is better??

  7. Hi David. Nice to hear from you. I think you make a very interesting point. I can see, too, how it might actually complement Matthias’s (and non-buddhism’s) thinking on the question of “meditation.” A couple of articles I just read add another dimension to what you’re saying, too.

    Your comments point to the need to localize practice; or put another way, to form understandings of practice that take into account local conditions. Such a position, however, is at odds with any and every x-buddhist framework for meditation. Decision, on which all forms of “Buddhism” are predicated, requires both transcendent and universal norms. “Buddhist meditation/mindfulness” names a global panacea. It’s warrant is notarized by “things as they are.” You are saying, well, let’s consider “things as they are in Mexico.” As I am sure you know, that is not what x-buddhists mean by the phrase. From a speculative non-buddhist angle, you–David–are thus able to cast meditation in the terms you do (in comment #1) because you have already performed certain necessary actions, such as ancoric loss, devitalization of charism, cancellation of warrant, inhibiting the network of postulation, postulate deflation, disinterest, etc. Doing so allows, perhaps, re-commission of postulates, curvature, and so on. Having done so puts you at odds, again–liberates you from!–the traditional machinery and from the principle of sufficient buddhism..

    Secondly, some other dove-tailing (with comment #6). In his Adbusters report on the Beyond Growth Congress held in Berlin last May, Brian Davey asks “what could a post-growth society look like, and how should we prepare for it?” Davey cites the influence of the “global south” on the conference’s thinking, in particular its representatives’ presentations of central and South American indigenous models of “the good life.” In short, those models give lie to the unquestioned capitalist assumption that consumerism is natural to human nature, hence, a necessary feature of a satisfying life. There are many rich avenues of exploration here. For instance, apropos of our discussion on this blog, if, for the sake of exploratory argument, we accept anti-growth’s basic assumptions, what role does meditation play as situated within the current x-buddhistic industry? Whatever else we might ascribe to meditation, does it also serve to further inculcate values that contribute to social inequality and environmental degradation? Does it enable, indeed perhaps encourage, acquiescence to the apparatuses of state dominance? Can we see such x-buddhistic values as equanimity, letting go, bare attention, naked awareness, “mindfulness ,” non-reactivity, calmness, indeed meditation itself, as modes of perpetuation, indeed contribution, to the problem?

    In another Adbuster article, “Good Times on Campus,” Darren Fleet reports on a collaboration between the University of North Carolina and Target during freshman orientation week. In brief, “the box store giant organized a fleet of buses to take freshmen on a midnight shopping frenzy in their store as the week’s grand finale.” In that piece, Fleet cites a recent study that shows that “the majority of America’s young adults on campus navigate ethical propositions based only on time, feeling, benefit and desire.” But the most surprising finding was that “the participants in the study were not at all bothered by ‘rabid consumerism’ and lacked even the most basic language to formulate ethical queries and consumerism. To them, the market was a benign and neutral reality.” As Joel Bakan puts it: “marketing as marketing disappears within the viral networks of social media platforms.”

    Again, there are numerous avenues of exploration here concerning meditation. Matthias proposes that before we can even say what “meditation” is or should be, we must know what our situation is, and how that situation is influenced by technological-economic forces. Again, like politics, “our situation” is, in the first instance, local. How well does x-buddhism describe our situation? What resources does it give us for doing so? Or is it, as x-buddhism, beholden to an archaic situation or an ostensible universal situation—one founded, moreover, on “how things are”?

    Finally, another study I read recently (I can’t remember or locate it now) showed that a simple walk in the woods served to enhance attention. (Subjects were given a battery of tests pre- and post-walk.) A walk in the city had the opposite effect, as did activities such as watching TV. The scientist explanation for the result? The brain gets a rest in the woods. Might “meditation” be simply a way to rest the brain? As long as we permit the voltaic network of x-buddhistic postulation to dominate our discussion of such matters we can never arrive at any conclusions or suggestions for practice other than those already given us by x-buddhism.

    So, we need to clear the ground and ask anew, as Matthias does:

    “What is our situation, how is it influenced socially by technological-economic forces? 2) Can meditation be of help in our situation? (3) What might the nature of such a practice be?”

  8. David said

    Glenn,

    I sure enjoy your ability to ask good questions.

    “1)What is our situation, how is it influenced socially by technological-economic forces? 2) Can meditation be of help in our situation? (3) What might the nature of such a practice be?”

    Perhaps these questions you pose can be doctored to fit buddhist lingo. #1 could be asked in the way of – this causes that, conditioned reactions. What are OUR conditions? #2 could be asked as “come and see.” #3 since there are a variety of buddhist style meditation techniques with some various goals, concentration, loving kindness, insight, there are a variety of practices to suit an individual’s conditioned existence in a media-consumer society or in a society where other forces are more prevalent.

    My hunch is there are benefits to be gained through meditation, or a walk in the woods, though the intentional calming of our chatter box minds if only to unhook us, even in some small ways, from the individual conditions of our life, whatever those may be. Like a refreshing drink after a long walk in the hot sun.

    I do find the idea that what we are, in terms of value to those who wish to sell us something, are individual pockets of attention. The winners are those that are able to grab our attention. The money follows. The control follows. The devotion follows.

    We may never know what we are in an unconditioned state, although that seems to the the ultimate goal of buddhist meditation. (My hunch is even that realization is a conditioned human experience. Goodness knows it talks a lot of conditioning to get there.) Never-the-less, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just the travel to the ultimate goal, if it is a worthy goal, is of benefit. I can’t find anything unworthy in the path . . . yet.

    David

  9. Greg said

    I am one who would say that “a discussion about ‘meditation’ is only useful when one exactly describes [it] and the instructions belonging to it.”

    I think it is unlikely that people will simply “glean from it what [you] might mean.” The will glean something, certainly. All sorts of things. But the idea that you can simply sidestep the problem of practice instructions being beholden to doctrine by using an exceedingly broad and vague term and refusing to define it is not credible.

  10. I understand the objection that a discussion about meditation needs an exact description of it. But my question here is not about a certain technique but wether, if any at al, there is a mental technique which can help us in the situation of attention-exploitation. For me therefore the first question is how this exploitation works? How does it influence the human consciousness? What mechanisms are at work here? (And of course I have to ask, if this exploitation really exists, maybe I am brainwashed by some leftist hypnosis?) The second question is, what do we know about the human consciousness today? Then it is only the third question, how this consciousness can protect and develop itself using this knowledge?

    This seems to me at the moment a logical way to proceed. Maybe it is not a linear development and these question are a system in which each component influences each other. Nevertheless I am not willing to begin with a meditation-technique as prescribed in some x-buddhism. This will only support knowledge in the confines of this system. Also I will not begin with any technique which is used just to revive exhausted citizens of the control-society. I am interested in how to see the ideology in which I live – the ideology which is me? (Ideology in Tom Pepper‘s/Althusser‘s sense)

    In this context I propose some basic assumptions to arrange topics/qualities/possibilities.

    1. A calm, relaxed and at the same time alert mental state is a human ability.
    2. This is the base for any knowledge and insight (in the sense of Metzinger‘s phenomenal self-model).
    3. This comes before any symbolic language.
    4. The third assumption does not necessarily means it is unconditioned.
    5. A basic x-buddhistic fallacy is that this calm, relaxed, alert mental state driven to its extreme, maybe with the help of sensory deprivation, fasting and/or ritual etc., is the ultimate goal, is enlightenment, liberation, deathlessness etc.
    6. From the second and third assumption follows that it is of crucial importance to go into the right direction: Any training in this mental state will not in and of itself gain knowledge about ideology.
    7. Knowledge and new insight about ideology, or to name it otherwise, about the milieu in which one lives, comes with education.
    8. Education is a complex intergenerational process in which technology (from the flint axe onwards) plays a crucial role and which leeds optimally to a critical faculty which is able to preserve and develop its environment.
    9. The defining role of technology for the human has not been understood well in our time.
    10. Technology as used now destroys the intergenerational process of education. It does this by exploiting desire in its will to be rewarded instantly instead of transforming desire into longterm projects.
    11. The main instrument of technology now is marketing (in its broadest possible sense), functioning as the mercenary of consumer capitalism to hook attention for accessing desire.
    12. From the fifth assumption follows, x-buddhism does not understand any of this because it goes into the false direction long before it reaches any insight into modern society. (A corollary from this is, I think, that the whole ideology Tom Pepper analyses in „Feast, Interrupted“ serves only to protect tibetan-buddhism‘s fallacy about the so called clear light. )

    My working hypothesis then is: A calm, relaxed and alert mental state is able to disconnect marketing from attention, disconnecting thereby the individual from attention exploitation.

    Therefore: A calm, relaxed and alert mental state as a clearing becomes a weapon against the parasitic forces of attention exploitation—and it protects and supports thinking as the original capability of the Homo sapiens.

    Therein lies already a kind of an instruction how to proceed (without naming the un-word „meditation“), but as I have written yesterday I doubt if becoming calm, relaxed and alert is it all.

    Perhaps it could very well be that the „localization of practice“ which Glenn brings to mind, means that we in our so called developed countries come back to very basic and unspectacular kinds of behavior when we strip meditation off its mystical pomp. For example sitting for prolonged times, concentrated on a certain topic without any interruption – that‘s what we learn in school. Perhaps for the calm state of mind it needs really nothing more than a walk in the woods. I wonder how a walk in the woods would compare to a MBSR-session? Perhaps it needs no more then nothing need be done. Disenchantment.

    Obviously in the environment David talks about a very different approach might be needed. „Nothing need be done“ would sound cynic. I myself have been at a very poor place recently. In the small village somebody installed the first ,internet-cafe‘. Nobody there needed meditation. But I thought the young people their needed somebody who would teach them how to gain access to the information on the net and how to use that to their own progress. One could imagine a kind of grassroots education for a situation David describes in #6. If there is internet, then the library is already there. It needs a w-lan router, some relatively cheap computer equipment and a creative and enduring pedagogue to install a basic learning environment.

    I don‘t want to sound naïve, I can imagine it is not easy. One problem will be that the connection to the net will be used to fulfill short-term desire and not to learn about possible longterm projects. Or, if the money is there, it will be ,invested‘ in TV – as it was in the place I was. Most of the households already had TV but no internet – whereas the latter would provide the possibility of affordable (self)education.

  11. Tom Pepper said

    David asks, I assume rhetorically, “who wants to choose” between the abject poverty he sees in Mexico and the pathetic consumerist frenzy of iphone customers. I would suggest, there’s no choice to be made here–they are both absolutely necessary for the maintenance of global capitalism. If you don’t know why, try reading Ernest Mandel’s “Introduction to Marxist Economics” or Paul Mattick’s “Business as Usual. The only way this applies to meditation, in my opinion, is that both groups are completely functioning as automatons, unable to see the global causes of their ideological and economic identities. Perhaps there is some kind of meditation that could actually encourage, rather than block, real thought and understanding? Otherwise, neither group will ever be empowered to become active subjects.

    The choice, then, is not which kind of cog I want to be in the capitalist machine–that is to refuse to choose, or think, at all. There are, however, other options.

    Matthias: I cannot imagine what you mean by this calm mental state that precedes symbolic language. Is this sort of like the cessation of thought that passes for vipassana in the US today? How does that not lead, once again, to a subtle atman, that pure consciousness that is totally separate from socially produced language/thought?

    My position is that this kind of pretended cessation of thought is no more than a retreat from some discourse into another–to wit, the discourse of x-buddhisms. If we understand the subject as always and only a product of some symbolic order, then there can’t possibly be any “self” free of discourse–the buddhist subject just a self purely constructed within the symbolic order of buddhist discourse. It may be useful to retreat from the powerful mind-control of our bombardment with superficial information, but without another discourse to shift into, it just isn’t likely to get us anywhere. Thought occurs, not in our brains, but in the symbolic order, which always requires multiple individuals, and which is the only reason we humans have the capacity to escape the powerful control of our ideologies; most of us don’t, but we do have the capacity. As I’ve said elsewhere, I think if we simply understand karma and samsara and bhava as referring to ideological practices, self-reproducing social relations, and interpellation (respectively), then a number of unresolvable conundrums in buddhist philosophy are cleared away.

    I do agree with the idea that different practices are necessary at different times to get clear of different ideological/social formations. It is not accident that Zen arises at the point when literacy and the concept of money/exchange value were becoming widespread in Japan: the transition from orality to literacy and the sense of alienation it produces, the production of a new form of subjectivity, gave rise to a particular form of meditation practice. This might not be of much use to us today, though, as the structure of our subjectivity is dramatically different. I would suggest that Zen might once have been a radical refusal fo interpellation, but today functions purely as a prop for consumerism, a temporary respite from the frenzied bombardement of depthless information.

    I’ve mentioned the connection between the orality-literacy shift and Zen to a couple of Zen Buddhists–and boy do they get defensive, angry and, well, come unzenned. They always insist that there is no historicity to the timeless truth of zazen, and it is the kind of meditation Buddha practiced.

  12. PerD said

    Tom,
    Could you say a bit more of what specific aspects of medieval Japanese forms of Zen Buddhism you are referring to, and how they relate to the changing social context you mentioned?

  13. David said

    Being calm, relaxed and alert is what we need to have established before observation of our changing mind and body states can be observed with any clarity and equanimity which then results in a shift of perspective, awaking, bliss, bottle rockets, a nice nap, or whatever.

    Being calm, relaxed and alert (actually I think just relaxed and alert the calm is a result of these two) are not themselves results so much as pre-conditions to meditation, what many seem to do for the first X amount of time during the first part of their sit. These preconditions can be fairly easily met with some simple instructions.

    Not sure meditation “protects or supports thinking”. There are many great thinkers who have never meditated and many experienced mediators who are not such good thinkers.

    Thinking and problem solving are human capabilities for sure but I would not want to stake a claim that meditation directly impacts either one of these things.

    I would suggest it has an impact on our RELATIONSHIP to thinking and problem solving; and if I might go out on a limb, on the benefit to ourselves and others that result from our thinking and problem solving.

  14. Tom,

    Point #1 I make is, I think, a simple observation one can make. Moreover it is possible to deepen this experience to a point where the phenomenon of being someone, a person, a self „as such“ comes to the forefront. I speculate that this might simply be a cultivation of what in Metzinger‘s phenomenal self-model is described as a „primitive and pre-reflective form of self-awareness“. He says of this phenomenon that this „seems to be the basis of all higher social and conceptual forms of self-awarness“ and that in this „nonconceptual self-representation lies the origin of the perspective of the first person.“ This is what I reference with my points #2 and #3.

    I must say the expression „being someone as such“ or „ awareness as such“ or whatever is ambiguous. All the more because, that is my further speculation in #5, this phenomenon is mis-interpreted in certain meditational traditions as deathless or some kind of atman – as you put it. What I am talking about is not some atman but a simple phenomenological observation one can cultivate. My point is that exactly the mis-interpretation of this phenomenon as something otherworldly which can leave the body, a most subtle consciousness that conquers death, leads to the x-buddhistic claim to know something very very special which has to be cultivated for years and years while it is nothing special in reality.

    What I want to indicate here is exactly the demystification of certain meditational experiences which are described in the Tibetan mahamudra and dzogchen traditions and I hope to do this more detailed in the future.

    We are on common grounds with what you say in the reminder of your fourth paragraph. „Thought occurs, […] in the symbolic order, which always requires multiple individuals“ – that is what I mean in points #7 and #8. What has to be shown though is how technology and its inappropriate understanding and control leads, from the perspective of Bernard Stiegler, to the destruction of the educational process.

  15. Tom Pepper said

    PerD:

    Galen Amstutz published a very interesting article in “Pacific World” in 2009, about the role of the shift from orality to literacy in the origins of Shin Buddhism. He discusses Walter Ong’s famous theory, and the transition in Japan at the time that both Shin and Zen arose. I’ll quote a couple paragraphs here:

    “Noting that literacy was a late phenomenon of human history that
    reshaped consciousness in significant ways, Ong attempts to specify
    how it differed from the earlier history of strictly oral communication.
    According to his famous thesis, writing restructures consciousness.
    This occurs because it invents a new world of autonomous discourse,
    i.e., one detached from concrete social settings of oral communication,
    in the process becoming “utterly invaluable and indeed essential for
    the realization of fuller, interior human potentials.”53 Writing starts by
    being regarded as an instrument of secret and magic power, but as it
    heightens consciousness and furthers interior transformation, it eventually
    abstracts and sharpens a kind of precision and analysis. Thus
    “writing makes possible increasingly articulate introspectivity, opening
    the psyche as never before not only to the external objective world
    quite distinct from itself but also to the interior self against whom
    the objective world is set.” The reflectiveness of writing “encourages
    growth of consciousness out of the unconscious.”54 “Writing and
    reading . . . are solo activities. . . . They engage the psyche in strenuous,
    interiorized, individualized thought of a sort inaccessible to oral
    folk. In the private worlds they generate, the feeling for the ‘round’
    human character is born—deeply interiorized in motivation, powered
    mysteriously, but consistently, from within.”55 Writing allows intertextuality.
    56 As human consciousness has evolved through writing and
    dependency on writing it has made an “inward turn.”57 In summary,
    the literate mind is more analytical, innovative, objective, logical, and
    abstractive.”

    “From such a perspective, the arising of Shinran’s ideas in Kamakura
    Japan can be seen in conjunction with the evolution of literacy and
    the associated experiential shifts that were beginning to force a new
    interiority on the educated inhabitants of late Heian Japan. Shinran’s
    transformation was not random; it was a response to a new psychological,
    existential crisis that motivated, for example, the contemporary
    interest in the (surface) doctrine of mappō. In one obvious sense, the
    ideas of both Hōnen and Shinran (not to mention certain predecessors
    such as Genshin) were derived in an intensely textual manner.
    Technically speaking both men obtained their ideas about nenbutsu
    largely from books, that is, from their independent reading and appropriation
    of Buddhist literature, not from a received tradition of living practice passed down
    from prior living teachers per se. And especially with Shinran we also further seem
    to see a profounder stage in theprocess of an evolving literacy in Japan. The early
    literate rationality (according to Ong’s model) that overdraws and oversimplifies the
    complexity of experience, and perhaps even helps bring out the conscious
    self in the very initial stages, seems to proceed to a later literacy that
    needs to go back towards and into an unconscious. This later, evolved
    unconscious, however, is not the exterior, visionary one of the ancient
    shaman, but now one deepened and layered in a protomodern kind of
    interiority.”

    http://www.shin-ibs.edu/academics/_pwj/three.eleven.php

    According to Souryi’s book “The World Turned Upside Down,” medieval Japan also witnessed the advent of currency, another example of the transformation to abstraction that can profoundly affect consciousness. My hypothesis is that Zen is another form of response to this new sense of alienation and interiority, to the sense of having one’s “mind,” one’s “thoughts”, produced in texts. The Zen approach is to resist this thorough interpellation, by insisting on the capacity to clear the mind of discursive thinking. Thus, the emphasis on zazen as the primary, sometime even the only, practice, and the rejection of philosophical discourse–which is so popular today in Western Buddhism, but because we are in a very different historical age, and are very differently constructed subjects, can only serve as a form of reactionary ideology, preempting thought, agency, and political activism.

    I don’t know that anybody else has ever done any work on the historicity of the origins of Zen, but I doubt it would be a popular topic with the Zen buddhists.

  16. Tom Pepper said

    Mattias:

    I agree with much of what I understand you to be saying. If I’m following, the argument is that we are bombarded with (constructed by?) constant input from all sorts of media, and that these effectively function to prevent us from becoming active thinking subjects by doing all our thinking for us, by keeping us so occupied “noticing” useless noise that we cannot evaluate anything. We are, then, steered along by our electronic devices like radio-controlled bodies. It is not enough to simply say “there is an off button” because there actually isn’t, unless we want to move to a shack in Montana and write incoherent manifestos. If we want to function in the world with other people, we need to find ways to break the control of the desire-producing machine, and perhaps meditation could be used to help do that.

    However, I have trouble with the whole Metzinger “primitive and pre-reflective form of self-awareness” thing. It just doesn’t make sense to me: what could “awareness” mean if it is not “reflective”? Metzinger refers to “non-conceptual self-knowledge,” but what could knowledge be outside of concepts? He says this non-conceptual “knowledge . . . precedes any higher forms of cognitive self-consciousness,” but I think he ultimately fails to explain how we make that leap, from some presumed thought-free knowledge to “cognitive” knowledge. This all sounds too much like the sophistical maneuvers of the cognitive psychologists; he simply moves from the body as organic machine to the conscious self by a series of elisions and conflations of terms (cognition, thought, knowledge, awareness, concepts), that avoids explanation.

    As a result, when he makes statements like:
    “My claim is that – ontologically speaking – no such things as selves exist in the world. What actually exists is a special kind of self-models and their contents, and this content makes us believe that we actually do have, or are identical to, a self”
    there is more than just grammatical necessity in the terms “us” and “we.” Who is this “us” that has this belief? This is consistently glossed over by Metzinger and materialist-reductionist thinkers like the Churchlands—or else they claim it is just a necessity of our language. I would argue that the “we” is the locus of the sense of self—the symbolic order that the individual is interpellated into. The self may be an illusion, a misrecognition, in some sense, but it is not an illusion of the ever receding “we” that becomes just another homunculus problem. It is the construction of the symbolic/imaginary system, socially produced by multiple individuals.

    Metzinger seems to me still stuck in the atomist problem, that the consciousness must be inside the individual brain—and until we let that go, we are going to endlessly rehearse the same Cartesian problems. Even positive reviewers of Metzingers book in the philosophical journals have pointed this out—he says much that is interesting and useful, but he has ultimately only put the old Cartesian problem in new terms, pushed the homunculus down one more level.

    Perhaps, from an x-buddhist perspective, this is all just my own personal failing, though. I have personally never been able to achieve a thought-free perception in meditation—and for my meditation teachers this just means I don’t spend enough time in zazen, or Samadhi, or whatever. I am convinced, though, that they are fooling themselves when they think they can do this—if our bodies have experiences free of discursive thoughts, it could only be in very deep states of unconsciousness. What I discover in meditation is that my every perception is constructed by one discursive-practice system or another, and at best I can escape one and enter a different one: the experience becomes sort of like schizophrenia, as Metzinger describes it—the realization that my thought are not “my own,” are generated elsewhere. As Lacan puts it: ‘Where I think “I think therefore I am,” that is where I do not think to think.’ I am of the Lacanian/Althusserian perspective that we are always already inhabitants of a symbolic-imaginary system, and the wish to escape it in some pre-thought perception is just another form of the endless desire for imaginary plenitude.

    Ultimately, if I understand you correctly, I think we are interested in achieving similar ends—I just think that the reductionist path followed by Metzinger is going to turn out to be one more version of the same old dead-end road. There is a way to understand consciousness completely naturalistically, with not recourse to rhetorical sleight-of-hand or to mysterious mind states beyond our conceptual grasp. But we have to abandon the atomist perspective.

  17. David said

    Tom, you wrote

    “the experience becomes sort of like schizophrenia, as Metzinger describes it—the realization that my thought are not “’ my own,'”

    I am a bit mixed up in knowing if you are representing your experience or describing what someone else has written. Either way what you have written is a very valuable “insight” that comes from meditation, or other things, but meditation cultivates this direct discovery.

    The kinds of questions you are writing about are very perplexing and perhaps red herrings. I would not take buddhism to be only or most importantly what people try to describe as their deep meditation states. I think we enter the realm of poetry at some point. Some descriptions of these states are beautifully expressed and can be enjoyed for that alone. No need to “figure it out.”

    There seems to be enough benefits to meditation, and some of the core teachings regarding the eight fold path, lets not forget some of that, to put speculative questions about the nature of consciousness in their place, which is not to expect a definitive answer. What value would the answer be to us anyway?

    If you are having an experience of thoughts not being your own, that is normal. It is part of the process of detachment from ideas. Which does not make you stupid or suddenly uninterested in ideas, it just helps, I hope, to bring a bit of perspective to your relationship to the ideas you have, which can result in even better ideas!!

    As a teacher I enjoy might say, “You are confused by all these ideas, fine, have a complete experience of confusion.” When you do the confusion becomes less of an issue and you can proceed.

    David

  18. Tom Pepper said

    David,

    I was referring to my own experience. You must have had better informed meditation teachers than I have ever encountered, because the ones I have known instructed me that this experience was to be avoided, and meant I wasn’t practicing correctly–I was too attached to thought, too discursive, unable to just “be” in a thought-free state. Ultimately, I decided they were all full of it, and I developed my own meditation practice–I no longer go to any retreats or do formal mediation with any group. (I am a Shin Buddhist, and we don’t emphasize sitting meditation in our gatherings).

    It is my opinion that the saying that questions about consciousness are red herrings, or need to be put in their place, that they cannot be answered, is just another form of reactionary ideology. There is a definitive answer, I have tried to argue for it, as have many others, and it is of enormous value to us. The correct understanding of consciousness, at the very least, demonstrates that our “selves” are a product of an entire social network, and so we should not try to retreat into our own minds looking for happiness but change the social formation to one that produces less suffering.

    Not to sound too much like Lacan, but I do not have a relationship with ideas from which I can detach; I am nothing by those ideas, which I do not have.

  19. Tom Pepper said

    PerD:

    Galen Amstutz wrote a very interesting article on the historical origins of Shin Buddhism, and how it was influenced by the transition from literacy to orality. He discusses Walter Ong’s theory, and this history of Medieval Japan. The article appeared in the 2009 issue of “Pacific World.” I’ll quote a couple of paragraphs here:

    “Noting that literacy was a late phenomenon of human h istory that reshaped consciousness in significant ways, Ong attempts to specify how it differed from the earlier history of strictly oral communication. According to his famous thesis, writing restructures consciousness. This occurs because it invents a new world of autonomous discourse, i.e., one detached from concrete social settings of oral communication, in the process becoming “utterly invaluable and indeed essential for the realization of fuller, interior human potentials.”53 Writing starts by being regarded as an instrument of secret and magic power, but as it heightens consciousness and furthers interior transformation, it eventually abstracts and sharpens a kind of precision and analysis. Thus “writing makes possible increasingly articulate introspectivity, opening the psyche as never before not only to the external objective world quite distinct from itself but also to the interior self against whom the objective world is set.” The reflectiveness of writing “encourages growth of consciousness out of the unconscious.”54 “Writing and reading . . . are solo activities. . . . They engage the psyche in strenuous, interiorized, individualized thought of a sort inaccessible to oral folk. In the private worlds they generate, the feeling for the ‘round’ human character is born—deeply interiorized in motivation, powered mysteriously, but consistently, from within.”55 Writing allows intertextuality. 56 As human consciousness has evolved through writing and dependency on writing it has made an “inward turn.” In summary, the literate mind is more analytical, innovative, objective, logical, and abstractive.”

    “From such a perspective, the arising of Shinran’s ideas in Kamakura Japan can be seen in conjunction with the evolution of literacy and the associated experiential shifts that were beginning to force a new interiority on the educated inhabitants of late Heian Japan. Shinran’s transformation was not random; it was a response to a new psychological, existential crisis that motivated, for example, the contemporary interest in the (surface) doctrine of mappō. In one obvious sense, the ideas of both Hōnen and Shinran (not to mention certain predecessors such as Genshin) were derived in an intensely textual manner. Technically speaking both men obtained their ideas about nenbutsu largely from books, that is, from their independent reading and appropriation of Buddhist literature, not from a received tradition of living practice passed down from prior living teachers per se. And especially with Shinran we also further seem to see a profounder stage in theprocess of an evolving literacy in Japan. The early literate rationality (according to Ong’s model) that overdraws and oversimplifies the complexity of experience, and perhaps even helps bring out the conscious self in the very initial stages, seems to proceed to a later literacy that needs to go back towards and into an unconscious. This later, evolved unconscious, however, is not the exterior, visionary one of the ancient shaman, but now one deepened and layered in a protomodern kind of interiority.”

    You can find his article online at Pacific World Journal.

    According to Souryi’s book “The World Turned Upside Down,” Medieval Japan also witnessed the advent of currency, which has a similar effect of altering the consciousness, producing greater abstraction and a reification of the world–the economy becomes the living thing, and we are its tools. My hypothesis is that Zen, which is introduced to Japan at the same time as Shin is beginning, is a reaction to this change in the sense of subjectivity. That is, in a newly literate world, it becomes troubling that thought seems to occur in discourse, almost out of our control–our minds are produced by highly abstract and formal discourses, removed from concrete situations. Zen reacts by insisting on the capacity to clear the mind of discursive thoughts, in an attempt to reject the thorough interpellation into this new form of ideological production.

    The emphasis on zazen, and the suspicion of philosophical thought, which may have been a radical resistance in Medieval Japan, are popular today in the west for nearly opposite reasons: they allow a rejection of serious thought, and produce a reactionary political quietism.

    I don’t know if there has been any work done on the historicity of the origins of Japanese Zen, but I doubt it would be a popular topic with Zen Buddhists in the west.

  20. PerD said

    Tom,

    Thank you for the references and the long quotes from Amstutz’s article. I won’t comment on it as I haven’t read it properly yet, but it seems very interesting.

    I don’t want to nitpick, or stray too far from the topic of this discussion, but I’m still a bit puzzled by your statement that: “It is not accident that Zen arises at the point when literacy and the concept of money/exchange value were becoming widespread in Japan: the transition from orality to literacy and the sense of alienation it produces, the production of a new form of subjectivity, gave rise to a particular form of meditation practice.”

    At the time Chan/Zen was imported to Japan, a monterarized economy had already existed in China for many centuries, well before the rise of Chan. And, as far as I know, there is no reason to believe that the practice of zazen was significantly different in Japan compared to China at this time. I also wonder how much the Kamakura Zen schools actually differed from other contemporary, contemplative traditions in their “insisting on the capacity to clear the mind of discursive thoughts”.

    As for your other point, I’m quite familiar with the anti-intellectual sentiments you’ve discussed elsewhere, and how historical or sociological perspectives can put some Zen practitioners on the defensive. (I suspect the same kind of reaction would be common in other traditions as well.) My experience seems to be a little different than yours, however, as I’ve also had many conversations with Zen practitioners quite familiar with modern, critical scholarship. I also have a feeling that many western Zen practitioners are much less naïve regarding their tradition’s self-understanding today than they were, say, fifteen years ago. One reason for this is probably the spread of critical works like those of Brian Victoria and John McRae. How far this self-reflection will go, and where it will lead… well, that’s another question.

    Finally, if we really want (x-)Buddhists to participate in a great feast of knowledge, I guess we have to find a middle way (pardon the tired trope) between harsh critique and invitation.

  21. Tom Pepper said

    PerD: It’s not nitpicking to point out the existence of Chan for centuries–but that is exactly my point. Chan was around for a long time, but didn’t cross to Japan, although T’ien T’ai did, until the point of revolutionary upheaval. This is the first argument I always hear when I suggest this–that Zen is identical to Chan, or to Madhyamaka, or whatever. But that’s beside the point in this case. The point is, that is why it became popular in Japan when it did. I admit, there’s no chance I would pursue this line of inquiry in any formal way, because I always get the same unthinking rejection from everyone I mention it to.

    As for finding a middle way–go ahead! I don’t find my, or anyone else’s, critique too hard to handle. And I’m not much interested in discussing this with people who require me to approve of everything they say. If you have that talent, why not do it?

  22. Tom Pepper said

    PerD: I didn’t mean YOUR disagreement was unthinking–just that the response usually is. People are very reluctant to think that the origination, acceptance, or expansion of any Buddhist movement had any historical determinants–it seems to suggest a lack of some transcendent truth, I guess.

  23. PerD said

    OK. I’m still not sure if you actually understood my point, as you didn’t respond to it, but I’m quite happy to drop the issue.

  24. Tom Pepper said

    On this matter, I really would appreciate it if you could clarify your point. I don’t really think I do get it. That is, I think I am responding to your point, but apparently I’m just not. I must have some blind spot on this, because I’ve had this discussion twice before, and both times the person I was talking to (in one case) and writing to (in the other) seemed to think they had adequately disproven my hypothesis. I don’t see it, though. Perhaps there’s something I’m assuming that just doesn’t follow, I don’t know. Can you specify what point I did not respond to?

  25. Tom (your #15)

    I don‘t know if I am in a position now to unravel this conundrum about un-thinking, non-thought and so on. It is far to early for me to decide upon Metzinger or not-Metzinger as I am just scraping the surface of his thinking. But I have the impression that he is aware of some of your objections.

    As we begin to talk here about meditation I would like to remind us that there are certain difficulties when talking about such experiences. When we do, we do talk about our own phenomenal self. It is about experiences which are non-reachable for anybody else apart from us. Classic first person ,science‘.

    If we want to talk about these experiences we have probably two modes: The first one is using established vocabulary from the different traditions. The second one is finding in interaction our own descriptions. I think the first one leads nowhere – at least if one tries to imagine what the master could have meant to replicate an experience. The second one is the only option, I think, but it is very difficult. We have to find words for experiences which might be unfamiliar, new, boring, exiting and so on. If we express ourselves our interlocutor has the problem to translate this into his experience. The problem is, how do we find out that we mean the same? How do we find out that we mean the same Object (referent)? As the referent is in this case only available in consciousness, we cannot easily compare if the significant (for example the sign „non-thought“) we use is referring to the same significat. We even might create the signifcat in explaining what we mean with the significant. In the case of the signifcant „non-thought“ the latter could maybe lead to the linguistic creation of the experience of non-thought.

    The problem to differentiate between referent and significat in this case seems impossible to overcome. Or is it? If we say all consciousness is linguistic/symbolic then it is not. I can describe my non-thought experience and everybody can say, it is linguistically informed. That‘s fine, then I am free to describe my non-thought: I would say it is an interval in which I go blank but am still aware, only aware. Normally at once, after I provoked it, I perceive how from my sensorial system the next input is chosen from where another stream of thought generates (at least this is one variation of the sequence). I could say much more about it and probably I would „enter the realm of poetry“ – as David puts it.

    My first point here is, I regard the blank as just another thought. Albeit someone of a different quality than so called discursive thought. Second, from my own inner experience I cannot decide if this is something linguistically formed or if it is indeed something like a property of the physical system which is me. Thirdly, either way it is nothing otherworldly – and this is in regard of x-buddhism (especially the tibetan variation) the most important point.

    Now we can talk about such an experience and inform each other about it. If we in the course of the conversation develop a consensus about a description which ,feels‘ right in regard of the experience, if everybody reaches an understanding of the experience and begins to reproduce it – then the most important question is not if it is a property of the physical system or build by language or the outcome of a symbolic-imaginary system, the question is if the experience is of any help at all?

    I would like to say more, there are a lot more points, but I leave it here for today.

  26. PerD said

    I’m a little confused here. First you respond to my comment by complaining that your hypothesis is always met with the same unthinking rejection, then you add that you didn’t mean that my disagreement was “unthinking”, and now you say that you have responded to it.

    First of all, I wasn’t really trying to disprove what you said. The whole issue why Chan/Zen Buddhism became popular in Japan at this particular time is interesting, and it might have something (or a lot) to do with the socio-economic factors you mentioned. I’m not qualified to comment on that.

    But I didn’t get the following statement: “It is not accident that Zen arises at the point when literacy and the concept of money/exchange value were becoming widespread in Japan: the transition from orality to literacy and the sense of alienation it produces, the production of a new form of subjectivity, gave rise to a particular form of meditation practice.”

    Is the following what you’re arguing?

    1. Chan contemplative practices were developed in China, which already had a monetized economy.

    2. These particular practices later became popular in Japan, a very different society, because they proved to be an effective way to counter the anxieties that come with a switch to this kind of economy and a transition to literacy.

    If so, what are your ideas on the social conditions that gave rise to Chan forms of meditation in the first place?

    And I’m still genuinely curious to hear your thoughts on what made zazen practice different from other forms of meditation, and how these characteristics relate to social conditions in the Kamakura period.

  27. Some points in regard of postulate deflation.

    The blank I mentioned in my last post (#24) might very well be rigpa. (1) In the tibetan buddhist system as propagated in the west it is of crucial importance. It is, so to say, tibetan buddhism‘s USP – that is what marketing people call a Unique Selling Proposition. It is like the philosopher‘s stone, the holly grail, the bulls eye, Apples iPhone. It is this special gadget everybody most urgently needs to have. But unlike an iPhone which might be the postmodern equivalent to a swiss knife, Rigpa might simply be a basic feature of the Homo sapiens and not something very special. I think this could be very important – apart from the question if it is a product of an ideology or if it is a property which stems more directly from the physical system which makes up the Homo sapiens for to provide the system with a basic mode of awareness. If rigpa could be interpreted as a simple basic feature of human consciousness the importance for postulate deflation lies in the fact that it leads nowhere. In particular it is not the vehicle to thumb one‘s nose at death and it is no source of any special knowledge. In tibetan buddhism as sold to the western audience both possibilities are most important. Powa training, a training to extract consciousness from the body while dying, is a magnet to attract people to lamas and their shows. Meditation practice is often seen, still, as a possibility to gain special knowledge about, for example, quantum physics.

    With the support of the out of body experience, which can lead to another misinterpretation of a human experience of being „real“, rigpa is at the core of the believe system in tibetan buddhism, namely that consciousness is at least on some „most subtle level“ immortal. (2) If both points in question are really to be identified as misinterpretations of human experiences the tibetan-buddhist believe system is at shambles. Moreover the view Alan Wallace holds vis-a-vis the sciences, as analyzed by Tom (see „Feast, Interrupted“), can be seen as the watchdog of this believe system. Its function is to preserve an outdated hermeneutics of human experience.

    This does not touche the question Tom raises contra Metzinger‘s view (#15). It simply says, under the rule of Occam‘s razor, that tibetan buddhism‘s immortal soul could be interpreted with much less ontological speculation then it is done in the Tibetan tradition and in naïve western consumer buddhism. Obviously this ontological frugality can lead to disenchantment – but isn‘t this great?

    In regard of this whole topic I would very much like to hear from practitioners like Matthieu Ricard, Alan Wallace – or even His Holiness himself – what they have to „say“ about their experiences. I think, aware of the difficulties this brings with it, talking about meditational experiences is a need. What do these people experience and how do they describe it, what can they relate? They can not hide behind the argument that it is custom in tibetan buddhism not to talk about such experiences. There has been a literary tradition in Tibet which‘s topic was „expressions of realizations“. See for example Janet Gyatso‘s „Apparitions of the Self“ where she writes about Jigme Lingpa. Although „expressions of realizations“ where so called secrete autobiographies not intended for public discussion, one wonders if it is not at the time now that longterm hardcore meditators like the ones named should come out of the closet to report. If there are such reports I would love if somebody can bring them to my attention. At least I would like to hear the arguments against such a coming out.

    Otherwise the suspicion is that they are only guarding their „hidden causal essence“.

    I see the need for such a talk because of the difference of „experienced live“ and „narrated live“. Only the latter is available to the other. The narration is the bloodstream of the subject as an interindividual truth process. The intraindividual experience becomes a solipsistic marry-go-round if it is not given away for to hear the interpretation of it. This is risky stuff because the conversation can lead to unforeseen results, insights, questions – but this is what it is all about. The only reservation I have against a total open and public coming out of ,meditation masters‘ is that it needs a guarded space to develop a real conversation in the first place. The public sphere is of no use for the development of a conversation about such delicate topics. An alternative would be the interview. This could, given a sensible, knowledgable interviewer which is also in touch with the different sides of the topic, provide the space for a hardcore meditator to develop his very own language to describe his experience and to put it thus to work in the discourse. Of course this could only been done by a person who risks being deflated. Ok, but it is said „No Ego No Problem“. So what hinders great meditators to enter the arena?

    (1) I do not mention this to develop further my already well inflated ego. I see this experience rather unagitated.

    (2) See this post by Jayarava for more on the out of body myth: http://jayarava.blogspot.com/2011/11/origin-of-idea-of-soul.html. His conclusion: „[W]e can see that this idea of being able to separate mind and body feeds into the powerful complex of ideas about post-mortem survival.“

  28. Tom Pepper said

    PerD: Sorry about those comments (20 &21). I was interrupted in the middle of the first one, and shouldn’t have posted it. Looking at them now, they are rather incoherent.

    I’ll try to briefly explain my point here. I didn’t mean so much to complain, as to explain why I really haven’t followed up much on this line of thought. It seems of interest to me, but it would take some investment of time to develop it, and I doubt anyone would care to hear it. As a result, my thoughts on the matter are fairly undeveloped.

    As for why Chan developed when it did in China, I really couldn’t say. I just don’t know much about China, and only know about early Chan from the traditional versions interior to Buddhism. Do you have any thoughts on the matter? It sounds to me like an interesting question, but, again, not one likely to get much traction in Buddhist circles.

    My point is more that Zen got some traction in Japan when it did because of the peculiar social situation there; and, that it might have had a somewhat more radical function initially than it has come to have in our time.

    I do think that Zen is considerably different from T’ein T’ai Buddhism, not least in the latter’s extreme emphasis on philosophical discourse and the transmission and interpretation of texts. T’ien T’ai philosophy is quite different from the taoist-influenced Zen, and their forms of meditation are not as focused on removing discursive thought, on the idea of the clear mind. Dogen clearly thought he was making a radical break with the T’ien T’ai orthodoxy, right? There are similarities, of course, but the emphasis on vipassana and the threefold truth in T’ien T’ai, as well as the importance of studying the philosophical tradition, is no longer there in Zen.

    My initial impression is that this rejection of philosophical discourse in zazen is a way to prevent, or avoid the effects of, the subject being produced completely by a now more rigid and “exterior” written language.

    Does this respond to your point?

    Anyway, I doubt I’ll ever spend the time to develop this line of thought. If anyone else does or has, I would like to read about it!

  29. Gregory said

    Matthias Steingass said January 19, 2012 at 05:21 “In regard of this whole topic I would very much like to hear from practitioners like Matthieu Ricard, Alan Wallace – or even His Holiness himself – what they have to „say“ about their experiences.”

    I’m with you on this. We’re at the point now where we have a not-insubstantial number of people who have spent their entire adult lives practicing Tibetan Buddhism, fifty years in some cases, diligently following whatever directions they were given. In the case of the transmission of Buddhism from India to Tibet, at least by the emic accounts, that was plenty of time for Tibetan individuals to be publicly recognized as having fully assimilated the teachings — i.e. become enlightened.

    So it’s time now, I think, for the Tibetan Buddhist world to put up or shut up. Where are the enlightened Westerners? Why have so many of the few who have been invested with significant degrees of empowerment turned out to be total disasters, leaving ruined lives in their wakes? These things never come up in the servile echo chamber that passes for a Buddhist media, and understandably – this state of affairs stands as a rebuke to the whole project.

  30. David said

    Gregory wrote:

    “Why have so many of the few who have been invested with significant degrees of empowerment turned out to be total disasters, leaving ruined lives in their wakes? ”

    Good question. Two points.

    How many who practice buddhism have improved their lives and improved the lives of others? Yes a lot of screw-ups but an assessment of “results” should look at a range of results from very good to very bad. Often the very good don’t get as much air time. I suspect many that would fall under the very good and good results column are operating way below the radar.

    Second point. Again the basic teachings of the buddha cover a lot of ground. Many ways to benefit from the material. In general a balance between exploration of emptyness AND compassion, loving kindness, ethical conduct (all part of the practice) is important.

    Those that screw up are perhaps big into the emptyness thing ( Arahat) and not so into the other elements. It would be interesting, would it not, to do a valid study of this.

    I suggest we not sink the ship because some of the cabins are leaky.

    David

  31. Gregory said

    David, I wasn’t suggesting anything of the sort, or questioning whether some or many people have benefited from Buddhism in various ways. I am questioning the traditional model of realization and the power dynamic that it supports. Further, the question of how Buddhist practices may actually benefit people in reality is obscured so long as the tradition continues to tout all sorts of far fetched theoretical benefits – omniscience, perfect beneficence, and so forth.

  32. David said

    Gregory,

    Yes there are a lot of far fetched theoretical benefits touted by some and then latched onto by those seeking alternative realities; be it past lives, visits with departed ones, altered states of conscientious (meditation can sure do this one), a release from the sadness of life, merging with god. Many reasons why. Most, if not all, tinged with desire derived from disquiet. We all know that one first hand, still.

    Part of buddhism, as I know it, is that we normally live lives of delusion, to various degrees. So it is only logical that some people are deluded about buddhism and then in turn teach others their delusion. Why not? This will always be so.

    Perhaps the best way to react to this natural movement is to make a concerted effort to study and practice the teachings that are beneficial and real to us. There are plenty to choose from.

    That way on a personal level you and I might be able to help others who are receptive to gaining a clearer understanding of buddhism or some portion of buddhism. And we can point them to a teacher we respect.

    P.S. I am not sure what you mean by the traditional model of realization. Perhaps you are referring to states that we can experience during concentration practice? Perhaps you are referring to realizations that can occur during insight practice? Perhaps you are referring to how practice around love can make some feel like god? Not sure there is a single “traditional model” of realization. However the one about monks in Tibet flying is one I will hold onto. What fun. I am up for that!!

    The book “Mindfulness in Plain English” opens with a chapter which does a very good job of debunking quite a few different misguided models of realization. Henepola Gunaratana, the author, must share your observation that people have a variety of misguided understandings of what realization is. He bursts many bubbles right up front. (Not a great way to sell a book.) Perhaps more teachers should do the same.

    Be well.
    David

  33. PerD said

    Hi Tom,

    Thanks for your additional comments. I think I understand your point, and it seems perfectly reasonable to assume that a set of ideas and practices developed in a particular social context might later become attractive in another, and very different one.

    Your ideas on the Japanese reception of Chan and its subsequent function in Japanese society really calls for a much longer and more detailed response than I can provide. Just a couple of quick thoughts:

    The first is kind of trivial, but if we want to understand this issue, I think one should be careful not to overemphasize the importance of Chan/Zen contemplation and the whole rhetoric surrounding zazen. (This probably means one would have to break with the Zen tradition’s self-understanding, but I don’t think you’d mind doing that.)

    You mentioned notions of “removing discursive thoughts”, the “idea of clear mind”, and a “rejection of philosophical discourse”. Here it is worth considering that the Chan school(s) produced its own, vast literature, much of which became part of the kōan literature. And kōan study certainly became an important aspect of Zen meditative practice in Japan. How does this fit with your ideas?

    This is certainly not an attempt to dismiss your line of thought. I’m sure there would be plenty interest in a developed presentation.

  34. Tom Pepper said

    PerD,

    These are good points. Any radical potential of Zen to resist the complete interpellative power of literacy may, of course, be put to very different uses in Japanese society–in fact, it becomes a very violent militarist ideology, at points. My interest is more in the potential for enabling practitioners to escape subjective determinism; in the US, in my opinion, it serves the opposite purpose: to help practitioners avoid noticing the thoroughly ideologically determined nature of their beliefs and “thoughts.”

    I would say that the koan practice is one of the reasons I came up with this hypothesis to begin with. Koans serve a very different purpose from other kinds of philosophical discourse. It is sort of analogous to the analytical/continental philosophy division today; to grossly overgeneralize, one way to think of this division is that the analytical schools think of the goal of philosophy as analyzing concepts and resolving or finding ways around apparent contradictions or paradoxes, while the more speculative continental schools look to exactly the aporia and paradoxes and ceasurae of our conventionally accepted “knowledge” as a way to escape the absolute determination of existing ideological thought. The scholarly philosophy of T’ien T’ai certainly, in Japan, serves to produce a rigidly codified body of acceptable doctrine, while Zen kaon practice seeks to engage the limits of the thinkable. This is why it is simply ridiculous to use ancient koans today–as if they could still somehow embody the ultimate paradox or aporia of our ideology and our received knowledge–instead, they simply function now to produce an ideology of a deep an extra-discursive, non-conceptual, eastern wisdom.

    At any rate, I don’t really think there would be much interest in this–at least, it has so far gotten only blank stares or immediate denials.

    Many years ago, I wrote an article about the implicit idealist theory of the subject underlying all of modern psychology, despite all its claims to be a thoroughly empiricist science. It was rejected everyplace I could think of to send it. One reviewer said that although he initially thought my thesis was “completely absurd,’ by the end of twenty-five pages I convinced him i was correct–nevertheless, the journal should not publish the essay because it “raises more questions than it answers.’ Another review said he found my article convincing and could think of not way to argue against it, but it should not be published because it was clear that I had and “ideological agenda” and academic work should be ideologically neutral. I suspect that a project like this would have a similar fate–it would take an enormous amount of thought and research, and would be simply refused a hearing because nobody wants it to be true. So, I’ve sort of filed it under my list of things I know but won’t bother to try to convince others of.

  35. Two quick points. Going back to an earlier comment, Molly (#1) alerted us to the possible relevance of Wilfred Bion’s thought to our concern here: rethinking “meditation.” Matthias (#5, I think) quotes Bion as saying that:

    “thoughts exist prior to their realization. Thinking, the capacity to think the thoughts which already exist, develops through another mind providing α-function–through the ‘container‘ role of maternal reverie“ (“A theory of thinking,” 1962, p. 83).

    I wonder if what I call the “hallucination” of x-buddhism can be seen, in Bion’s terms, as an “α-function,” as the container of buddhistic reverie. The α-function is the specifically x-buddhistic schemata through which the practitioner interprets, thereby bringing to life, his thought-data. “X-buddhist” would then name a person caught in a quite particular reverie. The nature of his reverie is specifiable–it is given in his rhetorics of display, in his reflexively buddhemic utterance, in his interminably cited network of postulation, in his operatic blaring of his buddhistic-soul’s vibrato, and so on.

    In this sense, what Matthias (#10) calls “education,” in his 12-point list of assumptions, is being usurped by “the sangha,” together with its concomitant doctrine (>indoctrination), world view and accompanying person formation (>ideology), value system cum cosmic (dharmic) warrant (>coercion), and so on. I would encourage further comment on that list. I see it as mapping a way forward in rethinking what form “practice” might/could/should take for us. “Us,” of course, may no longer mean “all sentient beings.” Points 7-11 could be read as making the “localizing” move that David (#6) implicitly suggests. That move is, of course, through and through un-x-buddhistic in that it serves to cancel the primary warrant of the enterprise–that to universal, specular authority. It means we don’t rely on the “problem situation” (as religious studies scholars call it) of Siddhattha Gotama, a mere specter of a man who lived twenty-five-hundred years ago in a Kentucky-like corner of India. How can we possibly rethink what might constitute what Matthias calls “the right direction” with this colossal Paul Bunyan blocking our view–our view, what’s more, of here, of initial reality (Place One, here), of our very world of timber, shit, and stone?

    It may turn out that x-buddhism, contrary to its contention, fears a calm, relaxed yet alert mental state as much as Christianity does. Historically, Christians have viewed practices such as meditation as dangerous because they have the potential to lay bare the machinations of perception and conception, or, put the other way around, the void. Such a mental state of mind, of course, gives an opportunity to the devil. Hence, the desert fathers, those virtuosic practitioners of infused contemplation, excelled equally in Bible-thumping. Matthias’s 12-point scheme may help explain why meditation always corroborates doctrine. It’s at point 7: “knowledge and new insight” is, in the x-buddhist sangha, precisely not in the service of “education”–into the machinations of ideology, into the nature and demands of our techno-social circumstances, about the actual milieu in which we live, etc. This, too, may constitute the α-function, the particular container for x-buddhistic reverie. As Matthias’s point #12 states, perhaps x-buddhism goes astray here precisely because (I may be adding this part) its concern is not Place One/empty reality/initial here. It’s primary concern is itself (narcissistic specularity again).

    Why, otherwise, does x-buddhism sully calm, relaxed yet alert mind with it’s interminable inventory of dharmic this-and-that? Is “emptiness” too much for x-buddhism?

    Anyway, I intend to do a good deal more thinking about these matters utilizing Matthias’s 12-point schema. With it, he seems to have captured crucial, salient issues related to the question of a non-buddhist practice. I give it again here; but you may want to read it in its original context at #10 and the preceding comments that lead to it.

    I propose some basic assumptions to arrange topics/qualities/possibilities.

    1. A calm, relaxed and at the same time alert mental state is a human ability.
    2. This is the base for any knowledge and insight (in the sense of Metzinger‘s phenomenal self-model).
    3. This comes before any symbolic language.
    4. The third assumption does not necessarily means it is unconditioned.
    5. A basic x-buddhistic fallacy is that this calm, relaxed, alert mental state driven to its extreme, maybe with the help of sensory deprivation, fasting and/or ritual etc., is the ultimate goal, is enlightenment, liberation, deathless etc.
    6. From the second and third assumption follows that it is of crucial importance to go into the right direction: Any training in this mental state will not in and of itself gain knowledge about ideology.
    7. Knowledge and new insight about ideology, or to name it otherwise, about the milieu in which one lives, comes with education.
    8. Education is a complex intergenerational process in which technology (from the flint axe onwards) plays a crucial role and which leeds optimally to a critical faculty which is able to preserve and develop its environment.
    9. The defining role of technology for the human has not been understood well in our time.
    10. Technology as used now destroys the intergenerational process of education. It does this by exploiting desire in its will to be rewarded instantly instead of transforming desire into longterm projects.
    11. The main instrument of technology now is marketing (in its broadest possible sense), functioning as the mercenary of consumer capitalism to hook attention for accessing desire.
    12. From the fifth assumption follows, x-buddhism does not understand any of this because it goes into the false direction long before it reaches any insight into modern society. (A corollary from this is, I think, that the whole ideology Tom Pepper analyses in „Feast, Interrupted“ serves only to protect tibetan-buddhism‘s fallacy about the so called clear light. )

    My working hypothesis then is: A calm, relaxed and alert mental state is able to disconnect marketing from attention, disconnecting thereby the individual from attention exploitation.

    Therefore: A calm, relaxed and alert mental state as a clearing becomes a weapon against the parasitic forces of attention exploitation—and it protects and supports thinking as the original capability of the Homo sapiens.

  36. PerD said

    Glenn,

    Would you say that the x-Buddhist environment (including its aesthetics, ritual, rules, rhetoric, rewards, sanctions, and so on) actually facilitates an effective cultivation of “calm, relaxed yet alert mental states”, but then quickly overwrite the “emptiness” of such states with its own ideology, making it a container for x-buddhistic reverie? Or is it something in that environment that actually hampers the development of this kind of mind state in the first place?

  37. Hi PerD. Great questions. I say they are great because the questions themselves can be used as a heuristic. So, my first impulse is to say, “yes, when I apply your questions to the data, my impression is that either a or b occurs, or some combination of the two. Even when, that is, an x-buddhist environment offers the conditions for a “calm, relaxed yet alert” mental state, that environment then invariably (for it wouldn’t be x-buddhistic otherwise) overwrites that mental state with dharmic code. You could pose your questions to, say, a dharma talk, and analyze how the talk serves to fashion, form, auto-interpret, etc., “empty” mind. In so doing, you may find that your questions are not either/or but both/and.

    Matthias’s point #7 is the pivot point here. Say I am sitting for an hour in alert stillness and silence with members of my group. The signal comes to end it. In which direction do the community’s rhethorics now pivot: toward yet another iteration of x-buddhism’s world display and self-created world-reparation, or toward a “science” of the insidious nature of all such manufactured views? If I may transpose a comment by contemporary (post-left) anarchist Jason McQuinn to fit my needs:

    “All [x-buddhistic] ideology in essence involves the substitution of [dharmic] concepts or images for human subjectivity. [X-buddhistic ideology is a system] of false consciousness in which people no longer see themselves directly as subjects in their relation to their world. Instead they conceive of themselves in some manner as subordinate to one type or another of abstract entity or entities which are mistaken as the real subjects or actors in their world.” The dharma “if it is conceived and presented as if it is an active subject with a being of its own which makes demands of us, then it is the center of an ideology.” (I have to double-check my source; but I think that is from “Post-Left Anarchy: Leaving the Left Behind.”)

    I am interested in the relationship between the cultivation of certain kinds of mental states (calmness; clarity; sensitivity to: moment-by-moment dissolution, void, Place One, and so on) and the function of the container we call “Buddhism.” What an extraordinary irony: a practice that just may facilitate in liberating homo sapiens apes from the relentless hold of phantasmagoric representations; yet employed as a cog in an ideological machine!

    So, your questions could be used to help determine whether a particular x-buddhist environment is employing a practice as a weapon to annul the dangerous negations of liminality. Conversely, might, to paraphrase Matthias, a “calm, relaxed and alert mental state as a clearing become a weapon against the parasitic forces of attention exploitation—and protect and support thinking as the original capability of the Homo sapiens”?

  38. Whew! I read the entries and then as I ponder them, walking around the house in a state of inquiry and pokey curiosity (while avoiding the clothes needing folding from the dryer) — meanwhile, shazam! another posting, another stimulus for inquiry. I can’t keep up with the flow of ideas. You guys are the express train; me, I’m the local.

    What I have been meaning to say, using Bion, would echo some of the discussion, that thought itself can be a performance that gives one the illusion of a self — perhaps enacting the intolerance of the pre-symbolic mess. I watch this performance all the time with psychotherapy clients, their effort to forestall chaos, and specifically the experience of personal and familial discontinuity, by assigning themselves “characteristics” and “beliefs” and narrative stories about what has happened in their lives. As if symbolic thinking is once and done. I don’t disparage the project of understanding oneself; in fact I lead workshops for people on writing memoir. But I am on the lookout for our way into the odd fact, the thing that doesn’t fit, what is not “right” and might lead to more and more idiosyncratic juxtaposition of this with that. Large mind. Also, as much as I love a good over-arching idea, I also look for how so much of our unknown knowing comes out of a body — a mortal body, alas, whose vulnerability and morbidities carry much of that pre-symbolic mess. You might call it shame — one of the most difficult body sensations to feel. Aside from falling off a building, I suppose. Shame I know, falling off a building, not so much.

    Saying a bit more about the pre-symbolic mess, I should mention that Bion thought that groups of people come together not only for specific purposes, such as fundraising or studying in classes or legislating laws — work groups, he called them — but also would come to organize themselves around what he called “basic assumptions.” For the purposes of looking at x-Buddhism, you might say that the organization of the members of the group, the sangha, at one level provides a place for people to learn this or that, but at another level, the basic assumption level that Bion observed, a more primitive “goal” would be driving the group. One such group he called messianic, for the way the group members would heighten their dependency on a leader, a messiah — and we can see how some x-Buddhist groups elevate their veneration for Gotama, how other x-Buddhist groups pick another figure. When I traveled in Bhutan, I was struck by how the statures of Padmasambhava were often much larger and much more centrally imposing than the figures of Buddha; he was the teacher, a performer of great miracles I was told, who brought Buddhist thinking to Bhutan. In my neck of the woods, psychoanalytic groups venerate Freud and find themselves in doctrinal wars with other groups about who is being more faithful to Freud’s ideas. Faithfulness trumps learning from experience.

    Another basic assumption group, in Bion’s thinking, is the fight group, whose aggression toward people outside the group is justified by righteousness, a world divided into right/wrong, black/white. Certain American political groups — I’m thinking the US Congress and the debt-ceiling crisis — come to mind. Bion would point out the regressive energies driving the formation and cohesion of these groups. I remember the fight (he called it “fight/flight”) group-mind whenever I read comments on political blogs. But I think we’ve got to remember it ourselves, how much our own arguments are driven by the need to be right and especially the need for others to be wrong. It’s a phony division, a phony security. I’m not saying that some ideas aren’t better than others, but that even the best idea does not make us a better person, secure from life’s humiliations. The fight group is driven by narcissism, as if our good ideas are at bottom a defense against our imperfections. And now Newt Gingrich comes to mind. Sorry, I couldn’t help it.

    Bion ran therapy groups, and sat in them deflecting all the efforts of the group members to make him the brilliant messiah who would protect them from their confusions. And he would refuse to collude in the effort to base the group’s specialness on the sad inadequacies of the people outside the group. He was said to be quite enigmatic and frustrating — and I know his writing carries that quality of refusing to rescue the reader. He did not want to be so specific that he did people’s thinking for them. I read him — in a group, otherwise I would not have made it through the books — and he seemed to be pointing, as if with a hand gesture, rather than explaining. I wish he had been more of a local than an express train, for my benefit. But he was also the teacher who encouraged therapists to give up memory, desire and the effort to understand, in order to sit opposite another human being; that is, we are to give up our efforts at categorization, at prediction, at boxing it all up. It’s Keat’s Negative Capability, to stand in unknowing without “an irritable reaching after the fact.” And then maybe we get to experience…what’s next.

  39. PerD said

    Hi Glenn,

    Thanks for your reply.

    My questions were, indeed, intended as a kind of heuristic tool to investigate the “extraordinary irony” you mentioned, and how the x-buddhist environment works. I certainly didn’t expect or hope for a simple (simplistic) yes/no answer.

    It seems to me that one problem with a phrase like “calm, relaxed yet alert” is how it obscures the fact that such mind states are (or can be) unsettling and quite scary. Cultivating them also seem to involve an exploration of territories that are both painful and confusing. As mollylayton mentioned, the pre-symbolic is messy, and I would also suggest that most people’s negative capability is quite weak.

    For better and worse, the x-buddhist environment (with its comforting, “flinching” rhetoric, predictable ritual, hierarchical structures, invocation of “tradition”, and so on) seem to function as a kind of holding environment for such explorations. As an “incidental exile” from this kind of environment, I’ve found your critique of it both stimulating and clarifying. I’m looking forward to hear more about your thoughts about the possibility to create an environment that doesn’t simply replace the x-buddhist ideological machine with another (perhaps a “non-buddhist”) one.

  40. Tom Pepper said

    I find myself a bit disheartened by some of the recent comments here. The ubiquity and inexorable dominion of postmodern ideology is enough to make one want to give up. It creeps into every attempt at thought, and generates the same reactionary insistence that any attempt at real thought it just another ideology, that if there is anything at all that counts as ideology then everything must, and there’s not deciding. My students even insist that mathematics is just one way of looking at things, a sort of ideology they can opt out of because it is pure abstraction and has nothing to do with “real life,” as if the cellphones, computers and dvd players they are so enamored of didn’t depend on the actual truth of mathematical thinking.

    So, donsalmon (under “Feast Interupted”), quite clearly not having any understanding of what anybody is saying here, nonetheless feels qualified to pronounce on it, declaring it “postmodern” and insisting on a return to the supposed “truth” that is not relative, the “truth” of feeling and music. Yikes! Does every discussion have to start from scratch, explaining all over again that there are more than four elements and the sun doesn’t revolve around the earth? Postmodernity, of which I am so often accused by those too unfamiliar with philosophical discourse to see that it is what I am arguing against, gives donsalmon and many like him confidence to insist that anything they don’t understand is just “intellectualizing,” and that nobody has any right to do it, or at best that it is just a symptom of a psychopathology that can be cured by more thoughtless wallowing in emotion.

    Then, PerD suggests that non-buddhism might be just one more ideology—as if the only option is to stick with a Romantic ideology of “negative capability” (as Mollylayton suggests) that refuses thought, as if this Romantic ideology is not one, is true reality, and trying to produce correct concepts about the world is really an ideology. This gets it exactly backwards, and leaves us right were the average college freshman is, insisting that making them take math is a form of fascist ideology, because there is no truth anywhere, and that my suggestion that their reading of a poem is off the mark is “ideological”, that there is no possibility that the words on the page have any more meaning than a Rorschach inkblot, and I can’t possibly be better able to read “Tintern Abbey” or a Shakespeare sonnet than they are, just because I happen to know what the words mean.

    There’s an tremendous difference between suggesting that we push thought to the limit, recognize the aporia and contradictions in our present conceptual “knowledge” of the world, in order to extend our capacity to understand reality, to convert paradoxes into concepts, and, on the other hand, the postmodern notion that these aporia prove that reality is permanently beyond the grasp of conceptual thought, a mystical experiential thing that requires feeling deeply the frisson of contradictory thoughts in negative capability.

    There is certainly a possibility, in psychoanalytic thought like Lacan’s, Bion’s, maybe even Winnicot, to understand thought as preceding and going on outside of the consciousness of the subject who mistakenly thinks he or she is doing the thinking. And meditation may have a sort of powerful capacity, much like the power often attributed to the aesthetic, to help us move out of the limit of our conceptual everyday (ideological) understanding of the world—but, it all too often does so only to lead us straight away into another, equally limited and limiting, ideology, designed to reproduce exactly the same, or at least a very similar, social formation. The only possibility, for psychoanalysts of the Lacanian persuasion, is if the discourse which frame this aesthetic distancing experience is NOT ideological, is not trying (as I think Winnicot and Bion usually are) to produce more functional subjects of the dominant social formation. And there are, for Althusser and for Derrida and Lacan and many others so often accused of being “postmodernist”, practices and discourses that are not ideological.

    There’s too common a tendency to think that anything that doesn’t seem to ring true with one’s “gut feeling” is therefore “ideological,” when in fact the opposite is usually the case—it if just “feels true,” there’s a pretty good chance that it is pure ideology, and if it feels forced and requires hard thought, it probably is not.

    Forgive my ranting. As I said, I’m getting disheartened by the ineluctable juggernaut of self-confidant misunderstanding and postmodern anti-intellectualism. But, apparently, not disheartened enough to stop arguing against it.

    Can we at least get over the silly postmodern assumption that everything, except feeling, is just one ideology or another, with no good reason to choose between them?

  41. Tom, once again I am the fool rushing in where an angel of reason would hesitate, light his pipe, and think things over a bit. When it comes to mental excitation, I just have terrible impulse control.

    I agree with your comment. More importantly, though, I find it helpful. As I see it, what your comment does is bring to light three crucial issues (again, I am myopically viewing things with an eye only to the project of this blog, non-buddhism). First of all, I think a central task here is education. This may sound pedantic and even patronizing to some readers, but since I find it to be the case I don’t mind risking that: many of the comments here are brimming with the very gambits, modalities, and habits of thought that non-buddhism is designed to bring to light. (Readers can see comments 65-71 on “Ghost Buddha” for a previous discussion on the topic.) The assumption, and the underlying value, is that only once that habit is brought to light can the practitioner see that he is in the grip of some view or belief. In the terminology being developed here, it is first necessary to disrupt the hyper-reflexivity that locks the x-buddhist in the orbit of that particular mode of thought. My point is that I see the presence and force of this aspect—of the reflexivity-decision nexus—as requiring a long, tedious, and, as you lament, repetitive education (or, if one prefers, presentation). That necessity, furthermore, indicates, to me, the insidious and pervasive nature of the reflexivity-decision nexus. And with that, of course, we are back to the topic of ideology.

    I agree with you that the term ideology is sloshing around somewhat incoherently on this blog. But there may be good reason for that. When have most readers of Buddhist material ever seen these two words juxtaposed: ideology/Buddhism? (I don’t think I myself had until I read Zizek and got your comments on the meditation post.) My point is that this is new conceptual terrain for those of us thinking alongside of Buddhism. Your comment tells me that the time has come: let’s stabilize sense and usage of the term to some degree. Do you have time and interest now, or later, for that assignment? You offer a good working definition, I think, when you say:

    The only possibility, for psychoanalysts of the Lacanian persuasion, is if the discourse which frames this aesthetic distancing experience is NOT ideological, is not trying (as I think Winnicot and Bion usually are) to produce more functional subjects of the dominant social formation. And there are, for Althusser and for Derrida and Lacan and many others so often accused of being “postmodernist”, practices and discourses that are not ideological.

    Could that statement be the beginning of a definition of “ideology” with which we can work? That is, the aspect of ideology that is of interest here (in Matthias’s article and throughout, in fact) is its tendency to produce a particular type of subject. Is that right? In the glossary that I am developing, I have this entry:

    Ideological suspicion. Buddhism is 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 (hyper-reflexivity). Such features describe not a contestable program of knowledge or skill acquisition, but rather an ideological system of indoctrination. It describes, that 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. Speculative non-buddhism is 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”), is evidence of the ideological machination of Buddhism.

    Might that be helpful in further formulating a definition?

    Another definition that I find useful is Jason McQuinn’s:

    All ideology in essence involves the substitution of alien (or incomplete) concepts or images for human subjectivity. Ideologies are systems of false consciousness in which people no longer see themselves directly as subjects in their relation to their world. Instead they conceive of themselves in some manner as subordinate to one type or another of abstract entity or entities which are mistaken as the real subjects or actors in their world.”… “Whether the abstraction is God, the State, the Party, the Organization, Technology, the Family, Humanity, Peace, Ecology, Nature, Work, Love, or even Freedom; if it is conceived and presented as if it is an active subject with a being of its own which makes demands of us, then it is the center of an ideology. (“Post-Left Anarchy: Leaving the Left Behind.”)

    I would hope that a working definition of ideology would dispel once and for all the need to defend here against accusations of compliance with postmodernism and its sick, anti-intellectual, progeny (no-truth, everything-has-an-equal-claim, all-is-the-same, ineffectualness of language, and so on). Again, I think you could start with this statement:

    There’s a tremendous difference between suggesting that we push thought to the limit, recognize the aporia and contradictions in our present conceptual “knowledge” of the world, in order to extend our capacity to understand reality, to convert paradoxes into concepts, and, on the other hand, the postmodern notion that these aporia prove that reality is permanently beyond the grasp of conceptual thought, a mystical experiential thing that requires feeling deeply the frisson of contradictory thoughts in negative capability.

    In an interview with Kronos, Ray Brassier says, “I am a nihilist because I still believe in truth.” The “speculative” part of this blog’s project took its original inspiration from speculative realism. A central concern there, of course, is to reestablish the role of thought in relation not to being but to non-being; and to consider how, for instance, science and mathematics may serve as allies in that project. So, again, I am in agreement. But more importantly, I see an opportunity, born of the necessity you expose, to expand this project by further developing these issues—by further formulating just why they are issues, and what can be done about them.

    I am starting to wonder if the book I am working on should be a book of contributing essays instead.

    Can we at least get over the silly postmodern assumption that everything, except feeling, is just one ideology or another, with no good reason to choose between them?

    I hope so. But I am often pessimistic that people really want thought to do its work. The trope of the Great Feast of Knowledge is meant to, among other things, reinvest thought with its sovereignty over the claims of prescribed representations.

    Sorry for the hastiness of this response. I will continue to think over all of what you’ve written. Thanks, Tom!

  42. PerD said

    Just to clarify: I did not mean to suggest that “non-buddhism might be just one more ideology”, or that “the only option is to stick with a Romantic ideology of ‘negative capability’”. I see how my comment could be read that way, however, although it really had to do with a question about how aspects of non-buddhism could be used as a “substitution of alien concepts or images for human subjectivity” in the specific context of meditation practice. Perhaps it’s too early to think about that issue in a meaningful way, in which case both phrasing and timing were off.

  43. Well… do I have something to contribute here? I don‘t know. I think at least part of Tom‘s objection comes from a move in thinking in philosophy from „correlationism“ to „realism“. The former term meaning nothing noumenal (the thing) is ever to be experienced. Instead everything ever to be experienced is a representation (an object) of the thing. This thinking has gained general acknowledgement. The postmodern notion which Tom abhors, is a consequence of the (in my view false) conclusion that, if thinking is interpretation and representation of sense data, then you can interpret however you may think. Kant, from whom, as far as I can see, correlationism or idealism develops, and with this, as a perverted effect a „you may think as you like“ (even mathematics are relative), Kant also thought about responsibility – and this comes for me with being with the other.

    Molly writes (#38): „[Bion] was also the teacher who encouraged therapists to give up memory, desire and the effort to understand, in order to sit opposite another human being; that is, we are to give up our efforts at categorization, at prediction, at boxing it all up.“ I understand this as a certain capability one has to develop. A huge postmodern misunderstanding here is that one should just relax and then understanding will come. Molly surely knows this, I just want to argue against a possible pseudo-romantic miss-interpretation: I think, „to give up effort“ comes with a responsibility and this responsibility never is something relative. In a certain situation there is a constellation which determines action in a certain sense. That which leads to determination is an irritation when one realizes that the other is other. From this irritation comes a question, a need to understand or a need to develop an understanding. This development is grounded in everything what one has ,learned‘ up to this point, inclusive everything pre- and unconscious. The responsibility is to realize the question which comes from the irritation and to NOT flinch in view of the irritation/question. The work then is to develop from this irritation/question creatively a „form“.

    I think it is of great importance that to „give up our efforts at categorization“ means exactly the possibility to become receptive to the irritations and to THEN become able „to convert paradoxes into concepts“ – as Tom says; into NEW concepts. I don‘t want to point out this process but only the temporal order. The irritation very well might not be resolvable at once. The main praxis then is not to oppress it (which in the first place means to be/stay receptive to it), to practice „aporetic inquiry“ and to risk „the sudden dissipation of a fata morgana“.

    Perhaps a key point of the irritation Tom expresses has to do with „experience“. „Sitting opposite another human being“, „being calm, relaxed and alert“, coming out of the supermarket suddenly realizing the feeling of having forgotten something – these are all experiences.

    Justine (see „Feast Interrupted, #26) formulates the problem. She cites Tom: „[T]he subject is completely outside the individual, in the socially produced ideological formation, in Lacanian terms the subject is the imaginary and symbolic effect of a social formation.” And she goes on with her conclusion: „This suggests that this is a purely “third-person” (objective, scientific) definition of the subject, which does not connect with any “first-person” (subjective in the more common sense, religious or spiritual) experience of consciousness or selfhood. On the contrary, it appears to be radically disconnected from the lived experience of the individual, and likely to conflict with, distort or suppress that experience.“

    I can follow the answer of Tom in #27 but I do not see the locus of „experience“. This is a major irritation for me. Tom writes: „Ideology is the very capacity to experience, there is no experience outside of it. Ideology, that is, always precedes and gives rise to consciousness.“ I understand this but where is the „body“ in which experience takes place.
    Is it „in“ this body? I realize that „in“ this body I cannot gain maximum knowledge about my experience without taking part in a certain form of interaction called science. Science or the deductions of Freud regarding the unconscious for example lead to the conclusion that consciousness alone is not able to see it‘s own full picture. When I realize this, I am real interaction, a social being, symbolic-imaginary. Now, as body I don‘t feel this. There still seems to be this invariant space of consciousness „in“ which discursive thinking, knowledge, imagination, feeling etc. takes place. This invariant of bare knowing to be right now in front of this computer screen, is this a social construction?

    To be sure, with „invariant“ I don‘t mean „pure consciousness“ or „atman“. My question is, this bare knowing, this „I know I am right now“, this „I feel I am right now“, is this originated on the physical level or on the social level? Or is this question posed somehow wrongly? At least, I think, there must be on the onto-genetical and on the phylo-genetical level somewhere a transition from an evolutionary acquired physical property, which might have been ,used‘ otherwise originally, to a psychical property. Even if all psychical property is interactive and only possible as interaction, even then there is somewhere this transition from the purely physical to the interactional psychical.

    This might be once again an absolute chaos of thought on my behalf. What I wanted to point at is that it seems no problem intellectually to understand the individual as socially constructed, as a re-amplifying nodal point in a net of interaction, but that it is on the bodily level where the understanding is much more difficult. On the level where we sit with each other. And perhaps it is useful to have in mind the philosophical context in which this irritation takes place, that we are deeply influenced, socially constructed, by the view that we never will see reality as such – that we even might not know this influence – and that Tom‘s critical realism is a standpoint counterintuitive via this older paradigm which is very much centered on a phenomenal view. So the irritation on both sides is understandable but in my view this irritation, at least up to a certain point, could be used to gain more knowledge.

    P.S. And I keep an eye on the other strands of discussion. I‘ll be back.

  44. I just tried, before I am three days off, to put together some remarks about what has been said so far. I am not able to do this, there are too many strands in which thoughts could be developed and it’s too late at night now. I think one point is clear (at least to me): There are radically different forms of subjectivity possible. Tom’s remarks and hints about the transition from oral to literacy culture are of special interest here. This leads back to the question how our subjectivity is structured today in the very cultures we live in? It is clear that we cannot simply look in the mirror and see the ‘truth’. So the second question is quite natural. How can we learn more? This seems still mysterious to me.

  45. In continuing to give thought to this matter of the formation of “our subjectivity” (a component of Matthias’s question 1: what is our situation, etc; with the “our” marking the local or non-universal particulars), I just want to be clear about one thing. In both practice and classroom environments, I am constantly confronted with some form of the idea of a pure, symbol-free, culture-free, “unconditioned,” mind. Such notions appear to be extraordinarily attractive to people. That kind of thinking seems to be so pervasive, and come so naturally to people, that I can only assume there is some cognitive-cultural-adaptive explanation. (Pascal Boyer’s work is relevant here.) From wherever it stems, it is a recurring irritant to dialogue on what it is to be a human being.

    Anyway, I just want to make it clear that I do not subscribe to any version of, as Tom Pepper (#11) puts it, a “pure consciousness that is totally separate from socially produced language/thought.” “Subjectivity” needs to be formulated as a working axiom of non-buddhism. A good place to start, I think, is Tom’s statement in his review of Wallace:

    Eighty years ago, V. N. Volosinov proposed that we drop this line of pursuit [concerning an atomized, individual consciousness or mind]. “Consciousness,” he suggested, “becomes consciousness only once it has been filled with ideological (semiotic) content, consequently, only in the process of social interaction” (11). Psychoanalysis, beginning with Freud and most thoroughly with Lacan, presented a radically empty subject, arising not from deep within but from without, in a socially produced symbolic network. Alain Badiou has suggested a theory of the subject that accepts all of the most radical implications of Lacan’s thought: as individual organisms, we are nothing but automatons; it is only as socially engaged subjects to a truth that we gain any agency. To become subjects with true agency, we must participate in a truth procedure, a practice which functions to extend our capacity to interact with reality beyond what is possible within a given system of knowledge—the subject is not an individual, but a social entity. As such, it may very well transcend the limits of an individual organism’s life, and experience the future effects of our present day actions. We will never find consciousness in the firing of neurons, because it exists only in the symbolic social interaction of multiple individuals.

    One of the principles of non-buddhism is the possibility of re-commissioning certain x-buddhist postulates after putting them through the processes of cancellation of warrant, stilling of vibrato, and so on. As Tom suggests, the above paragraph may be an example of what can be done with the postulates of pratityasamutpada, sunyata, and anatman. Perhaps these terms point not to the various abstruse processes that the tortured peregrinations that x-buddhist thought leads us into. Perhaps they point to nothing more than the very surface of things. Meditation as superficiality par excellence: that’s where the idea, the possibility, the likelihood, of a non-atomized consciousness is leading my thinking on our subject matter.

    Anyway, I am just trying to keep the outlines of the project in front of us. It becomes more complex by the day.

  46. david said

    Maybe the benefit of meditation is not coming to the “unconditioned” mind, which is an interesting carrot and is right up there with other traditions’ spiritual goals, but rather a better lived experience of the process of how we humans encounter and react to sensations. We might all end up with different content based on conditions but perhaps the process is the same, the rapid fire transitory nature of sensations, the non-location of the “I”, the subtle sensations of disturbance, anxiety, restlessness and on and on that are often a background hum.

    It seems we are capable of imagining an unconditioned state, just as we are capable of imagining a god. Some people claim with great vigor of knowing directly both. More people with just a little practice and effort, would be able to witness the process of mind and body with the three marks of existence front and center. One approach looks for escape the other for knowledge.

    David

  47. Tom Pepper said

    I do see the pedagogical necessity of persistence here. I suppose that’s why, even in my periodic bouts of pessimism I can’t resist trying again. Or, perhaps a better way to put it is that the forces of the symbolic order which happen to converge in my subjectivity can do nothing but continue to strive, in my peculiar strident and caustic idiom, to wake discourse from its dream of bliss.

    I want to mention that I don’t mind the kind of questioning, arguing, and proposing that these last several posts evince—I was just lamenting that the sheer pervasiveness of the postmodern ideology is stunning, and it seems to slip into so many people’s every thought.

    Over the last two decades, I ‘ve noticed a gradual shift in attitude. Most people are much more likely, today, to respond to anything they don’t understand with ridiculously naïve arguments they take as decisive, or else to respond with anger and an impatient insistence that anything they don’t understand simply MUST be wrong, purely “academic intellectualizing.” They respond with a kind of indignant anger that anybody should be so rude as to dare to think, much less say, something they don’t understand—or else with the kind of patronizing one can imagine Copernicus would have gotten from his grandmother: “silly Nicolaus, everyone can SEE the sun goes round the earth—you think too much.” What happened to the days when we assumed if we didn’t understand something we should do a little work to figure it out, before daring to argue against it and looking like fools? I guess what happened may just be the kind of postmodern relativism that says everything it just nothing but subjective opinion, and so philosophers of science can seriously argue that the choice between the Newtonian and the Aristotelian paradigms was a purely ideological one because either would do just as well for a reality we create with our own minds.

    I don’t know if thought can win over desire, but I certainly cannot help but keep trying. As you say, Glenn, people may not want thought to do its work—but it may go on doing that work, no matter how hard people try to push it out of their consciousness. Thought works in the symbolic order, it moves ahead in directions we may not intend, or even be aware of at first. As Christopher Norris argues in his most recent book, thought is not always, or even usually, conscious thought, and it may advance in ways we cannot consciously be aware of.

    I’m reading a really good book by Dan Arnold, “Buddhists, Brahmans and Belief,” and he opens the first chapter by stating that the “Buddhist tenet of anatmavada (selflessness) . . is, as Buddhists recognized, profoundly counterintuitive; the phenomenological sense of personal identity is so compelling that (as Buddhists see it) deluded self-grasping represents an innate conviction that is uprooted only with considerable effort.” This leads to the repeated lapse back into belief some other stable, fixed “ground” on which the self must be based, from which it can be explained. His argument, so far, seems to be that Candrakirti is a thorough realist, whose thought counters the tendency of Buddhist empiricism and the Abhidharma to locate an ultimate essence.

    The point is, the basic, central tenet of Buddhism, like the concept of the subject suggested by thinkers like Lacan and Badiou, is so thoroughly counterintuitive that it is hard to “think” it consistently, even when we think we understand it intellectually. But this has been true of many things, right? Gravity was once so counterintuitive as to seem unthinkable to most people. And the idea that air is made up of multiple gases. Or that there could exist such a thing as a vacuum, a part of space empty of matter. Or the idea of the number zero, or that the sun does not revolve around the earth. Something counterintuitive can be (although isn’t necessarily) true—but, it can also become completely intuitive. Who, today, doesn’t have just as much trouble imagining that there might NOT be such a thing as a universal force of gravity?

    So, Matthias, when you say you “do not see the locus of ‘experience’,” or that you don’t “feel” this sense of being a nexus of social-symbolic interaction, well, that’s not surprising. We want to know that our experience is grounded in a self, not produced in a social network we have only limited influence over. In my experience, actually thinking and feeling your “self” as an illusory product of a symbolic/imaginary network is, well, a bit disconcerting. It feels a bit schizophrenic, in the Deleuzian sense. It kind of reminds me of the character in the E.T.A. Hoffman story “The Sandman,” who sees the radically determined nature of people and goes mad. It is irritating, and unsettling, and difficult to see that yes, even your experience of sitting in front of your computer is thoroughly constructed by multiple causes and conditions. And it is difficult to keep in mind that this knowledge doesn’t necessarily lead to the absolute relativism of postmodernism, because of course the symbolic/imaginary network is constrained by the very real world external to it.

    I would completely disagree with the definition of ideology that McQuinn suggests. His version of false-consciousness accounts for only some kinds of ideology (it is perhaps telling that in his list of reified abstractions that control our lives exchange value does not appear). Most importantly, in the Althusserian theory of ideology it is not false or an illusion (although it can include false ideas), because ideology is the set of beliefs embedded in practices which enable the reproduction of the existing social system. Without ideology, we would need to start from scratch with each new individual. The anarchist model assumes an atomist theory of subjectivity, in which each individual does, in a sense, start from scratch, so we have no real need of social practices at all. On the understanding of subjectivity I am arguing for, the subject is an effect of socially-produced symbolic/imaginary systems, including but not limited to language, and so cannot start from scratch—nor would we necessarily want to.

    It is important to keep in mind that ideology is, on this understanding, both potentially useful and unavoidable. It becomes a problem only when the social formation it reproduces is undesirable (which is not just a matter of taste or preference—some social systems are better suited to human happiness than others), or when we mistake ideology for true statements about the natural world, instead of humanly created practices for living in that world. That is, we need to know our ideology is ideology, so that we can be prepared to change it more readily if it no longer suits our needs.

    This is where I think meditation can be quite helpful. It can, if we stop seeking some unconditioned bliss and start seeking knowledge, we might make more use of meditation. It can help one to see the complete absence of a directing, interior self, the existence of one’s own subjectivity in social formations and discourses. As I said, it can be a bit disconcerting, and irreversibly changes the way you think of everything, and it does take some work to get there. But it’s better than the tedious effort to reach euphoric states by not thinking.

    My opinion is that Richard Gombrich is right that an important function of meditation in a semi-literate culture was to train the mind to be better able to think through involved and complex issues. I don’t, however, agree with his belief that this capacity can be readily expected from the average undergraduate student today—the ability to attend to lengthy and complex lectures may have been an expectation in Gombrich’s undergraduate years, but it certainly is not a capacity we can expect of anybody today.

    Am I just rambling incoherently here? I wonder if anybody would be interested in more systematic and coherent account of the Althusserian theory of ideology and what it might have to contribute to a naturalized Buddhism?

  48. Robert said

    I wonder if anybody would be interested in more systematic and coherent account of the Althusserian theory of ideology and what it might have to contribute to a naturalized Buddhism?

    I would. For me this is a very important blog. And much appreciated. There is a lot of catching up to do. Hard to understand how I could be so blind to what was going on in western thought all these years I was busy reading Buddhist philosophy almost exclusively.

  49. Greg said

    “There is a lot of catching up to do. Hard to understand how I could be so blind to what was going on in western thought all these years I was busy reading Buddhist philosophy almost exclusively.”

    My experience is similar. Years of reading Buddhist philosophy in a vacuum, incurious about the western tradition. I now realize that amounts to religious indoctrination masquerading as open inquiry, and unfortunately there is a lot of that going around in the Buddhism-is-not-a-religion west.

  50. Tom, Robert, and Greg.

    Tom, you ask: “I wonder if anybody would be interested in more systematic and coherent account of the Althusserian theory of ideology and what it might have to contribute to a naturalized Buddhism?” That’s just what’s needed here. In addition to an overview of Althusser’s thinking on ideology and how that might serve our thinking on the matters addressed on the blog, I am particularly interested in the following. (1) The role that meditation might play in serving as an aid in the “scientific” approach to society that Althusser thought might help to make manifest some of the ways in which ideology forms us as subjects. What conditions would Althusser say must be present for a “meditation-as-science” to serve that end, rather than merely re-inscribe and re-enforce the x-buddhist “imaginary order”? He was obviously looking only to our ability to reason and think to do that work. So, the question would be: can meditation be formulated and devised as a mode of scientific thinking; and what might that look like? (2) The implications of one’s entrance into the symbolic order of his language-culture for knowing the “real conditions” of that order are obviously insurmountable.(And it would behoove us all to stop bewailing that fact, and cease the Romantic quest for the unscathed mind.) I, eventually, want to put this idea in dialogue with Laruelle’s “Vision-in-One,” “unilateral-duality,” and certain other concepts that insist on a radically immanent Place One–an immanence that makes the work of critique not only necessary but possible. Anyway, I will contact you offline about writing something. Thank you very much.

    Robert and Greg. I am very pleased to hear of the corrupting influence reading this blog is having on you! May you be ruined before you die. The experience you are describing is my own, too. In fact, one impetus to taking this critical plunge was the cumulative effect of what you both describe as studying Buddhism almost exclusively, in a vacuum. When I finally began to look up, I’d see, say, philosophy or poetry or craftsmanship, doing or saying something just as interesting and wise as Buddhism. I would ask myself: “what is my real interest here; making Buddhism look good, or understanding whatever the issue is (mind, perception, conditioning, practice)”? Deciding on the latter opens up the entire world of knowledge. Anyway, I hope you share with us the results of your on-going explorations. I particularly hope you’ll offer us all challenges to our own views. That last thing I want to create here is yet another Mutual Admiration Society.

    The Buddha, our guide, becomes a stranger;
    The Dharma, our doctor, goes mad;
    The Sangha, our friend, weaves bloody tapestries.
    Might hidden treasure lie in ruins?
    Our ruin is a ruin because of treasure.

  51. Greg said

    Yes, for me it was not this blog particularly that corrupted me, although I enjoy it and I think you are doing good work — the shift happened gradually over the last few years. It was a combination of things – getting more familiar with academic work in Buddhist studies and seeing how much the supposedly transcendent truth was historically, culturally and politically conditioned. How cooked the books were, so to speak.

    Seeing the extent of the money/power/sex shenanigans that go on the Buddhist world and how complicit everyone is in it.

    Realizing that the very heterogeneity and incoherence of “Buddhism” as a supposedly singular religion was what allowed it to be so easily co-opted as a legitimizing brand for the self-help/new age gumbo that markets itself under that name in in the West. Seeing people devote themselves to the whole business for decades with little discernible benefit to anyone except those who have monetized the arrangement in one way or another.

    And so forth.

  52. Glenn: compliance with postmodernism and its sick, anti-intellectual, progeny (no-truth, everything-has-an-equal-claim, all-is-the-same, ineffectualness of language, and so on).

    It seems to me that we should be a bit careful here; many of the thinkers who are generally labelled “postmodern” actually reject your parenthetical list of claims.

    Tom: I’m reading a really good book by Dan Arnold, “Buddhists, Brahmans and Belief,”

    An excellent book; I just re-read it last month. I’d be very interested to read your thoughts on it, when you are done.

  53. Hi Michael. You write: “It seems to me that we should be a bit careful here; many of the thinkers who are generally labelled “postmodern” actually reject your parenthetical list of claims.” Yes, I agree. I was being sloppy, I guess. I mean that those parenthetical notions become stubs of certain postmodern thinking–stubs that have found fertile ground and flourished on their own accord. That’s what I meant by “progeny.”

    About Arnold’s book. It is certainly “excellent” by academic standards. But at some point I would hope we can begin critiquing just what those standards are, what/whom they serve, what structures Buddhist studies scholarship perpetuates, what it throws into the public pot, in what ways it evinces its own form of decision, and so on. I am working on an article called “Punk Academics” (double entendre intended), in which I quote Nick Land (and much Schopenhauer, of course!):

    Scholarship is the subordination of the culture to the metrics of work. It tends inexorably to predicate forms of quantitative inflation; those that stem directly from an investment in relatively abstracted productivity. Scholars have an inordinate respect for long books…Scholars do not write to be read, but to be measured. They want it to be known that they have worked hard. Thus far has the ethic of industry come. (Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation, pp. 35-36.)

    We need to throw a stink bomb or two into the “Buddhist studies” corner of academia, just to see what flushes out. Follow the scent of the ideas about Buddhism–no matter how historically and doctrinally irresponsible–bandied about in popular books, on blogs, on Facilebook, in Buddhism forums, and so on, and you will most likely end up in the pristine halls of the Ivory Tower.

  54. Greg said

    As an aside, one milestone in my transition (from Buddhist to . .post-Buddhist?) came when I was taking a course in Madhyamika under the auspices of the dharma center to which I’d belonged for years. I mentioned the Robinson-Hayes critique of Nagarjuna. The idea that Nagarjuna’s arguments could possibly be refuted was met with wariness, distress, and hostility rather than curiosity. It was clear that the course was, despite its pretension to being some sort of exercise in open inquiry, or of transcending conceptual thought entirely, an indoctrination into the catechism, and that sort of boat-rocking was most unwelcome.

  55. GregI mentioned the Robinson-Hayes critique of Nagarjuna. The idea that Nagarjuna’s arguments could possibly be refuted was met with wariness, distress, and hostility rather than curiosity. It was clear that the course was, despite its pretension to being some sort of exercise in open inquiry, or of transcending conceptual thought entirely, an indoctrination into the catechism, and that sort of boat-rocking was most unwelcome.

    As one who has done work on Nāgārjuna in an academic setting, I’m completely open to the idea that Nāgārjuna’s arguments could be refuted– but the Robinson-Hayes critique is terribly facile, and I don’t think you’ll find many academics (at least) who thinks the argument obtains.

    Naturally, this is only tangentially related to your experiences in your former dharma center– in academic Madhyamaka studies, boat-rocking is generally welcomed, but isn’t always successful.

  56. Glenn: About Arnold’s book. It is certainly “excellent” by academic standards. But at some point I would hope we can begin critiquing just what those standards are, what/whom they serve, what structures Buddhist studies scholarship perpetuates, what it throws into the public pot, in what ways it evinces its own form of decision, and so on.

    I’d be happy to take part in such a discussion.

    Follow the scent of the ideas about Buddhism–no matter how historically and doctrinally irresponsible–bandied about in popular books, on blogs, on Facilebook, in Buddhism forums, and so on, and you will most likely end up in the pristine halls of the Ivory Tower.

    Really? One of the biggest surprises of my own experience in Buddhist Studies was the size of the gulf between the conceptions of Buddhism in the popular imagination, and the academic studies I was reading.

  57. Tom Pepper said

    Michael, who do you have in mind that is “generally labelled” as postmodern but rejects relativism and the linguistic turn? Postmodern was a general term for a cultural phenomenon long before any philosophers would have been labelled as being postmodern. Are you talking about people like Zizek, say, who is very often called a postmodern philosopher despite being on of postmodernism’s staunchest critics? I’m just not sure why it is important to be “careful” with the term, when self-styled postmodernists so often argue that careful use of terms and analysis of concepts are just a “language games” anyway.

    I’d agree that the Robinson-Hayes criticism of Nagarjuna doesn’t hold water. There is a powerful tendency, though, in non-academic Buddhism to become outright angry that a criticism would even be advanced. This is the problem–if Nagarjuna is right, shouldn’t it be possible, even useful, to take on all (worthwhile) contenders?

    I find this an interesting topic, because I also often find a huge gulf between academic studies of Buddhist thought and what the general practicing western Buddhist thinks. On the other hand, I don’t think there’s much, no matter how incorrect, that one couldn’t find some academic arguing for somewhere–success in academia usually has less to do with getting it right than with knowing how to play by the discursive rules (and having the right personal connections). I’ll mention no names, but in my specific field of expertise the newest authority is an absolute dolt, with nothing interesting to say, who just happens to have the right pedigree and the right dissertation director. Sure, he’ll be forgotten in a decade, but meanwhile he’s the final decision on what gets published in his little sub-specialty in at least two major journals and with more than one academic publisher, so he’ll be able to thwart intellectual progress for years. Success seems to depend on knowing who reads for what press, being sure to cite their work favorably, and dodging the complete idiots; an unpleasant and time consuming game, that has nothing to do with being correct.

    I’m only an interested amateur observer in the field of Buddhist studies, but it seems to have even more bizarre discursive rules of publication than my field, and to be even more of a closed club.

    As for Arnold’s book, I’m on the penultimate chapter, and I find it to be a fascinating work. His interpretation of Candrakirti is interesting, and it seems to me that there could be some useful ways to put it into dialogue with Badiou’s thought, particularly on ontology, the subject, and the distinction between truth and knowledge. I’m not saying that they are identical by any means, but their concepts could usefully illuminate one another. Once I’m done with the book, maybe I’ll try to say more.

  58. David said

    Glenn,

    Regarding your post 53.

    Do you mean that the popular notions of buddhism which are “no matter how historically and doctrinally irresponsible” a result of ivory tower researcher and writing???

    Aren’t both extremes, academic and popular (my thoughts turn to a glossy monthly that has photos of people meditating to sell cushions and love) both equally suspect, both feeding each other, both specialist of a kind, both self-justifying by their own social and economic and organizational structure?

    I would think it is the job of a free agent, one not immersed in either pole, to eat cream puffs from both groups, and realize that most of what then ingest is air. Then move on to the coffee.

    It is wonderful to be a free agent, we get to sample and not participate in group think. Group think is almost impossible to avoid if you participate in a group activity be it research in an ivory tower, or selling cushions and “healing” in a slick mag.

    David

  59. David, Tom, and Michael. Oh, the stories I could tell you about the academic field called Buddhist studies. But I won’t do that now. A couple of remarks though. If we put all of Buddhist studies scholarly data in one Venn diagram (call it BS) and popular notions of Buddhism in another (call it P), of course there would be a tremendous amount of data specific to BS’s and P’s respective discrete domains. But there would also be a fat-ass belly where BS and P overlap. The reasons for this meaty (gassy?) confluence would indeed be interesting to explore. One mistaken notion in believing the categorical nature of the gap between the two is the same as one Buddhist studies scholars themselves make in analyzing their historical Buddhist data: status differences. Buddhist studies has consistently misread data on the ground (and in the texts) because of their assumption that there be monk and there be lay and never does the twain meet. It rarely, and only belatedly, occurred to them that (1) the monk comes from the lay (and, like Henry David Thoreau to his auntie with the cookies) frequently returns; (2) the lay, ditto; and (3) the rhetoric of monkly achievement was just that. Scholars, of course, are our secular Monks–in wisdom, in purity of intention, in commend of knowledge, in rigorous practice. And, like real Buddhist monks, they mingle with the x-buddhist lay public in numerous ways, directly and indirectly. Book reading is just one small possibility. (I, by the way, am thinking in terms of contemporary North America.) And–gasp!–they are influenced by lay ideas, and bring these back into their scholarly work. (I will name some names in a moment.) Buddhist studies is (may be?) different from most academic disciplines in that many, many of its scholarly practitioners are also dharmic practitioners. The field has produced literature on this very topic. Now, having said all of that, it may well be that the details of Arnold’s book remain ensconced in the Ivory Tower. But, really, we all know that that grand edifice has cracks and leaks.

    Now, some names of Buddhist studies scholars (and close allies in, for instance, Asian studies, religious studies, etc) who have both disseminated certain ideas into the popular mainstream and absorbed popular ideas and transmuted them into scholarly gold.

    [Sorry, I can’t do it. I compiled a list of over twenty-five people; but then realized I may be biting off too much here. If someone asked me how so-and-so contributed in the way I claim, I’d be obligated to detail it. So, for now, just those general remarks.]

  60. David said

    Thanks for your description.

    The whole notion of being a scholar of a “spiritual” patch without practicing seems odd to me unless it is linked to another field of academics, like cultural studies, politics, intellectual history, psychology, brain science, etc. In this way the scholar is removed from being viewed as an expert in the spiritual, whatever that might mean, and is released from having to do the actual practice, meditation, prostrations, chanting …. whatever. Is it only in post modern times that someone can study in a scholarly way a spiritual path without walking on it?

    It is pretty funny to think that secular Academic Monks might think unkindly of lay practitioners. I think this can be settled by a good soccer match.

    Part of this tread has also touched on the relativism and laxness of what is being called our post modern condition. (What comes after post modern, post post modern?) Any teacher I have come into contact with in the last few years describes the same thing with their students. It occurs to me that a uncritical, whatever feels right population is easier to control. This is witnessed by politicians being able to utter pronouncements that are completely false but are taken as fact. The latest example being the Gov. of Il staying that Steve Jobs was a jobs creator when in fact less then 10% of Apple employees are employed in the U.S. and Steve is quoted as saying that creating jobs was not is mission. Give them bread and circus (cheap TV and iThings) then someone can make them dance.

    So for all those in the teaching profession who are teaching students reared on TV and iThings, my heart goes out to you.

    David

  61. The thread is way ahead of me, but if I don’t jump in now, I’ll be even less relevant.
    Somewhere, way back in the thread, Tom wrote: “This is where I think meditation can be quite helpful. It can, if we stop seeking some unconditioned bliss and start seeking knowledge, we might make more use of meditation. It can help one to see the complete absence of a directing, interior self, the existence of one’s own subjectivity in social formations and discourses. As I said, it can be a bit disconcerting, and irreversibly changes the way you think of everything, and it does take some work to get there. But it’s better than the tedious effort to reach euphoric states by not thinking.”
    I find that exhortation very congenial to my own experience. But I am neither a Buddhist scholar nor an adoring lay person. I’m a working psychotherapist, and “negative capability” is not a Romantic position but a fluid, unstable practice that helps one “see,” as Tom uses the word. And in my experience, the “seeing” is Janus-faced, looking in two directions (at least), both inward at one’s habits of thinking, feeling, etc., and outward toward the worried or struggling people who come for consultation. In my experience (I have to harp on the experience of “experience,” since that’s what’s cooking), the practice which I am calling “negative capability” is not pure, is quite liminal, toggling back and forth between this and that, but “contained,” more or less badly, within the reverie of the practitioner. One would rarely call it blissful. At its best, it is contained between two people.
    It is not a state to be attained, in my experience, but a process in which one glimpses first this and then that, where one stays alert as everything moves. Constantly. I have written elsewhere about how much therapists are wise to watch the demands of whatever doctrinal school of psychotherapy and growth plays about in their thinking. “Play” is hardly the right verb, as the training doctrines are closer to Mack trucks bearing down. I read the comments of those who have followed x-buddhist doctrines faithfully, and feel the similarity. Nonetheless psychotherapists need at least the discipline of the doctrines, or else in the early days of working as a psychotherapist, we would run screaming out of the room. Probably true for sitting in a sangha as well.
    I offer these remarks as a practical person. That’s my job. As Wittgenstein pointed out, our worlds (being a math teacher, being a mother (oh, that was Nancy Chodorow), etc.) make our language, our thinking and not so much vice versa. The meditative posture (too static a word, but it is late and I must end) has become central to the work of psychotherapy, its animating virtue.
    No projections, please.

  62. Tom: Michael, who do you have in mind that is “generally labelled” as postmodern but rejects relativism and the linguistic turn? Postmodern was a general term for a cultural phenomenon long before any philosophers would have been labelled as being postmodern. […] I’m just not sure why it is important to be “careful” with the term, when self-styled postmodernists so often argue that careful use of terms and analysis of concepts are just a “language games” anyway.

    I was thinking of people like Derrida and Lyotard in specific, but to be honest, I can’t think of *any* thinker who would hold Glenn’s parenthetical list ” (no-truth, everything-has-an-equal-claim, all-is-the-same, ineffectualness of language, and so on)”. And, further, some of these thinkers (Derrida, again) repeatedly argues that “careful use of terms and analysis of concepts” is precisely what is needed, and that “language games” are deadly serious.

    I’d agree that the Robinson-Hayes criticism of Nagarjuna doesn’t hold water. There is a powerful tendency, though, in non-academic Buddhism to become outright angry that a criticism would even be advanced. This is the problem–if Nagarjuna is right, shouldn’t it be possible, even useful, to take on all (worthwhile) contenders?

    I agree completely.

    I find this an interesting topic, because I also often find a huge gulf between academic studies of Buddhist thought and what the general practicing western Buddhist thinks. On the other hand, I don’t think there’s much, no matter how incorrect, that one couldn’t find some academic arguing for somewhere–success in academia usually has less to do with getting it right than with knowing how to play by the discursive rules (and having the right personal connections).

    Again, I agree on both counts.

    I’m only an interested amateur observer in the field of Buddhist studies, but it seems to have even more bizarre discursive rules of publication than my field, and to be even more of a closed club

    This hasn’t been my experience– I’m interested in hearing more.

  63. Tom Pepper said

    Michael,

    I would argue that Derrida is mislabeled as “postmodern,” and does not seem to me to be advocating the kind of relativism and strong-constructionism that he is usually accused of (or appropriated for).

    I can think of quite a few thinkers, though, who have advanced all of the claims on the list Glenn suggests, sometimes even all at once. Stanley Fish comes to mind, and perhaps Rorty, the later Putnam, maybe Kuhn and his followers–there are quite seriously some historians of science who, taking their cue from Kuhn argue there is no valid reason to choose between an Aristotelian and a Newtonian understanding of the physical world other than who is winning the language game. I would not put Derrida in this group, though. And Lyotard only sometimes. In Literary studies, the assumptions that there is no mind-external truth, that all claims are equally valid, and that language only points to a transcendent conceptually inaccessible truth of pure being, are extremely common. Maybe not quite as universal as they seemed to be in the 90s, but still, in LIterary criticism, they are typically assumptions that do not even need to be argued for–and realism about anything is a taboo.

  64. Sinking the Zombie

    Well well, finally I find myself also in the postmodern camp. I read your post #47, Tom, in this sense. Maybe I have been carried away a bit by my enthusiasm about the „speculative“ in „speculative non-buddhism“. Maybe it is not good to be too speculative because it is getting a bit too fast too relativistic if we just try around, making a cut-up here, dream on about something there, in the end having in hands only a ticket that exploded.

    Of course it is my fault. Just throwing in something which „comes before any symbolic language“ (#10) is provocative in a setting where it is already established that everything is discursive and/or symbolic. Asking for „the locus of experience“ is equally stupid when it has been already established that this locus is „we“ and not „I“. Or is it?

    I think the problem we have here is a problem of communication and meaning and not about information or knowledge. But of course that is the next trap I will step in. If you Tom could only see what I mean everything would be alright. Well, that‘s not how it will be. I am very interested in your knowledge Tom. It opens new vistas and the discussions you initiate are not only in-formative but they also contribute to this project greatly. But I find your labeling of persons is not at the height of your ability. I don‘t say this in behalf of myself, I say this as somebody who is interested in communication, conversation, talking, interaction, and in this sense as somebody who is interested, like you, in the symbolic order we live.

    I think the salt in the soup of interaction is difference. This is not about accepting plain wrong statements – which I think, even being now a postmodernist, are possible – it is about asking. For example: „What the hell do you mean with »subsymbolic«?” If we don‘t ask and if we don‘t accept the possibility of being wrong, then we can stuff the whole speculative non-buddhist thing into the garbage can. It would become just another dogmatic order.

    An important point in creative interaction, in my opinion, is that the connotation of denotation always is in the ear of the hearer. If „before any symbolic language“ (#10) leads to „a subtle atman, that pure consciousness that is totally separate from socially produced language/thought?“ (#11), I have to accept this – but what is more, that is all what it is about: difference emerges, great. If interaction stops at difference, well, it hasn‘t been interaction. Then it is a dead end. Nothing new ever will happen. Real truth and total relativism. Is this all?

    I don‘t think these are good alternatives for a conversation. Truth is the death of interaction. And the truth that „everything is discursively constructed“ leads to a similar paradox as „absolute relativism“. I know your realism, Tom, is not of this kind of truth but it could be misunderstood as such. If you are to present here some of Althusser‘s work, and maybe Lacan‘s, it would be very good if you could make it clear how the „outside“ of discourse is thinkable – I leave it with this wording – but perhaps even more important would be the question, how something new can emerge from the subject if the subject is not thought as being autonomous? From the perspective of the subject as an individual thinking of itself as autonomous, it is very easy to misinterpret the subject as a truth process as an entity which despises the status of the autonomous subject (which as an established truth for itself is an existent in itself). So from the standpoint of pedagogy it is necessary to meet this autonomous subject at its dwelling – regardless of the status of its truth. Otherwise it simply will shut down communication or switch to another channel. (And no! I don‘t mean convincing numb students that mathematics are real.)

    Ok, this already leads somewhere else. Looking back at this thread I have to make some remarks in order to go on and not to be hindered with some ambiguous statements which are left open to arbitrary interpretation. Or otherwise said, the hearer may hear as he like, but the speaker should clarify if it seems necessary.

    Here are some terms I simply disregard.

    Pure Mind: I am not interested!

    Atman: Same as above!

    Anatman: Same as above!

    The buddhist notion of selflessness: Same as above!

    The basic, central tenet of buddhism: Well, see point 1 through 4!

    Discursive thought: You guess what? Not interested!

    In each and every case these are empty signifiers. The only way to respond is: Please specify or leave me alone?!

    Most interesting in the above list for me is „discursive thought“. What is this? x-buddhists say, „oh, very very bad. Stop it and you will see.“ Realists say, „there is nothing else, keep on and you will see.“ Is this the only alternative? To Hell: No! There is experience.

    Here are some terms which, in my opinion, should be specified a bit more carefully.

    Experience: Now, here I am getting interested.

    Expression: Very good.

    Struggling: Yes.

    And finally there is the ugly term.

    Meditation: This one is beginning to stink. My suggestion is, let‘s wrap it in an old sailcloth – together with some old rusty cannonballs from the bilge – say some final prayers and off it goes overboard down to the seabed. Then let ‘s trim the sails and go on.

    I say this because somehow this zombie, in whatever context it happens to stumble around, it is magically conjuring elements of a certain discourse witch begins to rule and change the actual discourse. „Meditation“ is a contaminated term. It is toxic. In one context the interlocutors will nod knowingly with their heads, in another they will, in the best case, keep their mouths shut and ask themselves if one is to be taken seriously. Still in another context it is the latest trend and they will brag about how „meditation“ supports their stamina for a really difficult life at top of the pops. In every instant it is connoted with something very special, something from the realm of magick.

    Personally I am fed up with this. I am thinking of the funeral since almost a year now. When I was writing „Meditation and Control“ I put aside the question because I just wanted to put down some notes. But now I think it becomes unbearable.

    Instead, I think it is about the whole range of our experiences which are real, possible and/or probable. „Meditation“ is not about experience but about a pre-configuration of it. I have used the term differently in my text when I wrote „buddhism is a subset of meditation“ but I see that ultimately it is a futile undertaking to try to define and differentiate this term in a meaningful way which is something other then a confinement of experience.

    There are, for example, experiences described as being „calm and content“ which are understandable for everybody. A cold beer and good meal after a day of hard work. But as soon the word „meditation“ appears in the context of such an expression the zombie materializes in our midst. The zombie reduces our conversation about this subject in such a way that what is left at our disposal to express ourselves is just „non-thought“ vs. „discursive thought“. Being calm and content suddenly is something which is either worthless esoteric shit or something for what you have to pay thousands of dollars to learn it.

    The same goes for every other experience.

    But let us take for example this more introspective possibility. Being aware how the focus of attention shifts. It might be much more difficult to understand what this might is. It might be more difficult to become aware of this form of attention. But the same happens as with being calm and content. If you put the zombie next to it suddenly it becomes inaccessible if not one of the great masters of meditation is at hand. Suddenly it is holy vipassana and you have to sit for 10 hours at a time for years in a remote jungle camp to learn it.

    Or what is it with this focus of awareness put to concentrated work to watch the flow of thought itself? In a two step move it is at first about different forms of thought and then about the thought itself ,in‘ which these thoughts arise. It is not longer about different forms of discursiveness, semantic thinking, pre-verbal thinking, a musician hearing a line of music, a painter seeing a certain color, fleeting impressions, remembering, drifting into sleep, waking from a daydream etc. – it is about the thought ,in‘ which these thoughts aries.

    It is simply some form of meta-awareness. It is an experience. It needs to be expressed. And, in the process of the hither and thither of expression, it is a struggle with the meaning of the expression of the experience in interaction (maybe even with the alteration of the experience through expressing it) – and it could not happen without interaction.

    Is this sub-symbolic? At least I label it as such. In the list in #10 I put not without thought the item no. 4: The assumption that there is something before symbolic language does not necessarily mean that there is something unconditioned.

    If we agree about what is symbolic, we can agree about how to label such an experience. I am the last one who would deny that what I describe could be something culturally acquired and conditioned. Only the zombie misleads us to talk about something else then thought.

    So, here it goes to the fishes. Praise the Lord. May he be with the zombie in the end of days. Amen!

  65. Tom Pepper said

    Glenn,

    Your description of Buddhist Studies makes it seem very much like my experience in the discipline of English. I am wondering, at this point, if there’s any point to even having English departments any more. For quite some time, English functioned to interpellate unsuspecting students into hegemonic ideology. At this point, it seems stuck between wanting to continue to serve this function (the position held mostly by those who think they are preserving the timeless verities) and those who think we should instead be producing a radically new (multicultural, postmodern) ideology (which they also take to be truth, just truth that we’ve only recently realized). It may not matter, because the discipline is in the process of being replaced by departments of “writing,” and most future English teachers will probably major in “writing,” not “Literature.” My interest is in whether there is any value in preserving the study of Literature at all. I think there could be, because instead of simply reproducing in the classroom, by force, the kind of ideological interpellation Literature used to produce naturally, we could use Literature to study the way ideology is produced, reproduced, and transformed. It would be less a matter of loving poetry than of producing a science of ideology. My position, clearly, is not the popular one. But, if English departments only want to produce ideology, it’s hard to make a case for their value, since that gets done better and more profitably by the culture industry. And so, they are sealing their own fates, increasingly adding minors and majors in “writing” to the degree in English—until, as the title of one textbook sitting on my desk right now says, our goal is to teach students “How to Write Anything,” and not to teach them how to evaluate the ideological strategies of aesthetic objects.

    My point in all this is to ask, do you see Buddhist Studies as being in a similar trap, of either producing the hegemonic ideology or being eliminated? This blog seems to me to be posing the question: is there still something worth salvaging from Buddhism, once the ideology is distantiated, denaturalized? Meditation seems to be central to this because. Can meditation only produce ideology, make subjects into more efficiently operating subjects, or can it also be used to defamiliarize our ideologies, producing “bad subjects” who refuse to reproduce the existing social formation?

    Matthias: I’m going to have to give your last post some thought. Briefly, though, I want to clarify that for a realist, there absolutely is something prior to and outside of the symbolic–but it is not consciousness of any kind, which is completely dependent on the symbolic system. The symbolic system is always constrained by the reality external to it, it cannot create or reshape or make the world. This is why aporia and contradictions and paradox are so important–they are where our thought collides with mind-external reality. This sounds a bit too mystical, I think, but perhaps I’ll try to clarify it later.

  66. David said

    Matthias,

    I appreciate how upsetting it can be when a word is used too often and out of context or has so many uses it becomes useless.

    I rather like Glenn’s reminder that meditation comes from the word meaning cultivation. Both meditation and cultivation are activities that come with an instruction book (for those willing to actually read one). Without the power of force of gun we can’t control how people choose to use the word meditation or prayer or enlightenment or how they cook squash. We can however discover how to use the word correctly ourselves and when the rare opportunity presents itself, explain to others what it means in the context of buddhism.

    The good thing is, and what these posts seems to miss, is that there are plenty of very good teachers who do know the meaning of the word meditation, that do have very clear instructions and define predictable results, from the easy to the maybe so maybe not. This good stuff is already out there, it just takes a bit of trial an error before you find the right people. I don’t think the wheel has to be re-invented.

    David

  67. David,

    you are right with everything. „Cultivation“, „instruction“, „correct use of the word“. But the main point is „the wheel does not have to be reinvented“, as you say. That is why I gave the example of having a beer in the evening. Chill out. There are very normal things which could contribute greatly to a more conscious responsible acting. „Cultivation“ is a great word. The cultivation of very normal things to heighten responsibility.

    My personal experiences why I finally kick the zombie overboard originate from a project I did last year. A long story in a nutshell: Instead of explaining meditation, the ,right‘ meaning of it and everything – which was really difficult because there always already seems to be an established meaning of meditation, mostly that it means „stop thinking“ – it turned out to be much more ,effective‘ to let people experiment with what they think to be „relaxing“, „comforting“, „clearing“ and so on, and then to point to an experience to look at it more thoroughly. For example one person would find out that after a short time of sitting in a certain way, she would stand up much less agitated then when sitting down. The point is to ask, what do you think what is it you did for this? There would be much more to explain this but the point is to somehow turn around the process. To look for certain experiences which are well known but overlooked, instead of explaining something theoretically and then to point out that there might be some overlooked value.

    Regarding the teachers. I met two or three fine people, all Europeans, all buddhists with no-nonsense approaches, open minded, undogmatic. I found the sanghas around them tedious, those oh so self-righteous bodhisattvas. There are fine teachers but they kill their projects with their sanghas.

    Tom,

    I like to hear more. I found also very interesting your citations from Amstutz/Ong about literacy and the development of a certain subjectivity. That is exactly the stuff which is needed to make it clear that self, subjectivity, selfhood really is shapeable. At least with such hypotheses one can make it evident that it most probably is – what is much better then speculating about it in the consumer buddhist way.

  68. David said

    Matthias,

    My thought is your teachers are not giving you what you need or what is clear or even useful based on your quote below.

    “(There) already seems to be an established meaning of meditation, mostly that it means „stop thinking.”

    This is so off base I don’t know where to begin except to recommend a few other people to study with.

    Your next quote below.

    “one person would find out that after a short time of sitting in a certain way, she would stand up much less agitated then when sitting down”

    This may also very easy to explain (however I don’t know what exactly she was doing), it could well be the result of concentration practice, which is the first step in the chain. Concentration on anything, breath, sound, smell, taste, touch, thoughts, sight naturally results in relaxing sensation in the body and mind. This experience of relaxation can then become the object of concentration thus enhancing relaxation or calm. Many people devote their entire practice to this technique, however if this is all they do they miss the insight phase and might have skipped the “morality” part as well.

    So again I think many of your questions and disappointments could be addressed by some better guidance.

    I suggest again the very readable book, “Mindfulness in Plain English” which you can download for free on the web. It might help clear away some of the cobwebs.

    In terms of Sanghas I also find most of them to lax, perhaps to postmodern, a term many are using on this thread, and overall a disappointment. There is one fairly adhoc group of people I know about who follow a wonderful teacher named Shinzen Young that have a useful, well defined common language, (a big thing for Shinzen) and a practical theory, formula really, to follow. Other groups I have been exposed to seem less interested in technique or are even scared to talk about it for fear that the magic fairy be exposed as nothing more than a sham and vanish back into her bottle – or that being spiritual means you can’t explain or describe what you are doing or what you are experiencing.

    I am quite sure there are many other useful groups and great teachers but it is hard to know who is good unless you have found some basic principles and a useful well defined language and of course some regular sitting time. I am lucky to have been given these few tools fairly early on (Shinzen and Mindfulness in Plain English being key). Which does not make me advanced in anyway, I am not; however it does help me avoid a lot of the crap.

    David

  69. Hi David

    Maybe I sound incoherent like a sailor lying drunken in the scuppers. I do not know.

    I think my last posting was counterproductive. Please do not try not deduce too much from this note. The point I wanted to make is: Experience happens and only THEN expression may occur.

    You are right in saying „concentration on anything, breath, sound, smell, taste, touch, thoughts, sight naturally results in relaxing sensation in the body and mind.“ Your description may be a good expression and it may be helpful in certain circumstances. My point is: Experience comes first!

    That being a rough generalization it may not be as easy as this. If the subject is always shaped and shaping in one then it follows that experience and expression have a very intimate relationship. Furthermore, often we are more shaped than shaping. So our own experience is not always trustworthy (to say the least), hence „experience first“ is no simple solution. But neither it is a solution to trust uncritically the experience of somebody else which he expresses to teach me. The dilemma which ensues results in the question how, if ever, something new can occur? Part of the solution may be difference in interaction (of course in x-buddhism the solution is to trust in the „hidden causal essence“ anyway; see „Nascent Speculative Non-Buddhism“, p. 19). But this all is nothing new.

    I would suggest, instead you pointing to another book I could read, you explain what you find so good about it. But do this in terms of non-buddhistic heuristics which are provided in the above mentioned text. You can do this too with Shinzen Young. This would be of great value in terms of non-buddhism, I mean, we would learn if there is something out there worth looking at.

    Thanks a lot for your response, have a good day.

  70. David said

    It is a two way street. That is a wonderful thing. Descriptions come after experience and experience comes after descriptions, thank goodness. There is an expression that people in London didn’t know it was foggy until Turner painted fog. I have been able to experience many things in my day to day life that I passed over until I viewed a work of art, read a book, listened to music etc. Other peoples’ descriptions of things help me see, hear, taste, feel, think things that I was blind to.

    The two sources I mentioned are free on the web, (although Shinzen does have a 12 CD series called “The Science of Enlightenment” which cost a bit and is available on Sounds True.)

    I have no idea if these two sources will strike a chord with you and clear a way a lot of the mud as they did for me.

    I do suggest we allow ourselves to have a descriptions help us experience a richer, more fulfilling, and broader experience of life. We are unique beings in our ability to have this transmission process unfold as it does. And we are unique beings in fighting against what comes naturally. Caught in a tangle of words and concepts. It don’t have to be so.

    David

  71. Tom Pepper said

    Ah, “MIndfulness in Plain English.” That is surely one of the major sources of the kind of postmodern western Buddhism crap Zizek lambasts. Unfortunately, almost all native English speakers for the last couple of decades start out with this book. It presents exactly what they are looking for, Buddhism as a source of euphoric experience, an experience which is not one, because it is beyond concepts, beyond the physical world, a pure consciousness that is unchanging, immortal, pristine, and unaffected by the fallen state of samsara (of course, it is not an atman! I mean, it is exactly the definition of an atman, but is not one because we say so!). If this book didn’t exist, and people had to learn some real Buddhism, maybe more intelligent people would stick with it, instead of finding it a bunch of new-age crap and moving on.

    David’s statement, in comment 70, is exactly the worst kind of ideological blindness. We don’t want to get caught up in all those “words and concepts,” because that is thought, takes effort, and might show us that we need to actually do something in the world. Instead of words and concepts, we want “other peoples’ descriptions” in works of art–a totally different thing, of course, because unlike those mean, hard words and concepts, art and poetry speaks a deep truth that I enjoy, because it assures me that what I already think is all true, and all I need to do is enjoy the beauty of the world from behind the rose-colored classes of my ideological position. It’s the classic problem–art doesn’t produce ideology, because it is true, which is as much as to say it (re)produces the ideology I already have, and hides from my awareness the fact that it is and ideology.

    Now, I’m all for ideology, and art is a useful way to produce it–but this insistence on ignorance of ideas, and the refusal to become aware that one’s ideology is an ideology is the most dangerous kind of anti-intellectualism.

    Matthias–I’d recommend not wasting your time with this silly book. But I have a question. Why is it so important that there is some kind of experience external to consciousness? Why not consider that concepts and language and symbolic orders aren’t something screening pure consciousness from reality, but in fact ARE consciousness? Conscious experience and expression don’t need to have a complex relationship if they are simply two aspects of the same thing. This symbolic system is constrained and affected by a mind-external reality–our consciousness cannot alter the world, pace the popularity of the quantum myth, and so it is forced to change to incorporate more of the external reality we are trying to interact with. The symbolic/imaginary system has changed dramatically over the centuries, and we are capable of determining when these changes are toward truth and when they are away from it.

    I’m trying to figure out your concerns, here, Matthias, and I’m really not sure why you object so strenuously to the possibility that conscious experience and the symbolic/imaginary system are aspects of the same thing, that we have no identity free of the symbolic order which gets incorporated into it, because the identity of a subject is always already part of that order. Does this just seem nonsensical? Does it seem to leave us with no “free will’? Does it contradict your own experience? What is your central objection?

  72. David said

    We must be reading different books. For me “Mindfulness in Plain English” it is exceptionally clear and less full of fluff and woo woo than most other books I have read. It is more difficult to make a difficult subject easy to understand than make a difficult subject difficult to understand. The book also starts out debunking most of the superficial impressions people have of meditation, including some to the things that make you so upset. I have benefited greatly from a meditation practice and have experienced at least enough of what many others have experienced to know that what they described is accurate. However, like someone describing a pine forest, it might not be a perfect description from my point of view but is is non-the-less something I can say, “oh yes I see what you mean.”

    Meditation is a repeatable technique with fairly predictable results, which sounds a lot like the scientific method to me. If this is post modern then there is no wonder I don’t really understand what that means.

    When people describe the deeper states of experience that can come from meditation then sure I am a bit lost since I have not had those experiences. I have not been to Greece but I have every reason be believe those that have and in turn have told me about it, are not making it all up. ,

    Meditation takes a good teacher, great effort, and time and other things. I don’t consider it lazy, woo woo (perhaps my term for what you are calling post modern) or something that leads to sloppy thinking. Just the opposite.

  73. Tom

    „Experience external to consciousness?“ I can not imagine experience external to consciousness. I am also not member of the PCP (Pure Consciousness Party). I think of the subject as being historically formed since I read Heidegger‘s „Die Zeit des Weltbildes“ (don‘t know the engl. title) some years ago. (In fact that was the point where I thought how silly it is to talk as a buddhist about non-self (anatman) when one CAN not know what self this has been which those early buddhists allegedly negated.) I am also not objecting „that we have no identity free of the symbolic order“ (as far as I understand „symbolic order“ now). No, this does not seem nonsensical to me. And „free will“? This is part of what I am writing about in „Meditation and Control“: Destroyed responsibility (german: Sorge) is the basic problem of our society. To do something different needs the will, the desire, to become different. What has this to do with free will? Well, that‘s an interesting question. How does change occur?– Certainly I speak a different language than you. I express myself different. That‘s the point. I hope this difference will be of value. And so, apart from different kinds of self-expression we two practice, I see no difference between us (regarding the mentioned points).

    Matthias

  74. Tom, one last thought for tonight. I assume, although I am not sure, that what I say about the „thought ,in‘ which thoughts aries“ (#64) irritates you most. I acknowledge that this indeed is a point which needs to be clarified.

  75. Tom Pepper said

    Actually, the “thought in which thoughts arise” didn’t seem so troubling. I took it as a limit of ordinary language–that we could perhaps use a distinction between different kinds of thought, one more shared and not so conscious, out of which our conscious and apparently intentional “thoughts” arise. Christopher Norris, in his recent book, argues that we need to maintain a distinction between thought and consciousness, because much of our thought is not conscious, but we usually use the term to refer mostly to our fully concious, even self-conscious, thought. It perhaps could be clarified, but I don’t think it would be too difficult. I have a similar problem with consciousness, which means in one sense thought of which we are fully aware, something more like knowledge, and also means something like our very capacity to symbolically represent the world, both consciously and unconsciously. I’ve read a number of different attempts to clarify the use of these terms, but none seems to be terribly widespread.

    I think the thing that puzzles me is that I absolutely cannot grasp in what sense an experience could come before the symbolic system, since the symbolic system (I’m being a little loose in my use of terms here) just is the experiencer, so must, at the most, arrise simultaneously with the experience. You may be right, that what we have here is failure to communicate. Perhaps your point is that the contact with reality exceeds and drives forward the symbolic systems capacity for expression? Perhaps I’m just too locked into my way of construing this issue, and I’m missing your point. Anyway, I’ll try to read through your post and comments more carefully in the a.m., when my mind tends to work better.

  76. As I am also fading rapidly, I will myself make an attempt tomorrow to relay a bit of Bion’s idea of “thoughts without a thinker.” Seems relevant here.

  77. Hi Tom. You write:

    [D]o you see Buddhist Studies as being in a similar trap, of either producing the hegemonic ideology or being eliminated? This blog seems to me to be posing the question: is there still something worth salvaging from Buddhism, once the ideology is distantiated, denaturalized? Meditation seems to be central to this [cause]. Can meditation only produce ideology, make subjects into more efficiently operating subjects, or can it also be used to defamiliarize our ideologies, producing “bad subjects” who refuse to reproduce the existing social formation?

    That’s it. Buddhist studies in the US and Canada, being situated as they generally are in Religion departments, are in a position “of either producing the hegemonic ideology or being eliminated,” as you say of English programs. And there have been eliminations. In Germany, where I first studied Buddhism (for almost six years, in Berlin and Goettingen), Buddhism is still treated as an aspect of culture. So, in my, case, it was studied as a sort of textual-linguistic artifact. When I came to the US, I was, at first, shaken by certain students’ and professors’ desire to, as you say “[preserve] the timeless verities” of Buddhism. I happened to study in a Sanskrit department, however, where that approach was not so pronounced. But we mingled with Religion and Divinity students, where it was. A good book that calls out the unthinking piety of religious studies departments in North America is Russell McCutcheon’s Critics Not Caretakers: Redescribing the Public Study of Religion (New York: State University of New York Press, 2001).

    Also, you summarized perfectly, and in precise terms, my concern with, my curiosity about, “meditation” (and after Matthias’s last comment, we—I—can no longer so innocently utter or write that word).

    Lots more to come. But what I write will disappoint x-buddhists. The best answers are, alas, so often disappointing, aren’t they?

  78. Shakyamuni said

    The Water-Snake Simile

    “Monks, there is the case where some worthless men study the Dhamma: dialogues, narratives of mixed prose and verse, explanations, verses, spontaneous exclamations, quotations, birth stories, amazing events, question & answer sessions [the earliest classifications of the Buddha’s teachings]. Having studied the Dhamma, they don’t ascertain the meaning (or: the purpose) of those Dhammas [5] with their discernment. Not having ascertained the meaning of those Dhammas with their discernment, they don’t come to an agreement through pondering. They study the Dhamma both for attacking others and for defending themselves in debate. They don’t reach the goal for which [people] study the Dhamma. Their wrong grasp of those Dhammas will lead to their long-term harm & suffering. Why is that? Because of the wrong-graspedness of the Dhammas.

    “Suppose there were a man needing a water-snake, seeking a water-snake, wandering in search of a water-snake. He would see a large water-snake and grasp it by the coils or by the tail. The water-snake, turning around, would bite him on the hand, on the arm, or on one of his limbs, and from that cause he would suffer death or death-like suffering. Why is that? Because of the wrong-graspedness of the water-snake. In the same way, there is the case where some worthless men study the Dhamma… Having studied the Dhamma, they don’t ascertain the meaning of those Dhammas with their discernment. Not having ascertained the meaning of those Dhammas with their discernment, they don’t come to an agreement through pondering. They study the Dhamma both for attacking others and for defending themselves in debate. They don’t reach the goal for which [people] study the Dhamma. Their wrong grasp of those Dhammas will lead to their long-term harm & suffering. Why is that? Because of the wrong-graspedness of the Dhammas.

    “But then there is the case where some clansmen study the Dhamma… Having studied the Dhamma, they ascertain the meaning of those Dhammas with their discernment. Having ascertained the meaning of those Dhammas with their discernment, they come to an agreement through pondering. They don’t study the Dhamma either for attacking others or for defending themselves in debate. They reach the goal for which people study the Dhamma. Their right grasp of those Dhammas will lead to their long-term welfare & happiness. Why is that? Because of the right-graspedness of the Dhammas.

    “Suppose there were a man needing a water-snake, seeking a water-snake, wandering in search of a water-snake. He would see a large water-snake and pin it down firmly with a cleft stick. Having pinned it down firmly with a forked stick, he would grasp it firmly by the neck. Then no matter how much the water-snake might wrap its coils around his hand, his arm, or any of his limbs, he would not from that cause suffer death or death-like suffering. Why is that? Because of the right-graspedness of the water-snake. In the same way, there is the case where some clansmen study the Dhamma… Having studied the Dhamma, they ascertain the meaning of those Dhammas with their discernment. Having ascertained the meaning of those Dhammas with their discernment, they come to an agreement through pondering. They don’t study the Dhamma either for attacking others or for defending themselves in debate. They reach the goal for which people study the Dhamma. Their right grasp of those Dhammas will lead to their long-term welfare & happiness. Why is that? Because of the right-graspedness of the Dhammas. [6]

    “Therefore, monks, when you understand the meaning of any statement of mine, that is how you should remember it. But when you don’t understand the meaning of any statement of mine, then right there you should cross-question me or the experienced monks.

  79. jonckher said

    I’m probably repeating some of what has been written but I need to use small words with no quotes from anyone real.

    And I like to rant and express my x-buddhist thoughts.

    Anyway, I thought it was obvious that meditation as thought and used in buddhist retreats / classes is nothing more than a form of indoctrination and serves the following purposes:

    1. to deliver short-term rewards in the form of relaxation (thus delivering an immediate motivation to return)
    2. to provide the allure of long-term / permanent rewards in the form of invulnerable calmness and contentment (thus motivating oneself when a session produced no relaxation)
    3. to promise and hence influence and associate mystical explanations to any strong feelings / experiences during meditation (thus providing comfort and security through implanted “evidence”)
    4. to guide and thus enable the association of psychological explanations to insights during meditation (thus satisfying to a point any inquiring minds out there who don’t just want a mystical explanation)
    5. through silent intensive meditation retreats, to further embed x-buddhist beliefs into sleep-deprived individuals.
    6. to provide a whole lot of jargon laden material to back up everything and anything.

    It doesn’t really matter what sort of meditation technique is taught – from my knowledge they all follow a similar path. Implant the x-buddhist interpretation and then lo-and-behold, people find exactly that on the cushion.

    Looking at the mushrooming of classes and retreats out there, it really works. This is how the Buddhist Borg Collective grows in the west.

    It is certainly how I became an x-buddhist.

    The thing that puzzles me is that even though I don’t fall for any of the points I listed above, I’m still sitting semi-regularly and planning a 10 day silent retreat in September. The Magid book talks about secret curative fantasies that a meditator brings to the cushion/practice. My not so secret one was that one day with enough hours on the cushion I shall surely become a Vulcan for real. It soon became obvious that if anything, meditation brings me closer to the Klingon scale of things internally.

    But i still do it.

    With metta, as always.

    PS: oh yeah, ends justify the means – its all good because it is dharma brainwashing and not just any other type.

  80. Matthias said

    Hi Jonckher

    First. I think one point we can confirm is that there are effects of certain meditation techniques. You mention relaxation and you also have mentioned non-thought here. Regarding the latter my working hypothesis for the time being is that this is a pre-reflective kind of attention which is either (1) physiologically based or (2) a cultural adaption, (or a mixture of both). I take it as granted that it exists. But we have to be very careful with terms here. What is pre-reflective? I suggest to equate Qualia with pre-reflective. Qualia are inexpressible and private, only accessible for the person who experiences them. The impression of a color, a taste etc. Qualia are complicated and paradox in themselves, perhaps we even delude ourselves about their very existence. But that aside lets fake for a moment that they exist – as we seem to. The additional problem with the non-thought qualia is that it has no outer referent. The color red of an apple can be at least ‘seen’ on the referent apple. At least we have an (culturally adopted) understanding about how to speak about certain apples. That’s not so with non-thought. No way to point to non-thought and to show it. I think that makes it even more difficult to speak about it. But however this may be, this pre-reflective quality does not exist in and of itself.

    Second. I don’t know why I haven’t mentioned this during this whole thread. I have never heard that in the meditation tradition I know a bit about, it is about stopping to think. In the mahamudra tradition are at least two distinct steps one takes in meditation training: tranquility and insight. Tranquility is a prerequisite to insight. Non-thought, besides two other experiences which are traditionally mentioned, only appears in this set-up as a marker for some skill one has achieved. It is no end in itself. The end is the tranquility and insight process. The tranquility process is about learning not to be disturbed by thought and not about suppressing them. The insight process commences when one has gained a certain stability in tranquility and consists of an interrogation of the mind and in the recognition of the so called nature of the mind. Part of the process is to recognize that “awareness and thought are NOT the same”. I think the tibetans err about the ontological status of the nature of the mind. They think it as an atman. My point here is that all this is not about stopping to think, but that it is an interrogation into the nature of mind.

    Third. These techniques in themselves hold simply a certain knowledge about the human mind but are not as such means to certain ends. One should distinguish between phenomenological, ontological and epistemological conclusions the traditions draw. I think the most valuable results we have especially in the mahamudra tradition come from the phenomenological side. I name mahamudra here because they have very detailed analytical accounts of the involved processes. Dzogchen is much more anarchic. (Apart from the fact that both traditions are totally obscured and rendered mostly useless because of a world wide mafia of jet-set rinpoches which more often than not have no clue what they are talking about)

    Four. It is important that the emphasis in these traditions and techniques is not about stopping to think, about non-thought or pure awareness. It is about the mind-machine. How it works. In the traditional environment where these techniques where developed or preserved or nearly forgotten (which is often the case), nobody ever undertook it to apply them to the political process. X-buddhists do it by definition. They do it in a negative sense in that they develop for example tranquility, if at all, to avoid responsible thinking about the situation we are in. Or they do it to preserve an ultra-orthodox worldview like the one which is shown in Feast, Interrupted – to conclude science is a projection of the mind and nothing need be done (= stupid dzogchen for the infantile).

    To act in a positive way, I suggest that it is necessary to interrogate tranquility and insight to get a clearer picture if these techniques can be of value to get a better knowledge about the ideology one is? I assume that a mind which is better informed about itself is better able to change itself – which would mean inter-acting. The knowledge about how to act what to change what to do, does not come from these techniques. They only sharpen the sword!

    Besides this, these techniques where ‘originally’ designed with the intention to come to an understanding of anatman. I suggest that together with our knowledge about how we are formed biographically, culturally and genetically these techniques could lead to drastic insights how we are not. Especially and paradoxically they could, I would suggest, be a strengthening to not flinch in sight of this insight.

    You have a spare pink x-buddhist t-shirt for me?

  81. jonckher said

    #80 Matthias

    I think you will have to wait behind Tom P for your tshirt. I only just found out that he is a Shin Buddhist. OMG.

    Anyway, your post has forced me to put away my hat with the small bells. Whether it remains off as I pound on this keyboard or not is another matter.

    The standard x-buddhist mindfulnista* line as you well know is that meditation eventually results in spontaneous emergence of compassion. This will then provide one with Boddhisatva powers and hence bring about the Pure Land on this earth. Tibetan x-buddhists tend to say that actually, specific compassion training practices are needed – the flight-path to full-power requires two wings of insight and compassion. And then, I assume everyone reincarnates as a llama.

    Given that I haven’t actually seen any increase in the level of compassion on this earth in the last decade or so**, I am forced to conclude that actually, all of this meditation and compassion practice is mostly a bunch of hooey. People feel good about themselves, maybe donate a little bit more to Greenpeace, buy less alcohol, a smaller car every year and then go back to their selfish capitalist ways***.

    So, I think we are on the same page.

    The thing is I am not sure that any new priming or guided meditation technique (assuming it is possible) will result in anything different by itself. You talk about equipping individuals through a better understanding of the mind-machine to then be able to gain insight into their ideology. But does insight and understanding necessarily result in a motivation to change anything? To what degree is the human animal innately conservative and selfish? I have read Tom P’s essay on Ideology and Samsara a couple of times now. His ending paragraphs are just so *optimistic*.

    Even if the experience of no-self, properly contextualised, lifts us away from selfishness, how much momentum will this have before the underlying selfish structure of our physical makeup takes over? How much access will any meditation technique have in the lower sub-structures of our animal being? Can we truly transform in this fashion?

    I don’t think so, not fundamentally, not permanently, not without a sangha keeping the momentum up.

    Traditionally, as you know, practice and the sangha are intertwined – one cannot exist without the other. I have noticed that no non-buddhist articles have been written about the sangha****. I assume someone will write something about this soon. I hope so. The sangha is complex and problematic. Is it merely a community of conservative practice or can it become an agent of continuous ideological awareness and change? If so, how long can it hold before it too becomes rigid, heirarchical, political, conservative?

    with metta, as always

    * I love this term and am in the process of designing a shiny sheriff’s badge except it will read “mindfulnista”. I will then sell it for lots of $$$ and become filthy rich. Seeing as you are actually all secret x-buddhists i know you will not steal this idea.

    ** Ok, i am impatient

    *** this could arguably be considered change on a macro-economic scale. maybe the global recession is due to western x-buddhists consuming less? #LOL

    **** i suggest the following title: “X-Buddhist Sanghas: How come none of them have REAL happy hours?”

    ps: srsly, being serious and earnest is so very boring. i dont know how you lot do it all the time with so many words #zzzz

  82. Tom Pepper said

    JOncKhER,

    Once again, you assume that the “lower sub-structures of our animal being” are inherently those of capitalist ideology. You cannot conceive of anything outside the hallucinatory image of the world produced in your thoroughly capitalist culture. Your idea seems to be that if meditation and enlightenment could strip away all cultural attachments, we would be left only with the pure capitalist, viciously competing and greedily hoarding and hedonistically enjoying. Yes, insight and understanding really does result in motivation to change. The notion that we are motivated only by bodily desires is a powerful part of capitalist ideology–reasons can be causes! We can be motivated by ideas–but ONLY once we have enough insight to escape the fog of ideology.

    I don’t think Matthias’s idea for meditation is something that is supposed to be practice alone in a cave. My impression is that he is suggesting it will require a sangha of some kind, a group practicing together. In a sense, we are already writing about the need for a sangha all the time. I have argued that we cannot become, or remain, aware of our ideological blindspots alone–we can do it because we communicate with others, who can point them out to us.

    And yes, I am a Shin Buddhist. I belong to a very active group, which has a prison outreach program, a Buddhist 12-step program, a yearly film festival, and a “family dharma” program (Buddhist Sunday School) of which I am the coordinator. Yes, as mean and horrible and terrifying as I am, I teach Buddhist Sunday school to elementary school kids–and I rarely call them idiots.

    Shin began as a very radical attempt to bring liberation to the peasants in every sense of the term–and Shinran was exiled for it. Of course, it has long since been contained, in Japan, and by the 20th century became a kind of emperor worship and an official ideology of the Japanese empire–those Shin Priests who spoke out against the emperor were jailed and sentenced to death. It shouldn’t be so surprising that an old radical like me would be a fan of Shinran.

  83. jonckher said

    #82 Sifu Tom

    You guessed my secret name! In the tradition of x-buddhist mythos, does that mean I have to now convert to shin buddhism and say a few hundred amitabha mantras or something? I’d rather #srsly instead even though I’ve been told it is a bad habit and promotes hair growth on one’s palms.

    Actually, I have to reveal that in the course of typing up my comment above, I could feel my position shifting – a nasty and horrible sensation when it occurs mid-sentence because then, one has to re-write and I hate re-writing almost as much as I hate editing.

    Can radical societal change occur with the right combination of sangha, upaya and dharma? It has happened before in the past or so the assorted x-buddhists claim – can it happen again? If so, are the x-buddhist vehicles so corrupted that every nasty portion of it has to be discarded? Or is there life still in there somewhere – like a precious green shoot amidst the dead-wood? Also, did I actually use Pali terms in a sentence without making a rude pun?

    Given that I am now on a slippery slope to waxing my palms, I confess I have read a serious x-buddhist book by David Brazier “The New Buddhism” when I was in India drinking butter tea and omanipadehuming with the best of them. So I am not at all surprised that Shin Buddhism is also very active. I was quite impressed by this Engaged Buddhism stuff actually because until then, I thought the best thing about x-buddhism was that goody-two-shoe-ism was limited to internal visualisations of saving the *entire* cosmos thus saving the rest of us from their best intentions. But alas no, something about the Pure Land must appeal to ex-x-Christians resulting in the definition of Buddhist good-works now being expanded to more than just giving a couple of monks the left-overs from last night.

    Am I the only one in this entire blog nostalgic for the good old days?

    Speaking of which, I went to a few Western Buddhist Order rituals / sits / sangha circle whatevs. I liked the banner like things that hung from around their necks. It reminded me of an x-Christian pastor I once knew who told me that the reason why countries in the tropics were so backward was because of the temperature melting their brains and sapping their will. Coming from the tropics I had to disagree and then he accused me of being an apostate and related to Satan. And then we all laughed.

    I saw something about Goenkajihadis attacking defenceless prisoners with his millimeter by millimeter body scanning Vipassana technique*. In terms of pure torment, it was comparable only to those poor prisoners being made to dance to the greatest hits of the 80s. I am sure that your prison outreach program is much nicer!

    Anyway, #srsly I am looking forward to reading an article by one of the massive brains here on the sangha. I have been enjoying the discussion in the politics thread. People are mad aren’t they? And then we all laughed,

    With metta, as usual

    * srsly have any of you guys been to an SN Goenka 10 day silent retreat? OMG. But the videos of him and his wife are pure awesome.

  84. Matthias said

    Hi Jonckher

    You can leave your head on. Do you know Till Eulenspiegel? Was a clever guy.

    Compassion: There are words which are translated with ‘compassion’ in Tibetan. Tugje (don’t remember the transliteration) for example. In the dzogchen tradition as I know it the term only makes sense in the context of several other terms. I have heard it also that ‘compassion’ should arise spontaneously. If you look at the Tibetan history from a point which doesn’t see the country as a phantasmagorical shangri-la it has to yet to be shown if there has been more ‘compassion’ than anywhere else. I doubt it.

    Wisdom: What is this?

    The two wings: I don’t care. I recently had a discussion with a german zen-buddhist in a german online forum. I asked him why he doesn’t call the Paramitas virtues? The question was rhetorical. It is his unique selling proposition. Nobody would lend him an ear if he would talk about virtues. In our culture we have a good understanding what virtue is. We have a rich tradition written down from Socrates/Platon onward about the question of virtue. In fact the “Aporia of Menon” is not only about virtue and where it comes from, it also states a difficult question: how to recognize something for what you are looking, when you don’t know it already? If you know it, you don’t have to look for it? If you don’t know it, how do you recognize it? Socrates/Platon in the “Aporia” develop the idea of the a priori – the general idea of something. With the latter you are right at the heart of the “decision” – a central point of the non-buddhism project. Now, how do you recognize compassion with a x-buddhist? Of course he in her wisdom, full of compassion for little unenlightened Jonckher with his fool’s cap, tells you. S/he has a certain idea how compassion looks like. This idea comes from the dharma which is, off course, the principal truth of the universe. The proof for this comes from the original word of the buddha. Your buddhist teacher is online with the buddha through an unbroken string of transmission and he always is right. His (transcendent) idea of compassion informs your (immanent) actual form of compassion you develop. The real world is structured by the ideal dharma. That is in a nutshell x-buddhist syntax – which in turn, if you follow your masters voice, becomes your experience. Your masters voice, the buddha via your very compassionate buddhist teacher and your favorable karma, is a kind of a strange glue which pastes together idea and real. But it gets a bit complicated here. The real is not real as long as you don’t subscribe to your masters voice. To see if the real is really real you have to subscribe to test it. If you try it out, if you really dive into the real experience just for a test drive, it is proofed that your masters voice is real. (Otherwise you haven’t tried hard enough.) So then, even as you never have seen the master from which this otherworldly voice cometh upon you oh my son, his existence and trustworthiness is assured. This is thaumaturgical refuge.

    Anyway, again I veered of course. I cannot write these entries without getting distracted by every other thought – they feel so real.

    Experience of no-self: I think most people should not do anything to try this out. (And of course beware of the ‘experience’).

    Practice and sangha: I practiced everything without (traditional neo-buddhist sangha). I definitely wouldn’t have learned what I know about dzogchen/mahamudra sitting with others. I went to retreats, yes. But there I learned that these retreats where nice holidays. Very very very few people would try something seriously. It too was like Soren describes it. I haven’t met a real sangha in western buddhism. My idea of a real sangha? People working together for something good. What is my idea of good? Well, virtue, what else. BTW, both my articles you find here are about sangha (more or less), Tom’s last one too. And in regard what Tom says, it is about sangha here, and also the interaction here over the last months lead to a certain sociality. It is about communication. The challenge to communicate in this way. Finding common interests. Some drop out disinterested, some are made sick.

    Meditation: Should one do it alone or in a group? If it feels supportive to be in a group, ok. But what idea does the group has about praxis? Generally ‘meditation’ is a mystification, a special idea=decision about meditation. What I describe is something unspectacular. I think lots of people do it. And historically in our culture again there is a rich tradition which could have to do with this. Aristoteles spoke about the thinking of thinking. Kant’s transcendental apperception could have to do with it. Descartes cogito. Hussrel’s epoché. They all worked with their consciousness. But of course no true x-buddhist ever will interrogate this in detail because there is but one true dharma.

    Sorry for throwing around strange names.

  85. jonckher said

    #84 Matthias

    Thus have I heard:

    “A question was asked: Can we sit with innocence?

    The answer was: “it is impossible. The knowledge and intention of sitting corrupts and infects us. The last person to sit with innocence was the founder. In articulating his experience and in setting down the first instructions, he closed the door on the rest. To sit in innocence, all knowledge of the first desecration must cease to exist. Only then can a true innocent, born many years in the future, be able to sit.”

    Don’t ask me to quote where I heard that story, I have forgotten.

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