Come On, X-Buddhists, Pump Up The Polemos!

Genuine polemics approach a book as lovingly as a cannibal spices a baby. —Walter Benjamin

Is there any such thing as x-buddhistic polemics? Or are x-buddhists too busy primming themselves with right speech, loving kindness, and equanimity to consider such nastiness? I can imagine my x-buddhist friends asking how I can even suggest that the perpetually-grinning paragons of compassion that are their beloved teachers would even want to engage in something as “un-buddhist” as polemics.

Come to think of it, I have to ask them a question right back: Is it conceivable that your myriad x-buddhist values (compassion, right speech, renunciation, loving-kindness, forbearance, right thought, etc., etc., etc.) are precisely a passive form of polemics? In “cultivating compassion,” for instance, are you, as x-buddhist, arming yourself for the fight?

Consider this. When asked why he does not engage in polemics, Michel Foucault answered as follows.

The polemicist . . . proceeds encased in privileges that he possesses in advance and will never agree to question…. [T]he person he confronts is not a partner in search for the truth but an adversary, an enemy who is wrong, who is armful, and whose very existence constitutes a threat. For him, then the game consists not of recognizing this person as a subject having the right to speak but of abolishing him as interlocutor, from any possible dialogue; and his final objective will be not to come as close as possible to a difficult truth but to bring about the triumph of the just cause he has been manifestly upholding from the beginning. The polemicist relies on a legitimacy that his adversary is by definition denied.

To my non-buddhist ears, this description of a polemicist astutely, if unintentionally, describes the contemporary western x-buddhist. This is because, from a non-buddhist perspective, an x-buddhist is nothing if not a person “encased in privileges that he possesses in advance and will never agree to question,” and  someone who “relies on a legitimacy that his adversary is by definition denied.” This legitimacy, this privilege, is, of course, The Dharma.

A speculative non-buddhist thesis holds that x-buddhism is incapable of the self-critique that might permit what Benjamin refers to as a “genuine polemics” (more on this below). One reason for x-buddhism’s failure in this regard is the centripetal force that dharmic decision exerts on the thinking and behavior of all x-buddhists. To be an x-buddhists is to be reflexively beholden, affectively and cognitively, to the force of dharmic postulation. The x-buddhist is x-buddhist precisely insofar as s/he seeks—indeed, is impelled toward—the pure point of dharmic verity.

Decisional reflexivity explains why intra-buddhist discussions and debates are so vapid. It also explains why x-buddhist blogs, magazines, dharma talks, podcasts, websites, Facebook pages, sermons, and all the rest are predictable to the point of brain-corroding monotony: all of them, no matter what their particular x represents, simply spin around and around, shoulder to shoulder, on the same reeling pulpit. For decision, as the speculative non-buddhist thesis goes, is a fecund supposition of uncircumventable validity that manifests as infinite iterations of “x-buddhism.”

This state of affairs can explain in one swoop both the insipid nature of intra- x-buddhist dialogue and the non-existence of robust contemporary Buddhist-Non-Buddhist (Christian, etc.) polemics…

…But wait a minute, haven’t I just inverted the value of the term “polemics”? Indeed, I have. I will leave you with some comments by Catholic thinker Paul J. Griffiths on the topic  “Why We Need Interreligious Polemics.” Griffiths takes a stance opposed to Foucault’s. (Fitting for a post on polemics, isn’t it?)  But before I do, a question:

Why do x-buddhists behave like such disingenuous duckies when debating their views?

Here’s Paul Griffiths:

The intellectual life is essentially and constitutively agonistic. It progresses almost entirely by struggle, by challenge and response, by thesis and antithesis, by getting it wrong and then moving, always asymptotically, toward getting it right. Hegel was wrong, so far as I can tell, about most things, but he was right at least about this: the movement of thought is, in the sense just mentioned, dialectical. Nagarjuna, the second-century Buddhist philosopher, was, if possible, wrong about even more than Hegel, but he too was right at least about the unavoidable necessity of reasoned argument for the maintenance of ethical and epistemic respectability.

If the intellectual life is like this, if struggle is its blood and bone, then one ought to expect those who think rightly about it to delight in and deploy the imagery and metaphors of battle and war to capture its flavor. And so they do. If you like Buddhist examples, consider the famous image, found in numerous Indian Buddhist works from the first century onward, of the two magical warriors, neither of whom has enduring independent existence, battling one another until both cease to exist: this is an image, for its users, of the nature of argument, but it is also an image that has vitally important soteriological implications, a point that I shall return to later. And you don’t have to read far in current English-language philosophy to stumble over (or delight in, depending upon your tastes) similarly martial imagery: philosophers marshal their forces; they propose defeators; they proffer knock-down, drag-out arguments; they line up their propositions and schemata of argument like so many tin soldiers.

This sort of thing is what I mean by the word “polemics.” I take it to denote an intellectual virtue. Perhaps more precisely, I take it to denote a mode of intellectual engagement that flows directly from a proper and clear realization of what serious intellectual work is for and how it should best proceed. If you properly engage in this work, you will be interested in arriving at a position on whatever it is that interests you (philosophy, critical theory, history, philology, literary criticism, or whatever) that is preferable to any other that you know of on that question, and you will concomitantly want to be clear as to what the position that you construct and defend is, what it excludes, how best to show that its competitors are less adequate than the one you want to defend, and in what sense this is true. “Polemics,” as I use it here, does not denote or connote simple hostility, or opposition for its own sake-even though the term has come to mean something like this in ordinary English usage. It points, rather, to the kind of engagement that does and should occur when those who take what they believe seriously encounter others equally serious about, and committed to, their beliefs.


In the serious play of questions and answers, in the work of reciprocal elucidation, the rights of each person are in some sense immanent in the discussion. They depend only on the dialogue situation. The person asking the questions is merely exercising the right that has been given him: to remain unconvinced, to perceive a contradiction, to require more information, to emphasize different postulates, to point out faulty reasoning, and so on. As for the person answering the questions, he too exercises a right that does not go beyond the discussion itself; by the logic of his own discourse, he is tied to what he has said earlier, and by the acceptance of dialogue he is tied to the questioning of other. Questions and answers depend on a game—a game that is at once pleasant and difficult—in which each of the two partners takes pains to use only the rights given him by the other and by the accepted form of dialogue.

** Paul J. Griffiths, “Why We Need Interreligious Polemics,” First Things (June/July 1994).

143 responses to “Come On, X-Buddhists, Pump Up The Polemos!”

  1. Michael Dorfman Avatar

    I don’t think I’d agree with Griffiths that Nāgārjuna was “wrong about even more than Hegel,” but the reference to Nāgārjuna serves as a reminder that virtually all Buddhist philosophy was forged within highly charged debate traditions, and these polemics, both between Buddhists and non-Buddhists, and between various Buddhist schools embody Griffiths notion of polemos as an intellectual virtue.

  2. Geoff Avatar


    Interesting post as usual – I love your turn of phrase “escorting x-buddhism to the Feast of Knowledge “etc

    I thought you might be interested in this exchange I had with our old friend Ajahn Sujato on his blog and I think is a good example of what you are talking about.

    Sujato’s blog provides a good contrast to eg this blog & Ted Meissner’s . What I like about your blog & Ted’s is the way you attempt to respond fully to comments made, like the way you break comments down and answer the main points in turn.

    By contrast Sujato may simply ignore your comments and when he does respond he usually only answers the part he likes or in an evasive manner (I don’t know if that’s intentional or not). I managed to upset him when I persisted in probing his responses to try to clarify his points. (To be fair I might have overstep the bounds of decency when in frustration I did start getting a little sarcastic and make an unfavourable comparison to a tobacco industry lobbyist – which finally lead to me being censored.)

    If you don’t mind I have given an example of one of my comments to show I didn’t feel I was being unduly rude or dismissive but I felt was simply probing to seek clarification. I have also included the email he sent me explaining why he wouldn’t allow my comments on his blog.

    As well as providing I think a good example of intolerance to open discussion (that you take about on this post) I thought it might provide some of amusement – it certainly did for me.

    I don’t think I have been spoken to like that since I left school (which was quite a while ago)! That also tells me something….




    Geoff / Jan 18 2012 10:37 am


    Thanks – I’ll search under Stevenson. By the way does this also cover my question concerning research on evidence for the kammic effects on rebirth?

    I haven’t read any reviews of Stevenson that dismiss him because “he is extremely cautious and remains open to any other explanation” and that he “devotes considerable efforts to considering what those other explanations are, taking into consideration the very many serious criticisms of his work over the decades, and shows the flaws in those alternative theories.”

    I should study Stevenson myself to form my own views but what interests me is your steadfast support (along with Ajahn Brahm etc) for Stevenson.
    I’m interested in the offhand way you dismiss Stevenson’s critics for” missing the point” and saying “of course some of what Stevenson does is ‘just stories’ “ and saying ‘of course’ he acknowledges his “research is suggestive”, as if this is standard for scientific research. (Do most scientific researchers pad out their papers with ‘stories’ to make them less boring? And when they say ‘suggestive’, researchers usually wouldn’t expect others to refer to it as their main source of evidence.)

    When you say “these responses to Stevenson’s work are missing the point”, what is the ‘point’? Is it to use it to support your faith in kamma and rebirth as presented in the Pali Canon?



    Hi Geoff,

    I have unallowed your recent comments, and would ask you to reconsider. Over time, your contributions have gone from being genuine inquiry, to being a seemingly endless stream of criticism, and have now descended to pure snark. If you want to engage in a reasonable conversation, you have to do it in a reasonable manner. That means, for example, expressing a positive appreciation for things that are helpful; being grateful for the time that others spend in responding to your needs; and accepting that not everyone is interested in the same things you are.

    I have not unallowed your comments (or anyone else’s for that matter) because I can’t take criticism. It is because the criticism is silly, and lowers the tone of the conversation. I want my blog to be a friendly place that people feel welcomed and respected in. If I don’t feel welcomed and respected in my own blog, how will others feel?

    I hope this message can encourage you to think about contributing in a more positive and constructive manner. You seem to find everything I say and do to be distasteful, and I have no idea why you bother hanging around. I have tried my best to be friendly and supportive, and to answer your genuine inquiries, and have got nothing in return but criticism. Do you have anything else to offer?

    with metta always,

    Bhante Sujato

  3. The Naked Monk Avatar

    “…the kind of engagement that does and should occur when those who take what they believe seriously encounter others equally serious about, and committed to, their beliefs.”

    Hmm…beliefs. I agree with you Glenn on what polemic should be. However, I’m not sure I care as much. My practice of what I used to call Buddhism is mostly about relinquishing points of view. I believe in love, courage, integrity and the like. But ideas are just not for believing in. They’re precarious props. I’m beginning to think they’re nothing but baggage.

    Having said that, I accept that most people are into their adopted –ism for comfort, not for challenge. I hate consolatory religion, but let not be mislead by the term. No religion per se is consolatory; it’s the people who take it that way that make it that way. Hence we have thinking intelligent Jew, Catholics and Muslims, and thumb-sucking baby Buddhists. And of course in-your-face provocateurs like yourself.

    The Buddha’s point was an end to views. That leaves us sizing up each situation as it comes, without the convenience of fitting it into a category to suit our preconceptions. If that’s what polemic means, if you’re advocating the pursuit of that ever-receding goal, then I’m with you. However, I’m not terribly energized by it. I wouldn’t expect such a method to convince many people of many things. Living the life is the real polemic.

  4. Chet Avatar

    The classic veiled “shut the fuck up” followed by the vapid, passive aggressive “with metta always”.

    LOVE IT.

  5. The Naked Monk Avatar

    Really, I don’t find Sujato’s behavior the least bit amusing. It’s unacceptable.

  6. stoky Avatar

    “However, I’m not sure I care as much.”

    Nicely said. Today I thought about some of the critique I read on this blog, but finally realized I don’t value Buddhism enough to spend that much time on it…
    In some sense every X-Buddhist should get rid of Buddhism as fast as possible 😉

  7. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Stoky and The Naked Monk. (That sounds a bit salty.) Knowing both of your work, I am confused that you can say “I’m not sure I care as much” about Buddhism, x-buddhistic polemics, critiques of x-buddhism. I like both of your ideas that, respectively “living the life is the real polemic” (Stephen) and “in some sense every x-buddhist should get rid of Buddhism as fast as possible” (Stoky). But really, don’t both of you value Buddhism quite a bit? You are both, to my eyes, seriously engaged in a type of translation of Buddhism. Do you want to discount the value of exchanging ideas, of seeking viable forms of practice and thinking? I don’t think so. So, what is the force of your “I don’t care as much”? Not that I can’t entertain someone’s not caring that much about the issues brought up in these posts. I just don’t see how you two can say that. If you feel so inclined, some clarification would be appreciated and, I am sure, edifying.

    I don’t care as much either. My not caring is axiomatic. It’s a “grammatical” feature of my critique. In fact, a necessary postulate of speculative non-buddhism is “disinterest.” But I think you two have something else in mind. Is that right?

    Peace, my friends!

  8. Tom Pepper Avatar

    The Naked Monk [#3]:

    This is just the classic ideology-blindness so common today. Your beliefs are “truths”– everyone else just has “views” and they are foolish to hold onto them. You can’t possibly be a big enough idiot to suggest we really can ever come to any situation with NO preconceptions–or that we would want to. So, I can only assume you’re simply parroting the classic cheap rhetoric of postmodernism. Could you really be claiming that Buddha had NO views at all, no ideas, he didn’t even encourage us to believe in dependent origination or anatman? Not even in the four noble truths? Those are just sops for us fools who need ideas, while you wisely “live the life”?

    Come on. Don’t be so lazy. You’re just copping out because you don’t want to make the effort to think a little!

  9. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Geoff (#2). I have always, always, admired–and gotten a kick out of–your queries to The Venerable Sujato. Talk about the Australian gadfly–your jabs were pure Socratic polemos. I was often astounded that Sir Bhante Well-Born even answered what to me seemed like hilarious displays of carefully crafted irony. Job well-done. I give you the non-dharma name Bhanteyabhato–He Who Fucks with Venerable Ones. (Although my Sanskrit’s a bit rusty, I’m sure.)

    One way that I present evidence for my non-buddhist theory of decision is simply to allow x-buddhists to joyously croon their glorious buddhemes like a chorus of tanked Bavarian yodelers. Sujato’s blog is a living, breathing lab of x-buddhistic braggadocio.

    Why don’t you find a new venue? Don’t be silenced. Call us out on our bullshit here. It’ll be fun! But also find some (even more) righteous blog to manifest your particular genius.

    Do not drink that Bhikkhu juice–it’s hemlock!

  10. bertrancito Avatar

    Since Nagarjuna came up: I was wondering about the link between the “no views” of madhyamaka and non-philosophy in general, and would be curious to see a non-buddhist analysis on Nagarjuna, and its interpretation in modern schools.

    For example, post-modernism can be paralleled to “holding the view of emptiness”, which I understand is a fundamental mistake in madyamaka. On a similar fashion, some of the (assumed) anti-intellectualism in modern Buddhism could very well be subjected to the same critic, or as Tom Pepper mentions, the “every body has views but me, no way”. Doesn’t this falls under the scope of madhyamaka, as well as non-buddhism?

    My (admittedly limited) understanding of Nagarjuna would be that no views can be hold as ultimately true, no even the view of “no view”. In the context of polemics I conclude two things from that: All stances are flawed, but not all stances are equally valid. This opens the possibility of debate, and also its necessity, for some stances are more fit for particular purposes – Just like the non-buddhist project. Do I have a bad understanding of non-buddhism, madhyamaka, none, or both? (or am I stuck in 2nd century’s logic…:))

  11. stoky Avatar

    Glenn [#7],

    Maybe the “type of translation of Buddhism” involves not valuing it as much?

    Some examples:

    When you criticized the rhetoric of Buddhist text my response simply was “don’t value texts that much”.

    Matthias had a guest post about meditation and attention on this blog. In the beginning meditation helped me to focus more and by this to solve problems. Now, I’m commenting on your blog rather than solving problems. So at a certain point Buddhism becomes a distraction itself.

    Since I realized that, I spent less time on my blog. I even thought about closing it (see my post “Zu viel Kommunikation, zu wenig Praxis”).

    “The Naked Monk” said he’s not interested in views, because we shouldn’t value them that much. Of course that’s paradox, because “not valuing views” is also a view, but if you’re asking him to think about his view that asking him to value it more, so that paradox too (at least for him).

    That seems to be a common mistake made at this blog. Most Buddhist agree that you can’t cover everything by thinking. If you then are asking them to explain these, it’s kind of ironic. I know this is dangerous, but on a personal level it’s pretty natural. You can think about feelings like love as much as you want, you won’t understand it if you’ve never been in love. It’s just a limitation of the tool called language.

    I know this is exactly the point where Tom Pepper felt insulted the last time. Well, please do feel insulted. You know what insults me? Your refusal to think about the limitations of thinking! Isn’t your belief in thinking also a belief system?

    I know you’ll have some decent intellectual thoughts about this. But I hope you don’t mind if it takes some time for me to answer. I have to focus on my exams right now. After all, I’m studying math, not philosophy nor Buddhism.

    P.S.: This post was kind of polemic, wasn’t it? I’m so proud of myself 😉

  12. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Hi Betrancito (#10). Great questions. And ones that I will have to give more thought to than I have time for right now. I think there are a few people commenting here who will nibble at your bait.

    Contrary to what many people have said here and elsewhere, my project on this blog is decidedly not “postmodern.” People seem to use that term as a synonym for “critique” or something–I really can’t quite figure what people mean by it. In any case, Laruelle cut the teeth of his non-philosophy to a great extent in response to Derrida and other “philosophies of difference” (e.g., Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Deleuze). His project aims precisely to permit a view, not overcome view per se. Philosophy, he contends, is driven by a certain blindness to the fact that it posits views at all. “Philosophy” names precisely the project of articulating reality; philosophies are theses about reality. But in its articulation, philosophy “mixes” its own representations–typically involving reference to transcendental modalities (some sort of “difference”)–with what Laruelle terms “radical immanence” (also: the real; vision-in-One; and other terms). Laruelle does not offer any postulation concerning “the real.” In a radical move, he insists on axiomatizing it. In a fascinating discussion, Derrida asks Laruelle to explain from where he is getting his “reality of the real.” Laruelle answers:

    “Where do I get this from?”
    I get it from the thing itself. This is as rigorous an answer as I am able to give. Because
    the criterion for my discourse was a rigorously immanent or transcendental criterion, there
    is no other answer I can give without placing myself on the terrain of effectivity.

    But Laruelle’s “the thing itself” is not Kant’s, or philosophy’s. Laruelle refuses to speak in philosophemes (he uses them, but “non-philosophically”). He refuses to grant philosophy its assumed special vantage point. He also refuses to posit yet another “mixteof reality; for to do so would just be offering another version of philosophy, and, here’s the punch, to do so to the detriment of the real.

    Philosophy is thus, contrary to its own high self-regard as executor of reality, in the final analysis, just “a theory and practice of mixtures.” Non-philosophy aims to provide a view to that fact, and in so doing, help create a “stranger subject,” a person who is cognizant of the play of representation, of mixture, of decision, etc.

    Similarly, I take my non-buddhist postulates and axioms and perform a critique on x-buddhistic views with the aim of providing another view. Non-buddhism is not in the least beholden to x-buddhism’s (wholly nonsensical) de-valuation of “views” (dṛṣṭi, diṭṭi). A non-buddhist motto could be: “everybody has views but me–yea, right!”

    Anyway, I will offer more later. Thanks for your comment and questions.

  13. The Naked Monk Avatar

    Tom Pepper [#8]:

    I’ll tell you what’s lazy: Holding an opinion just because you feel naked without one; not caring to scratch at the surface of someone else’s argument; not taking the time to distinguish experience from ideas; using abstract theory without reference to the story of your life; deconstructing existential problems; being rude instead of arguing; jumping to self-satisfied conclusions about the idiocy of others; being unable to sit with your own ignorance.

    Of course the Buddha had views; he didn’t hang on to them for dear life. Holding to paticcasamuppāda, anattā and whatever else as mere philosophy is the vapid refuge of Buddhist scholars. If the Buddha’s stories don’t resonate in your own life there’s no point in believing or disbelieving them. There’s a difference between seeing and viewing, between thinking and knowing, between reality and logic. Believing in integrity is a process of discovery; not a view.

    I said nothing about truth Mr. Pepper. That’s your projection.

  14. Robert Avatar

    Hmm, naked monk, quite a bit of projection in your response as well. Aren’t you holding rather strong views as to what kind of a person Tom Pepper is?

  15. Mike Preston Avatar
    Mike Preston

    Glenn, thanks for pointing to the Laurelle/Derrida exchange. I want to become more familiar with Laurelle’s thinking.

    Could the Laurellean punch also be slipped into the bhikkhu juice (leaving out the hemlock, of course)?

    Okay, I really like this place. I want to join in the fun, so I’m going to let my X-buddhist freak flag fly, take a few precepts, etc.

    Non-philosophical online texts; I vow to save (download) them all, and read them. I am presently doing a careful reading of your “Nascent Non-Buddhism.”

    Why bother? Well, maybe in adopting this heuristic/precept I will become more skillful in my decision-making. Maybe I will achieve a more thorough realization of a process of right view while avoiding the over-valuation of any views.

    Does this crude formulation have a family resemblance to a non-buddhist practice? I want to kick the ladder, but it seems like I don’t want to give up my buddhemes; I need something to negate, right? Does the Feast table include all texts? Is the Stranger Subject bringing a dish to the table, or just an appetite?

    On Polemos: I don’t know much about this, but I have been quietly dismissed and sometimes more thoroughly denounced when my epistemological/semantic/metacritical questions have been deemed unacceptable by my x-buddhist teachers. I broke some rules, I guess. And then I moved on.

    Lately I have been very interested in the new (to me) “pragmatic buddhism” movement, with its emphasis on practical transparent descriptions of maps of consciousness (jhana states, etc.) across traditions of meditation. I have observed, e.g., on the site “Dharma Overground,” some respectful polemics. Maybe it devolves into passive polemics.

    Gabba Gabba Hey!

  16. The Naked Monk Avatar

    Robert: Mr. Pepper’s comment speaks for itself. I answered in kind.

    Others here seems to be using ‘view’ as a synonym for ‘idea,’ which only provokes one paradox after another. I think of it as more like an ‘angle’ — a rationalized approach to life that corresponds to upādāna (clinging).

  17. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    The Naked Monk (#3).

    My practice of what I used to call Buddhism is mostly about relinquishing points of view. I believe in love, courage, integrity and the like. But ideas are just not for believing in. They’re precarious props. I’m beginning to think they’re nothing but baggage.

    That comment makes me wonder what it is you call a “view”? But first, to be clear, I am not interested in debating the Buddhist idea of “view.” I am, rather, asking the question in the spirit of polemics as outlined by Griffiths.

    It progresses almost entirely by struggle, by challenge and response, by thesis and antithesis, by getting it wrong and then moving, always asymptotically, toward getting it right…[Polemics assume] the unavoidable necessity of reasoned argument for the maintenance of ethical and epistemic respectability.

    Do you think that the kinds of cognitive activities you refer to as “opinion,” “views,” “ideas and theories,” “believing” and so forth are a matter of choice? (I don’t mean what we believe, etc., but the very act of believing.) Even if you do, is it necessarily obvious that such a choice would be desirable to a person? What could it possibly mean not to hold a view? What would an example of such a condition possibly look like?

    I wonder, too, about your valuation of “the story of [our lives]” over “abstract theory.” Don’t we, in the very telling, turn the story of our lives into something approaching abstract theory? Just observe how the story of your life changes all the time. Theory is a way of making sense of things. So is “the story of my life.” Is it possible that the two terms are varying points on a living, undulating continuum? Maybe your understanding of Buddhism, or of your practice of what you used to call Buddhism, is precisely an abstract theory of or in relation to your life experience. Can the two be intimately related versions of your life, just in different terms? In that case, what becomes of the devaluation of views, etc?

    Re: # 13: I wonder how I should understand these two comments:

    [1] “Of course the Buddha had views; he didn’t hang on to them for dear life.” And [2] “Holding to paticcasamuppāda, anattā and whatever else as mere philosophy is the vapid refuge of Buddhist scholars.”

    In light of what I said above, could “the Buddha” be an abstraction of “the Naked Monk,” of you? (He is, after all, a completely blank slate at the least and a literary conceit inviting the play of our fertile imaginations at most.) What does “mere” philosophy mean–or “philosophy,” for that matter? They sound like negative value terms. Is that right? And why just “of Buddhist scholars”? Why not “of all x-buddhists”?

    I am not playing the ha, ha, you have views game here. I assume my interlocutor has views (and opinions and preferences and prejudices and an ideology) just like me. So, I am asking about those views.

    Thanks for your participation here.

  18. Tom Pepper Avatar


    Re post #11: I certainly never felt “insulted” by you. Impatient and annoyed, yes, but not insulted. And yes, of course my belief in the value of thinking IS an ideology. That’s my whole point—it is not a transcendent truth, but an ideological practice. The difference is, I know my ideology is an ideology, and can use it to attempt to change the world, without making the reproduction of ideology itself the goal. And yes, of course there are limitations to thought. I’ve been saying that over and over—all thought is limited, all thought contains gaps and aporia, and fails to fully think the real. This is one of those things that I take NOT to be itself ideological, but true of all thought in all time; the specific gaps and aporia change, but their existence is permanent, and to ignore them or cover them over with mystical talk of deep and ineffable experiences is just to, once again, reify our ideology and become incapable of changing the world for the better in any consciously directed way.

    Naked Monk: I see I hit a nerve. You certainly have that calm abiding and equanimity thing down, huh? I can see your thought-free version of Buddhism makes you a much wiser, kinder, and calmer person than me. Keep at it.


  19. The Naked Monk Avatar

    Glenn: Do I have something else in mind? You’re joking, right?

    Speaking of grammar, ‘ex-,’ ‘non-‘ and ‘x-‘ may look like prepositions, but dare I suggest everyone here is using them as disclaimatory adjectives? The point is most emphatically the Buddha and his life, to the extent that we can make it out. We’re reluctant to be lumped into the institutional pot but still fascinated by the man. So in answer to your question, yes, I value Buddhism quite a bit, despite being disappointed by it.

    I realized many years ago I’d ingested more than enough theory to occupy the rest of my life. My point now is to make sense of it, and that’s not a matter of coming up with a new theory or a superview. It’s about dedicating my remaining years to discovery.

    My first discovery is that rationalizations are treacherous. Debating the sanctimonious likes of Bhante Sujato is an exercise in futility. No matter how reasonable one might be, people like him have the robes and the power; a power I don’t want any more.

    Debating you is fruitful. However, I’m weary of scholastic debate. It’s possible to think without hanging onto points of view. Isn’t that where you’re at, too? Views may be inescapable, but that doesn’t mean we must be trapped by them. You might call that a view. To me it’s a practice – imperfect, chaotic and unpredictable; the very opposite of a view.

  20. Tom Pepper Avatar


    Re post #10:

    I do think there is an increasing ability, in contemporary thought, to actually get Nagarjuna’s point. We are getting closer, I believe, to what he was arguing for.

    Because of course he says we must make use of conventional views, that they have real effects, despite being always conventional. Compare this to Badiou’s insistence that truth’s are eternal, can appear in any “world,” but that the appearing is always in SOME world, in some particular “logic” and so can never escape being limited and contingent. Badiou says that “without the void, there is no world,” and also that “an eternal truth is enveloped by different conceptual and linguistic contexts,” that truth exist but they “have no substantial existence.” The whole point here is that there are truths, but since they can only ever appear in a given (conventional) world, they are always contingent and relative, without being any less true. To use a grossly reductive metaphor, we can photograph a chair from any angle, but it is always from some angle—we still photograph the real chair, the entire chair, and capture what is “really” there, but of course it is incomplete, because we cannot “see” the other side, its color, markings, damage, etc. Our photograph may be very real and accurate, but it has no essential nature, no substantial existence—and with reality all we have are such “photographs,” but we often don’t know it, we mistake them for the whole truth.

    Why is this at all important? Because in our world, we are too quick to reify contingent things as timeless truths, to mistake the photograph for the chair, and then it becomes impossible to change the logic, the construal, of that world. Stoky thinks that “love”—that great bourgeois distraction from nihilism—is an eternal truth, The Naked Monk prefers his pure experience—the Heideggerian reveling in our ideology and thinking we’ve escaped, and they don’t want to think that these are ideologies. They get angry when I suggest they even consider that. Then they think they are insulting me by declaring that I have an ideology—which, of course, is my whole point—I do, and I know it, and the fact that I know it is my only advantage.

    To quote Badiou again, in one of his most read (and probably most easily readable) books: “It is only through a genuine perversion, for which we will pay a terrible historical price, that we have sought to elaborate an ‘ethics’ on the basis of cultural relativism. For this is to pretend that a merely contingent state of things could found a law.” The ultimate such contingency, he argues, is the capitalist economy, which we take as an objective and ineluctable power, the only thing that is truly transcendent and natural, and which all cultures must bow before. Now, if we could see exchange value and capitalist social relations as a particular “world,” not the necessary truth, as the angle of our photograph and not the chair, then perhaps we might begin to try to really figure out ways to change things at a fundamental level. We need to stop mistaking contingent worlds for laws—this was Nagarjuna’s most fundamental point, and is something we still have trouble with today. Have a view, but know it’s a view. Figure out what you can use it for, and if it won’t work, change it.

    I believe changing the world will take particular forms of very rigorous thought, but we need to begin by recognizing our ideologies as ideologies. That thinking is better than not thinking is one of mine, and I’ve seen no evidence to that it is a bad approach to engaging the world. Over thirty years ago, Andrew Collier wrote that the growing need for technical skills was increasing the amount of training workers would need to do their jobs, and that the great problem for the capitalist educational system was how to greatly increase the amount of education the working class would get without inadvertently teaching them to think. Now, the educational system has done its job so thoroughly that for almost all Americans the need to think is the most horrible punishment they can envisage. Until they can learn to let go of their ideologies, AND enjoy thinking, we don’t have much chance of changing the world for the better. Of course this is an ideology! Even the very idea that all people should have equally opportunity to fully use their potential is an ideology—what else could it be, if we have no essence, no substantial nature, if we are simply accidentally occurring thinking beings in an universe void of “meaning”? The question “how can we make the best of our situation” is always an ideological one.

    On my reading, Nagarjuna, like Buddha, was ultimately a realist. We cannot know reality outside of our particular conventional knowledge, but because reality is really out there, our conventional knowledge may crash up against it sometimes, and lead to suffering—especially if we are unwilling to recognize our conventions as conventional.

    Personally, I’m all for bringing Nagarjuna into discussion with Laruelle and Badiou. He is another profound thinker, not a mystical sage in possession of revealed truth, and as such we should see what we can learn from him.

  21. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    The Naked Monk (#19). Thanks. I know you’re probably reaching your limit here. But a couple of schnapps for the road. Remember, it’s in the spirit of a search for x/non-buddhistic polemos.

    Re: #7: Do you have something else in mind? No, I am not joking; and I still don’t know the answer. I think it might be “yes.” Is that right?

    I am using “non” and “x” as prepositions. The reference point is the Buddhist vallation, the “dispensation,” “The Dharma.” “X” is also, in my usage a “disclaimatory adjective,” as you put it. What it disclaims is the One of Buddhism, along with that One’s claim to the slightest prior authority to knowledge. The first is a historical disclaimer, and so its evidence is historical; the second is what a call a “decisional” one, and its evidence is conceptual and, to use a linguistic metaphor, syntactical. the “non” in “non-buddhism” (lower case) disclaims the entire edifice of buddhistic postulation. It also, however, disclaims the lack of involvement of Non-Buddhism or non-Buddhism. I can’t say how others are using these terms.

    I don’t know what you mean that “the point is most emphatically the Buddha and his life.” Did you see my earlier comment: “‘The Buddha’ is, after all, a completely blank slate, at the least, and a literary conceit inviting the play of our fertile imaginations, at most. So, I guess you mean the literary melange of buddhas?” Do you think the term “the Buddha” refers to a discernible historical entity, one, moreover, whose biography is sufficiantly well-demonstrated so that “the Buddha” may serve as a sort of life exemplar? I don’t.

    You say: “I value Buddhism quite a bit, despite being disappointed by it.” Isn’t, in x-buddhistic terms, “disappointment” (nibidda: disenchantment, disillusionment) the “beginning of the path”? Disappointment–or what I call “anchoric loss”–is a necessary condition for non-buddhism.

    I am confused by many of your dichotomies; for example those between theory and discovery, between debate and practice, between thinking and doing. In my view, all of these activities are mutually supportive. In fact, I would go as far to say that each of those terms is a form of the other.

    Why, by the way, do you say “scholastic” debate? That confuses me for the same reason a statement like: “I think of it [view, right?] as more like an ‘angle’ — a rationalized approach to life that corresponds to upādāna (clinging).” What confuses me about that is that it seems to devalue “rationalized approach” along with “clinging.” In my value system, there is nothing inherently and obviously wrong with either of these actions. Why not? Because they are wholly human. Does the content of our rationalizations and clinging abide? Of course not. Dissolution seems to be true, too.


  22. Robert Avatar

    Thank you, Naked Monk [re: #16]. I thought Tom Pepper asked a couple of good questions, but I agree, he is at times not a very polite fellow (or gal, maybe Tom Pepper is a clever pseudonym, we don’t know). Like Tom, I also am interested in the notion of relinquishing points of view (comment # 3). When I was a card-carrying buddhist my teacher often made statements like that, and it was one of those things that I never deeply questioned. I assumed it meant something, although I would have been hard-pressed to explain it. I certainly didn’t know how you go about it to reach such a state of mind. It is a bit embarassing. I must admit I am still puzzled, actually I am a bit sceptical that it means anything at all.

    So, let’s take that scepticism of mine as an example. After all, it’s a view…. So I would like you to help me understand why relinquishing that view would be a good thing. Of course, you may convince me that scepticism in this case isn’t warranted and I would change my view. People change their mind all the time, but don’t typically brag about it. Relinquishing, giving up views, an end of views suggests something more profound. What would that be like in the case of my example?

    Your effort at clarification in comment no. 13 just raises more questions. You say ‘ there is a difference between seeing and viewing, thinking and knowing’. So what is this difference? Is it just a feeling tone? And how does that relate to giving up views? Are you perhaps suggesting that a view is something you think, and whatever the residue is when you stop thinking is what you know?

    Similarly in your comment 15, where you introduce a new notion, namely clinging as a defining attribute of having a view. Again, how is this different from saying something very mundane like saying you should change your mind when the evidence supports it?

    Thanks again, Naked Monk.

  23. The Naked Monk Avatar

    Well yes, it is very mundane. That’s the challenge. We can’t quit thinking. We need it to talk, to work and to develop skills. Likewise, we can’t avoid views. ‘Relinquishing’ views sounds like an escape, but then so does most of Buddhism until you honestly try to put it into practice. Views form simply because we see things from where we stand. They’re not panoramic, and they’re not complete. For psychological reasons, we act as if they are, even against our better judgement. Trouble starts when we hang on to those views as if they’re complete. It is possible to use them without hanging on to them, but it’s a struggle. That struggle is not intellectual; its existential.

    The distinction between seeing and looking is equally mundane. ‘Seeing’ is traditionally called mindfulness: curious, non-judgmental attention to what’s going on here and now. ‘Viewing’ puts things into preconceived views in order to rationalize them. Rationalization can be a useful tool, or it can be an unnecessary prosthesis that gets in the way of plain experience. Bhāvanā is the practice of putting down and picking up those views without getting hung up on them.

    My interest here is being real, not in pursuing the pipe-dream that Pepper calls “calm abiding and equanimity.”

  24. Tom Pepper Avatar

    Dear Naked:

    You’re so wrapped up in you pointless anger towards me, you can’t even write a coherent comment. (“viewing” is putting things into views?) Let it go already. My whole point was just to get you to think a little–but you’re clearly attached to your fear of thought. Maybe this silly hostility can show you how poorly your approach works? Try thinking; it might help you let go of the anger.

    You know what’s odd is most people who know me in person think I’m always very calm, polite and nice. Then they’re shocked when I write an essay attacking the “multicultural” fad, or criticizing Viktor Frank–they can’t believe I would be so “rude” or “cruel” or “critical.” In philosophical or intellectual discussions, I always strive to avoid being “polite.” It only gets in the way of truth.

  25. stoky Avatar

    “The difference is, I know my ideology is an ideology”

    Well, then we’re two who know that their ideology is an ideology, great!

    “to ignore them or cover them over with mystical talk of deep and ineffable experiences is just to, once again, reify our ideology and become incapable of changing the world for the better in any consciously directed way.”

    Well, I hope I didn’t seem to cover anything up. It’s more an agnostic/atheistic thing rather than a “you have do to this, in order to realise ‘the truth’”-thing.

    Now, more than ever, I’m kind of tired of endless discussions about words and terminology and so on… I’m out.

    Please keep on going. I’m serious with that (no polemic here)!
    I think you’re doing something interesting here and maybe once you’ve cleared the fog we all will benefit from that. For example it would be interesting to have a language to talk about meditation. Just because I’m not interested in participating in the progress of building one doesn’t mean I don’t like it to happen.

    I have no interest in engineering, but I’d love to drive that car! 🙂

    P.S.: Why didn’t I come up with that engineering-car-sentence earlier? That would’ve saved me (us?) a lot of time….

  26. Robert Avatar

    it’s me again, Naked Monk. Re comment 23. Relinquishing views seems to boil down to a recognition that one may be wrong, you just never know. Really, is that all it is?

    And isn’t that notion that one may be wrong a view in itself? If so, how is that notion incomplete, not panoramic? What would cause us to pick up or put down this particular notion that one may be wrong? None of this seems to apply.

    Sorry to be so picky. Soon everybody here will hate me (if not already). But I decided I need to understand these things, and I am no longer pretending to understand when I don’t. Those days are over.

    And my cats still love me.

  27. Jayarava Avatar

    Hey Glenn,

    Writing polemic can be a way to express one’s rage, or exercise one’s wit. Contrarily it’s never fun to be the target of polemic (I can imagine Sujato feeling quite hurt by personal attacks on him here). The thing about polemic is that the effects are peripheral. I doubt the target of a polemic was ever converted, but a fence sitting onlooker might well decide to make up their mind based on it. I don’t expect Richard Dawkins ever convinced a fundamentalist of anything, but a doubter might have found the rationale to finally let go of an irrational belief listening to him. That said his converts seem to be as angry and zealous in their anti-religion as the most extreme fundamentalists.

    Sangharakshita has a long history of writing polemics: e.g. Forty Three Years Ago; Was the Buddha A Bhikkhu?; The FWBO and Protestant Buddhism; and From Genesis to the Diamond Sutra. I think the first two are particularly penetrating, and deserve a wider reading ( However my impression is that they made very little impact outside the Triratna Movement. He was simply ignored as outlandish by the mainstream of bhikkhudom who could not imagine even being criticised, let alone debunked. This is the weakness of polemic, that it can seem outlandish and can be safely ignored.

    Buddhists can be quite nasty if you criticise their dogmas – a theme in comments on my blog recently is that my views on rebirth mean that I’m not really a Buddhist so why call myself one. The message is always – “don’t rock the boat!”

    Me: Rebirth is neither plausible, nor salient.
    Them: But how can all those wise men down the ages have been wrong about rebirth?
    Me. I don’t know, but they were. Makes you think. Or not.

    One person asked in all seriousness if I would be forced to resign from the Triratna Order for expressing this view. Not so far 🙂

    We portray our founder, Gautama, as a great polemicist with the ability to demolish the views of another, while leaving them well disposed towards him, and thanking him for clearing things up. I think this might be made up – very few people, Buddhists included, seem to be thankful for having their world view changed unless they are already dissatisfied with it. I think most people are upset by the attempt.

    My impression is that debate on religion is extremely polarised in the West, to the point of open hostility and violence at times. I suspect that most Christians, and Muslims would secretly like to burn heretics at the stake. Not all of us are comfortable courting that level of hostility. In fact other people are doing a pretty good job of critiquing theism – scientists and historians (especially the latter in my opinion) have been doing a fine job.

    The great changes in my worldview have tended not to come from polemic, but from well presented ideas – either written or spoken. Personally I’m becoming less and less interested in arguments and heated discussions as I get older. Questions can be asked, and doubts explored without picking a fight.

    Best Wishes

  28. Tom Pepper Avatar


    Some people may dislike you if you keep asking them to think–it is very bad manners nowadays to ask someone to account for their opinion, or to get beyond the vague platitude. I have found that those who claim great wisdom are very quick to anger, and resort to insulting and ad-hominem attacks, as soon as somebody ask them a difficult question. They are often desperately needy for praise–Bhante Sujato seems to be a classic example of this, a poor suffering soul feeding his sick ego with the empty praise of people who are looking for help in the wrong place.

    I would suggest that you shouldn’t be afraid to be picky. I find it helpful when somebody picks up on a contradiction or vague use of terms in what I write–Matthias, for instance, has done that here, and it helps me clarify my thinking. Your question is a very good one, I would even say the most important one. If we had no idea at all of a final truth, a goal, something stable, how would we possibly decide to change from one “view” to another, except by some unexamined whim that is likely to be simply ideologically driven desire?

    I have heard many Buddhist teachers, from at least three traditions, say that we should follow our “intuition” because it is always superior to “thought.” This, however, assumes an understanding of the “Buddhanature” as a kind of world-transcending atman, which I see as antithetical to the basic Buddhist teachings, and contradictory to my personal experience. To understand why we have the “intuitive” impulse we do requires serious thought.

    If more western Buddhists would move from “pretending” the empty platitudes make sense to really wanting to understand, we might be able to produce a kind of Buddhist practice that would be useful in improving our lot. It does take a thick skin, though. I’ve found in the past (I mean even before and outside of this blog) that if you point out a contradiction in a Buddhist teacher’s thought, you will get hostile ad-hominem attacks, rarely answers.

    What I would ask is that when I am unclear or contradictory, please do call me on it. I usually reserve my “impolite” responses for those who are dismissive and refuse to think!

  29. Tom Pepper Avatar


    Your post came up as I was writing my previous post. Very interesting–I have read and learned from Sangharakshita, but when I mention him he is usually dismissed with some comment about his having sexual relationships. Sometimes, this has even come from people who will earnestly defend Chogyam Trungpa. Many people will look for an excuse to dismiss what they would prefer not to hear.

    I want to respond quickly to your concerns about “polemics,” particularly to your idea that it is somehow different from “well presented ideas.” You seem to assume that polemics require personal attacks irrelevant to the issue at hand. I don’t think this is necessarily the case.

    There is a long tradition of accepting that a really good polemic is the source of some of the best advances in thought. Badiou’s debate with Deleuze is just a recent example. In the 1700s, Addison wrote in the “Spectator” that the greatest advances of thought have always occurred when there were many great thinkers engaged in argument. I think this is usually true–most advances in thought take the form of polemic against other currently existing positions. As you said, Buddha was a great polemicist, and made great changes in the “worldview” of his time and after.

    This is an important issue, but I have to run–I have to go teach Dharma School. Seven year olds have no problem asking the hard questions.

  30. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel

    Calling the Ghost of Foucault.

    Can there be any genuine dialogue among a teacher and a student?
    Can there be any genuine dialogue between someone with more power and another one with less power?
    Isn’t it more important to balance or level power between two people or parties as a precondition of genuine dialogue?

    What is the role of dogma regarding power?

    How powerful do buddhist, catholics, muslim, jewish and hindus feel with their religious-states or organizations or the size of the amount of their followers behind them ?
    Are other-worldly beliefs and the god concept related with power?

    When adopted by the less-powerful -i.e. the poor which account for over 80% of the world poputlation – as a balance to confront of the powerful -“jesus, mahoma, god and all the buddhas helps us” -, aren’t those beliefs clearly self-deceiving, I mean do they help effectively change the power balance or do they actually just engross their churches´ wallets?

    Is it not more useful to confront and tackle right-on the power unbalance than engaging in dialogues that don’t change the power map or actually serve to perpetuate it – as is the case of the teacher student “dialogue” in the first place-?

  31. Robert Avatar

    Re 28. The entire exchange left me feeling uncomfortable. It does answer Glenn’s question why there is so little serious debate in x-buddhist circles. If you think opinions are things that ‘you put down and pick up’, as if that is actually possible, well, what is there left to debate?

  32. The Naked Monk Avatar

    Tom Pepper:

    Re #24: Let down your guard for a bit and look at what you’re claiming to know: what I’m feeling, how my approach works for me and that I’m “wrapped up in you (sic) pointless anger towards me.” Your approach alienated me plain and simple, and it’s not for you to tell me how I should react.

    And truth as a product of rudeness? Really?

  33. The Naked Monk Avatar

    Robert & Glenn:

    It’s not just about right and wrong. To the extent there’s a difference between the two we try to straighten out our views, but in the end as you say, they’re all views.

    My point is this: not all mental activity is a point of view. Plain sensory awareness slows the mental chatter to put us in touch with basic experience, non-conceptual consciousness. That’s seeing, as opposed to viewing, which is organizing knowledge in ways we identify with. There’s nothing special about the non-conceptual mind, but there’s something very special about breaking up the tyranny of incessant thinking. Avoiding contemplation, always giving into rationalization: that’s the real laziness. That’s when views become baggage.

    Relinquishing views isn’t something you do once, and then move on to a new life. It’s like awakening: you do it one moment at a time, time and again. That’s why it’s a practice, not just another view.

    Look, do you guys believe in the possibility of personal change or not? If not, why are you here?

    Glenn: too many questions. I’ll try to get to more of them later.

  34. Robert Avatar

    Naked Monk, I am completely not getting your reference to believing in personal change. For the record, I do believe in it. What gave you the idea that I wouldn’t believe in it? ‘Why are you here?’, you mean on this blog, or on this earth?


  35. Tom Pepper Avatar

    Okay, here’s a REALLY impolite post. Can we possibly really get to some real polemics? Does anyone have a real argument about anything? And for pity’s sake, can we get off the bloody moronic insistence that we should stop thinking and just experience the non-conceptual mind! If you are ignorant enough or just deluded enough to think there is any such thing as a pure mind free of concept, then I apologize for my bluntness, but you are just dead wrong, and need to try to learn a few things. Start with getting this: there is no non-conceptual mind!! The mind is NOTHING BUT thought, it is not a soul, there is no world-transcendent “substrate consciousness” or whatever else you want to call it. That is the first premise of Buddhism, and if you cannot accept it you cannot even begin to understand anything else about Buddhism (or, I would venture, non-buddhism).

    I’ve already given a lot of my arguments about the roots of this hostility to thought in a previous essay here (see “Buddhist Anti-Intellectualism”), but I want to mention that there is a very Cartesian assumption that if we think at all we are somehow trying to avoid “reality,” that there is an unbridgeable gulf between thought and the world. For early Buddhist epistemology, as for most marxist thinkers today, this duality is a mistake. Thinking is always a practice, in the world, just like every other thing we do with our bodily organs. It is one thing that the human species has a unique ability to do in more complex ways, and so is one of our great advantages in escaping the samsaric circle of natural history. But it is not outside the world. I share with many, maybe most, realist thinkers the belief that our concepts ultimately arrise from real experience, from contact with reality (this is true even of supposedly “a priori” mathematical concepts), that there is no “heaven of ideas,” only practices in which they immanently appear.

    Let’s have a real polemic, then. Just the grown-ups, without having to worry about hurt feelings or avoiding those hard words. We should even be able to expect a little reading and reflection from one another. But PLEASE let’s get beyond the “non-conceptual mind” crap!! Leave it for Alan Wallace or the new-age gurus.

    What about Jayarava’s idea that rebirth is neither plausible nor salient? If there is no atman, does that do in rebirth, or is that the only thing that makes it plausible at all? What about Badiou’s repeated mentions of the idea of the “immortality” of the subject–he clearly doesn’t mean a reincarnating soul, but he is suggesting the rebirth or reappearance of a subject of truth, both within a “world” and in different “worlds.” Is this definition of rebirth more plausible? Would those Buddhists attached to reincarnation versions of it find it too disturbing, because there really isn’t a “soul” of any kind that transmigrates?

    What about Robert’s question about how we know when it is best to change our “views”? We all have some grounding definite truth, maybe not timeless but at least more enduring than our short lives–can we discuss what they are? Even Meillassoux ultimately holds onto the idea of non-contradiction. Without some (more or less) fixed point, we can’t really make a case for doing anything? So what is the ultimate ground. I would suggest that for Laruelle, as he says in one of his essays in English, (“What Can Non-Philosophy Do?”), the ground is that we should seek to increase and improve our ability to interact with the world–this is, for him, a given goal beyond question:”to effect a real transformation of the subject in such a way as to allow it to break the spell of its bewitchment by the world and enable it to constitute itself through a struggle with the latter.” I would agree with this as an ultimate fixed point, the possibility which we must work towards.

  36. Ryuei Avatar

    I’ve been involved in polemics a lot on the internet but you know what – I all but renounced it in the winter of 2005 because I realized how unhealthy it was for myself and others (though I am often accused of still engaging in it). What I personally discovered/experienced was that polemics was just a chance to show how clever and witty and well-read I was. It was just an ego-trip. And on the internet where there is no real connection (like you can have at a bar up close and personal with an old friend or a new enemy) you can hide your true self and take on a persona and be more belligerent than you would ever dare in real life. You can put on all kinds of postures with no real accountability for it. You can try on all kinds of clever ideas and philosophies (like nihilism or literary deconstruction or some brand of Buddhism). You can indulge in accusing other people of bad faith and ignorance and self-deception and attribute all kinds of unsavory motives to them – it’s easy because you don’t have to look the person in the eye! I realized that I was putting up with bs from others and putting out bs myself that I would never ever tolerate in real life. And for what? To show I can intellectually thump my chest louder than others. To pour out my piss in the pissing contest. I realized that it was nothing but a distraction from trying to develop real life relationships and a distraction from pursuing more positive and constructive research, investigations, and reflections on what is actually happening in my life and to my life and with my life and to those who make up life as I know it. In short – deeply unhealthy and I could see it was hurting me, hurting my relationships, and doing anything but allowing me to be a “better person” or “enjoying life” or “fulfilling my real responsibilities” (however you may understand those terms).

    So why am I even posting here at all. I do so against my better judgment to be frank. Glenn invited me to check out this blog some time ago and I did but frankly was put off by some things about it. I decided it was best to keep my objections to myself. I didn’t want to get into another internet tiff with someone, esp. someone I’d like to consider an old friend. Also, I am not all that smart nor do I have a Ph.D. nor have I never studied analytical philosophy or depth psychology or literary criticism. I am an ignorant monolingual American. I don’t operate at the level of discussion here. I am a bartender (when I can get the work) and I run a meditation group in the Tenderloin in San Francisco (a pretty rough area btw) for anyone who cares to drop-in (including homeless people, recovering substance abusers, those on section 8 and others who have slipped through the cracks of the system). I am no Zen master. I am not jet-set Vipassana teacher. I haven’t been empowered or initiated by any tulkus or lamas nor do I wish to be. I am a working class Buddhist with a working class mentality. A few generations back on my parent’s side were poor immigrant Catholics and poor Southern Baptists. All the kind of talk that goes on here strikes me as the kind of talk for those who can not only afford to be Buddhists in the first place (those who follow the One-fold Path of the Upper Middle Class Way) but can then move on and cynically take a “Been There Done That Got the T-Shirt Now I Know Better Than the Rest of you Poor Schmucks” attitude about it. Also, I’m at a point in my life where I don’t have time to buy into and learn a new system of thought – sorry but maybe I’ll never qualify as a real thinker or an honest person because I can’t take the time to learn literary deconstruction or figure out what post-modernism is. I’ll just have to stick to plain talking and what I’ve learned from Buddhism to help me articulate how I experience life and my practice. And frankly, I feel it’s a way of talking that as honestly come by as any other way of talking or not talking.

    Anyway, enough of that. Why did I go against my better judgment to write this? Because this request for Buddhist polemicists called out to me. Who are more polemical than Nichiren Buddhists? And I am afterall an ordained Nichiren Shu priest. You don’t get more polemical than our founder Nichiren who was not an aristocrat like Dogen. He was the son of a fisherman (he claimed to be an “outcaste”) and though he was given the chance to be ordained as a Tendai priest he was just a country bumpkin with funny accent from a tiny country temple. Not being a well-heeled aristocrat with a lot of money he wasn’t able to have the best teachers. In fact there is even a question among some scholars if he would even have been allowed to sit in the back of the room during the lectures given by the prominent scholar-priests at Mt. Hiei. He was a nobody who was left to study and figure out things for himself as best he could, and when he figured he did he dared to write about it and make formal presentations of what he found. In return he was physically attacked, threatened with execution, and sent into exile where it was hoped he would die in the snow and plague the establishment no more. So how could I resist a call to polemic.

    However, what can I say? I have not much more to add than what Jayarava has already said. In addition, I don’t think the call to dialogue is really sincere. It seems fishy to me. Glenn calls for the Buddhists to come to the feat of knowledge or dialogue or whatever but on the one hand accuses any Buddhist who dares to come to the conversation using Buddhist ideas and terminology a self-deluded fool with ulterior motives or on the other hand as not really being a Buddhist but just some North American trying on some Buddhist drag to feed their own egos and needs and not taking Buddhism on its own terms. Maybe I’ve got it wrong. Maybe I’m just being paranoid or confused. Like I said, I’m a fairly simple guy from a simple background like the founder of my lineage. But it really seems like the invitation is to simply enter a hostile “cyber” space and be subjected to heckling from the “been there done that” crowd until I either shut up like Vimalakirti and take in the wisdom of nihilistic post-modern lit-crit or just admit that my Buddhism has nothing authentic to offer and/or that I am not a real Buddhist anyway but just another insincere white kid whose found in Buddhism a way to rationalize my own life away. If I were a rich Marin Co. guru type I could also be accused of being a huckster, but unfortunately I don’t have that going for me. What would I get out of joining such a hostile internet “dialogue” from people spouting the value of “dialogue”? Sorry, but I’ve been there and done that and decided in the winter of 2005 to put more value on my time and do things that are more immediate, constructive, and helpful to myself and others.

    Alright. I’ve got that out of my system. Let me try to say something constructive. My approach to life is informed by Buddhism because I’ve found it to be the most informative and practical. Go ahead and deconstruct that as much as you want. I’ll just bumble through life making one mistake after another like most people do and allowing myself to be informed by what I find informative. Anyone have a problem with that? If you do, best of luck to you – I’ll go my way you go yours. Now when it comes to Buddhism itself here is my approach:

    1. Try to learn about what it is saying in terms of actual practice and face-to-face community because without that living context its just words on paper that may not mean what I think it means because I don’t have a living perspective.

    2. Try to learn what the words mean in the context of their time and place and in the context of the living tradition. Try to understand it sympathetically at first in its own terms.

    3. Then ask “So what?” The sources say this and this and and in their own terms and original contexts mean such and such but what does that mean in terms of my life and my circumstances and the needs of myself and the people around me? Is this really informative? Does it point me back to a heightened awareness and appreciation of my actual life? Does it inform and guide my practice in a practical and constructive way? Is my practice practical and constructive? If so how? Keep asking asking asking. So what, so what?

    4. I do feel free to extend the tradition by interpreting and reinterpreting it in ways that will make it more authentic and relevant to me – and more importantly to do so for the purpose of making my own life more authentic and relevant. If that means saying that nothing should be taken literally but only as metaphor or as a poetic way of informing and guiding practice than so be it. If people want to cry heretic or slanderer – let them. I will do what seems real and authentic to me and if someone else seems more interested in defending dogmas (or anti-dogmas dogmatically) than I can only try wish them well and go on my way.

    Namu Myoho Renge Kyo (this to me is as sincere a blessing as writing “Sincerely” or “Yours Truly” and frankly is a better vessel for my hopes and fears and well-wishing than any other phrase for me),
    Ryuei (aka Michael McCormick – but all names are given and all are authentic to their circumstances, and Ryuei is as much my internet pen-name as it is a Dharma name, so I don’t want to hear bs about my hiding behind a fake name. I am Michael. I am Ryuei. I am Spock. I am the many names that can’t be said in polite company that I have been called at various times by family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances, and mortal enemies alike)

    P.S. Let the hoity toity high falutin intellectualized disparagement of this ignorant no-account evil priest of the most derided Buddhist lineage in the history of the world being!

  37. Tom Pepper Avatar


    You seem awfully defensive. You go on about how rich and privileged we all are, and our cynical “been-there-done-that-I-know-better” attitude, then end by saying you’ve been there and done that, and now know better than us. Odd rhetorical strategy, posing as the underclass victim of rich privilege and then actually using against “us” the same dismissive response you assume we would use.

    It’s a shame you felt drawn into pretending to knowledge you didn’t have in past internet exchanges, and that you felt you needed to spout “bs” to feed your ego. I personally don’t think I am “trying on” new ideas to create an image—I actually understand what I’m saying, and I mean it. I’m not all that hoity-toity, either—I grew up in a working class family, the first in my family to graduate college, and I worked for years as a roofer and drywaller before (and while) going on to college and grad school. Ideas don’t have to be the private reserve of the idle rich.

    It’s also a shame you don’t feel that you could challenge someone’s bad faith, ignorance, or self-deception in person. For a Buddhist teacher, the ability to do that would be very useful.

    What I really think of your post, though, is that you just remain at the level of generalizations. I agree that you should ask “what does it mean in terms of my life and my circumstances”—so, what DOES it mean? You say you want to irreverently re-interpret Buddhist texts—good, so give us one of your re-interpretations. I don’t have any problem with what you say your approach to Buddhism is, except that it is just so vague and general that, well, it doesn’t say much of anything. You say you work as a bartender—so, how do you reconcile that with Buddhist ideas? You say you run a meditaion group for those who have “slipped through the cracks of the system”, so how does meditation help them, exactly? There’s a lot you could say, I would guess, but you are far too angry and defensive.

    It wouldn’t take much to learn what “postmodernism” is—an afternoon reading a book you could probably get at your local library would give you a sense of it. Yet you say you “can’t take the time” to learn about it; well, here, I’ll call you on your bad faith—why are you really avoiding engaging with thought? What does this avoidance get you? What real, concrete, practical things can it help you do?

    Personally, I’d like to hear more, not of the defensive anger, but of what you think Buddhism “is saying in terms of actual practice” and what kind of specific actions you can take. To quote one of those hoity-toity intellectual you seem to be angry at, Alain Badiou, once we are “seized by a truth-process” we each remain faithful to it according to whatever particular abilities we have, as unique individual human animals: “someone will contribute his anguish and agitation, this other his tall stature and cool composure, this other his voracious taste for domination, and these others their melancholy, or timidity…” So, given your particular human existence, what truth do you see, and what do you contribute. It doesn’t have to be intellectual argument—some do that, others do something else. If everyone only did the intellectual argument part of it, those people recovering from substance abuse and suffering from mental illness would be completely ignored.

    Namu Amida Butsu!


  38. Mike Preston Avatar
    Mike Preston


    I know I need to read some more foundational stuff, but could you elaborate on what Alain Badiou means by “truth-process?” Does Badiou prefer a particular truth-process; is there one that best fits the wide range of individual differences of human animals? Or is there a multiplicity or constellation of truth processes, some best for the timid, some better for the Machiavellian types, etc.?

    Thanks for your time and thinking here.


    In response to your constructive piece number 4: You say it well; I also feel free to extend the traditions that I have had the good luck to be part of. I am liking the project of this blog as I think it might help me to extend my own practice. One thing is clear to me in following this thread and in reading Glenn’s “Nascent Speculative Non-Buddhism:” when non-buddhist process is afoot, there is great potential for change. The agonistic, negative, dissonant, uncomfortable, may sometimes be part of the process. But there seems to be, for this human animal, some possibility for moments of ekstasis, or standing outside of my stuff. Non-buddhism seems to make my x-buddhism strange to me for short bursts of time. This could be good. As you say, If so, then so what? I think I need to try this for awhile and see.

  39. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Hi Ryuei (#36). Thank you for commenting. (And nice to hear from you!)

    I will try to be brief.

    What you describe as your sojourn in the world of polemics in your first paragraph is not the idea of polemics advocated on this speculative non-buddhism blog. As an instance of generous dialogue (because of my contentious intellectual relationship with Griffiths–a story for another time), I use Griffiths to make the point:

    The intellectual life is essentially and constitutively agonistic. It progresses almost entirely by struggle, by challenge and response, by thesis and antithesis, by getting it wrong and then moving, always asymptotically, toward getting it right.…[Polemics involves] the unavoidable necessity of reasoned argument for the maintenance of ethical and epistemic respectability.

    When you say that involvement was “unhealthy,” I have to wonder what you really mean. You say that engaging in it allowed you to see that it “was just a chance to show how clever and witty and well-read [you were]. It was just an ego-trip.” That sounds to me like the good health of self-awareness. Do you disagree? In saying what you do in your first paragraph, you present evidence that polemics was a powerful tool of self-awareness for you. You were unhealthy, not polemical debate in itself. Polemical debate was good medicine.

    Medicine, alas, often tastes shitty. And it sometimes has side-effects. Your second paragraph, in my reading, reveals some of the latter: disdain for what you see as the modes operating behind “the level of discussion here.” (“Here,” I presume, means on this blog.) You utilize a high/low dichotomy (rich/poor; privileged/unprivileged; educated/uneducated; intellectual/ignorant; having the time and luxury to learn. not having, etc., etc.) to (1) castigate the high, and then (2) invert the value system (low is the true high).

    In your next paragraph (“Anyway, enough of that”), you reveal the mythos that fuels your fire: the life of Nichiren. Given the way you present yourself here (working in the Tenderloin, being a lowly bartender, having no high-falutin’ background or credentials, etc.) would I be mistaken in assuming that you have a strong identification with the mythos of Nichiren (“I’m a fairly simple guy from a simple background like the founder of my lineage”)? I see many x-buddhists similarly fashioning “the Buddha” in their own desired image and vice versa.

    You say:

    I don’t think the call to dialogue is really sincere. It seems fishy to me. Glenn calls for the Buddhists to come to the [feast] of knowledge or dialogue or whatever but on the one hand accuses any Buddhist who dares to come to the conversation using Buddhist ideas and terminology a self-deluded fool with ulterior motives or on the other hand as not really being a Buddhist but just some North American trying on some Buddhist drag to feed their own egos and needs and not taking Buddhism on its own terms. Maybe I’ve got it wrong.

    No, you have it exactly right. My call to dialogue is insincere. Or I should say, it is sincere, but with a covert intention. It is a strategy. It is a calculated move to force the fact that x-buddhists are wholly incapable of dialogue. All they are capable of is endless repetition of x-buddhim itself. All you can ever do as x-buddhist is offer manufactured exemplification to support some particular x-buddhist interpretation of x-buddhism. I assume that no x-buddhist qua x-buddhist will ever, ever, enter into dialogue on the grounds I require. Why not? Because an x-buddhist is incapable of coming to the Feast of Knowledge unarmed. And to be unarmed is unacceptable—because genuinely fraught with peril—for an acolyte of the dharmic truth. Do you not see yourself and your fellow x-buddhist interlocutors in Foucault’s contention; namely, as a true believer who:

    proceeds encased in privileges that he possesses in advance and will never agree to question…. [T]he person he confronts is not a partner in search for the truth but an adversary, an enemy who is wrong, who is armful, and whose very existence constitutes a threat. For him, then the game consists not of recognizing this person as a subject having the right to speak but of abolishing him as interlocutor, from any possible dialogue; and his final objective will be not to come as close as possible to a difficult truth but to bring about the triumph of the just cause he has been manifestly upholding from the beginning. The polemicist relies on a legitimacy that his adversary is by definition denied.

    Having been in dialogue with Buddhists of every conceivable orientation, I just cannot see how one of them can deny that this description fits them. What they all have in common (their shared “legitimacy”) that non-Buddhists do not is subscription to a certain transcendental operator: dharmic verity (or, in non-buddhist terms, decision). My call to The Feast of Knowledge is meant to show the impossible position of x-buddhists to discuss anything but what dharmic decision requires of them. And that constraint disables “dialogue.”

    You use your “I’m a fairly simple guy from a simple background like the founder of my lineage” like a weapon. Do you not see that my contention may have some validity? “The Buddha” is too-often a weapon for x-buddhists. And when it’s not being used as a weapon, it’s becomes a shield of armor.

    You ask, “What would I get out of joining such a hostile internet ‘dialogue’ from people spouting the value of ‘dialogue’?” Shitloads, I am certain. For instance, that what you term “hostility” might just be the collision between pointed language and your precious beliefs. You might be forced to, in fact, recognize belief as (mere?) belief, rather than as the Good Dharma of the True Law, or however your particular brand of x-buddhism fashions it. You might begin to recognize that you embrace a certain mythos for reasons wholly other than what you tell yourself (or indeed other than what the mythos itself tells you). But, really, I prefer to leave the question as a question.

    When you make reference to the sin of “literary deconstruction” (“go ahead, deconstruct that,” “nihilistic post-modern lit-crit,” etc.) I just see you giving yourself a cop-out. You’ve already decided that anything that is “high” is bunk. So, if Y poses a serious contradiction to your cherished world-view, well, you can just call it names, like “deconstruction.” Too many people on this blog use “deconstruction” to mean simply “analysis” or “interpretation.” I am not “deconstructing” your text here; I am interpreting it in an effort to engage your ideas. I could be getting some or all of it wrong–hence, the back and forth of polemics. What we are doing on this blog falls far, far short of “doing philosophy,” much less “deconstruction.” We are exchanging ideas. We are using our brains, thinking, sharing what we’ve read and heard from other people trying to think.

    What in the world does this mean:

    Let the hoity toity high falutin intellectualized disparagement of this ignorant no-account evil priest of the most derided Buddhist lineage in the history of the world being!

    Is that you talking, or Nichiren?

  40. Ryuei Avatar

    Hi Tom,

    First of all my statement about having “been there and done that” was a jest. I was being ironic. That’s the problem with these internet discussions. You don’t know me from Ananda, but you hear a tone that I did not feel when I wrote that. You presume that I didn’t know what I was saying when I said it.

    Also, was my post defensive? Possibly. I was being honest that I am put off by the tone of this blog and many of its contributors. I do not expect to get a fair or generous hearing here. Was I writing in anger? No. Sadness and disappointment? Yes. The reason being that I quite enjoyed the few times I’ve had to have a beer with Glenn and talk about Buddhism or have conversations on the phone with him. But I do not feel like this is a place where dialogue that is mutually respectful and open can happen. Maybe that’s a cop out. But the truth is that Glenn know how busy my life is and how many irons I have in the fire. Participating in internet forums is more than a bit of an indulgence for me. I must choose how I spend my time wisely. I think “decisions” against Buddhism have already been made here. Maybe I’m wrong. Prove me wrong then. If I feel I am being heard (not necessarily agreed with but at least heard fairly and not read into) than maybe I’ll stick around and put in my two cents from time to time. But if not, I’m outta here. Life’s too short.

    You say I wrote in generalizations. Well no kidding. That was my opening contribution to this discussion. I’ve written tons of specific stuff on my own blog where I put up my own independent research and my own thoughts and explorations on things so specific other people find it extremely tiresome. I believe if you click on my name it will take you to my fraughtwithperil blog. But understand that my audience are not post-Buddhists or critical Buddhists. I am sure I am much too traditionalist for all of you here – but I think it is very disrespectful for people who don’t know me to question my honesty and sincerity.

    Unfortunately I have to go now. Family duty calls.

    Namu Myoho Renge Kyo,

    P.S. Jodo leads to Avichi (A little Kamakuran in-joke)

  41. Ryuei Avatar

    I’m back.

    Tom said I was “pretending to knowledge I didn’t have.” I don’t know where you got that idea from. I have not ever pretended to knowledge I didn’t have. I am in fact quite knowledgeable (conceptually and in terms of history) about the Dharma. I wasn’t putting on any inauthentic poses but I was certainly posturing as were others. And probably Glenn is right – none of that was real dialogue. Just verbal blood sports.

    Also, I have challenged what I believed was bad faith or insincerity in person. I do that a lot. I am sure that I am quite annoying to others. I’ve even put my own sensei on the spot on more than one occasion, but that’s a story for another time perhaps. Or not.

    Anyway, to Glenn – I wrote that first comment super fast and unfortunately didn’t do a very good job at editing nor did I check my work. Apologies. And yes, I do identify very strongly with Nichiren. But I don’t identify with him because I’m a Nichiren Buddhist, I am a Nichiren Buddhist because his life and teachings resonate with me on various levels and provided me with (kind of) my initial “Dharma gate” as it were. But I also resonate with and identify with others too – Henry Miller for instance. I think Henry even saved my life in many ways because his writings kept my spirits up and restored my self-respect at a time when I was feeling extremely self-destructive.

    Now as for x-Buddhists being incapable of dialogue, I think that is ridiculous. You can’t have a dialogue with a Buddhist if you claim that as long as they are entering dialogue from a Buddhist perspective than they are not really dialoguing. I have to be honest and say I don’t think much of your strategy. Now I would agree that if a person enters dialogue with only the thought of preserving their own ideas unscathed and foisting them on the other person than that is indeed not dialogue. But anyone who identifies too closely with and clings to dear life to an ideology (or an anti-ideology) will not be able to dialogue or enter into authentic polemics. The Dharma itself teaches us to hold things loosely (or not at all but that too is a way of reverse clinging isn’t it). I think you may need to let go of the “decision” that an x-Buddhist (or in this case a Nichiren Buddhist) can’t dialogue. But also, I would agree that there are times when one must step outside of one’s ideology and examine it objectively in the light of some other knowledge (but how objectively can anyone, including you, really ever be?). I think that is perfectly legitimate and even necessary, but I don’t think it necessarily follows that one should wholesale turn one’s back on a system of thought and values and (let’s not forget) actual living breathing personal relationships and actual experiences. The wholesale rejection is also a “decision” isn’t it. But to inhabit a space where one brackets everything to attempt a fresh perspective and possibly reevaluate, reject, or even reaffirm one’s prior commitments is I think very wise. I think it is also what shamatha and vipashyana should actually be about too (pardon my using that dreaded Buddhist terminology – but after all you did ask for a Buddhist polemicist to come in here).

    You ask if it is me or Nichiren speaking. That is a very fair question. Yes, I do want to be myself and not just a mouthpiece for the tradition I have adopted and that has adopted me. But who am I? I like the way Alfred North Whitehead talks about actual events and their novelty. The actual event is a conglomeration of all that went before and contributed to the event in either a positive way or a negative way (being excluded from overt influence) and so in a way the actual events is nothing more than all that went before BUT there is indeed something novel there. All the things that went before never came together in quite that way. The synthesis and presentation in that moment can’t help but be unique (even if the novelty may not seem very novel). So what am I but all the influences that have made me who I am – Nichiren, Aleister Crowley, Henry Miller, Hakuin, Dogen, Siddhartha, Jesus, Marx, P.J. Harvey, Tool, Ruin (sorry you got beat out by Harvey and Tool but you’re still way up there), Jarmusch, and so on and not necessarily in that order either (and the order changes each moment to be really honest). That makes the perspective I have to offer unique and unreproducible even by myself, but it also makes me no different than anyone else in being a process of constantly emergent novelty. So here I am with all that I am which is a whole bunch of other stuff but put together in a new and crazy way.

    I want to say something about Buddhism and bartending. That is a very good question. I think it deserves another post.

    Namu Myoho Renge Kyo,

  42. Tom Pepper Avatar

    Okay Ryuei, I am a rude, presumptuous jerk. Enough about how rude and obnoxious I am–let’s move on to some real polemic.

    What happened to the idea of Dharma combat? Were Buddhists all so hyper-sensitive then?


    I am working on writing something on this question of “truth procedures” now. Briefly, though, Badiou says there are different kinds of truth procedures, under different categories (four general categories: science, politics, art, and love). The truth procedure is whatever works to force upon us the acceptance of a truth that our existing system of knowledge excludes. The most glaring examples are things like the discovery that the earth moves around the sun, the discovery of oxygen, or the idea of gravity. Marx’s revolution in economic theory forced into awareness truths that were invisible to classical economic theory, for instance. The truth is always going to be true–that is, in any capitalist economy, no matter what cultural “world” it exists in, there is going to be a fundamental and unresolvable contradiction. A mathematic “truth” will always exist, although it might appear differently in a completely different system of mathematical symbols. There is a truth that human beings need to use their capacities, or they will feel dissatisfied or unhappy–they will “suffer,” although the precise appearance/manifestation of that suffering could vary in different cultural worlds. So, no particular truth process is privileged–we need many different ones, and not everyone is going to be suited for any particular one–one may be a political militant, another an artist, another a great psychoanalyst or mathematician. The most important point, I think, is to get that there are many different construals of the world in which truths appear, but that truth, reality, remains extra-linguistic, always appearing in a world by not limited to that world.

    Does this clear things up at all? As I said, I’m working on an essay for this blog that I think may make this a little more explicit.


  43. Mike Preston Avatar
    Mike Preston


    Yes, thanks. This helps a lot. I look forward to your upcoming essay.

    Does Badiou’s truth procedure of science have power in deciding the validity of truth claims made in the categories of politics, art and love? I am thinking about neuroscience and eliminative materialism; eliminative materialism as a truth procedure would force us to accept truths which challenge or refute folk psychological truth claims. Is Badiou a sort of an eliminative materialist? Or, would Badiou’s truth procedures of science inform those of politics, art and love without overtaking/reducing them? Would these different categories of truth procedures have their own unique ways of knowing, rules for what counts as justified true belief, etc.?

    I know you are busy, so I’m content to get some more answers from your forthcoming essay.

  44. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel

    Ryuei, well said (36), but breaking the mental crust of some of these guys remains a sort of noble task.

    “The Buddha never aimed at identyfying specific truths, so much so to the extent that you can hardly find any mention of the word truth in the pali canon, this is why I prefer to call the four noble truths the four noble tasks.” From Stephen Batchelor´s lecture on The Self, 29.10.12.

    So Tom, is is not that the concrete doesn exists, but that is it uncertain.

    Isnt the language behind realism an impossible attitude and language of certainty, isnt talking about truth and reality, the ONE and the REAL, another form of negating not just the core of buddhism but a way of not understanding what contigency is?

  45. Ryuei Avatar

    Hi Tom,

    That makes a lot of sense. And of course there are also different styles of learning (or so my wife who is a teacher told me many years ago) as well. That the truth is extra-linguistic also makes a lot of sense to me. It is one of the things that first drew me to Buddhism back in high school – whereas Catholicism seemed to be about doing certain rituals “just because” and believing in a set of creeds (of course Catholicism can be deeper and more sophisticated than that – but I am talking about my time in high school) Zen Buddhism seemed to promise a way to get beyond creeds and concepts and truth claims to an actual experience of what is really real. Then I ended up joining an extremely dogmatic Japanese religious cult – go figure!

    In the beginning of my exploration, practice of Buddhism I was indeed very naive and had not outgrown magical thinking. I wanted truth-claims about metaphysical realities. I have moved a long long way from that. Now I am deeply suspicious of metaphysical claims (for instance about rebirth) and the Buddhist cosmology (with its various supernatural denizens who are all there from the very beginning in the Pali Canon) now is no more literally real to me than the cosmology and denizens of a D&D game. But I came to see that there was a different kind of truth that was being conveyed to me and one that made and continues to make sense to me. It was the truth about human subjectivity and the way in which it is a dynamic interdependent flow with many possible outlooks and sets of reactivity (or greater or lesser forms of freedom from compulsion and delusion). I relate to it all now as a very useful model. A set of working hypothesis about the human condition, about my condition, and how it can be influenced for the better.

    Anyway, I want to write about bartending. Yes, traditionally that is not right livelihood. It is even a violation of one of the ten major Bodhisattva precepts (according to the apocryphal Brahma Net Sutra that is the source in East Asia of the 10 major and 48 minor bodhisattva precepts). Of course in Nichiren Shu we do not formally take any precept other than one – to uphold the Teaching of the Lotus Flower of the Wonderful Dharma by which is meant the true spirit or intention of Shakyamuni Buddha. That is something to deconstruct right there in fact – packed in that single precept are a whole bunch of presuppositions and interpretations and claims going back to the origins of Mahayana, the compilation over time of the Lotus Sutra by anonymous monks, its translation by Kumarajiva, its interpretation by T’ien-t’ai Chih-i and Miao-lo and Saicho and then by Nichiren. I will set all that aside for now to get back to the main topic of how do I reconcile being a bartender with being a Buddhist. The first thing is that even though I have not taken or been required to take the five precepts for laypeople or the bodhisattva precepts of the Brahma Net I don’t see that as really giving me an excuse. The sole precept of upholding the Lotus Sutra (not as a text but as an expression of the Dharma) is about upholding the true spirit of all the other precepts in a manner appropriate to any given situation. Of course that opens up a lot of room for rationalizing anything, its practically antinomian. I resist that kind of interpretation (but that too is fodder for another post). Anyway, I think the real spirit here is that intoxication is unwholesome and dangerous and that it is better to forego it entirely oneself and not to encourage others to partake or indulge. Buddhism basically takes a cold turkey approach to intoxication. Japanese Buddhists have, however, widely ignored this prohibition since at least the 19th century (and covertly long before then, Nichiren drank sake for its “medicinal” value). But I don’t think Japanese laxity about the precepts is really a good excuse either. The fact is that alcohol is a poison (that’s why it intoxicates us) and that it can often be destructive of persons and families and even nations and that many times those who think they can handle it really can’t. Better not to even leave temptation lying around.

    Then again, that is all kind of puritanical isn’t it? The Buddha also said it would be better for a man to plunge his member into a raging bonfire than to touch a woman with it. That’s a pretty unequivocal condemnation of sexual relations. Following that line if thought we should all just refrain from anything fun or human, social or procreative and just sit outside beneath trees contemplating how everything sucks and how much better it will be when this awful mistake called life comes to an end for good (with no threat of rebirth). I don’t find that very inspiring or helpful. So that causes me to take a lot of Buddhist prohibitions and rhetoric with a grain of salt (a chunk of rock salt even).

    On the ground, Japanese Buddhists who are serious and sincere (I believe) but not puritanical see the precepts not as commandments from on high that one must follow or else, but as guidelines that are generally true and that point to a life of sanity, calm, ease, and kindness. One transgresses them at one’s peril, but one is perfectly free to make one’s own causes but one must accept the effects when they come to fruition and not complain that they weren’t warned. In Zen the precepts are even said to be koans (case studies) that one should keep in mind as one confronts life’s various dilemmas. So it isn’t just rich post-Christian white boys who are taking the approach that one should have a flexible approach to precepts. The East Asian tradition itself (at least in some quarters) doesn’t approach them in a fundamentalist way. I particularly like this story about the founder of Won Buddhism who had set out three sets of 10 precepts that he believed would help the rural (and perhaps urban too) Korean of the early 20th century live better lives but who was then confronted by fisherman who were quite anxious about the fact that their livelihood depended upon killing fish. His response?

    “Do not worry. It is not easy for one to change one’s occupation abruptly. Although you violate one of the thirty precepts you receive, you will be doing twenty-nine kinds of good with a great deal of meritorious contribution to the general public if you keep the remaining twenty-nine with utmost sincerity. Why should one sink into the depths of misery by violating the remaining precepts just because you cannot help but violate one? If you can keep the rest of the precepts, there will be a way to keep the one in question. Bear this in mind and do not hesitate to exert yourselves in practice.” (The Scriptures of Won Buddhism translated by Bongkil Chung p. 189)

    That is very humane I think. Do the best you can. In my case, bartenders are not legally allowed to serve obviously intoxicated people, or those underage, and if (I hope) I should ever get a job at a bar (as opposed to just doing events) then it will be my responsibility to call cabs for people. There are ways in which restraint and looking out for people can be brought into the sphere of bartending. Vimalakirti went into the bars after all (though admittedly not to serve drinks). So bearing in mind that generally it is unwholesome to encourage intoxication I should not just shrug my shoulders and say “well anything goes, everyone must look out for themselves, and I’ll just do as I please come what may.” Rather, Buddhism reminds me to do what I can, be mindful of what is wholesome or unwholesome, and try to do the kind and responsible thing in every situation.

    There is also this – and Buddhism takes no account of it which is unfortunate but I suppose outside of its concerns – alcohol is not merely about intoxication. For most of human history, water has not usually been safe to drink, and alcoholic beverages were a safe and easy way to provide needed liquid and even nourishment. Beers, ales, ciders and so forth were common drinks for all ages – though I understand the alcohol content was usually much lower back in medieval times or whatever. Wine was also not as strong or so I understand. So it is not like alcohol has always been some dangerous indulgence for adult substance abusers. I think that is a hysterical approach and actually fosters irresponsible drinking rather than a mature and appreciative approach. Furthermore, what better example of interdependence can you find that wine (or even beer or whiskey or scotch)? Really appreciating wine is about appreciating how a single taste can convey a particular time and place and the work of many sentient beings cultivating lineages of grapes over time. Also, mixed drink (with fresh fruit) are a great way of playing with and deeply appreciating the many combinations of tastes that we can create with various liquids and flavors. It is an art and a science in and of itself (at least according to mixologists). I think there is much of value here that is not and should not be about just getting drunk. I think it is myopic and hysterical not to appreciate (to be mindful even) of how wondrous it is that we have so many varietals of wine, so many kinds of scotch (love that peat!), so many variations of the margarita and so on and so forth. Bartending is also about service and helping people relax and enjoy themselves (and this need not be about Kesha style drunken orgies – that is not real appreciation or wholesome relaxation in my view) and looking out for them so they can do so safely.

    So yeah, maybe the Buddha (whoever he was besides a literary composite character) wouldn’t have approved of bartenders. Maybe the anonymous Chinese monks who wrote the Brahma Net Sutra wouldn’t have approved. I don’t know. All I know is that I do think the cautions about the dangers of alcohol are generally true, esp. for the immature and those prone to substance abuse. I do realize I transgress at my own risk (maybe at the risk of others too). Still, I will endeavor to bring other values I have learned from Buddhism into the situation of bartending and as Sot’aesan counseled the fisherman do the best that I can for others as I am able. Does that make me a bad Buddhist or an inauthentic one? Maybe according to some (not the Japanese though). But others opinions are not going to make me stop being cautioned and inspired by the tradition and its teachings. Does this mean I think Buddhism is wrong about the evils of alcohol and therefore must be wrong about much else and therefore of no real value? Well I do think the prohibitions against sex and alcohol are a bit hysterical and puritanical at times, but I also don’t think they are entirely wrong about the disturbance and dangers causes by sensual craving and intoxication, and I also think one must evaluate each teaching and practice on a case-by-case basis and not presume that its all irrelevant or dysfunctional. That attitude is what I find to be overstepping as well.

    So those are my thoughts about it at this time.

    Namu Myoho Renge Kyo,

    The Pure Land leads to hell.
    Zen is of the heavenly devils.
    The Precept follower are traitors to the land.
    Esoteric Buddhism is the worm in the lion’s belly.

  46. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel


    Check this website and book if you want, for a deep analysis of drugs and zen.

    And this other guy:

    Noah Levine, ex-addict, etc:

    My opinion: get drunk and enjoy it. You will never be an addict, except of the teachings 🙂 !

  47. Tom Pepper Avatar


    The realist position I am suggesting is completely antithetical to eliminative materialism. To put it (too) simply, eliminative materialism assumes that the “mind” must have some connection to brain events, and that all the notions of folk-psychology, produced in everyday language, interfere with a true science of the mind. From my perspective, the mind exists in symbolic/imaginary systems, in language and cultural practices involving multiple individuals, and so cannot be mapped onto a brain. That would sort of be like saying that to really understand radio broadcasts, we need to stop listening to them and just look at the wiring of the individual radio—as if anything that cannot be explained by the wiring of the receiver were a delusion that needs to be eliminated. Mind is a socially produced thing, not something that arises from an individual brain interacting with the world.

    At the same time, questions of “justified true beliefs” are very different than they would be in an atomistic epistemology. The best, most exhaustive, explanation is the closest to truth, but we would need to accept our knowledge as infinitely corrigible. Any truth appears immanently, is knowable only in a particular symbolic system, and so can always be improved upon. Badiou makes a distinction between truth and knowledge, with the assumption that our present state of knowledge will always leave something out, and often functions exactly to make certain kinds of truth unthinkable.

    Hopefully, I’ll be able to say something somewhat coherent about this in the next week or two.

    Ryuei, yes, as Shinran said, “Hell is my only home!”

  48. Ryuei Avatar

    Hi Luis,

    Actually I like what Brad Warner had to say about drugs and practice and about that book in particular in his first book “Hardcore Zen” (specifically the chapter entitled “Pass Me the Ecstasy, Rainbow, I’m Going to Nirvana on a Stretcher”). A less smart alecky but much more clinical discussion I have found in Part VI of James Austin’s “Zen and the Brain.” I haven’t read “Zigzagzen” but if its about justifying using drugs to get “enlightenment” I’ll pass. I read Noah Levine’s first book and my impression what that drugs didn’t do anything good for him, all but killed him, and that he was much better off without him. I also learned the early LA punk scene was apparently way more destructive, violent, and nasty than the hardcore scene of Philly in the late 80’s – or maybe I just lucked out and picked a good crowd to hang out with.

    Anyway, I don’t need to read someone’s book to tell me that I won’t become selfless or compassionate by taking drugs or drinking. Sure they might mellow me out a bit but if you ask my wife I’m already too mellow as it is and what I need is a jumpstart. (Hmm. I haven’t tried meth yet, maybe I that’s what I need – what do you think? – joking) I’ve never had much problem with those things, but certainly have had my share of hangovers and regrets – enough to tell me that overindulgence is not very helpful to myself or others. And I’ve certainly seen more than I have ever wanted to see insofar as substance abuse destroying lives and cutting down people who should still be alive today.

    One of the things I really appreciate about Shakyamuni Buddha’s story is that he tried the alternative state of consciousness route through severe asceticism and yogic disciplines and turned away from them. At best they were pleasant abidings that didn’t of themselves lead to liberation and at worst they were just a head trip and a self-indulgent distraction. Is that dogmatic of me that I take that story as a warning about the dead-end of drugs and alcohol at least in regard to bringing an end to unnecessary mental anguish and maybe even awakening the qualities of selfless compassion?

    Honestly I don’t personally have a problem with people having a few drinks socially on occasion, or having drinks with dinner, or even just partying on occasion but not to a destructive sloppy point (seen enough of that and it isn’t pretty). I think the “war on drugs” is insane, hysterical, and counterproductive. I do mind people smoking around my family and I (and that includes pot smoke) but I don’t see throwing people in jail for smoking a plant. I don’t think we need to justify intoxicants but I don’t think we need to be too uptight about it either, and I am content to keep an eye on the Buddha’s admonitions in regard to it while proceeding at my own risk. If things go well, I can shrug and say, “Well those pre-moderns certainly had their puritanical hangups about this” and if things don’t go well the Buddha (or more realistically some Buddhist) can come along and say, “You were warned.”

    Namu Myoho Renge Kyo,

  49. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Ryuei (#41). Once again, you got the terms right; but, in the end, I guess, you just place different values on them then I do. I’ll explain what I mean.

    Your phrase “from a Buddhist perspective” is my “x-buddhistic hallucination.” I don’t mean that every perspective is a form of hallucination. I mean perspectives, like x-buddhism’s, that require an affectively and cognitively reflexive response vis a vis an elaborate network of postulation. I mean perspectives through which course a coercive charism—a promise of some sacra sanitatem, some special access to some special power, cosmic or personal, not otherwise attained.

    Many of the people commenting on this blog do so from an x-buddhistic perspective. But I need to add some nuance now. Some commentators are—in their comments—offering no perspective on anything other than their most recent version of x-buddhism. They claim to be offering insight into whatever the topic is. But look more closely, and you see that, for them, the world (our various topics) becomes a mere pretense for their interminable iterations of x-buddhism. In dialogue, at the Feast of Knowledge, we are seeking some advance on understanding (but not on “knowledge:” that’s too tenuous—just look at an old encyclopedia). Theories help in that regard. The proclamations of science help in that regard. Contrary to its grand self-understanding, however, x-buddhism is neither theory nor science. It is, as Laruelle says of philosophy, “interpretation at a global level because it is infinite repetition and self-reference, overview and contemplation of the world.” Does that make sense to you? X-buddhists can’t dialogue because while we at the Feast want to talk about Gott und die Welt unbeholden to any system’s demands on our thought, all the x-buddhist ever offers us is—x-buddhism (pure “auto-reflection”)!

    Other commentators here, however, include x-buddhistic ideas, tropes, models, claims, etc., in their considerations. But they do so in a way that risks x-buddhism’s integrity. They think along with x-buddhism for as long as their thinking permits it. What, in the last instance , determines their thinking seems to be the shared world—our world devoid of the representations that x-buddhists reflexively drape over it. There is an anarchy to such thinking. No system can capture it. Certainly, no thinking can be sustained within a system such as x-buddhism. X-buddhism does not, in the end, permit thinking; it permits only x-buddhism. X-buddhism is a machine that produces interminable iterations of x-buddhism.

  50. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    I just woke from a dream I had. I was to write a well mannered piece about reasonable conversation and mutual understanding. But sweet bloody Polemos and lovely bitch Eris crossed the stream of my thought. They kindly whispered from afar like the wind in the leaves of a weeping willow – about the truth of war. About this war. That buddhism is at war already. That it will not lessen it‘s attempt to crush every possible outreach for the real with shitloads of bad books. Epiphanized in such a way I began to see:

    The richness of choice of toilet paper in a supermarket – why the hell these people think I need 20 brands of loo paper to choose from for cleaning my ass? It‘s the same with buddhism: ZigZag what? Noah the post addict? There are plenty of other candidates waiting for me. To make me big mind. To integral me with Ken and the holy second tiers. For sure I can find thousandandone more disorientations to get me confused even more. I don‘t need no lsd, no spliff, no heroin, no white light – I just need to go to a buddhist bookshop to get drunken up to my eyeballs spinning. It‘s amazing, this vortex sucking out of my bones the last bit of reason.

    Man, I swear by the devil‘s private parts and by the arse of his mother the lovely abysmal princess of chaos, I never will visit a buddhist bookshop again! Just give me a good cold freshly made very dry vodka martini cocktail (with a tiny slice of lemon-peel) and – over there – flush down the crap of zigzagnoahwhatever the bowels of nirvana.


  51. Ryuei Avatar

    Hi Glenn,

    All I hear from you, for all the terminology, is this: you want to talk about Buddhism (for some reason) but only so long as Buddhism is thoroughly devalued and anything it might have to offer is dismissed as a self-affirming delusion. This tells me that your mind is closed to real dialogue because real dialogue as I understand it means lending a sympathetic ear to the “other” so you can try to understand where they’re coming from. Why do they see things a certain way? What experiences led them to articulate things they way they are? Why would a certain system of thought make sense? You seem entirely too dismissive to me and that doesn’t bode well for understanding, mutual or otherwise. Note that understanding doesn’t necessarily mean agreement but at least it should mean you can acknowledge why someone would value a certain perspective or way of doing things. You can’t bring Buddhism up onto the witness stand and cross-examine it if you rule it out of court (or in contempt of court) before it even walks into the courtroom. A case has to be made first and then you have something to examine.

    There are a couple of other problems I have with what I think I am hearing from you. One is that I don’t believe Buddhism is static. You keep saying x-Buddhism (by which I take it that x stands in for some particular school, type, or sect) can only reiterate itself – as though it had a self-nature that it could perpetuate. But I see no such static thing. Sure some Buddhists (many I know) do think that there is a set unchanging tradition, but all I see is a stream of dialogue reaching back to Siddhartha and even beyond him, with many tributaries and loops as other streams of thought come in and interact with it. No two Buddhists, even of the same school and same cultural background, are exactly alike – for that matter they are not exactly identical to what they were or will be. But you seem to be imposing some fixed static set of propositions (and really what are those – this is all too generalized). Frankly I believe you are stereotyping. Not that there is not a reason for you to so generalize, but generalization like analogies (even Buddhist analogies) often break down.

    Another thing is that for me Buddhism is a working hypothesis and not a philosophy. The Buddha’s teachings basically come down to various ways of encouraging and guiding a very practical program that you can try out and see for yourself. If I refrain from harming myself and others, from exploitation thievery and sensual indulgence, deception of self and others, and maintaining a sober clear outlook what will that be like for me? If I take time out of my usual agitation and scheming and busywork and just sit (or chant) and return to a state of alert equilibrium what will that be like? How would a consistent and sustained practice of doing that change my life? What might I realize when I disengage even for a moment to just be present to whatever arises? I see the Buddha as at heart an empiricist or phenomenologist who paid extra careful attention to subjective states and how they arise and depend upon one another and how we buy into them and how we can, perhaps, see through them and not be caught by them. It is actually pretty hard to practice as the Buddha recommended but his challenge is that if you do you will find out for yourself here and now whether its effective or not (as per the Mahasatipatthana-sutta) and not in some future life after death (though promises are made about that in the discourses as well but they are not so central in my view). I say we cut through the crap of all the fancy language and just state plainly – either this practical program of bodily and mental cultivation pans out or it doesn’t.

    I personally think, despite Owen Flanagan’s quite reasonable reservations in “The Bodhisattva’s Brain: Buddhism Naturalized” that neuroscience will in the future make a great contribution to helping us figure out what works and what doesn’t as far as programs that promise the optimization of human functioning. It certainly seems to me that more clinical and responsible studies can be made of broader cross sections of people to see what the brain looks like when people report subjective states of calm, contentment, and even empathy. If the human genome can be mapped – why not the mental states? Certainly the Abhidharma was an attempt to analyze and categorize mental states as subjectively experienced by meditation practitioners and Flanagan gives the effort credit. Is Abhidharma folk psychology or an early attempt at ethical psychology (and psychotherapy)? I like what Owen Flanagan has to say about it but won’t try to reproduce it here. In any case, Abhidharma wasn’t just to categorize for the sake of categorizing, it was an attempt to map out mental states in correspondence with delusion and the effects of mental cultivation (though they did at times indulge in some rather fantastic cosmology too – but I don’t think that detracts from the more down-to-mind stuff). I look forward to the day when Abhidharma is compared to developmental psychology and the mapping of brain states by neuroscience. Then we can get past their subjective phenomenology and hook it up to something more objectively verifiable.

    I really think that Abhidharma and meditative praxis (all the varieties of them) are what really needs to be looked at and examined with more objective scientific methods. All the rest of Buddhism is basically just rhetoric to encourage practice or discourage people from pitfalls (like drinking or clinging to altered states of consciousness) or poetry meant to inspire, or paradox meant to shake up, or cosmological extrapolations inspired by mental states (all the heavens and hells of Buddhism are basically mythic presentations of mental states classified by the Abhidharma). All of it rests upon whether Abhidharma has any practical value or not. I think even the Mahayana can be seen as just a further rhetorical spinning of the Abhidharma and its deeper implications. In the end, Abhidharma will either be revised and corrected or it will be discarded for something that has provable results just like alchemy gave way to chemistry and astrology to astronomy. In the end, Buddhist methods of mental cultivation (from silent forms of mindfulness meditation to the psychodrama of esotericism) will either be shown to curb dysfunctional states and help to bring about or reinforce optimal states or it will be shown that it is easier to just take a happiness pill or perhaps rewire our brains with some future form of cyber-therapy. The day has not yet come though, and so we can either make the decision that Buddhism has no real value, or we can utilize it the way it was meant to be utilized and see what happens. YMMV though.

    Namu Myoho Renge Kyo,

    To Tom – nice to see that you really have read Shinran. So few have. There was a person who was mercilessly honest with himself I think, and in doing so found himself in a “state of grace” so to speak. Also I love the Zen story about the samurai who asks his friend (a Zen master) about where he will go after death. The Zen master says he will be reborn in hell. The samurai says, “But why?! You are such a great and holy man.” The master replies, “If I don’t go there, who will help you when you arrive?”
    BTW – for those who may know what I refer to – I think even ichinen sanzen, the T’ien-t’ai model of “three thousand worlds in a single thought-moment” is basically just a short-hand of Abhidharma (or at least the various elements of it are). It is like a GUI (Graphic User Interface) to enable someone who is not a programmer to use a program. The underlying program in this case is Abhidharma and what T’ien-t’ai Chih-i believed were its deepest implications as realizable in the present moment of practice.

    Namu Myoho Renge Kyo,

  52. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Ryuei (#51).

    Re: para 1: If you feel so inclined, maybe you can read my article “Nascent Speculative Non-Buddhism.” (As the title suggest, I still have a long way to go before it’s a workable theory.) You’ll find that, no, it is not Buddhism that I want to talk about, although Buddhism is the basic material for thought. The blog posts, on the other hand, can get a bit more buddhisty-critical here and there.

    Re: para 2: My thesis is that, contrary to x-buddhism’s grand protestations, there is indeed a “static thing” operating in it. That thing is x-buddhism’s transcendental operator: the Dharma. Maybe you can read the post “X-Buddhistic Hallucination” for some more detail.

    I am certainly not interested in the kind of inter-religious dialogue you suggest in your “why don’t you ask about” this and that. If you are an x-buddhist, I already know the gist of your answers: they are given in x-buddhism itself.

    An instance of buddhemic ventriloquism on your part:

    “I look forward to the day when Abhidharma is compared to developmental psychology and the mapping of brain states by neuroscience.”

    Why not just let neuroscience do the work? Who and what are served by the comparison–however the ancient wisdom of the Abhidharma fares in the end?

  53. Mike Preston Avatar
    Mike Preston


    Thanks for addressing my questions on truth procedures, eliminative materialism and justification of truth claims. I’ll be back with some more questions.

  54. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel

    The house is big and is handled with care. As long as people come in and go, the house is happy. It doesnt move. Though the earth moves. It doesnt breath, though air passes through it. There is no dialogue, but lots of voices can be heard. Yet the house is happy, for it thinks it exists.

  55. Ryuei Avatar

    Hi Glenn,

    Okay, now I know how others feel when instead of giving them a reply I tell them to read some long article I wrote and provide a link. LOL. See, that’s a bit of karma I guess – the shoe is on the other foot.

    But seriously, I may perhaps read those articles when I can find some time. Maybe it will answer my question as to why you are bothering to make Buddhism a part of the discussion at all? Even a “non-Buddhism.” Why not just put forth your own views or explorations without any reference to Buddhism since it is so unhelpful.

    I really don’t appreciate your saying you already know what my answers will be. That just comes off as rude. You don’t know what my particular take or relationship to a traditional doctrine may or may not be. I remember you being a bit pleasantly surprised (did I misread you?) when I came to your meditation group and spoke about ichinen sanzen to your group in a way that was not so traditional. Were you just flattering me then? For what purpose? For my part, I am always curious as to how different individuals (Brad Warner, Taigen Dan Leighton, Bhikhhu Bodhi) will talk about things that I already believe I know about. It comes off as fresh and interesting to hear their take on things. More often than not, the Buddhist teaching, trope, anecdote, aphorism or what have you is a jumping off point for that person’s own unique take on how life seems to them and how it could be. I would never be so rude or dismissive as to say to someone – I don’t need to hear what you’re going to say because I already know what you’re going to go on about and – yawn – I’ve heard it all before. Would you really say that to my face? You better smile, though when you say it, pardner. I might have to break one of those Hollywood breakaway saloon bottles over your head otherwise. (joke – I’m not really angry or even all that affronted though I will confess to being a bit miffed)

    You then accuse me of just being a ventriloquist puppet for Buddhism. Well that is rather derisive too but I’ll ignore that. You ask a very good question – why not just let neuroscience do it’s work? Why bother with Abhidharma? Well for one I think Abhidharma is probably as valid as any other psychological theory or psychotherapy and possibly more so. Owen Flanagan certainly seems to be at least a bit impressed with it, impressed enough to bother with trying to naturalize Buddhism at all. Anyway, I have found Abhidharma (or portions of it) to be very helpful to me and others. I don’t need science to validate something I’ve personally found helpful in reflecting on the kind of things our minds get up to. It’s either something that pans out for me or not. But I also know that it can be refined and that no system of thought should remain self-contained and stagnant. It would be nice to have some corroboration or even correction from another field. In turn, Abhidharma provides an extensive record of observations about mental states as subjectively experienced by people who were looking closely at their own experience (granted also trying to systematize all the things said about mental states in the discourses but that too is at least purportedly rooted in someone’s personal observations). Thinking carefully and analytically about mental states and their aspects and permutations and combinations and to discern which are wholesome/skillful and which are unwholesome/unskillful strikes me as a very worthwhile project. Also, while we may be able to map out the brain states corresponding to the mental states, that kind of cold outsider observation is very different being subjectively in touch with how we are in any given moment and what we can do to cultivate wholesome and skillful ways of being and relating. Neuroscience and Abhidharma have different spheres, one being an impersonal look at the material, the other being a practical way of examining and dealing with subjective mental states, but I certainly can see where they might fruitfully inform one another from their different approaches.

    So not just Abhidharma but any psychological theory or psychotherapy could be examined in the light of neuroscience. Our subjective observations and classifications give us something for the hard sciences to check out from their end. However, I think what Tom pointed out in post 47 is very important about the shortcomings of what he called eliminative materialism. The impact of a song and the physical properties of radio waves are not wholly unrelated but the former is not reducible to the latter, though without the latter it can’t exist.

    Namu Myoho Renge Kyo,

  56. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Hi Ryuei. Real quick, in case you don;t have time to read the pages I recommended to you (this is not a response to what you just posted [#55]. I haven’t read that yet):

    From the post “X-Buddhistic Hallucination:”

    In sum

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

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

  57. Ryuei Avatar

    Hi Glenn,

    In response to post 56. Ah I see. You are trying to deprogram us. LOL. Why didn’t you just say so!

    Well write me off as benighted if you wish, but it is my conviction that we all stand upon the shoulders of giants. Certainly we can and should be critical of those shoulders but I don’t see the need to be so dismissive of all that went before and start at ground zero or with a blank slate (as if that were even possible or desirable). Is there a lot of dogma and beliefs rather than real raw direct experience? Yeah there is, but I have also found a rich record of people doing their best to get at what is real and to uncover a selfless and compassionate way of life with the best tools at hand (conceptually and practically) and plenty of critiques and reevaluations both within the tradition and coming from outside of it (by Confucians, Taoists, Christians, and now the confrontation with modernity or post-modernity). I have entered into dialogue with those people of the past and also in the present. It has been a very enriching dialogue. You seem to feel it is all just brainwashing. Well, maybe it all is. Maybe there is nothing more than memes. Are you saying you have the magical tool or the meme free perspective? Or is your project just another brand of snake-oil? A position you take in order to claim to trump all other positions?

    Gotto go – my daughter needs dinner (and so do I for that matter). Form may or may not be empty but I still got to eat.

    Namu Myoho Renge Kyo,

  58. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    Just yesterday I realized that somebody I was discussing with about non-buddhism didn‘t even read Glenn‘s nascent-text. I had a discussion here last year with a Ph.D. who wanted to convince me about the superiority of buddhist epistemology. After I tried to talk to him for a while he admitted he didn‘t deem it necessary to even take a look at the texts and the theory around which this blog is build. Again in this thread I see this. Ok, that‘s the internet, people come in in all situations and they have an opinion about everything without knowing anything. But I simply find it annoying. Perhaps I am too old school but I think it plain and simple bad behavior to engage in long discussions without the least clue of some background. Even from a buddhist perspective this is plain and simple ignorance. I find it disgusting. Buddhists (attention: unjust generalization following) want to teach me to be polite and well mannered, they want me to behave nice and friendly but they don‘t give a shit what I am thinking. They internalized their ,view‘ and that‘s enough. This is pure poor self-narcotizing narcissistic flattery. What the hell this has to do with your so called awakening if you ignore without the tiniest bit of embarrassment that you are not a quantum-bit interested in the background of this blog? Another brand of snake-oil? I don‘t believe it. This kind of buddhism is snake-oil for sue!

  59. Geoff Avatar



    I wouldn’t worry too much about Sujato being hurt by any comments made here. After the ongoing harassment he received from his fellow monastics in the Thai forest tradition over his decision (with Ajahn Brahm) to ordain bhikkhunis – I’d say this would be water off a duck’s back.

    Besides what’s all that metta meditation expertise he keeps impressing on us been for?

    PS: I was amused by the way Sujato came out of hibernation during the last Vassa (July – Oct) to answer your obscure question about Buddhism and Babylon on his blog (because it was “just too interesting to ignore”). Was he getting bored? Not that I blame him. Next thing you know he’ll be picking up his old guitar. After having to contend with the Thai monastic hierarchy, the sharks in the music industry probably don’t look so bad these days…..

    And I also like the way they call it the Rains Retreat with a straight face when a drop of rain didn’ t fall.



  60. stoky Avatar


    (I’m not sure whether the person you talk about was me, however that’s not the matter here.)

    I think that’s one of the main problems of this blog. People get a wrong impression what it is about. I can easily see how someone gets annoyed when explaining the same things over and over…

    But seriously, that’s not only the people’s fault. If you address X-Buddhists in a text “Come on, X-Buddhists”, then X-Buddhists will feel addressed. If you want people to read a >20pages PDF before they bother to make a comment that’s fine, really. But you have to tell them that. If you create a space open for everybody, everybody will come in. If you don’t want that, just create a closed space. (I wrote this and more stuff at my comment at “What is non-Buddhism”).

    P.S.: Sorry to start a meta-discussion, but sometimes the real problems are easier to solve, once you’ve solve the meta-problems.

  61. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Ryuei (#55, #57).

    (Before I forget, can I recommend that you at least have a look at Matthias #58 before continuing to comment?)

    I am willing to risk sounding rude if it means telling the truth. I could have been much “ruder” (i.e., more truthful). I could have mentioned, for instance, that not only can I largely predict your self-presentation as x-buddhist (why you are one, what your values are, etc.), but I can do so within a five minute conversation. Why? Because committed x-buddhists are no different from committed born-again Christians, Republicans, Maoists, or any other ideologically-blind true believer. Ideological allegiance is as transparent to the outsider as it is invisible to the subscriber. That does not mean, of course, that every x-buddhist is a blind ideologue. One speculative non-buddhist thesis, however, does posit as follows:

    X-buddhists qua x=buddhists, moreover, are incapable of discerning the decisional structure that informs their affiliation because admittance to affiliation ensues from a blinding condition: reflexivity. Indeed, reflexivity is commensurate with affiliation: the more instinctive the former, the more assured the latter. Optimally, x-buddhism, like all ideological systems, aims for hyper-reflexivity. The degree to which this goal is accomplished, however, is also the degree to which decisional structure, the very “internal structure” of all of x-buddhist discourse, becomes unavailable to the x-buddhist. Non-buddhism is needed, in part, in order to discern the decisional machinery of x-buddhism.

    So, re: #57, yes, speculative non-buddhism does offer a critical apparatus that can facilitate “de-programing.” Use of its heuristics will help you see x-buddhism in a new light. Along the way, you will experience disruption:

    Disruption. X-buddhism’s network of postulation is a power grid pumping buddhistic charism through the lines of venerable transmission. Steadied by its rhetorics of display, the network extends to sangha sub-stations and into the affective-cognitive-decisional apparatus of the individual x-buddhist. Speculative non-buddhist heuristics enable an interruption of the power surge in order to inspect its machinery and analyze its juice.

    Why haven’t I said so? I have! When you get some time, you can catch up on your reading. But you may not want to. You will find yourself hurled onto the ground from those giant’s shoulders on which you say you stand. You will be on the ground, or maybe real close to the ground–on the shoulders of a dwarf.

    You ask: “Are you saying you have the magical tool or the meme free perspective? Or is your project just another brand of snake-oil? A position you take in order to claim to trump all other positions?”

    No, not the tool, but a tool. The notion of a “meme-free perspective,” such as x-buddhism’s luminous mind or things-as-they-are, is as far as I can make out, pure bullshit. My project isn’t snake oil. It claims that x-buddhism can be and often is snake oil. My project is more like syrup of ipecac, i.e., a vomit inducer, for ridding the system of poison. Institutionally, this project is more like a stink bomb. Or maybe Deleuze’s idea describes it:

    A concept is a brick. It can be used to build a courthouse of reason. Or it can be thrown through the window.

    If you’d take some time to inform yourself about this project before you hurl your own bricks (which as a nihilistic anarchist/communist non-buddhist or something along those lines, I, of course, joyously applaud), you would know that already. (It’s on the page “Before you Read.”)

    Peace, bro Ryuei.

  62. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Mike (# 15).

    Thank you or for joining our discussions here. Pull up a chair. Have some lentils. Careful, its sprinkled with cayenne.

    I want to become more familiar with Laurelle’s thinking.

    Careful there, too. He is extraordinarily rough-going. Even Derrida said he found Laruelle incomprehensible. I was simply inspired by some of his ideas. I do not see this project as a Laruellean reading of x-buddhism. That would be too ambitious. It would also not be original or necessarily or particularly suited for the x-buddhistic material. So, that may answer your flowing questions:

    Could the Laurellean punch also be slipped into the bhikkhu juice (leaving out the hemlock, of course)?

    Yes, and that’s why I want to avoid ventriliquizing Laruelle the way I accuse x-buddhists of doing so with the Buddha (or Dogen or Nichiren or Jon Kabot-Zinn, etc.)

    Non-philosophical online texts; I vow to save (download) them all, and read them. I am presently doing a careful reading of your “Nascent Non-Buddhism.”

    That article is being developed into a book called X-buddhistic Hallucination: Meditation, ideology, Nihilism. Take that “nascent” seriously, will you?

    Why bother? Well, maybe in adopting this heuristic/precept I will become more skillful in my decision-making. Maybe I will achieve a more thorough realization of a process of right view while avoiding the over-valuation of any views.

    I think that’s just it. Terms that you use here like “skillful, realization, right view, views,” though, will be emptied of their dharmic content. They will become, in the language I am using here, x-buddhistically “uninterpretable.” You may then decide to refill them with dharmic content. But at that point they will be irreversibly reconfigured. It’s like Kafka says, “Beyond a certain point there is no return. This point must be reached.” But you can still use dharmic postulates and express them with buddhemes. As Laruelle says, think of non-buddhism like non-Euclidean geometry. What happens when you alter that one postulate?

    Does this crude formulation have a family resemblance to a non-buddhist practice? I want to kick the ladder, but it seems like I don’t want to give up my buddhemes; I need something to negate, right? Does the Feast table include all texts? Is the Stranger Subject bringing a dish to the table, or just an appetite?

    Oh, nice questions! Maybe it is like Wittgenstein’s ladder. Once you get the view… But I prefer low-to-the-ground metaphors. Wittgenstein also said that being beholden to philosophical problems is like having a cramp. So, if you have an x-buddhistic cramp, non-buddhism will get your digestive system pumping so that you can blow a truly heinous one. Are you the writin’ type? If so, do you want to explore the ladder analogy further?

    On Polemos: I don’t know much about this, but I have been quietly dismissed and sometimes more thoroughly denounced when my epistemological/semantic/metacritical questions have been deemed unacceptable by my x-buddhist teachers. I broke some rules, I guess. And then I moved on.

    So, I recommend making them LOUDLY dismiss you. That’s when the fun begins. That’s when the lies come out. That’s when the truth gets told.

    Lately I have been very interested in the new (to me) “pragmatic buddhism” movement, with its emphasis on practical transparent descriptions of maps of consciousness (jhana states, etc.) across traditions of meditation. I have observed, e.g., on the site “Dharma Overground,” some respectful polemics. Maybe it devolves into passive polemics.

    Yea, that’s all okay—it’s an important step, like Batchelor’s work. But in my reading (see “decision”), it’s all x-buddhism. But by all means, imbibe. I know what I know and think what I think and so on because of thirty-five year’s trolling about in the x-buddhist bazaar. So, sure. But why not keep an eye out for those “passive polemics” as you saunter through the arcades?

    Gabba Gabba Hey!

    Yea, and kick out the jams, motherfucker!

  63. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    Now for something (hopefully) more constructive.

    Re Naked Monk‘s #33 and Tom‘s #35.

    ,Meditation‘. I think one thing x-buddhism achieves is completely confusing any discussion about ,meditation‘. But even if the ugly word isn‘t mentioned the attempt to talk about certain practices and experiences at once runs into serious problems.

    Regarding the talk about personal practice. What I miss here greatly in this thread and in the thread which developed from „Mindful Lobotomy“ is any attempt to clarify what we are talking about when we talk about what?: meditation?! Ok, in the lobotomy-thread there have been some tries. But in the end we all cheerfully talk about „meditation“ again. Someone simply says, I meditate, without bothering to tell what he talks about. Somebody else changes „meditation“ into „contemplation“, nice, but for what use? We have something Tom describes, which seems to me, correct me if necessary, a discursive activity. Glenn seems to be into, in my impression, something very different, a „not improving“ which could be the very opposite of Tom. Don‘t get me wrong. I don‘t want to nail down anyone‘s practice, I just want to say that my impression is that we are talking about different psycho-physical techniques without any attempt to organize it, to categorizes it – and, even worse, without attempts to clarify the terms in a lasting way.

    Now, Naked Monk in #33 says: „Plain sensory awareness slows the mental chatter to put us in touch with basic experience, non-conceptual consciousness. That’s seeing, as opposed to viewing, which is organizing knowledge in ways we identify with.“

    Tom responds: „If you […] think there is any such thing as a pure mind free of concept […] you are just dead wrong […]: there is no non-conceptual mind!! The mind is NOTHING BUT thought, it is not a soul, there is no world-transcendent “substrate consciousness” […].“

    The first thing here is, for me, that Naked Monk obviously talks about an experience. Him being a long term practitioner, I think, I can take him by his word. This experience is real, if not for me or Tom, surely for him. This said, there is no way to deny this reality. The only other possibility is, as far as I see it, that the two interlocutors are not on common grounds with the meaning of the terms they use – and these terms are difficult enough: „Plain sensory awareness“, „basic experience“, „non-conceptual consciousness“ by Naked Monk and with Tom upping the ante by throwing in some „pure mind“, some „soul“ and, why not?, some „substrate consciousness“.

    But the only thing Naked Monk was saying is that there is a certain kind of behavior or technique he knows which „slows the mental chatter“ and which leads to another state of consciousness which is different from the first.

    If on the other side Tom says „The mind is nothing but thought“ AND we must admit that there is no way to deny the experience of Naked Monk, then it follows that this is a question of putting the terminology right.

    Personally I also know techniques „to slow mental chatter“. When tibetan meditation manuals for example speak about a „gap“ between thoughts, then this is something one can experience and one can develop this experience even to a form of ,empty cognitive space‘ (don‘t jump on my provisional wording please). This in no way says that this might be a human universal or a natural given to the homo sapiens or that what I experience is something someone sitting in a stonecold cave experienced a thousand years ago – it is just another experience with which, too, nothing is said about it‘s quality or usefulness or if it is at all helpful in gaining more knowledge (in fact the same manuals warn against a form of stupor in which one can easily drift practicing this „calm abiding“).

    This said, I would also underwrite at once Tom‘s „nothing but thought“. But what is certain is that there are different kinds of thoughts and it is not enough to insist that everything is just thought without differentiation.

    I also find Naked Monks wording difficult, „plain sensory awareness“ for example. But one can say for sure that a remembrance is something different than hearing a bird ,just‘ observing the sound. That ,just‘ observing is already a developed form of observation is easy to see when one takes a look at Daniel N. Stern‘s research and description of the experience in early childhood. But the developed adult ,just‘ hearing is certainly a different form of ,thinking‘ than the remembrance what the look and name of the bird is, his taxonomical classification etc.

    So my point is that this kind of exchange is a useless kind of talk with occasional resemblance of the good old flamewar everybody knows who has a bit of experience in internet discussion forums. The point is also that the obscuration of the term ,meditation‘ is a function of the marketing-industries which have to generate demand for their meditation-guides, ever new meditation-techniques and so on. That is not to mean that there is an intention to confuse but that confusion is just how ,it‘ works. If there would not be any confusion about meditation then their would be no point in perpetually producing new meditation-manuals. If one does not know what communication is, one for sure has to buy the next generation iPhone as soon as Apple spits it out – and the same goes for meditation: If it would become clear how easy it is to lean back on a park-bench, to exhale and to become just a little bit more calm and clear in five, ten, fifteen minutes (don‘t forget to inhale again) then all those spiritual super heroes with their nice glossy books and all those compassionate publishers with their steady output of meditation-ware, all those sellers of meditation-paraphernalia, all those mindfully inventive entrepreneurs would become jobless. How sad.

    From the old continent, Matthias

  64. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    stoky re #60,

    the main thrust in my #58 was targeted against Ryuei, the Ph.D. I mention and this kind of onlookers. Ryuei for example has obviously at command a fast writing hand and the time to give it quite something to do. Although I am sympathetic with some of his musings, especially those about the alcohol, I find it a bit strange that with all he has to say he does not take the time to read a bit about this blog. There is an entry at the top of this site which reads “What is Non-Buddhism?” This short intro does a lot to clarify.

    I also wrote something at your blog too.

    Mit besten Grüße, Matthias

  65. Mike Preston Avatar
    Mike Preston


    Thanks for inviting me to dine, I might skip the lentils. I’m on the caveman diet, but I cheat. I like the hot stuff. The MahaSriracha sutta is my favorite.

    Yes, Laruelle (I can spell it now) is a handful. I found “What can non-philosophy do?” which contains a lot of cool riffs, medicinal riffs. It might relieve some cramps. Nascence is a great state, I take my nascence seriously; I savor it for as long as I can. And then the dooky (dukkha?) comes.

    I also like the more grounded metaphors, like rhizomes, mycelia, negative charges, etc. But Wittgenstien said and wrote a lot of interesting things. I’m not authorized to write on such things, but I’d give it a shot. I know I’ll perish even if I publish.

    I will continue to drink the bikkhu juice, deciding that it might maintain my immunity to its toxins. The arcade is full of games for chumps, but the house doesn’t always win. My favorite x-buddhist polemics are critiques of x-buddhist “mushroom” meditation teachers: the ones who keep their students in the dark and feed them mostly shit. Mushrooms need more than that, I think.

    I look forward to joining more discussion here along the lines of Matthias’ observation of the x-buddhist obscuration of meditation.

    My Power’s Coming!

  66. Tom Pepper Avatar


    Re #63: Absolutely, it is certainly not ENOUGH to say that there is no mind outside of thought. We certainly do need to make differentiations, because words like thoughts and consciousness and ideas have a wide range of meanings. My position would be that without making these disctinctions, without recognizing different kinds of thought, we wind up with the same old argument against Althusser: the idea that if there is such a thing as ideology, then ALL thought must be NOTHING BUT ideology. So, yes, I want to make these distinctions. However, my point here was just to get rid of the notion that there are such things as non-conceptual “minds,” or experiences completely free of the effects of concepts, or whatever other version might come up. Then we can make the distinctions.

    So I would say that Glenn’s description of meditation is still conceptual, still involves the mind, but in a very different way from what I mean by meditation–we are talking about different practices with different purposes.

    I would also say that many people have experiences they believe are free of all thought, but they are deluded–if they had such experiences, they could not possibly remember them. It isn’t, that is, just a difference in semantics–it isn’t merely a different definition of “thought.” Many x-buddhists actually believe that they have a mind that can become free of thoughts, and live in pure, somehow thought-free, bliss. They aren’t just using the term “concept” in a different sense when they say they have achieved these meditative states; they are actually deluding themselves that their atman-that-is-not-one has temporarily transcended the world.

    So, what are your thoughts on the matter? What kinds of distinctions in the realm of thought would you suggest?


  67. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel


    Certainly attention is a commodity for the consumeristic society, and a pretty much looked after one in this blog too. Your idea that meditation be directed at buddhism is interesting and useful. It could also be directed at non-philosophy and at philosophy of science as decission themselves (a la Laurelle). I see here a tendency to tell others what to read or think or do. I think a better approach would be to let everyone speak about their points of view in a profounder way every time. For example this applies to meditation, why instead of telling other what meditation is, not ask a peson what his or her experience of meditation is? One of the important things of this blog from my point of view is to get people to construct their own views. On the other hand I see a great work here. A “camper master” – Wallis- vigourously addressing different writings, actively quoting others and himself as well with a good sense of opportunity. And some other “serious” writers that even post articles at his website.

    I have a little hypothesis too. That essentialism and all sort of fixations including the ego and all other forms of mental, written or verbal certainty, are the product of the need to escape from suffering, ie as caused by material adversity.

    So tell me Matthias, what do you think about essencialism and poverty? about other-wordly-escapism and suffering?

  68. Jayarava Avatar

    @Tom When you say “You seem to assume that polemics require personal attacks irrelevant to the issue at hand.” I think there is a misunderstanding. I don’t make that assumption and regularly try to write impersonal and dispassionate polemic. What I’m saying is that people take it personally when their views are undermined. Thomas Metzinger has an interesting discussion of the morality of undermining people’s afterlife beliefs, for example, at the end of The Ego Tunnel.

    I think it’s naive to assume that anyone will welcome a polemic aimed at themselves. I don’t!

    @Geoff. Kia ora. I think one should at least aspire to not hurting people’s feelings on purpose. Sujato is just a human being in orange robes. I’ve found him an engaging correspondent.

  69. Tom Pepper Avatar


    My position is that we’re far too worried about everyone’s “feelings” in our culture. As my daughter used to say: cry me a river, build a bridge, and get over it! Feelings are just overrated. Don’t we have a responsibility to avoid damaging people’s minds by accepting their stupidity? Of course they won’t welcome it–nobody’s naive enough to think they will, I hope–but still, it can only help them.

    Let me give an example, by way of analogy. When I tell my students their writing is terrible, and point out all the incoherent sentences and logical inconsistencies, and explain to them that it is not an essay if you just write anything that comes to mind for three pages, they get very “hurt.” They see writing as an inborn talent that cannot be taught or improved, and any correction of their writing becomes a personal insult. Their teacher in high school and freshman composition have largely encouraged this myth, and focused on building their “self-esteem.” My students become angry and offended when I correct their grammar. I meet with them in my office and ask them to explain a particular incoherent sentence to me, and when they can’t, when they admit they don’t even know the meanings of half the words in the sentence (they were suggestions from the Word thesaurus, usually), they become angry and complain that I just don’t like their “style,” and therefore I’m failing them for “personal” reasons. Occasionally, hey complain about me to the chair, or the dean, usually they just right really bad teacher evaluations. They are “hurt,” because they’ve attached their “feelings” in the wrong way. After twenty-five years of teaching, I can say that more times than I can count students have come to my office a year later, two years later, and told me that they hated my class and hated me but I was right, and they realized later that they really did need to improve their writing and actually understand what they were trying to say and use correct grammar. Literally dozens of students have come back to tell me that my class helped them get through writing papers in their other classes later on.

    My point here is, it is very often perfectly fine to intentionally hurt people’s feelings. Sometimes we need to be indifferent to whether they like us. I’m not saying we should randomly tell people they’re ugly, or tell the guy whose wife has cancer he should just “get over it,” but it’s always better to tell someone when they are just wrong about something, even if they hate you for it. It’s okay to tell the guy whose wife has cancer that the faith healer won’t cure her not matter how much money you give him—even if it crushes his hope. When a self-proclaimed enlightened guru of any stamp starts acting like a angry five-year-old as soon as someone questions him (and it is almost always a him), then questioning him, insulting him, hurting his “feelings” is a good thing–he may not be enlightened by it, but at least it can tip off some potential followers before they have to learn the hard way.

    A polemical question for anyone:

    Along the lines of telling people when they’re just wrong—I’m curious if anybody here could tell me why so many Buddhists today seem to be attached to this neuroscience of consciousness nonsense? I’ve read Metzinger, and I just don’t get it. I mean, I do see why most other philosophers ignore him—his logical and philosophical errors are glaring and probably insurmountable. The idea that we will map consciousness onto the brain is very popular, though, far beyond Metzinger—there are literally hundreds of books on the topic, many of them saying the evidence is suggestive, and we are just on the verge of a breakthrough (we have, apparently, been on this “verge” for thirty years or so, and have gotten not closer, but farther—always because it is “too complex”). This seems to me to be an odd fascination for Buddhists, because it very much assumes an atomistic consciousness arising only from brain-stimuli interactions (even language becomes merely another stimulus). Wouldn’t it make more sense for those who supposedly believe in dependent arising and non-self to avoid the homunculus problem altogether and accept that the mind is not deep inside the brain but outside, in the socially produced symbolic/imaginary system? To me, this seems so obviously true, that I cannot fathom the absolute insistence that the mind must be somehow connected to a solid, material, physical entity in a very concrete measurable way. Why is that preferable? The symbolic and imaginary orders are just as real, the result of very real material practices that are completely naturally occurring and easily observable. Why this obsessive insistence that language is somehow not a real, material thing?

    From my marxist perspective, there is one obvious explanation: if we can keep searching the “complex” brain, we don’t have to notice that we can easily explain the suffering of the mind with reference to the social system—and then we’d have to change it! If it’s all in the neurons, all we can do is drug it, shock it, lobotomize it.

    I’m seriously baffled by this neuroscience obsession—despite a complete lack of real progress, so many resources are being wasted on this silly pursuit. Neurological research is surely just as important as research on cancer or heart disease—knowing how the brain works would be good, because we can’t live without one—but wasting those resources hunting for the mind in the firing of neurons is never going to do anyone any good at all, and can only impede real attempts to make progress in both neurological research and the understanding of the mind.

  70. Jayarava Avatar

    I had this thought the other day about militant atheists. I wonder if, like many of us born in the 20th century they are at core angry about emotionally distant, and often physically absent fathers. It’s a bit Freudian, but I ponder Richard Dawkins in particular and how rude he is to people – and yet at the same time so British (which would suggest a preference for politeness and indirect speech). Where does that anger, which over-rides centuries of breeding and pressure to conform, come from? Though Oxford Dons anecdotally are far more likely than average to be autistic, which might explain it.

    The prototype (in the sense of the characteristic member of the category a la G. Lakoff) of the father has become Homer Simpson. Perhaps that is how most of us see mainstream Buddhist leaders? And we hate them for being ineffectual, intellectually weak, romantic, and soft; or in fact we transfer all those feelings from our fathers to our gurus. I was a great fan of Robert Bly in the 1980s, and I’m very grateful for his indirect prompting to mend my relationship with my father who died young more than 20 years ago. Dad was dyslexic and frequently beaten at school; and his older brother was killed in WWII leaving him the bearer of the family aspirations and grief. HIs mother died young, and his wife stopped loving him, and started hating him. When I knew him he was quiet, depressed, withdrawn, embittered, and disappointed. He certainly did not want his sons to follow in his footsteps so made sure we were bored by what he did – I still couldn’t stick two bricks together with superglue! I only really learned to respect him after he died.

    Our father is the man who generated us, and raised us, but he is also bearer of an archetype – one that plays out in ritual royalty and also in gurus, and ideas of gods and Buddhas. For a man now to respect older men is very difficult. We think they’re all like Homer Simpson. We hate them. We want to destroy everything they have created because it means nothing to us. We think them false, and hypocritical. It’s certainly how I feel about politicians and priests.

    In fact it was meeting older men that I could admire that hooked me on Buddhism. There have been many disappointments along the way, some of them leaving me quite embittered: but people are just people, and in some ways it’s unfair to expect too much of them. Thinking, for example. often just makes people unhappy. We say that it’s a good thing, but in the end there is often nothing they can do about the things that make them unhappy. For some of us thinking becomes an end in itself – the flash of wit, the exhilaration of finding answers, links, patterns that all seem so meaningful and make us forget for a moment that life is really quite disappointing. But we’re rare and unusual in my experience.

    There are some older men in my life that I admire with little reservation. On the whole they’ve been Buddhists for 3 or 4 decades now. Most of the sacrificed families and careers to help other people, teach, and build institutions for spreading the Dharma – and I can only be grateful they did or I would not have found it. No one is perfect, but after 18 years of reflecting I see that those who sincerely and consistently practice turn out to be admirable human beings in quite ordinary ways: they’re friendly, thoughtful, attentive, kind, and loyal. I know where I stand with them because on the whole they are just themselves. And most of these people have never courted the kind of celebrity that teachers of the Insight Meditation or Tibetan traditions have. They’re not household names. One of my most inspiring friends isn’t even well known in our Order! (and the fact that the daffodils are almost out reminds me that he’ll soon be emerging from his 12th annual 4 month winter solitary retreat which is a joyful thought.)

    When it comes down to it this is what is important to me. I can critique ideas with the best of them, but it so seldom leads to a satisfying human connection, and as I get older that is what I crave. I used to be able to just argue. Sometimes I argued passionately. But in 40+ years of argument I’m not sure I changed anyone’s mind about anything, which suggests to me that it was a fucking great waste of time and energy. In fact it helped to rob me of my good health, so I look on it with particularly jaundiced eyes.

    BY all means write polemics but don’t expect thanks or celebration. In fact expect to be treated like a little shit. An individual polemic seldom makes any difference. A generation of concerted polemic might bring about shift. But in the history of ideas what really makes for change is a *new idea* presented positively (evolution, relativity, śūnyatā, sustainability, gaia). I’m sure polemic has a function, but it seldom contributes much – but then without Śiva the destroyer, Brahmā the creator cannot create. Fungus turning shit into fertiliser. Perhaps the function of polemic is to dig over the ground in preparation for planting new ideas. In the mean time we seem awfully het up about our father’s life and work. If I had kids would they be hating me by now?

  71. Tom Pepper Avatar

    I always love to hear the old refrain: polemics seldom make any difference. It is what the reactionary always says when polemic starts to become effective. It is always encouraging to hear.

    Sorry you have such a defeatist pessimist attitude, Jayararava. In the end, there are many, many things we could do about the things that make us, and others, unhappy. If you would just be willing to do a little more (or a little better) thinking, you might get out of this defeatist funk.

  72. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Hi Tom (#69). Great questions. I plan to offer a response later. In the meantime, who’s got something?

    Hello Jayarava (#70). Thanks, as always, for commenting here. I agree that we can learn something, maybe a great deal, from giving thought to the relationship between personal biography and our preferences, our expectations, our approach to things–in short, our relationship to others and to the world. I see very close correspondences, for instance, between the life-events of certain Buddhists I know and their choices as Buddhist practitioners, such as what kind of teachers they are attracted to, what level of discipline they seek, how they view their tradition’s exemplars, and so on. I can see it in myself, too; although, like much else in life, it’s easier to see–or think I see-such biographical-psychological-buddhist correspondences in others. I said in a recent comment that if you give me ten minutes with an x-buddhist, I tell tell you what the x stands for. I can also tell whether the person has a Catholic background or a liberal Jewish one, and so on. The person I told this to said I was “rude” for suggesting it. But it’s true. Biography is in plain site to the person who will only just look. I call these biographical displays “symptoms.” My friend insists that her devotion to Dharmakaya Buddha has nothing to do with her twelve years (K-12th grade) of now “wholly rejected” Catholicism. Hmmm.

    What someone might glean from dialogue with me is that, to stick with your very personal example, virtually my sole form of interaction with my father was via discussion about ideas. He was (though still alive) an innovative psychologist, someone who pushed theory, questioned psychoanalytic and psychotherapeutic dogmas, and kicked sacred cows. He also developed innovative (for the time) programs based on a psycho-social whole person approach. He was the CEO of a large mental hospital near Philadelphia, where he introduced many innovations. My mother was also a therapist, with a background in social work. (Both of my parents, it seems important to add since we are talking about the interface of polemics and biography, came from quite humble backgrounds. My father’s father was a farmer; and both of my mother’s parents were lower middle-class immigrants from Sicily.) She had a private practice that she ran out of our house. She was (still is) a deeply loving and compassionate person. But she also poo-pooed much of what counted as received wisdom in her field. She could be (still is) fierce in her denunciation of professional hypocrisy. My relationship with both of them was based largely on the discussion of ideas–and it was more often of the polemical variety. So, when you say that polemics “seldom leads to a satisfying human connection,” I have to say, well, my own biography suggests otherwise. In a brief act of self-analysis, I would say that one reason that I take the approach that I do on this blog and, sometimes, in person, is that I think that too much of what counts as polite discussion creates precisely a lack of “satisfying human connection.” I certainly agree with Tom (#69 and elsewhere) on that account. Emerson said that Thoreau felt himself most “in opposition.” Me, too. Given my life history, that’s not surprising.

    I am not sure that “an individual polemic seldom makes any difference” is necessarily the case. I always have the attitude that the effects, the results, of what I do and say and teach is wholly opaque. In other words, who the hell knows? In my own life [adding this on review], polemics has made a tremendous difference. In fact–another biographical note–I would say that the majority of my intellectual, emotional, and all-around personal growth has been instigated by some form of intense, even painful or upsetting, engagement with others–their ideas, their views. Maybe, to a great extent, what each of us can tolerate in terms of dialogical intensity has a direct correspondence to what for us counts as a “satisfying human connection.”


  73. Tom Pepper Avatar


    Since you mentioned Freudian interpretations, let me offer a little psychoanalytic interpretation of your comment #70. You’re bothered by things you’ve read here, because they are challenging, and really listening to them would require you to give up some of your comfortable beliefs and behaviors. You can’t quite just ignore the whole thing and walk away, as you would if your really thought it was a bunch of escapist indulgence in thinking, and unimportant. You say you can “critique ideas with the best of them,” but you know you can’t, and feel inferior because of it, and defensive–you might have to admit somebody else has an idea you hadn’t thought of, or knows more than you, or understands things better, and this shakes your grip on your sense of self. So, you give, in the guise of kind wisdom, an patronizing dismissal designed to insult and offend (you can always hide behind the claim that you weren’t angry, not hostility, it was kindness). Those posting here are all silly (autistic?) angry boys who are really just using thought to avoid facing their father issues. So, your pretend to kindness, wisdom, to be the superior guide, while your need is really to be hostile, dismissive, and shore up your insecure self against the threat that comes from real thought. You hope to make everyone here feel a little embarrassed by their passionate arguments, feel insecure about themselves–or at least to convince yourself that you have done so, you have castrated another surrogate father.

    If you can’t at least admit that there is enormous fear and hostility, and tremendous attachment to self, behind your oh-so-polite and wise meditations on your father and your father figures, then you’ll never make much progress out of this pessimistic, defeatist hopelessness. I’d would much prefer open hostility. Hostility masked behind a twisted mask of kindness is the very definition of bad faith, in Sartre’s sense–especially when you persist in denying it. It is obvious to everyone. Really, you are that transparent to everyone but yourself.

  74. Matthias Steingass Avatar


    Re #66: Regarding some of my thoughts about thought. First I differentiate, as I said already elsewhere, experience and expression. Next, both I think as more or less culturally dyed. The latter, the dyeing, might also be broken down into concentric subparts which find their center in the always interacting nodal point, the individual. One of the more general, or more outer circles, circles of cultural dye is literacy. A more specific dye regards the cultures within the club of literacy. European vs. chinese etc. Experience is certainly not pure human, pure consciousness etc. So I, as you, think that there cannot be „experiences completely free of the effects of concepts.“ I mentioned Daniel Stern because from his findings one can glean very well that there is no pure perception in an adult – even if one goes ,down‘ to a perception I called, perhaps akwardly, „subsymbolic“.

    My main point I want to make is that if an individual has an experience, then this is for real – whatever she might name it. Even if, as you say, somebody „believes“ in a state of thought-free bliss, the very act of believing is real. This individual, as an autopoietic system, is in itself a reality generating system (and one may call it a subsystem in the ideological system which reigns). The generation of this certain reality can be transparent to the individual – it cannot see it. My whole point is, from a pedagogical standpoint if you want, that it is useless to insist that the individual should stop believing if it cannot see its act of believing – if it cannot see its „decision“.

    In this regard and in regard to your question it is perhaps not so much necessary to insist on generalizations and accurate definition of terms. It is, as I see it, more the interindividual process which counts. In an example like your exchange with Naked Monk, I would insist that the interlocutors stop using terms and notions they already have defined, loaded and ready to fire. The point is to search for new expressions. To hold the experience one wants to describe before ones inner eye and to try to find words for it which fit. Which fit somehow personally with a kind of resonance within oneself. Its kind of a poetic process. Sometimes, talking with others, somebody comes up with an expression which hits somehow a nerve in another person – it‘s the „Ah! that is what you mean!“ That is the point of mutual understanding – or where it begins. Talking about meditational experiences, this could be the point where real understanding could arise and could be developed further.

    As an example: The poem What by Samuel Beckett can resemble a certain experience for me. Other texts might do this with other experiences for other people. The work of an artists might be of much more help to come to terms with certain experiences than the theoretical works of psychologists, cognitive specialists, meditation teachers, gurus, lamas and so on. The only problem is, it is nothing special and nothing special is nothing one can sell for a lot of money.

    Apart from this process oriented approach in regard of thought and ,meditation‘ to find expression for experience there are of course a lot of states one could describe. How about the hypnagogic state which occurs before falling into sleep? One can prolong it with a little training and it is it really weird what appears here. Or what is with the difference of being carried away with a stream of thought and the attention one can focus on thoughts? A differentiation a lot of meditators will be aware of. This is a rich field which is good for some interesting phenomena. For example that a ,discrete‘ mental event tends to dissolve when attention is focused on it and then, subsequently, if one can hold this kind of attention, one can watch ,bubble up‘ the next mental event. Or what is with watching how the focus of attention is hopping here hopping there, from somebody in the kitchen working to the fly buzzing around to the thought „how long do I sit now?“, then mysteriously vanishing until I realize that I have been carried away? Or what is with all kinds of bodily awareness, awareness of sensations in the body? From hunger to a flatus developing to my tinntitus (is this a thought?). What is with all those techniques which influence the body? All those techniques which shift the activity in the nervous system from the sympathicus to the parasympathicus whereby the body (and the cognitive system) shifts from an activity mode in a regenerative mode. These are the techniques which are sold for a lot of money to people although they are more or less not very complicated. Autogenic training is around since same decades but MBSR is the buzzword now. Simple Hatha yoga (without all the bliss-kitsch) could do a lot for deep relaxation in a short time and thereby enhance wellbeing and with this the ability to interact in more reasonable and, oh I shouldn‘t say this, mindful way.

    Then also, we could simply say I practice „Sati“. I practice „Samtan“. I could give a description and go on. We could look at the wealth of terms and notions for practices in the different traditions and look if we can put them to work somehow. I know from the Tibetan traditions that there are plenty of terms for all kind of states and experiences which have to do with ,meditation‘. Why reduce them all to ,meditation‘. Although this option might be no good one because mahamudra and dzogchen are already sold out as meditation-pulp and terms like „rigpa“ stink anyway because they are trademarks for suckers.

    So maybe these examples in the last two paragraphs serve as what I think is a rich field of experiences which have to do with what is nowadays called ,meditation‘ but are in no way subsumed under the term – all the while it all has to with thought. Maybe in some fields of the cognitive sciences there are terms which name what I described partly above as some sorts of mental events. I don‘t know. I am grateful for any hint. What should be clear is that there is a great variability in mental activity but with poor taxonomy. Personally I hope to find more in the philosophies of mind – when I find time to delve in this area apart from catching up on Kant, Badious, Zizke, Lancan, Laruelle and other obscure entities which provoke frowning if I tell friends what I do with my time. But one thing seems sure to me. The outcome of operation „Renaming Meditation“ will result in something so normal, so common and so uninteresting that most x-buddhists will not be interested.

    @Luis Daniel, I come back to your question. I am off for the theater now.

  75. Tom Pepper Avatar


    Re 74: I agree it is a wast of time to tell somebody to stop “believing” until they can see the act of decision. This is like telling somebody to live without an ideology–if you think you are doing it, you are mistaken. What I would encourage, instead, is not to try to stop believing, but to try to START seeing the act of decision. This may help us change beliefs, but not get outside of them. We cannot stop having ideologies.

    I do like what you say about the poetic practice. This does seem to me to be Becket’s particular goal–to force language, to make experiences appear in language that have remained, perhaps, at the level of the imaginary/unconscious. So poetry become a kind of truth process, an attempt to make into a concept what we think but don’t know we think.

    I would love to see the day when meditation become something so uninteresting, so de-exoticized, that it no longer has any of the charismatic appeal it does today. Then, perhaps, it will be of some use.

  76. Mike Preston Avatar
    Mike Preston

    Tom (#69),

    Just a few thoughts (from-the-hip oversimplifications), on your polemical questions.

    Maybe many Buddhists today seem to be attached to this neuroscience of consciousness stuff beacuse neuroscientific theories, explanations, claims offer some power. Scientism offers a winning team; who would not want to join that? The brain science team really does dominate the league. A shallow understanding of some facts about brains and minds and buddhism might permit one to position oneself as an authority with implied access to the goodies that come down from being on a winning team.

    I’m not an expert on philosophy of science or buddhism, but I notice in my friends (real and/or imagined) who make a fetish out of neuroscientific claims, that they are often quick to use the claims to derive ought from is, where the ought is framed in terms of how the dharma ought to be practiced. I think scientific practice, at its best, is about maybes, is fallible, is only going to point to possibilities for decision.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I have only had one conversation about the naturalistic fallacy with a buddhist friend. If the buddha nature is revealed through neuroscience, then we’ll all be on a much faster track to, you know, um, like. Dare I say?

  77. Hundovir Avatar

    No 69

    Tom: “Occasionally, hey complain about me to the chair, or the dean, usually they just right really bad teacher evaluations.”

    Well, of course, when YOU do it, it’s just a “typo” I suppose.

  78. Tom Pepper Avatar

    Hundovir: yes, I make typos in these comments all the time. They are hard to edit, and can’t be changed after you hit “post.” So, wuts yer point? OH, I get, it, I’m an ENGLISH teacher–that means I have to be a great typist!! I forget that sometimes.

  79. Tom Pepper Avatar

    See what I mean–I can’t even get this to post correctly.

    Anyway, brilliant with there Hundovir, you’ve really devastated me. Of COURSE you’re right, the only thing I EVER give my student’s bad grades for is typos. I’ll go quit my job and hang my head in shame.

    You know, last night another teacher actually chided me for NOT pointing out a spelling error in a hand-written note somebody had left. “And you call your self and English teacher,” she said. I laughed, but she was serious. It’s sad, what people think English teachers do.

  80. Hundovir Avatar

    Tee-hee! You’re fun Tom! Wuts me point? Oh, I dunno – just maybe to give other people the leeway we give ourselves when we’re carried away with our enthusiasm.

  81. Tom Pepper Avatar

    Hmm. When have I ever been critical of anybodies typing, or even their grammar, on these or any other boards? I would hope I’ve never done that. If I have, I seriously do apologize, because it would be an asinine thing to do. I alway hope I give people lots of “leeway,” because this kind of communication is always a bit disorganize and rambling. So, seriously, if I ever have been critical of HOW someone said something instead of WHAT they said, then I apologize for being and idiot. Which I am sometimes capable of being.

  82. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Tom (#69). I really don’t want to kick up a shit storm on the crazy-making question of consciousness. But, when I was held captive by it a few years ago, the following essay by Dennett helped free me. In a word, he casts the entire question, particularly (and influentially, it seems) as formulated by Chalmers into the trash heap of scientific nonsense along with everyone’s great granddaddy’s favorite, “vtialism.” Now, I don’t anything about the topic, really. I don’t know if Dennett is at all reliable. I don’t care. I am just thankful that he helped me get that buzzing consciousness fly out of the bottle. So, I;ll just share it here without further comment. I linked to the piece at the bottom.


    Daniel C. Dennett
    Center for Cognitive Studies
    Tufts University
    MA 02155

    Journal of Consciousness Studies, 3 (1), 1996, pp. 4-6

    The strategy of divide and conquer is usually an excellent one, but it all depends on how you do the carving. Chalmer’s (1995) attempt to sort the `easy’ problems of consciousness from the `really hard’ problem is not, I think, a useful contribution to research, but a major misdirector of attention, an illusion-generator. How could this be? Let me describe two somewhat similar strategic proposals, and compare them to Chalmers’ recommendation.

    1. The hard question for vitalism

    Imagine some vitalist who says to the molecular biologists:

    The easy problems of life include those of explaining the following phenomena: reproduction, development, growth, metabolism, self-repair, immunological self-defence . . . These are not all that easy, of course, and it may take another century or so to work out the fine points, but they are easy compared to the really hard problem: life itself. We can imagine something that was capable of reproduction, development, growth, metabolism, self-repair and immunological self-defence, but that wasn’t, you know, alive. The residual mystery of life would be untouched by solutions to all the easy problems. In fact, when I read your accounts of life, I am left feeling like the victim of a bait-and-switch.

    This imaginary vitalist just doesn’t see how the solution to all the easy problems amounts to a solution to the imagined hard problem. Somehow this vitalist has got under the impression that being alive is something over and above all these subsidiary component phenomena. I don’t know what we can do about such a person beyond just patiently saying: your exercise in imagination has misfired; you can’t imagine what you say you can, and just saying you can doesn’t cut any ice. (Dennett, 1991, p. 281–2.)

    2. The hard question for Crock

    Francis Crick (1994) gives us an example of what happens when you adopt Chalmers’ distinction, when he says, at the close of his book on consciousness. `I have said almost nothing about qualia — the redness of red — except to brush it to one side and hope for the best.’ (p. 256.) But consider what would be wrong with the following claim made by an imaginary neuroscientist (Crock) substituting `perception’ for `qualia’ in the quotation from Crick: `I have said almost nothing about perception — the actual analysis and comprehension of the visual input — except to brush it to one side and hope for the best.’ Today we can all recognize that whatever came before Crock’s declaration would be forlorn, because not so many years ago this was a mistake that brain scientists actually made: they succumbed all too often to the temptation to treat vision as if it were television — as if it were simply a matter of getting `the picture’ from the eyes to the screen somewhere in the middle where it could be handsomely reproduced so that the phenomena of appreciation and analysis could then get underway. Today we realize that the analysis — the whatever you want to call it that composes, in the end, all the visual understanding — begins right away, on the retina; if you postpone consideration of it, you misdescribe how vision works. Crock has made a mistake: he has created an artifactual `hard’ problem of perception, not noticing that it evaporates when the piecemeal work on the easy problems is completed.

    Is it similarly a mistake for Crick, following Chalmers, to think that he can make progress on the easy questions of consciousness without in the process answering the hard question? I think so (Dennett, 1991). I make the parallel claim about the purported `subjective qualities’ or `qualia’ of experience: if you don’t begin breaking them down into their (functional) components from the outset, and distributing them throughout your model, you create a monster — an imaginary dazzle in the eye of a Cartesian homunculus (Dennett, 1995).

    Chalmers has not yet fallen in either of these traps — not quite. He understands that he must show how his strategic proposal differs from these, which he recognizes as doomed. He attempts this by claiming that consciousness is strikingly unlike life, and unlike the features of perception misconstrued by Crock: when it comes to consciousness, the hard problem is `almost unique’ in that it `goes beyond problems about the performance of functions.’ Almost unique? He gives us no other phenomena with this special feature, but in any case, what he says in support of this claim simply repeats the claim in different words:

    To see this, note that when we have explained the performance of all the cognitive and behavioural functions in the vicinity of experience . . . there may still remain a further unanswered question: Why is the performance of these functions accompanied by experience? A simple explanation of the functions leaves this question open. (Chalmers, 1995, p. 203.)

    Our vitalist can surely ask the same dreary question: Why is the performance of these functions accompanied by life? Chalmers says that this would be a conceptual mistake on the part of the vitalist, and I agree, but he needs to defend his claim that his counterpart is not a conceptual mistake as well.

    When he confronts the vitalist parallel head-on, he simply declares that whereas vitalist scepticism was driven by doubts about whether physical mechanisms could `perform the many remarkable functions associated with life’, it is otherwise with his scepticism:

    With experience, on the other hand, physical explanation of the functions is not in question. The key is instead the conceptual point that the explanation of functions does not suffice for the explanation of experience. (p. 209.)

    I submit that he is flatly mistaken in this claim. Whether people realize it or not, it is precisely the `remarkable functions associated with’ consciousness that drive them to wonder about how consciousness could possible reside in a brain. In fact, if you carefully dissociate all these remarkable functions from consciousness — in your own, first-person case — there is nothing left for you to wonder about.

    What impresses me about my own consciousness, as I know it so intimately, is my delight in some features and dismay over others, my distraction and concentration, my unnamable sinking feelings of foreboding and my blithe disregard of some perceptual details, my obsessions and oversights, my ability to conjure up fantasies, my inability to hold more than a few items in consciousness at a time, my ability to be moved to tears by a vivid recollection of the death of a loved one, my inability to catch myself in the act of framing the words I sometimes say to myself, and so forth. These are all `merely’ the `performance of functions’ or the manifestation of various complex dispositions to perform functions. In the course of making an introspective catalogue of evidence, I wouldn’t know what I was thinking about if I couldn’t identify them for myself by these functional differentia. Subtract them away, and nothing is left beyond a weird conviction (in some people) that there is some ineffable residue of `qualitative content’ bereft of all powers to move us, delight us, annoy us, remind us of anything.

    Chalmers recommends a parallel with physics, but it backfires. He suggests that a theory of consciousness should `take experience itself as a fundamental feature of the world, alongside mass, charge, and space-time.’ As he correctly notes, `No attempt is made [by physicists] to explain these features in terms of anything simpler,’ but they do cite the independent evidence that has driven them to introduce these fundamental categories. Chalmers needs a similar argument in support of his proposal, but

    when we ask what data are driving him to introduce this concept, the answer is disappointing: It is a belief in a fundamental phenomenon of `experience’. The introduction of the concept does not do any explanatory work. The evidential argument is circular. (Roberts, 1995, fn 8.)

    We can see this by comparing Chalmers’ proposal with yet one more imaginary non-starter: cutism, the proposal that since some things are just plain cute, and other things aren’t cute at all — you can just see it, however hard it is to describe or explain — we had better postulate cuteness as a fundamental property of physics alongside mass, charge and space–time. (Cuteness is not a functional property, of course; I can imagine somebody who wasn’t actually cute at all but who nevertheless functioned exactly as if cute — trust me.) Cutism is in even worse shape than vitalism. Nobody would have taken vitalism seriously for a minute if the vitalists hadn’t had a set of independently describable phenomena — of reproduction, metabolism, self-repair and the like — that their postulated fundamental life-element was hoped to account for. Once these phenomena were otherwise accounted for, vitalism fell flat, but at least it had a project. Until Chalmers gives us an independent ground for contemplating the drastic move of adding `experience’ to mass, charge, and space–time, his proposal is one that can be put on the back burner.

    Chalmers, David (1995), `Facing up to the problem of consciousness’, Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2 (3), pp. 200–19.

    Crick, Francis (1994), The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul (New York: Scribners).

    Dennett, Daniel (1991), Consciousness Explained (Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Co.).

    Dennett, Daniel (1995), `Our vegetative soul’ — review of Damasio, Descartes’ Error, in Times Literary Supplement, August 25, 1995, pp. 3–4.

    Roberts, John (1995), `Qualia and animal consciousness’, Center for Cognitive Studies working paper, 1995-#1, Tufts University (unpublished).


    Original source:

  83. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    Luis Daniel Re # 67

    Apart from my occasional rant I also prefer to let people talk their way and I tried to describe it in #74. To ask what someones experience is, as you say, is exactly what I mean. And also it is about a form of expression which is not prefabricated.

    I am not sure what you mean with your question about essentialism and poverty? I think you mean fixation on some certainty is a reason for essentialism. And the other way around, to be wealthy gives one the leeway to kick essentialism good by. Is it that what you mean?

    I have worked for long years the most capitalistic arena you can think of – the electronic futures markets at the Chicago CME – perhaps it is really like this: If you earn enough you can kick essentialism good by. But I really don‘t know if it as easy as this. It certainly is not true for other-worldly-escapism: Look at all the Richard Gere-like well off who walk with the lamas. They all believe in an afterlife although crude suffering in terms of malnutrition, shelter under the sky and no other right than to die like a mangy dog is not their karma.

    But anyway I don‘t know if I understood your question. Keep on asking. I‘ll give it another try.


  84. Tom Pepper Avatar

    Glenn, re: 82,

    I think Dennett does a good job of dismantling what was a bad proposal, but he still remains trapped in the consciousness problem himself. I would submit that once we get out of the atomist idea of “minds” as discrete entities, and recognize that “mind” and “consciousness” only arise once multiple beings begin to communicate in symbolic systems, and only exist IN those symbolic systems of communication, then the whole homunculus problem goes away. Of course, suggesting this means I am literally out of my mind.

  85. Tom Pepper Avatar

    One more thing, before I go off to my meditation practice. Somebody, I think it was Jayarava, said something about knowing many Buddhists who were no celebrity teachers who were very helpful. It often seems to me that the teachers who aren’t so interested in cultivating an adoring following and selling lots of books are a lot less likely to get really angry and hostile if I disagree with them, or ask a hard question. I wonder what that says about the way we pick our Buddhist teachers in the west. Celebrity status attracts insecure narcissists.

  86. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel


    It is just a historycally proben trend that from the seventeenth century onwards material wellbeing has changed the motivation of people from living for toher-wrodly beliefs to working thinking on generations to come. Peronal exception will always be there, and sadly the US is no example of a secular society – see sanctorum of rommey or even obama. Only ten percent of the pop there named themselves seculars. That is not the case in the older capitalistic economies in europe, where germany or france or sweeden have around 30 % or more of secularism within their populatations. I am not anti-capitalistic. Actually I thinks social democratic capitalism or liberal democracies are the least worse soscial systems on earth. I just think that the 20% percent richest inhabitants of the world who live out of the remaining 80% hammer the poor twice when they promote essentialism in any of its forms.

    Got to to have dinner out with my three kids.

  87. Robert Avatar

    Well Glenn, you get what you wish for. You want polemos, and here we are at comment 87, and still going strong. Surely a record for this blog.

    To the extent that meditation is still a topic in this thread… It is true that there are many different kinds of meditation. And it is true that rather than attack we should respect how people describe their experience, it has its own validity. However, I would reserve the right to argue with that description if it claims to be more than just the experience. The Naked Monk doesn’t claim that what he experiences feels as if it is beyond the conceptual, he claims that it is absolutely and objectively the case. And I think I should be able to say that I do not agree with that claim. Or that the various claims made in the various responses are not consistent. Or even that the claim doesn’t make sense from a plain english language perspective.

    Also, to describe your meditation experience in all its variety is not sufficient. It’s like describing the different kinds of weather one may encounter. Snow. Rain. Drizzle. Hail. (I am from Nova Scotia). Interesting, but so what?

    What I want to understand is: why do you meditate? What do you accomplish as a result of a particular meditation practice? And what is the mechanism? For example, why does paying attention to the breath directly of indirectly lead to insight in the empty nature of the world? Or why does it accomplish exactly nothing, which seems to be the Glenn variety? Or why does it make you calm, to take a less ambitious claim? And I say mechanism on purpose, I don’t mean technique.

    An extension of these questions pertinent to this non-buddhist blog is: what makes meditation a buddhist practice / what makes mediation not a buddhist practice?

    And now off to play the mandolin.

  88. Geoff Avatar

    Greetings to anyone who might be interested…

    Jayarava says:

    “@Geoff. Kia ora. I think one should at least aspire to not hurting people’s feelings on purpose. Sujato is just a human being in orange robes. I’ve found him an engaging correspondent.”
    Also he says “@Tom What I’m saying is that people take it personally when their views are undermined.”

    I agree but Sujato doesn’t present himself as just a human being in orange robes. (Isn’t that the whole point of the orange robes?)
    You might have a different perspective if, like me you only had a pretty basic understanding of Buddhism and had patiently listened to him at his Friday night talks for the better part of 18 months (taking away Vassa of course…)

    Sujato presents himself as a superior being who has figured out how to move beyond the everyday concerns of the rest of us by his profound understanding of the suttas and his intensive metta meditation practice. He certainly doesn’t present himself as someone whose feelings are easily hurt and “takes it personally when his views are undermined”. (If his feelings are still easily hurt, what has been the point of all the metta meditation he has been practicing and teaching for 20 years?)

    Like you, I would also find him an engaging correspondent if I had asked questions which interested him rather than more existential questions eg rebirth & why is Buddhism not just another faith based religion etc. Where’s all this compassion we kept hearing about ad naseum? He ignored my (and others) genuine questions to focus on your obscure academic queries about Babylon that the rest of us didn’t give a rat’s arse about. (And aren’t the monks supposed to be incommunicado during Vassa?)

    It’s all on his own terms. Pretty unimpressive stuff. Fair enough if he was a professor of ancient history but he present himself as a spiritual teacher we’re supposed to aspire to.

    I haven’t simply tried to take cheap shots and set out to hurt his feelings. But by being provocative (as Glenn and others have done) on his blog, Sujato has been exposed as being pretty ordinary like the rest of us.

    The usual questions Sujato gets on his blog are like the gentle underarm throws you did with your kids when they were about 3 years old. He is very rarely tested on questions that matter (ie non- Babylonian ones) and he keeps on getting away with half-baked answers. If he wasn’t so smug (and I hadn’t spent so much time giving him the benefit of the doubt) I wouldn’t care. That’s why Glenn’s approach appeals to me. What’s left after cutting away all the paraphernalia?

    PS: OK I confess – I actually do enjoy baiting him a bit –that the Aussie way – cutting people down to size….. Anyway he’s a big boy



  89. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    Indeed this thread is record breaking. Here just a few words to Luis Daniel #86 :

    Luis: „Working for the generations to come“ or to just to indulge oneself with luxury now with no thought for future generations, that is exactly the theme which Bernard Stiegler treats in his text I mention in Meditation and Control. What is clear is that the 20% you are speaking of – we – are robbing the planetary resources with no thought to how this will work out for future generations. The awareness about this problem is growing, but the problem is growing faster. The problems with the financial economy, by the way might help to solve the problem in an unexpected way – I mean a global breakdown of the financial currents and their reorganization will help to develop new orders in the political and economical sphere. But this will be very unpleasant and that the outcome will be better then the initial situation is by far not a given. In this regard I am a pessimist. I have been a voter for the german green party from their very beginning – until they were in their first national government in coalition with the Social Democrats. Then, ten years ago, I vowed never to vote green again. We are still the only country in europe, or the world?, where there is no speed limit on motorways. With such a limit we could save ten to thirty percent gasoline nationwide… but that‘s only a minor example and I could rant about this again and again and again.

    What Bernard Stiegler analyses is how this strange thing works, that we, knowingly, exploit the deposits of our descendants. We no longer work for future generations but only for the fulfillment of short term desire. The best example is ultra-short-term-trading in the financial markets where complete trades, opening and closing a position, come near the time horizon of split seconds. The twenty percent you name – we! – are nothing better than the colonial powers which met 1884 in Berlin – I hope Bismarck burns in hell forever – to partition Africa amongst themselves: We, the western world, are exploiting systematically the eighty percent of the rest of the world. (Pareto still rules it seems) Greenwashing is rampant. Any major energy company nowadays looks like Santa Claus painted green acting as the ultimate fairy of oh so good eco-karma, but the same companies… let‘s take a look at the kongo delta, has there been a problem in your golf of mexico lately?, a nuclear power plant simmering its melting core into the ground beneath because it had no electricity left after a tsunami… which was bigger than expected… simply drawned its backups… It was bigger than expected! Surprise, Surprise: A black swan! A Six-sigma-event!

    BTW, we have a huge magnetic sunstorm today. There is also one waiting in the future which is bigger than expected. This will be fun. A black out by a black swan.

    Maybe you are right that “social democratic capitalism or liberal democracies are the least worse soscial systems on earth.“. Our Máximo Líder, never mind Tom, surely will have another opinion on this. I am also not so sure if this is the case. The german market economy which was implemented by, among others, Ludwig Erhard after WWII, is at best a living dead. No more money (and a lot of problems which Erhard fifty years ago unlucky doesn‘t envisioned for his suck-cessors).

    Now enter the x-buddhist. As an old punk I now a bit about the spiritual forces behind the rock‘n roll thing, at least a bit. In the sixties and seventies there has been a certain Aleister Crowley who inspired quite a few minds. One could say a few words about this Sire from Warwickshire, but suffice it to say he was somewhat of an exalted mind with an antiestablishment attitude. Although he was not a conscious role model on everybodys revolting mind (Kick out the Jams!!!) he resembled the spirit of the time in a certain way. The freeing of sexuality, experimenting with so called drugs and so on. Ok, what role- model we have today? Of course: The holy man from the snowlands, Bob‘s and anybody’s else good friend when it comes to selling the dharma. He seems perfect. He, or what is left of him when the marketing guys worked his appearance, preaches nothing like this dirty thing: Sex & Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll. He, or better his www-avatar, his facebook-remnants, his tweets for the karmically not so challenged, he in his role as the pawn of the powerful preaches holy complacency. That is the Zeitgeist! No revolution any more. Even a guy like the singer of a band named Metallica laments lamely about reincarnation and that he is at least half a buddhist because he believes in coming again.

    I want to say Crowley vs. Dalai Lama is the perfect picture of the change of Zeitgeist. The Dalai Lama as role model for the x-buddhist forms the subject of the control society: willingly and blissfully sedated away in a dream which ever only reflects the wishful thinking of a Shangri-la, while the bad boys from the dark ages of the world after WWII, think of the so called Beat Generation too, had something other on their mind. Something totally different. The drowsy calmness of x-buddhism definitely was not on their agenda.

    Ok, that‘s enough for now. But, Luis, I still do not get what exactly you mean with „essentialism“. What „essentialism“ the 20% promote. Can you give some examples?

    Robert re your #87, I‘ll have some words on this soon… I hope.


  90. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Geoff (#88), Jayarava (#68), Tom (#69).

    These three comments are related in that they ask and/or answer a crucial question regarding dialogue and polemics. The question seems to be along the lines of: what are the speech limits, where are the interpersonal boundaries, in dialogue? The question has something to do with the possibility of transgressing our unspoken rules of social decorum: we just don’t use certain tones of voice in talking to others; it’s simply not nice to hurt someone’s feeling’s, whether intentionally or not; we must take others’ feelings in consideration, and so on. Add to these general social rules of inter-personal relations those of x-buddhism–be compassionate, show loving kindness, treat all beings like they were once your mothers, etc.–and what you get as x-buddhist discussion is something on a continuum from a nice mutual admiration to nasty nit-picking about details. Either ways, it’s stuck in the dharmic mire.

    I think that Geoff makes a very important point: in his very manner of dress and speech, in his hierarchical position, in, in a word, his rhetorics of display, Bhikkhu A, Sensei B, Roshi C, Tulku D, Meditation Teacher E, Minister F, Reverend G, and all the rest of them are inviting us to forgo the society-wide rules of exchange. Of course, they want us to do so in one direction–upwards. Everything about their display says, I am a spiritual authority. Give accordingly. Give me respect, give me money, give me the benefit of the doubt, give me the last word in the matter, give up your doubts, giver over your thinking and reasoning. They may not say such things explicitly; but such things, and much more, in their self-presentation. In this regard, my old post “Buddhists of Oz” is relevant.

    Jayarava, you may see Bhikkhu so-and-so as “just a human being in orange robes,” but most won’t. Most don’t want to see him that way. That’s why the whole charade keeps on going. In x-buddhist communities we find very specific forms of action, gesture, dress, speech, naming, idea expression, social organization, teacher-student relations, and so on. These are all, moreover, ritualized. As such, they become the habit-forming modes that, once sufficiently adopted by the person, constitute inclusion of that person in an ideologically-driven community. So, you “just” really only represents a failure of ritual to do its intended work, which, in the case of orange robes, is to re-order relationships, establish a hierarchy, confer authority, and much more.

    What I see Geoff doing is continually calling into question the legitimacy of the scale of forms that gets arranged by what I call the rhetorics of display. Now, since those rhetorics suggest–no blare out–that what is at stake is no less than matters of absolutely crucial human knowledge (enlightenment, the afterlife, freedom from pain), my question to you, Jayarava, is: why place any limit whatsoever on what is allowed in getting to the heart of things? And by “the heart of things,” I don’t mean “the Truth.” I mean, whether or not Bhikkhu A is full of shit or not; whether he has anything to offer his interlocutor other than the assurances of ancient scripture, etc.

    When I see Tom’s words here–the one’s people call rude and mean, etc–I much more often than not see someone at work who takes seriously the stakes that the interlocutor claims for his/her position. Maybe the gentle ersatz-Buddha of the Lotus Sutra can lull his boys out of the burning house with sweet promises of toys. But would it also have been acceptable for him to yell, Get the hell out of their–now, goddamit! What you’re doing in there is really fucking stupid! Move! I’d say, man that ersatz-Buddha really loves those boys.

    Here’s one of my rules of dialogue. Before writing, before speaking, ask who or what is served by my (a) keeping silent, (b) writing/speaking (c) doing so gently or diplomatically, (d), doing so forcefully? Usually, it’s to the benefit of some authoritative person or minority group that benefits from (a) and (c). Usually, (b) and (d) get something happening for the others. Usually.

    In other words, in our exchanges with one another, what force of language is necessary for it to even be a genuine exchange–for something beyond the status quo to happen?

  91. Mike Preston Avatar
    Mike Preston

    Robert (#87),

    Great Questions! And you’re a picker, too? I bet that someone could pull together some kind of rockin’ string band from the ranks of this bunch (with many a ready-made band name).

    You ask:

    What I want to understand is: why do you meditate? What do you accomplish as a result of a particular meditation practice? And what is the mechanism? For example, why does paying attention to the breath directly of indirectly lead to insight in the empty nature of the world? Or why does it accomplish exactly nothing, which seems to be the Glenn variety? Or why does it make you calm, to take a less ambitious claim? And I say mechanism on purpose, I don’t mean technique.

    What is the mechanism? The best I can give to that is a just-so story, an ad hoc (odd hack!) fable, neither verifiable nor falsifiable, etc. The story isn’t about the one mechanism; I think there are probably many. The story is about me; I might as well turn it into a source of narcissistic supply, right? Also,

    So, I was born without many complications, to a loving mother and father. I was healthy, hungry, and developing. Like any baby (some are more neurotypical than others), I had this built in thoroughly social tendency, to learn. I was innately physically predisposed to seek attunement (love, full belly, comfort, warmth, etc.), and when I found it (and got the sweet calories that often come with it) I learned. I learned to perceive and mirror my mom’s (mostly) intentional states (her facial expressions and the sounds she made) by acting on my body through motor acts. Why do young children cry when they see other young children crying? Thus I came to do things like speak, and learn to read, and I thereby joined a language community, because I was loved, and I had these “mirror-neurons” which somehow coordinated with my motor neurons and kept me on the path.

    Later, when I was an older kid, I learned form my environment (which included many kind and helpful teachers, and some not-so-kind, nor helpful) about mindfulness meditation practices (mindfulness of the breath and body) and some concepts like anicca, anatta and dhukka, and through some coordination of concentration and diffusion of attention I have learned about how my physical/mental states like calmness, loving-kindness, jhana absorption, etc. , are a function of my material conditions, which include the old mirror neurons. My meditation practice is all about looking for good times, while remaining aware of the lies I have been told, and have chosen to entertain, about what I’ll be given if I just do get the hell out of the burning building, or kick the ladder, or put down the duckie.

    Okay, not much of a just-so story (it is my first draft). But I do get a kick out of the whole “mirror neuron-mindfulness hypothesis.” I look forward to reading more out of that research program. But for now, all I need is to hear some mando music.

  92. Mike Preston Avatar
    Mike Preston

    Here’s a self-referential palliative for disingenuous duckies.

  93. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    One of the things one can learn from trading financial markets is to take the view of the opposite position. If you are good at it, that is. For every trade there is a counter party. If I sell, somebody has to buy. That is simplistic but it‘s the basic rule. Trading is nothing but exchange. Perhaps the same should go for polemics. Somehow there has to be an exchange of ideas. Otherwise it becomes something like solipsism – with the main attribute that it has no argument, only opinion. So it might be better to abstain from hot blooded debate which looses control about its weapons and to remind oneself that cold blooded wrath or even the semantic equivalent of a surgical scalpel is better than simply fly into a rage – what, in the last instance, only weakens ones position in the battle field. One should remember, the gateway to Troja was not opened by force. But Hybris still was with cunning Ulysses – and I think it is al too easy to fall prey to this temptation if we allow ourselves to indulge in narcissistic arrogance. I did it myself here in #50. Although I could argue that I still argue in that post.

    But to stay with the metaphor of the battle field: Polemos without an argument is like Achilleus calling for Hector wearing only his underpants, a wooden sword in one hand, threatening him with a cane in the other. Ridiculous indeed. On the other side an unarmored man offering his argument without any polemical weaponry demands respect in any case.

    With this in mind, I have to say, without any further classicistic undulations, that I read Jayarava‘s #70 in a way very much opposed to Tom‘s opinion in his #73.

    First of all. If there is an attempt to a plausible psychoanalytic argument in these two posts then it is in Jayarava‘s – although he might mean it otherwise because he points to G. Lakoff, not to Freud. But anyway, that the prototype of the father has become Homer Simpson and that the leaders of mainstream buddhism resemble such feeble non-starters is not the worst observation about the problem of x-buddhism we are here talking about. And indeed, it is quite a polemic opinion. All the more it is supported by argument. But: The thrust of Jayarava‘s argument does not go into crushing the opponent but to develop a satisfying human connection. I would recommend to read his post with this hermeneutical starting point. Moreover, whoever read „Jayarava‘s Raves“ can see that he is one of the very view buddhists who really contribute to a critical discussion of buddhism. He for example not simply attempts to re-connote buddhist notions, what seems the way most sceptic buddhists go because they do not really want the Zombie go overboard , instead he gives real food for thought – for example in questioning the origins of the original buddhist thought.

    As to Tom‘s #73, I was thinking if I should at all react to this post. I find, in a way, it just turns against Tom himself. Certainly it is not a Freudian interpretation of Jayarava‘s text. It might lead very much more to an interoperation of your motivation,Tom, for ranting like mad from time to time. But are we in here for analyzing each other? Not me, I am not sitting behind the couch. The one thing this post does for sure is that it undermines your otherwise well supported positions. Also I cannot distinguish it from a simple ad hominem. It is just another rant. Ironically Jayarava mentions G. Lakoff and I learn that the latter‘s work is about findingthe better metaphor . That would be really an avenue to pursue for us here – although it may not be in the Saussureian-Lacanian-Althusserian way of formulating a view on ideology.

    In the fields in which I have no knowledge I want to learn from anybody who is more knowledgeable but I give a shit for polemics without argument. I always loved good polemics – together with irony, sarcasm, black humor, playing with words, playing with the meanings of words, confusing others intentionally – but also with an eye at the moment of truth, the tiny little light in the eyes of someone when one hits the spot. But this one moment, I have to side Jayarava here without fuss or quibble, finds a much better environment when one tries to establish a satisfying human connection. This latter could be of much more value here in this discussion about non-buddhism than it would seem, for that is exactly what is mostly lacking in the relation between a person who wants to learn about, let‘s say, ,meditation‘ and a guru who nothing but pretends about his hidden causal essence. To put it clearly what I mean, a satisfying human connection excludes a hidden causal essence. It excludes spinelessness acolyticality. But this also means, in terms of polemos, to convince rather to abash and to hack to pieces the opponent. To convince means to put forward evidence… Oh, gosh!, I realize everybody knows this already. Very good. Then I go on to something else: Eternal Life!

  94. Tom Pepper Avatar


    I want to respond quickly to your post—I may try to say more later. First, my response was a sort of ad hominem attack, in that I was addressing the motives of Jayarava’s post; however, motive was in fact the content of his post (suggesting that those of us who attempt thought are only motivated by denial of a father complex). I am not taking the kind of ad hominem approach that says “Jayarava is an evil person so we can ignore his argument,” which would be an invalid argument, and anyway I wouldn’t know such a thing. I am responding to the question of the motive for a specific statement, though, and this is one meaning of ad hominem, right? However, he did open the door on this one, by offering a psychoanalytic interpretation of the motives of others.

    Secondly, I would absolutely never want to model polemic on the stock market. Why would be model the pursuit of truth on this most extreme version of the perpetuation of the delusion, the attempt to perpetuate the illusion of exchange value to extract a bit more luxury from the horrendous oppression of others? This is not my goal in polemics. When Jayarava acts the part of the reactionary subject, trying to smother thought and truth with the big soft pillow of “human contact,” I would insist that we do not need to persuade, but smash the attempt.

    Anyway, I’m in the middle of a pile of work right now–I’ll try to respond more clearly later.

  95. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    Tom, just a note. I don’t want to “model” polemic exchange of ideas, debat, discourse on a financial market. It is about “taking a position”. In every case this is a decision. If it is for a scientific debate, pro or con the hard problem, or if it is about a position about an investment, very often cognitive biases are involved in our decision pro or con a position. All I want to say is, it is instructive to take into consideration the opponents arguments for his position. It’s about being the advocatus diaboli.

  96. Erik Avatar

    Re Tom (#94)

    What you did in your exchange with Jayarava is actually the opposite of what you think you did. You just revealed yourself to be a small-minded intellectual bully, (maybe Jayavaras little shit would be even better) with a rabid hate for anything that resembles openness, humanness or softness in general. You’d call it weakness I guess.

    Unless of course you were just playing all along. In that case I applaud you on doing a fine parody.

    There’s a Swiss psychologist by the name of Arno Gruen who does a great job at unraveling behaviour like yours. I propose you read one of his books. It would do wonders for your writing.

  97. Tom Pepper Avatar


    Thanks so much for your open, human, and soft comments. Please, feel free to “unravel” my behavior. Enlighten me. Personally, I haven’t got time to waste on all those idiot “psychoanalysts” who spent decades denying the insights of Freud. But if you do, please, share your insights.

  98. Tom Pepper Avatar

    I want to try one more time.

    Can we all just grant that I am, in fact, a horrible, petty, small-minded, stupid, mean, cruels person, my motive are pure evil and everything I ever say, true or not, is only an angry rant intended to inflict suffering on the kind and open-minded. Okay, this is clear enough now. My email is available on the site, and a link to my facebook page, so, could all future invective be directed to me personally, so as to stop deflecting from actual polemic? I promise to read every attack carefully and be devastated by each and every one.

    Here’s a polemical question: can we accept the basic tenets of Buddhism and still participate in capitalism? Or what about responding to Robert’s question about meditation?

    The idea of “polemic” here reminds me of the old Monty Python sketch about the argument clinic.

  99. Erik Avatar

    Hi Tom,

    One more off topic comment.
    I never said my comments were human, open, or soft. Well, there are human I guess.
    You said you preferred open hostility to a twisted mask of kindness, so I thought I’d give you that. Granted, they didn’t amount to anything useful.

    As for Freud, I haven’t read him. If I remember right he’s the one that thought our instincts were supposed to be sublimated by society right? This as the peak of human health? Brrrrrr.
    Anyway, I do love Wilhelm Reich to bits. His “listen little man” is available online somewhere. That’s the best bit of polemic I can remember reading so far.


  100. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Matthias (#74). I just wanted to highlight a few remarks that you made in this comment, just for the record, so to speak.

    About what “thinking” names. (That question is more of a hovering rather than explicit one, maybe.) I had a conversation with someone just last night about this issue. We had been discussing the problem with Chalmer’s “hard problem” non-problem. Anyway, she made some comment about how meditation allows experience beyond thought. I said that that’s not the case for me. I am always thinking, I said. She said she can have experience while not thinking. So then I said, let’s do Wittgenstein’s experiment. Somewhere, in Philosophical Investigations, maybe, he says if you want to know what thinking is, think, and then see what it is you’re doing. He’s doesn’t mean, of course, that you will thereby have discovered the platonic form behind the noun. He warns, of course, that our minds get confused when presented with a noun because they then assume that where there’s a noun there must be a thing. Anyway, that experiment allowed my conversation partner and I to see where our disagreement about “thought” and “thinking” lay. She, it turned out, wanted only the discursive stream of words, the internal chatter, to count as thinking. She also allowed for intentional thought, as when we turn something over in our minds or do a math problem. She said that when all of that sort of cognition ceases, as it does sometimes in meditation (she said), she has clear, non-conceptual experience. When I asked her to describe what she meant by that latter term, she then presented a state of affairs that I would still consider thinking. It had to do with “experience” of the sensory world. But I said that, for me, I recognize that I am still categorizing, still naming, however, subtly, still organizing the data of experience. She said, oh, you consider all brain activity “thinking” then. And I ahd to wonder whether this was, in fact, the case (in my conceptualization, or even in fact.). In good Wittgensteinian fashion, we came away from that discussion knowing not what “thinking” and “thought” are, but only what one another, well, thinks they are. I concur with you “it is nothing special” re “meditation” because, like “thinking” it says that we are fully loaded as human beings at all times, and that different activities permit modulations of our apparatus, but on an economy of scale, not of forms.

    it is useless to insist that the individual should stop believing if it cannot see its act of believing – if it cannot see its „decision“.

    I am working up Laruelle’s idea of “the stranger subject” to offer some initial ideas for how we might think of the non-buddhist “subject. It is meant to contribute to an answer for questions such as: What is the point of one’s recognizing the x-buddhistic decisional act? What is gained? What is lost? Does “recognizing the decisional act” amount to yet another promise of enlightenment—a non-buddhist enlightenment? Does it merely constitute a new specular vantage point from which to craft our wise pronouncements vis à vis the world? In short, how might we characterize the person for whom x-buddhistic representation is rendered transparent? Again, I hope that Laruelle’s concept of the “stranger subject” may prove helpful in this regard.

    In short: If the non-buddhist stranger subject has a motto, it might be this: “sabotage all x-buddhistic representation!” (adapted from: The Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection). Laruelle says that “The Strangers are radical subjectivities.” For Laruelle, some Y is “radical” if it correlates not with some system of representation, but with “the real.” Representation is always excessively transcendental; real correlates are always minimally so. So, whereas representational Y “follows the syntax of,” in our terms, x-buddhism, real Y–as concept, not entity–is transcendentally minimalistic, hence, follows “the syntax of the Real.” (“The Real,” it is important to note, but too much to expound on here, is neither the object of science nor the empirically verifiable environment. It is, in Larualle’s unique usage, “axiomatic.” It is posited without position, given without givenness, and so on–for how could it possibly be granted position or given? To do so is to once again pile up excessive transcendental representation. But note, too, that one of the “first names” of the Real is “lived.” “The real” is obviously a crucial element of the theory; so, more explanation is coming.) Stranger subjects are thus radicalized subjects, in the Laruellean sense, and not “persons, individuals or subjects in the technical transcendental sense of the word.” “Subject” as aspect of philosophical decision (as philosopheme) creates yet another split between person and world in their immanent aspects. Laruelle wants to avoid this “estrangement,” and instead affirm unilaterally (from the side of the real only, for to add another side is to rev up transcendence once again) the “irreconcilable difference between the (mute) real and the (linguistic) subject,” which affirmation also affirms “the lived reality of the radical estrangement as taking place in the Real. The lived is what takes place on–or makes–the plane of the Real” (that last quote if from Katerina Kolozova, “The Figure of the Stranger”). The stranger subject is made, in short, says Laruelle of “the sheer lived.”

    I know: a lot of work to do still–just some raw food for thought. (And, no, Joop, this is not “French philosophy.” It’s called thinking.)

    it is perhaps not so much necessary to insist on generalizations and accurate definition of terms. It is, as I see it, more the interindividual process which counts.

    This idea will keep us “real,” in the sense above as well as in the colloquial sense. I always say to the people who come to my silent sitting group–particularly to those people who are searching for answers: This dialogue we are engaged in in all we have. There’s nothing left over to take home with you. This interaction between us is it.

    The point is to search for new expressions. To hold the experience one wants to describe before ones inner eye and to try to find words for it which fit. Which fit somehow personally with a kind of resonance within oneself. Its kind of a poetic process.

    I often think I am making more “progress” in this regard over at Ovenbird. That blog arose from my growing suspicion that in looking to x-buddhism as a partner in thought and dialogue I have been looking in the wrong place. People like Beckett and Trakl and Bataliie seem to offer so much more. Thoreau’s keep your language close to the bone, for instance, shows up there.

    The only problem is, it is nothing special and nothing special is nothing one can sell for a lot of money.

    I want to open a shop, a storefront on a fancy shopping street, that sells nothing. Or would it sell “nothing”? The customer would walk in, and find–nothing. Rather than browse my aisles of nothing, I’d say, have a seat, right on the floor. And we’d do nothing (sorry Robert). Well, we’d hold our bodies still, breathe, and allow attention to hover around the breathing body. Don’t you think I could earn a lot of money that way?

    How about the hypnagogic state which occurs before falling into sleep?

    I am excited about these kinds of suggestions. One reason is that they try to place “meditation” back on, and firmly on, the scale of economy I mentioned earlier. Maybe that’s not a good term–I mean to suggest a continuum where all the human apparatus is at all time present and operative, but in varying degrees of animation.

    Lot’s more in your comment. For instance:

    Although this option might be no good one because mahamudra and dzogchen are already sold out as meditation-pulp and terms like „rigpa“ stink anyway because they are trademarks for suckers.

    The outcome of operation „Renaming Meditation“ will result in something so normal, so common and so uninteresting that most x-buddhists will not be interested.

    But that’s enough for now.

    Thanks, Matthias!

  101. Robert Avatar

    About including a personal dimension when engaging in polemics, on this blog in particular. I believe it is at times inevitable, justified even, but also full of pitfalls. As Glenn argues elsewhere: the decision to become and remain a buddhist isn”t entirely rational.  If you indeed believe that the decision is psychologically charged then how can you keep this psychological dimension out of the argument that questions that very decision?  

    Of course, this psychological dimension then raises a variety of tricky questions and cautions.  The fundamental problem is that we are ultimately dealing with sensitive issues speaking to integrity. This became apparent to me when a while back I had an exchange with Glenn about meditation, in particular about whether the notion of ‘just sitting’ even makes sense.  Glenn and I agreed that talking about ‘just sitting’ in the usual x-Buddhist context is suspect, for a variety of reasons.  But then Glenn argued that when he just sits, Glenn being a non-Buddhist makes everything different.  I felt like saying that I just don’t believe that, that I think he is fooling himself, that in this he is in fact a crypto-buddhist, and so on.  But that is a difficult argument to make without hurting people’s feelings, and furthermore, you can never win because you can’t prove it.  And consequently I am not all that sure that I am right in my suspicion, or wrong for that matter.  So then what do you do?  

    Similarly, the argument was made earlier to cut the Naked Monk some slack because after all he has been a long-time meditator, and so he can’t be entirely wrong at least about how he experiences his practice.  Funny thing is, I am also a long-time meditator, but frequently out to lunch even about my very own experience.  Long time this or that is much like wearing a robe, it makes no difference when it comes to the validity of an opinion.  Part of my insistence that we explain the mechanisms underlying meditation is that I want people to recognize that there is more going on than just the meditation itself.  Sitting may be like paying your membership dues, showing to yourself and the world that you are rally convinced of Buddhist or non-Buddhist truths, and beneficial results of meditation may be more imaginary than real.  Same theme, same psychological dimension, same ultimate question on how you settle these issues. How do you call people on this possibility?

    Well, the rational argument doesn’t go away.  I found the Naked Monk presenting one flawed rationale after the other, and that all on its own established that he certainly hadn’t done a lot of real thinking about his old and predictable opinions. It didn’t feel authentic, to use another integrity-like term.  But we also need to recognize that frequently our arguments on this blog inherently have a psychological dimension, and that these arguments therefore aren’t immune from an attack that may quickly become personal and unpleasant.  Unpleasant but fair game.

    Just keep this in mind, sticks and stones, you know the rest.  And they’re just strangers saying these nasty things, it’s not like Tom is your father…



  102. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Robert (#101). Thanks for that thoughtful comment.

    It is a good reminder that “we also need to recognize that frequently our arguments on this blog inherently have a psychological dimension.” Jayarava’s comment #70 made that point explicit in a quite personal way. Is “personal,” come to think of it, the non-technical term for what you have in mind? It does the trick for me. A motto: All genuine polemics are personal. And since I advocate for extending what we allow ourselves and others in terms of personal expression, that means: Polemical encounters are risky.

    But we should also recognize that our reception of an argument is similarly laden with a personal, psychological dimension. That is what I see coming out on this blog and elsewhere as soon as some unspoken limit for personal expression has been transgressed. All of a sudden, the elements of an argument get lost in the (real or perceived) emotional tone of the comment. It’s true that I am making things difficult for myself by asking, say Dick Santorum, to explain his position on women’s health care by saying, in a voice that drips with the disdain with which I hold the man, I think your attack on women’s health issues is fucking idiotic; and here’s why, you detestable cocksucker . . . But, I’d want to express it that way because I’d want to communicate my disdain as an aspect of my question. That approach might not be politically skillful, but it has integrity. I’d even say of all my choices, it’s the most ethical.

    I’d also like to comment on this:

    Of course, this psychological dimension then raises a variety of tricky questions and cautions. The fundamental problem is that we are ultimately dealing with sensitive issues speaking to integrity. This became apparent to me when a while back I had an exchange with Glenn about meditation, in particular about whether the notion of ‘just sitting’ even makes sense. Glenn and I agreed that talking about ‘just sitting’ in the usual x-Buddhist context is suspect, for a variety of reasons. But then Glenn argued that when he just sits, Glenn being a non-Buddhist makes everything different. I felt like saying that I just don’t believe that, that I think he is fooling himself, that in this he is in fact a crypto-buddhist, and so on. But that is a difficult argument to make without hurting people’s feelings, and furthermore, you can never win because you can’t prove it. And consequently I am not all that sure that I am right in my suspicion, or wrong for that matter. So then what do you do?

    If I remember correctly, you did say those things that, if I understand correctly, you are suggesting you only thought. I hope you did–or would. Those are good points. I can’t for the life of me see how someone’s feelings could get hurt in being asked, and accused of, such matters. As you say in your comment, given what we’re up to here, it’s fair game. It may indeed be difficult to make such an argument without hurting people’s feelings, but surely those feelings are worth being risked, given, again, that we claim to be discussing issues that are important to our lives. I will sacrifice any good feeling I have for myself for the sake of glimpsing into one of my blind spots.

    Thanks, Robert!

  103. Robert Avatar

    Glenn, re 102  Excellent response.  And yes, I did make these exact personal arguments about your so called just sitting, and no, I never worried about you walking away insulted.  Sorry if I seemed to suggest that I was somehow trying to tippy toe around your feelings.  My point was how at times the personal aspect needs to become part of the argument, especially on this blog.  And clearly you don’t mind, and agree. Others here seem to believe that the personal should not be introduced. I was reacting to those.    

    The second part of this reasoning – and this is a bit of a new realization for me – is how introducing the personal makes these arguments more difficult to settle.  Maybe even impossible. It does boil down to personal integrity when all is said and done.  Not for all arguments here, but for many. Glenn’s Barry Magid Flinching post comes to mind.  Flinching, e.g. not having integrity.

    But then again maybe the objective of polemics of this type is not for the argument to get settled, but for the participant to consider new points of view, including somewhat personal aspects.  And that also shifts some of Jayarava’s point about how individual polemics seldom really change anything (70).  Not true, they may well change the polemicist. That’s my experience. Anybody want to doubt my integrity?

  104. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    Robert: re #87 and #101.

    A last one about Naked Monk. He speaks (#33) about slowing the mental chatter. As he was trained for a long time in the Tibetan gelug-tradition I take it as a given that he knows what shiné is – calm abiding. After all the shiné-practice isn‘t at all such a new thing. Also it is clear from everyday experience that there are very agitated cognitive states, muted ones, dull ones, composed ones etc. It is no special thing, again, to slow mental chatter. What I wanted to say is that, besides his wording!, I give him the benefit of doubt that he knows what he is talking about.

    Coming to your question Robert – Why do you meditate?(#87) – If you asked me, I never looked for ,meditation‘ as something which would lead to insight in the empty nature of the world. I never thought about ,enlightenment‘, never! I also have no idea how I should help stop ,suffering‘ (responsibility, yes). I always saw the bodhisattva vow, which is so en vogue in trivialized and commodified tibetan buddhism, as hubris – for the narcissus to blow up himself as the savior. I never went to meditation groups (apart from retreats with certain teachers). Practicing what I practice was always for me. Notions like dukkha, bodhi etc. all are buzz-words. I wanted to know what it would be like to practice what these guys have written about. It is exactly the other way around: To be interested in what happens phenomenally and not to take a notion about the empty nature of the world as a description of something which has to be achieved. This maybe is the one great trap.

    I once met a guy in a buddhist center and we came into contact speaking about this and that. As the conversation went on we touched the practice called shiné. Now, in the mahamudra-literature one finds frequently a metaphor about the development of the practice. It is about a river or stream which is at first a wild torrent. Over several intermediate steps the torrent finally changes into the waters of a clear, smooth lake whose surface is broken from time to time by a jumping fish. The cognitive state which the last picture represents is, the holy ones assure us, quite some achievement. My interlocutor at some point began talking about this achievement. Finally I realized that he was talking about visualizing this picture and that he thought this to be the practice!

    Taking the metaphor as the thing itself. That is somewhat like the decision, isn‘t it? The same goes for sitting may be like paying your membership dues showing to yourself and the world that you are rally convinced of Buddhist or non-Buddhist truths (#101). One has to be honest to oneself. Why am I doing this? (btw, I would exclude „non-Buddhist truths“ here because, as I see it, non-buddhism per definition un-installs the possibility of auto-pretentious praxis.) I want to see what happens if I set into motion certain practice guidances. I very much come from the immanent side, I would say. Of course it is tricky to read a practice manual and then to practice, of course the result may be (in)formed in a way, but it is possible to through overboard transcendental notions and to look and see what happens.

    One has to see for oneself. That‘s true. But it must not be an excuse to not to try to talk about it. For example: In recalling, in memory, psychologists know well the phenomenon of fake-remembrances. It is the phenomenon that the autobiographical memory can contain recollections which never happened. The phenomenon seems to originate from the need to generate a coherent autobiographical narration. Now, it is one thing to theorize about this, it is another to really come to a point to feel the insecurity which comes with a realization of this fact: I cannot even be sure about the ,facts‘ of my own life. That‘s quite a point which has to do with the contingency of singular, individual personhood – it is the reality that I myself could be a narration and when one digs deeper the realization that I am narration. Perhaps that also touches the point Tom makes when experience becomes sort of like schizophrenia (2nd last paragraph). Also this insecurity might be at work in what Glenn describes as meditation that puts us in a difficult position and makes us think again about how things are.

    In regard of your question – what do you accomplish? (#87)– I see this as an result while I cannot say that this is the result of a particular practice. One point is perhaps that it is necessary to be able to confront such openings into the disparate. Here I also would say that control society hinders in such undertakings because we are required to design ourselves as flexible, disposable and customizable, experiencing this as the great freedom of postmodern 21. century society – but in being such free entities we have to assure us permanently that everything is coherent, fits together, the ends meet, no cracks or non-linearities appear. Hence the growing need for products that allow identification and whereby one can build a coherent auto-biographical narration. The ultimate service-industry today is the one which provides the subject with the means to build its identity. The opening into the disparate is very dangerous in this regard because it allows one to disconnect from the dream-machine. But the picture is additionally complicated because there is the romantic notion of an original condition, which saturates x-buddhism as an ultimate means to regain primordiality. So what happens when the dream-machine has a power-failure? Is this then the end of alienation and the coming home to the primordial ground? I think the search for insight into the empty nature of the world can also be an expression of this (other) dream. Somehow x-buddhists feel that ends are not meeting, but instead of getting rid of the decisional syntax of postmodern 21. century society, they just exchange it with the romantic idea of the primordial ground of being, of a mysterious state of enlightenment and the like.

    The result is something which originates more in honesty, in being straightforward to oneself and less in a technique or a mechanism. Why am I doing this? How? Perhaps even the question for a mechanism is a result of the service-industries which produce the impression everything is solvable through technique. There are certain techniques which can produce in a mechanical way certain results. Rhythmic breathing, pranayama, can produce something. I mentioned Hatha Yoga and Autogenic Training. If you ask for the mechanism you certainly can find out in detail how relaxation happens – if that is what you mean with your question mechanism on purpose? Do I get your question right? You want to know how the mechanism works which fosters calmness?

    For me it is about breathing, it‘s about a cognitive stance I take, it‘s about a signal which goes through me body and fosters muscular relaxation (and probably a whole lot more). The main point seems to be that I change my whole bodily-cognitive stance. It has a lot to do, I presume, because I never went to a mind lab with Matthieu Ricard, with an mental attitude which very much is the thing itself, not a pointer to something. It has to do with a lot of training (the gym). It is not an automation. It is conscious and deliberate but not willfully in the sense of directing an intention on something… or perhaps it is an imploding intention pointing to itself. It is very much a falling back into this cognition of presence as such. It‘s not exclusively about sitting with a special attitude – although I have to do it to keep my form. I do it now, to get a handle on how to describe it. It is very satisfying and I can even measure it through the heart frequency variability. At the same time it is not the reason why I try to do what Kant formulated as enlightenment [as] man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity.

    This state, I am sure, has more to do with endorphins and less with some empty nature. The kant-state has more to do with a character trait. Why didn‘t I went to Poona in the eighties? Well, me dancing around grinning with a mala of Bagwahn? Impossible! I produced a fanzine when I was eighteen, the titel was Antidogmin. Probably it‘s in my genes. Perhaps good karma from former lives, some good fairy, pure chance or total ideological delusion.

    Ok, that was again only describing experience. You mention it is not sufficient to describe meditation experience in all its variety (#87). Well, (in #74) I don‘t describe meditation. I simply try to describe a range of phenomenal perceptions which are quite diverse (and probably they are described a bit hastily). I find it very insufficient to subsume them all under the term meditation. All the more as meditation says nothing – this empty signifier, this zombie, this carcass.

    You say you are a long term meditator too. What is your practice? I would be interested to hear from you about your experiences.

    I think I didn‘t answer your question very well. Especially I am not sure what you mean with mechanism on purpose?

    At last, what makes meditation a buddhist practice? Everything what hinders ancoric loss.

    Keep asking, I will keep it short the next time, Matthias

  105. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel

    Well finally had time to read all these postings! I have to confess I really like this !!!!! Sometimes it is messy, other times its informed dialogue, but I find some of the comments and mostly the open and sincere attitude of exploring new frontiers of thought something quite useful and unique.

    So Glenn, master camper of the “self-exiled”, by all means keep selling at all your stores!!!!!!

    Mathias, yes this solar storm is kicking some asses!!!!

    Here is a wikipediaish definition of essentialism:

    “In philosophy

    An essence characterizes a substance or a form, in the sense of the Forms or Ideas in Platonic idealism. It is permanent, unalterable, and eternal; and present in every possible world. Classical humanism has an essentialist conception of the human being, which means that it believes in an eternal and unchangeable human nature. The idea of an unchangeable human nature has been criticized by Kierkegaard, Marx, Heidegger, Sartre, and many other existential thinkers.

    In Plato’s philosophy (in particular, the Timaeus and the Philebus), things were said to come into being in this world by the action of a demiurge who works to form chaos into ordered entities. From Aristotle onward the definition, in philosophical contexts, of the word “essence” is very close to the definition of form (Gr. morphe). Many definitions of essence hearken back to the ancient Greek hylomorphic understanding of the formation of the things of this world. According to that account, the structure and real existence of any thing can be understood by analogy to an artifact produced by a craftsman. The craftsman requires hyle (timber or wood) and a model, plan or idea in his own mind according to which the wood is worked to give it the indicated contour or form (morphe). Aristotle was the first to use the terms hyle and morphe. According to his explanation, all entities have two aspects, “matter” and “form”. It is the particular form imposed that gives some matter its identity, its quiddity or “whatness” (i.e., its “what it is”).

    Plato was one of the first essentialists, believing in the concept of ideal forms, an abstract entity of which individual objects are mere facsimilies. To give an example; the ideal form of a circle is a perfect circle, something that is physically impossible to make manifest, yet the circles that we draw and observe clearly have some idea in common — this idea is the ideal form. Plato believed that these ideas are eternal and vastly superior to their manifestations in the world, and that we understand these manifestations in the material world by comparing and relating them to their respective ideal form. Plato’s forms are regarded as patriarchs to essentialist dogma simply because they are a case of what is intrinsic and a-contextual of objects — the abstract properties that makes them what they are. For more on forms, read Plato’s parable of the cave.”

    Please see the rest of the article in –

    So phrases that refer to or are used as something in itself, apart, standing fixated in the air of self-sufficiency, is “essentialism”.

    The problem of course is not the concept or the words. From a pragmatic point of view – I will use only that language form here on very much as Glenn uses only non-buddhism tools regarding x – buddhism – the words objectivity, truth and reality are but the produce of essentialism. Which means they are abstract generalizations which are simply un-useful. So when I talk about the dominant culture/economy imposing twice its hammer of alienation on the rest of the world population (including their own people), I not only refer to religion, but to philosophy and science as well. The only important aspect of philosophy and science could be the way it may be organized, that is when it is organized in democratic ways, for how I see it, all there is is the exchange of useful descriptions or rediscriptions of the concrete (*) -and in that sense obviously science could be useful, but not as truth. And how I see it, religion (which is essentialist by definition), essentialist philosophy and essentialist science are used as a way of imposing views on others, which is also the case of course of essentialist buddhism as well – not a coincidence that essentialist zen buddhism entered here in Costa Rica through Phillip Kappleau from the US, as is still sustained by a teacher who is based in Vermont and a formal lineage formally established after his passing.

    There are important beams of hope.

    George Soros´ financially well backed efforts to strengthen democracy is one of them.

    I also think this blog is a reason for some hope.

    I will write my own piece about pragmatism and essentialism and post it some time in the future.

    And re-check that pirate party, I think it is a beam of hope not just for Germany!

    (*) There is also the dialogue about what is not useful, for example in the case of the word god some people argue strongly against it. Others like me think it is just a useless word which we could do without in our vocabulary. The same applies to objectivity, truth, reality, knowledge and so on. So a debate can be made about that too, but it is only useful as much as as a debate about non-x (something) can be.

  106. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Ryuei (from “Mindful Lobotomy,” comment # 85).

    Your last comment is more apropos of the discussion on polemics. So, I am moving it over here. You say:

    You are probably the only person on Earth who would even think to call me intellectually lazy. There are quite a lot of people I know who would find that so funny they’d bust a gut laughing about it.

    That raises a good point, one that is relevant to my critique. A basic principle of speculative non-buddhist theory is that x-buddhism is wholly incapable of critiquing itself. I don’t mean that x-buddhists don’t disagree or debate with one another. They do, of course. But, from a non-buddhist perspective, their discussions never amount to anything more than quibbling about details, much less a full-fledged critique. Why is that? I argue that it is because x-buddhistic dharmic decision is never brought into question. (Your several comments on this blog, as well as your own blog posts at Fraught with Peril, are shining examples of this fundamental inability.) In short, affective and cognitive decision over-determine the x-buddhist’s perspective, which remains forever fixated on the dharmic dream.

    Thus, unless you are content to spin ‘round and ‘round on the decisional pulpit, a theory from outside is required. But, the principle further holds, if we get too far outside, we will just be imposing a foreign model on the x-buddhist material. That move can, of course, result in quite revealing data. Just imagine what a, say, robust feminist critique of x-buddhism might reveal. But I want to keep the decisional juggernaut moving, and I want to have a look that is neither to removed from nor too determined by the functional apparatus of x-buddhism.

    Now, coming directly to your point, what I see when I examine the x-buddhist juggernaut is a condition or— keeping with the mechanistic metaphor—an internal governor, which restricts intellectual curiosity and exploration. (My trope of the Great Feast of Knowledge is intended to counter this limitation placed on x-buddhism.) This internal governor, furthermore, requires x-buddhists to maintain an intellectual monomania. From your comments here and from your own blog posts, I would say that you exhibit, together with, necessarily, all of you x-buddhist comrades, not intellectual laziness, but rather extreme intellectual monomania.

    Intellectual monomania is a predictable characteristic of an x-buddhist. That is why I am not at all surprised when you say things like the Brassier quote is “incomprehensible” and it is wrong. In your case, it goes: what you are saying is incomprehensible; and it is just what x-buddhist master so-and-so said. Intellectual monomania forces you into this narrowed vision. Recall my heuristic principle of “ventriloquism.”

    So, sorry to ruin the good, gut-busting laugh; but, to summarize:

    I do not think that you are showing yourself here to be intellectually lazy (although you might want to drop this “can’t you use plain language” jig, and use a dictionary once in a while). I do, however, think that you are showing yourself here to be intellectually monomaniacal.

    For an acolyte of the True Buddha, that must be a good thing, right?

    Peace, beer and a (drunken) bow!


  107. Robert Avatar


    Well, Matthias, the Naked Monk talks about a lot more than shiné and slowing down mental chatter (33), and most of it is utter nonsense presented as deep experience.  Your quote is rather selective.  Here is the full sentence:  

    My point is this: not all mental activity is a point of view. Plain sensory awareness slows the mental chatter to put us in touch with basic experience, non-conceptual consciousness. That’s seeing, as opposed to viewing, which is organizing knowledge in ways we identify with.

    I say, release the hounds!  Get Tom to respond!  The Naked Monk wears no clothes.  

    Now to the heart of your response.  I have been asking two simple questions for a while now:
    1 – Why do we meditate?  Why is meditation a good thing?
    2 – What is it about meditation that helps you achieve whatever your answer to question 1 is? 

    Your response is a lengthy one, and at times I do not quite follow. I take it your partial answer to question 1 is:

    To be interested in what happens phenomenally and not to take a notion about the empty nature of the world as a description of something which has to be achieved.

    I call it a partial answer because it puzzles me why that would be a good thing.  Also, it sounds like something that is easier to achieve while not meditating.  Or something that my cat does without even trying. 

    And in terms of question no. 2, I am not sure what it is that you are saying. Just a lot of words.

    It is conscious and deliberate but not willfully in the sense of directing an intention on something… or perhaps it is an imploding intention pointing to itself. It is very much a falling back into this cognition of presence as such.

    I am unfair, I am sure.  Those simple questions aren’t simple at all.  And Matthias, you took a honest stab at it, and I much appreciate you taking the trouble.  I feel like such a meanie lately.  I should be grateful to everyone.  But fuck it, I would really appreciate some clarity here on this excellent blog, of all places. Not even a clear answer, just a clear effort.  It’s what we expect of the mindfulness industry, we should expect it of ourselves. 

    Finally, and quickly, you say:

    , I would exclude „non-Buddhist truths“ here because, as I see it, non-buddhism per definition un-installs the possibility of auto-pretentious praxis.

    If only… That sure would be nice.    

    Thanks, Matthias.

  108. tobes Avatar

    I think that this post in particular is bang on – I agree that it is virtually impossible to have a coherent discussion about Buddhism with western Buddhists, for precisely the reasons you have spelled out.

    But if I may be polemical (or at least, contrarian) for a moment, I think it cuts the other way as well.

    For example, the intellectual or ideological fidelity to post-structuralism within this blog is just as much a barrier to genuine discursive or dialogical encounters as the intellectual or ideological fidelity to “dharma” within western Buddhists.

    It has its own discursive rules, language games, dialectical Others and areas of epistemic blindness as the “dharma” does.

    it is the only thing that can’t really be attacked here.

    It provides a privileged position from which to engage in epistemic or ideological critiques of Buddhist thought and practice – but is this privileged position itself ever questioned?

    I’m not denying the cogency of Foucault – I say this as a kind of Foucauldian – but are you living up to the ethos of open dialogue given by the quotation (which has its roots in Kantian notions of rationality in the public sphere – saphere aude)….or are you using Foucault as the implicit epistemic master from which to (polemically) attack other positions?

  109. Tom Pepper Avatar


    Please do attack the “privileged” postion, and point out whatever “blind spots” you see. I would never consider Foucault an “epistemic master”–always been more of an Althusserian myself. All positions probably do have a blind spot, and be definition cannot see what it is. What exactly do you see as the discursive rules, and what exactly do they keep us from seeing? I mean this in all seriousness, because I’m sure there is something, but, obviously, I don’t know what it is.

    It is my postion that we will absolutely always have limitations to our knowledge, but we can reduce those limitations. And sometimes, without waiting for a completeness that will never arrive, we can use particular discursive rules and particular theoretical concepts to do things. Like expose particularly oppressive ideologies, or even just simple sources of delusion that prevent people from doing something productive.

  110. tobes8 Avatar

    Well Tom,

    The privileged position(s) in these waters seems to me to be a Lacanian ontology of the subject, and, as I pointed out earlier, a kind of deconstructive and/or post-structuralist epistemology (perhaps better put as a standpoint of epistemic skepticism).

    It is not that I wish to problematise those two things – I would certainly not wish to deny Althusserian readings of western Buddhism. Nor am I denying that it can be very efficacious to use particular discursive rules and theoretical concepts – be they Lacanian, Deleuzian, Foucauldian or Althusserian (but they have to be French and recent right??)

    I suppose if pressed, what I am saying, is that the blind spot might be found in the way that the relationship between discourses and practices is held to be necessarily ideological. I think that overdetermines the degree to which agents are subject to ideology and underdetermines the degree to which agents may (and I emphasise the word may) develop genuinely reflective capacities. It also has very robust implications for the way we engage with philosophical content – for example, Nagarjuna’s arguments. Some of these implications are very interesting, but they do preclude certain other interesting avenues – logical, ontological and epistemic avenues…..because those questions seem to have already been settled….

  111. TheScadMan Avatar

    How to reveal a meaningless ‘political’ speech (using lots of words and concepts but saying nothing):
    One way is to take a text and change some central terms to see if the meaning becomes fundamentally changed, one example:

    “To my esoteric ears, this description of a polemicist astutely, if unintentionally, describes the contemporary western physicist. This is because, from a esoteric perspective, a physicist is nothing if not a person “encased in privileges that he possesses in advance and will never agree to question,” and someone who “relies on a legitimacy that his adversary is by definition denied.” This legitimacy, this privilege, is, of course, The Science of Physics.

    A speculative esoteric thesis holds that physics is incapable of the self-critique that might permit what Benjamin refers to as a “genuine polemics” (more on this below). One reason for physics’s failure in this regard is the centripetal force that physical decision exerts on the thinking and behavior of all physicists. To be a physicist is to be reflexively beholden, affectively and cognitively, to the force of physical postulation. The physicist is physicist precisely insofar as s/he seeks—indeed, is impelled toward—the pure point of physical verity.”

    I just replaced non-buddhism with esoterics, x-buddhism with physicist, and dharma with (science of) physics.

    We see that without major corrections this gives a similar text that appears equally valid, what shows that here, the meaning of the actual subject can be completely neglected. It is an example of a very primitive propaganda that addresses the emotions, not so much the intellect!


  112. TheScadMan Avatar

    Ha ha ha!
    To cite the already debunked behaviourist Daniel Dennett is another laugh! ROTFL
    Boy, you must be kidding! Just use good old google to find reviews of Dennett’s Consciousness Explained by renowned scientists.

  113. Tom Pepper Avatar

    Re post 111: well, maybe to you, but to me your “similar text” is completely incomprehensible gibberish. I could not even guess at what it might mean.

    Tobes: Yes, I see your point, that there is a danger of diminishing to the point of nothing the potential to ever gain any critical distance from ideology. Many Foucaultians and Deluezians would in fact insist that the capacity to do this does not ever exist, which leaves us to wonder about he status of Foucault’s own discourse.

    However, my position is realist, and, like Althusser and Badiou (who, I would argue, rejects Althusser’s terms but continues his project), I would insist that we always act in ideology, but are capable of knowledge that is not ideological, and capable, even, of practices decided upon in the register of critical thought which will function to change our ideology. Do you see the difference here? Yes, we always need to have beliefs, values, attitudes, attachments … that will help us to reproduce our relations of production (else we would have to learn to make fire again in every generation) but there are NON-ideological realms of thought as well. Some thought/discourse/practice describes the mind-independent world, or even the humanly created world, and tries to get it more or less right, while other thought/discourse/practice constructs our relation to that world, and is not necessarily falsifiable.

    So, I guess I’m saying I don’t have the blind spot you suggest I do. Nevertheless, the difficulties I am having writing the essay I am currently working on convince me that I do have SOME blind spot, some aporia in my thought, but cannot quite get what it is.

    Oh, and not all good thought is French. Bhaskar is not French, for instance. Or Norris, or Collier. Or Antonio Negri. Unfortunately, there is far too little of interest in American thought, which probably says something about the American academic culture.

  114. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Greetings ScadMan! Glad to see we caught your eye, and, it seems raised a hackle or three. Welcome!

    Re: #111. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to clarify. Posting Dennett wasn’t sitting easy with me. On the other hand, I presented his argument for a narrow, specific purpose; namely, to discount Chalmer’s and the entire consciousness industry’s tic regarding “the hard problem.” Regardless of what the hordes of Dennett-discrediting scientists whom you suggest I’ll find on Google say, that particular piece is a good argument. Citing someone doesn’t have to mean that you buy his goods lock, stock, and bagel, does it? For the post on polemics I use Paul Griffiths to make a point. I do not agree with most of what I have read of his non-Buddhist-studies work. So? That article of his on polemics is still, to my judgement, valuable.

    Re: # 110. That’s a good exercise. I’ve done it myself on occasion. But, I think you’d need to tone up your rendition a bit to make it a fair comparison. For instance, shouldn’t “the force of physical postulation” be “the force of physic’s postulation”? Throughout, you say “physical” but must mean “physics.” To tell you the truth, even once you make those changes, your passage doesn’t make any sense to me. But I’ll try to respond fairly. You conclude:

    We see that without major corrections this gives a similar text that appears equally valid, what shows that here, the meaning of the actual subject can be completely neglected. It is an example of a very primitive propaganda that addresses the emotions, not so much the intellect!

    I would not make this argument for physics. Unlike x-buddhism, the discipline of physics has inevasible axioms that ensure against something like decisional compulsion. I am referring, of course, to its methodological requirements–how a hypothesis is posited, tested, retested, verified or disputed. Many disciplines share with physics, another feature that helps counter decision. Literature, as a disciple, for instance, places the practitioner in dialogue with other disciplines, such as philosophy, linguistics, psychoanalysis, history, and so on. When being a practitioner of a discipline requires you to engage forms of thought and methodologies that are foreign to your own, you are as practitioner provided with an antidote against decisional blindness (and ideological dupery). X-buddhism, I contend, insofar as subscription to it requires reflexivity, withholds such an antidote. Now, I think that the antidote is there to be had; but getting at it requires maneuvers that are disallowed by x-buddhism itself. Think, for instance, of what you could do with x-buddhist postulates such as emptiness (sunyata), radical contingency (paticcasamuppada), and interminable fading (anicca). But, until you wrangle them free of the network of postulation that is x-buddhism, working with them will only bring you back repeatedly to—x-buddhism. This project concerns creating new trajectories for thinking with x-buddhist postulates.

  115. Michael Dorfman Avatar

    Tom Pepper:Here’s a polemical question: can we accept the basic tenets of Buddhism and still participate in capitalism?

    I just happened upon a paper that raises some provocative issues in this regard. I’d be curious to hear your (and anybody else’s) thoughts.

  116. Tom Pepper Avatar


    I’ve read the paper, and I can’t really see that it raises any issues at all related to the question. Perhaps you’d care to share you thoughts on it?

  117. tobes8 Avatar

    Tom –

    Very interesting.

    I agree that Foucault in particular is ‘mis-used’ in the way that you articulate – I kind of think that if one has a methodological or epistemic kinship with Foucault, one should get on with the business of doing good, tight, detailed genealogies, and letting them speak as they speak. In terms of Buddhism, this would demand a fairly deep and considered historical analysis of particular discourses and practices rather than some grumpy rants about how ideologically misguided modern practitioners may be…..even though, we all love a grumpy rant, and they are often insightful.

    And I also think that if one is genuinely Deleuzian in orientation…..well, I suppose this is my prejudice…I think that ought to entail living up to the Deleuzian injunction towards a particular affirmative ethos of joy and becomming – and if one must theorise about this, in a molar-conceptual kind of grumpiness….well, it ought to be radically creative: the creation of new concepts, which his explicit definition of the task of philosophy. A Deleuzian Buddhism would be bloody interesting and very radical.

    Okay, so I’m being polemical, but my point is that Foucault and Deleuze are so often used as crutches which are quite contrary both to their methods and their particular ideas – both are extraordinarily open thinkers, but I’ve lost count of the number of times they are deployed to close down a discourse rather than open one up…..

    Is such a tendency taking place on this blog? Not you personally Tom, but sometimes it seems, yes.

    As for your realist-Bardiouian epistemology – well, I agree that that does leave sufficient space for critical reflection. Actually, it would be an interesting standpoint from which to critique Buddhist contextualism and particularism – which gets a bit of free ride in both European and Anglo circles, thanks to Wittgenstein, Derrida and some of the aforementioned figures. What does a contemporary Platonist say to Nagarjuna – I’d be up for hearing that….

  118. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    Some late night remarks on Roberts #107

    The problem seems to be that I try to speak about experiences, different kinds of thought etc. and you keep insisting to speak about „meditation“. I just throw in examples of what can be done and experienced in an attempt to find some resonance in you. In Glenn‘s words, in #100, I somehow try to „keep it real“. Contrary to this your „meditation“ seems to be an idea – and I have not the least clue about what. Ok, you say in #2 in the raw-remarks-thread that you find meditation „a confusing activity mostly resulting in chaotic states of mind no different from the free association stream of consciousness.“ Perhaps that‘s it. But Glenn already responded in the same way, and also Tom over there in the mentioned thread. I cannot say any more. Only perhaps, that it might be that you look out for something.

    For me, as a last example of my experience, before I stop writing about experience, the main difference before and after is, that now I can be with this stream of consciousness. Before it was boring and irritating after it is just it. It sounds like shit, the shit every ,teacher‘ talks about. Simply being. But that‘s it. It is all I have, I am, it changes, I learn (hopefully) but I am certainly saved. If I meet Jehova‘s Witnesses I can say, look, I am already saved. I live, that‘s all. But that means I live a subjective life which in many ways differ.

    That is also what I mean with „non-buddhism per definition un-installs the possibility of auto-pretentious praxis.“ Of course I can pretend with this non-pretension. It could even be that I really do it. But the difference is that I know that I am sometimes a narcissus. To worry about this leads into an infinite regress – but this could be released in a sudden „I give a shit“.

    Tom says some interesting things in the mentioned thread.

    Luis re #67 and #105

    I know what essentialism is, but thanks anyway for the Wikiquote. I didn‘t understand your question in #67. I see it better now. But I fear these questions are a bit too big for me. Essentialism and poverty? The 20% exploiting the 80%? Why is this so? Perhaps it is right, the essentialist Christianity, since the Portuguese went to India, starting the global exploitation of the many by the few still rampant today, such an essentialism might be one of the reasons for the poverty of the many on this planet. But of course it is far more complex.

    Speaking about George Soros, he in his ,philanthropic‘ engagement is very much influenced by Karl Popper‘s „Open Society“. Apart form this, he began in the early nineties to speak about the boom-bust-cycle, meaning that financial markets are inherently build in such a way that they develop booms which overshoot and busts which are the bursting bubbles. What is true with this is that the political sphere does not understand these mechanics in their opportunistic short term thinking. Soros gained notoriety when he used to his advantage an imbalance politicians constructed, forcing the british pound into the european currency-system in the early nineteen-nineties. The same happened when the Euro was introduced. It was a huge miscalculation on the side of the Eurocrats. The results we see now.

    Could this happen when „we accept the basic tenets of Buddhism“ as Tom asks in #98? Probably not. But the system is far beyond the scope of being able to be reconstructed with such „basic tenets“. What keeps me wondering is the fact that ,we‘ have, through the internet, a huge potential power but this power is not used. There are kinds of protest thinkable which really would make some people fear. But a real mass movement is nowhere in sight. There is nowhere a political power which really thinks in terms of the new technologies which developed the last twenty years. There are bright lights but over all the net is simply more and more domesticated…

    Glenn re #100

    Thanks a lot for your thoughts. I will come back to this. Especially as it is at the heart of the matter here. As Luis said, this blog is a reason for hope. Not all is bleak.

  119. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel

    Matthias, I know very well what Soros has written and what he did – I do currencies too -. I was refering to the fact that he is very rich and supports democracy efforts globally and that this is quite contrarian to the direction in which the majortity of the dominant minority around the globe moves. Once I went to a major event in the US, it is called SRI -socially responsible investment – on the Rockies. I was impressed. The event was packed with brave liberal thinking people who promote and actually do socially responsible investment. Some of it was just crap PR, but other was and really is changing things, ie green america, etc. A la Natural Capitalism – an eye opening book, at least for me then. So, well, concrete tools for concrete change for more democracy and more solidarity. It is not that hard or is it ? It just happens that dogma -religious, philosophical and scientific – gets in the middle of urgent change.

    Since my last note I have been thinking that there is something deeply wrong in the dharma or teaching. Despite all the talk about secular buddhism, it still is by its most part presented as a predominant way of talking, a predominant vocabulary presented implicitly or explicitly as superior to other voculabulary, in other words fixated, rigid, already cooked. Very much as essencialist or traditional philosophy is presented as a vocabulary which is more permanent, fixated of superior than other vocabulary. I have to think more about it, but if anything is to remain from buddhism, I think is its deep incursion into contingency regarding the self and existence. In that sense there is no need to talk about the dharma or buddhism, but just to make our own incursions into contingency and its consecuences. Deeply. And maybe, together, in dialogue for action.

    I know my death is certain, the time of my death is not.

  120. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel

    So maybe the main function of this practice should be to help to really get rid of dogma and fixations of all kinds by reflecting on and experiencing the complexities of personal contingency in each situation and from there be able to imagine a better world, in other words, a better course of action for all those involved -solidarity- and just act on it.

  121. Michael Dorfman Avatar

    Tom Pepper: I’ve read the paper, and I can’t really see that it raises any issues at all related to the question [i.e., ‘Can we accept the basic tenets of Buddhism and still participate in capitalism?’]. Perhaps you’d care to share you thoughts on it?

    Sure, very schematically.

    In order to answer the question, we need to have some agreement on what is meant by “the basic tenets of Buddhism”. I’d argue that a good source for these tenets is in the earliest strata of texts that come to us from (sectarian) Indian Buddhism, and thus Schopen’s reading of the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya is directly relevant to our purpose.

    Now, the second part of the question is about participation in capitalism. Although this texts makes no reference (that I know of) to private ownership of the means of production, it does make explicit reference to participation in the economic system of the day, arguing that the basic tenets of Buddhism (as described in the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya) are accepting of the institution of slavery, of the ideas of interest-based debt and foreclosure, and that, in fact, monastics are compelled to loan out money at interest; failure to do so can be viewed as a precept violation.

    So, it would seem to me that an ipso facto case can be made that one can accept the basic tenets of Buddhism and still participate in capitalism; in fact, a case can be made that one must.

    Now obviously, it is possible to object that the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya is not a good source for the basic tenets of Buddhism; however, one is then required to supply a hermeneutic (or heuristic) that would govern this rejection (i.e., why Sūtra texts should be valued over Vinaya, or why Theravada/Sthaviravāda texts should be valued over Mūlasarvāstivāda/Mahāsāṃghika ones, etc.)

  122. Tom Pepper Avatar

    I want to comment here before this turns into the capitalist adulation society.

    First, to be blunt, I will say that nobody can even begin to see reality, to escape delusion and obfuscation, until he or she recognizes that exchange value is the greatest source of delusion in our world, and that there is no possibility of a kinder, gentler capitalism, it inherently requires the oppression of the majority of the population and the destruction of the natural world in the service of profit. Capitalism is not the one true natural thing that transcends all the relative cultural difference of human societies. It is all too common today to accept that everything is just culturally relative opinion, and so beyond (or beneath) debate, except the working of the invisible hand, the one transcendent truth that humans can never change. Now, if you understand this, know that this is an illusion we all too easily buy into, then you might be a better capitalist, in the sense of better able to manipulate the markets and make fortunes, but you cannot be a decent human being and a capitalist at the same time. Sorry to those on this board who are in the business of making money off the oppression and impoverishment of others, but you cannot insist on remaining ignorant of what you are doing and in any way understand reality. The question is, then, can you see that you are making your living off the suffering of others, continue to do it, and still consider yourself in any way Buddhist?

    Schopen’s insistence that “real” Buddhism is to be found in the vinayana texts, or in one particular vinayana text, is so very stupid it is hard to respond to. What he says is of some interest as history, as an account of how Buddhism was institutionalized, but to say this is the “real” Buddhism is as stupid as saying the “real” Beethoven is to be found in the way he is performed by my daughter’s elementary school orchestra. We don’t need any really sophisticated hermeneutic to distinguish between institutionalization and real philosophical thought. There’s not much interest, in the vinayana, in real philosophical thought. Schopen’s goal seems always to be to say, in a very Foucaultian fashion, that everything is so “complex” we can’t say anything in general—there are not truths, only radical contingencies, EXCEPT for exchange value, which is the one thing that is always existent in all societies, to the extent that anything that is not completely focused on the handling of money must be understood only as ignoring or denying that one true reality.

    This brings me to the problem of Foucaultian genealogies. Yes, in my discipline (Literature) Foucault, Derrida, and somewhat less often Deleuze, are constantly misused as a way to avoid real thought. They have “proven” that everything is so thoroughly relative that we need not do any real intellectual work, because if we do we are just fooling ourselves, buying into the rules of a discourse of power. It is hard to see how anyone can read Derrida’s work and think this is what he is saying—he so often engages in rigorous thought and make truth claims himself—but then most people don’t read him, or read him very selectively and poorly.

    That problem aside, I think that even were we to do a proper Foucaultian genealogy of Buddhism or some Buddhist idea, it would be only of limited use. Foucault refuses to make distinctions between truth and ideology, he rejects the concept of ideology, I would argue because he reduces everything to ideology. There is nothing but historically contingent appearances, there is not truth at all, for Foucault. I do think he produced some very important truths in his work, but if we accept his position, we would have no reason to bother with them, they are only a contingent strategy of power appearing in the late twentieth century. A genealogy, in his sense, attends only to the historical variations, and denies the very existence of any transcending truth.

    As to what a neo-platonist would say to Nagarjuna, well that’s an interesting question. I also want to consider what Nagarjuna can say to Badiou. From Badiou’s perspective, there are mind-transcendent truths, but they must always appear in a “world,” a language/symbolic/social system. So, every truth appears immanently in a particular world, but can appear in more than one world, can possibly appear in any world, although some worlds are more likely to foreclose certain truths. Foucault attends to the world, but denies the truth. Badiou, I would suggest, is perhaps a bit too optimistic that we can get to a point of pure truth—he probably wouldn’t say this, but the force of his work is to insist that we not focus on producing better “worlds” but on “forcing” the appearance of truths. Nagarjuna, on my reading, understands the need for the world (the conventional truth), as something within which all truth must appear. So, bringing Nagarjuna to bear on Badiou’s thought could be quite productive.

    Badiou argues that there are “events,” the appearance of truth in a world, and that they provoke varied responses. One can be “faithful” to the truth, forcing the world to recognize it, or one can become a reactionary subject, trying to contain the dangerous power of the truth by incorporating it into the existing social system. From this perspective, Schopen clearly mistakes the reactionary subject of the faithful subject, the containment of the truth for the event. When I read his work, this is glaringly obvious, and I suppose it would have to be obvious to anyone else who is not also a reactionary subject, invested in seeing Buddhism as just another form of the one great human truth of capitalist exchange value.

    Wow, this is quite a “mad rant,” huh Matthias? I’ll stop for now, and hopefully make some progress on that essay I hope will more coherently present my thoughts on these matters.

  123. Michael Dorfman Avatar

    Tom Pepper: I want to comment here before this turns into the capitalist adulation society.
    Do you really suspect that is coming? I’m certainly not about to start anything along those lines; quite the opposite, in fact.

    The question is, then, can you see that you are making your living off the suffering of others, continue to do it, and still consider yourself in any way Buddhist?

    The historical evidence would seem to point in this direction, for some values of “seeing that you are doing it”. It seems to me that Buddhism has not been as revolutionary as we (or at least I) would like it to be.

    Schopen’s insistence that “real” Buddhism is to be found in the vinayana texts, or in one particular vinayana text, is so very stupid it is hard to respond to.

    But this is not what Schopen is insisting; in fact, he is insisting quite the opposite. Schopen argues, at length, that there is no one “real” Buddhism, and that we always need to speak of “Buddhisms” in the plural; any attempt to posit a singular “real” Buddhism is already mistaken.

    We don’t need any really sophisticated hermeneutic to distinguish between institutionalization and real philosophical thought. There’s not much interest, in the vinayana, in real philosophical thought.

    I’m not sure I agree with you on this one. It seems to me that the Vinaya represents that attempt to put that philosophical thought into practice, and this relationship between theory and praxis is critical; we can remember here Marx’s eleventh thesis on Feuerbach.

    Badiou argues that there are “events,” the appearance of truth in a world, and that they provoke varied responses. One can be “faithful” to the truth, forcing the world to recognize it, or one can become a reactionary subject, trying to contain the dangerous power of the truth by incorporating it into the existing social system.

    But this presupposes that we can identify, with some confidence, the “truth” of the “event”– and perhaps we can, in some cases. In the present case, however, this is difficult, as the “truth” of the Buddhist “event” is known to us through a disparate collection of texts, written by followers imposing their own interpretations– and we cannot know if we are witnessing “reactionary subjects” attempting to tame the dangerous truth, or “radical subjects” attempting to radicalize a too-tame thought, or “faithful subjects”, who have presumably have some sort of unmediated access to the “truth”.

    Schopen clearly mistakes the reactionary subject of the faithful subject, the containment of the truth for the event. When I read his work, this is glaringly obvious, and I suppose it would have to be obvious to anyone else who is not also a reactionary subject, invested in seeing Buddhism as just another form of the one great human truth of capitalist exchange value.

    I don’t know how we would be able to know if Schopen’s subjects are faithful or reactionary, in the absence of some prior knowledge of the “truth” of the “event”. I’m not invested seeing Buddhism as “just another form of the one great human truth of capitalist exchange value”; however, I’m also not invested in seeing Buddhism as necessarily opposed to exchange value, either. In my mind, it is quite possible that, to the extent that we can recover an “originary” teaching, this teaching is not fully aware of the radical implications of its critique. Put another way, I find it very likely that “the basic tenets of Buddhism” are not what I might like them to be.

  124. Tom Pepper Avatar


    I agree that Schopen says we can only speak of “buddhisms”, because every single moment, for him, is so radical singular, that we can never say anything about in general. This is why he rambles on for pages about how “complex” everything is–there is, for him, only the appearance, never a truth. If you accept this, as you suggest you do, then there’s no discussing anything–and of course you cannot even argue against me, because your own claim that we cannot identify the truth is no more supportable than my claim that we can–it is just a different rhetorical strategy. However, Schopen does consistently claim that all we can know about Buddhism is its appearance, because there is no truth, and so all we can know is Buddhism as a form of money management, because for him money is the only thing that is real–everything else is just contingent manifestations of the one truth of exchange value.

    You are too focused on “texts” instead of thoughts or concepts. To quote Badiou yet again, there only bodies and languages . . . except that there are truths. I would insist that the vinayana Schopen cites is an attempt to contain the dangerous truth of the Buddhist event, to prevent in being put into practice. There are clearly ways to distinguish containment from truth procedures, and Badiou does spell out many of them (for instance, in his book “Ethics”). This isn’t a matter of “recovering origins” (that, in Badiou’s terms, is the obsure subject), but of extracting the truth that is available to all of is in every world, that appears in some worlds more than in others. Your obsession with “interpretations” and “texts” is the effect of postmodern sophistry, which is the first source of delusion we need to get clear of. Then, yes, Buddhism is always opposed to exchange value, if we see it as opposed to delusion, because exchange value is always a source of delusion.

    The “historical evidence,” then, only points in the “direction” of repeated attempts to contain the truth of Buddhist thought, through obscurantist or reactionary strategies.

  125. Michael Dorfman Avatar

    Tom Pepper: there is, for him [Schopen], only the appearance, never a truth. If you accept this, as you suggest you do, then there’s no discussing anything–and of course you cannot even argue against me, because your own claim that we cannot identify the truth is no more supportable than my claim that we can–it is just a different rhetorical strategy.

    I do not accept this, and I don’t think Schopen does, either. The question, rather, is “By what means can we recover/uncover the truth?” You seem to indicate that there is some unproblematic manner in which the truth is manifested as self-evident; I beg to differ, arguing that truth is found through a primarily hermeneutic process of reading and interpretation. The singular “Truth” may be unrecoverable (or illusory, even), but this does not mean that all readings are equally supportable; some are indeed better than others.

    However, Schopen does consistently claim that all we can know about Buddhism is its appearance, because there is no truth, and so all we can know is Buddhism as a form of money management, because for him money is the only thing that is real–everything else is just contingent manifestations of the one truth of exchange value.

    My reading of Schopen is quite different. I think that he is attempting to bring to light some “appearances” that are often overlooked, in order to give a richer, and fuller account of early Buddhism(s). I don’t see any reason to think that he believes *a priori* in “the one truth of exchange value”, or has any such axe to grind.

    You are too focused on “texts” instead of thoughts or concepts

    This may be true; but to me, thoughts and concepts are not unmediated primitives, and do not escape the effects of textuality. Speech is a form of writing– you know the argument.

    There are clearly ways to distinguish containment from truth procedures, and Badiou does spell out many of them (for instance, in his book “Ethics”). This isn’t a matter of “recovering origins” (that, in Badiou’s terms, is the obsure subject), but of extracting the truth that is available to all of is in every world, that appears in some worlds more than in others. Your obsession with “interpretations” and “texts” is the effect of postmodern sophistry, which is the first source of delusion we need to get clear of. Then, yes, Buddhism is always opposed to exchange value, if we see it as opposed to delusion, because exchange value is always a source of delusion.

    I have not read Badiou, but I will endeavour to do so. I will be quite interested to see how he proposes to move beyond “interpretations” and “texts” as a source of delusion, as this would (it seems to me) to be a move beyond pratītyasamutpāda– a provocative thought indeed.

  126. Tom Pepper Avatar

    Just one more quick point. I don’t think that this would be a move beyond pratityasamupada–for Badiou, every truth must always appear in a world, so is always immanent. And I don’t think Schopen is intentionally grinding this particular axe–I think it is just such a fundamental assumption for him he cannot think outside of it.

    Some readings are clearly more supported by a given text than others, but we also need to be able to see that some texts just contain no truth.

    There are no unmediated primitives, truths always appear in a world, but they are still truths. I’m kind of focused on Badiou’s terminology right now, because I’m still working my way through “Logics of Worlds,” but in “Ethics,” probably his most “accessible” book, he spells out some of the ways we can distinguish truth from strategies of containment (this last is my term, not his). One is that the reactionary approach always demands that the truth adapt to the world (eg, the monk must abide by the rules of the existing social and monetary system) rather than the other way around.

    And, since this has already turned out not to be just a quick point: I think the grumpy rant that exposes current reactionary/obscurantist ideologies of Buddhism will always be more useful than a genealogy of the “worlds” or appearances of Buddhism; the latter has uses too, but only once we recognize that these worlds are often an attempt to contain the truth of the Buddhist event–we can see how it gets contained, how it might escape containment. The former is important to make possible any appearance of truth in our present world.

  127. Tom Pepper Avatar

    Okay, and now for one REALLY quick point. This is what I would call real polemics. Thanks Tobes, Michael, Robert, Matthias, et. al., for finally getting us beyond the annoying demand that we stop thinking.

  128. Robert Avatar

    Thanks, Matthias, 118 and 104, my 107,

    Matthias, you say:

    The problem seems to be that I try to speak about
    experiences, different kinds of thought etc. and you keep insisting to
    speak about, what  „meditation“. I just throw in examples of what can
    be done and experienced in an attempt to find some resonance in you.
    In Glenn‘s words, in #100, I somehow try to „keep it real“.

    That is helpful. My problem with your response is twofold:
    1 – You are not describing experiences, you’re mumbling, scraping your
    throat, throwing in an anecdote or two, a ‘perhaps’ and a ‘maybe’ for
    good measure. I don’t consider that ‘keeping it real’.
    2 – When I ask you why these experiences you have are worth
    pursuing there is no answer, not even an attempt.

    As a reminder, this is what I have been asking:

    1 – Why do we meditate?  Why is meditation a good thing?
    2 – What is it about meditation that helps you achieve whatever your
    answer to question 1 is?

    You haven’t even begun to respond. Are you even reading what I say
    before you comment? Nowhere in question 1 or 2 do I ask about your
    experience.  ‘Examples of what can be done and experienced’ are just
    that, examples of experiences. I am not interested in experiences, in
    fact I am suspicious of them.  They do not prove a thing. They
    frequently provide food for bias, rather than food for thought.

    Understand also that I am not asking these questions as a person
    needing meditation instruction, or a person looking for motivation to
    meditate.  My puzzlement is genuine, but what is driving me is that I
    believe meditation is a sacred cow for too many meditators, be they
    x-buddhists or non-buddhists.  Meditation is not to be questioned, and
    experiences arising during meditation are not to be questioned. This
    manifests as  a reluctance to be precise about exactly the two
    fundamental questions I have been asking. Imprecision that makes it
    impossible to even begin to have a real debate.

  129. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    Robert, you say you ask two fundamental questions. I ask you: What is meditation? What do you mean with the word? It should be clear right now that the word has such a wide range of meanings, it is simply meaningless to try to answer your question when you give no clear indication what you mean by it.

    You say we meditate. I asked you before, what is your practice? If you just keep saying “we meditate” it is incomprehensible to me. I said a lot about what I regard as practice. If it is unintelligible to you, ok.

    So, how about you describe now what you do?

  130. Robert Avatar

    Hello Matthias (129),

    With meditation I mean what you consider to be meditation.  I am interested in why you think meditation is a good thing, and how meditation makes that good thing happen.  Whatever my definition of meditation is doesn’t really help with that.

    As I said before, ultimately I am interested in whether meditation practice is an integral part of being a buddhist / non-buddhist.  Or is it just a nice thing to do, as some people like to eat steak some people like to meditate?  It seems to me that that is an appropriate question to tackle on this non-buddhist blog. I find that many meditators are quick to claim that it is indeed a crucial part of their being a buddhist/non-buddhist. I am also finding that they are strangely reluctant to clearly articulate why this is so.      

    But first things first. To answer those juicy questions down the road we first need to understand the following;
    1 – Why do we meditate?  Why is meditation a good thing?
    2 – What is it about meditation that helps you achieve whatever your answer to question 1 is? 

    What did you think of my argument that experiences that arise during meditation do not fully settle those questions?  That experiences cannot necessarily be trusted?

    If you are getting tired of this, Matthias, then let’s call it a day.  I am sorry if I annoyed you, that’s not why I do this. Maybe I am just getting carried away with the opportunity that this blog provides to really explore together with other genuinely curious people. I get very excited about this. It’s a new experience. Somewhere it shows that this blog has had 54,000+ hits since May last year. At least half of those hits are mine….

  131. Robert Avatar

    Matthias, 118

    Simply being. But that‘s it. It is all I have, I am, it changes, I learn (hopefully) but I am certainly saved. If I meet Jehova‘s Witnesses I can say, look, I am already saved. I live, that‘s all.

    I will probably lose the last bit of goodwill I have left on this blog, but I have to say this. As much as I dislike ‘just sitting’, I hate ‘simply being’ even more. Simply being as opposed to what? Simply not being? Complex being? How can you possibly not simply be? All of mankind simply is, and it didn’t require any ‘just sitting’.


  132. Michael Dorfman Avatar

    Simply being as opposed to what? Simply not being? Complex being? How can you possibly not simply be? All of mankind simply is, and it didn’t require any ‘just sitting’.

    I don’t know about you, but I’d view my being-here as a pretty complex and problematic phenomenon– there’s nothing very simple about it. If it was, Heidegger would sure be easier to read….

  133. Tom Pepper Avatar


    I get your sense of frustration here. There does seem to be reluctance to answer the “why” question, to give what is really just the x-buddhist answer, the one Suzuki gives: we sit for not reason, if we expect to gain anything by our meditation, we are missing the point. But of course, this is disingenuous, because then we could just not do it, and that would, for Zennies, make us bad Buddhists, or not “really” Buddhist. Shin Buddhists feel no such obligation to meditation–they might do it, or not, but don’t feel they are obliged to. So, for me, there is a reason to meditate, that is not so unthinkable.

    I would say that for me, meditation has an intention, and that intention is very similar to the Althusserian concept of the aesthetic. It is, in a sense, an aesthetic practice, like reading a poem or listening to music, which, if done with the proper theoretical framework, can serve to distantiate ideology, to allow us to loosen the grip of out cathexes, to begin to change our ideologies. It can also, then, be a practice to strengthen other, new, consciously chosen cathexes or ideologies or investments–we cannot simply “choose” what to believe, but we can practice our way into attachment.

    Just like aesthetics, though, if the theoretical framework is romantic or mystical, it serves only to strengthen our blind attachment to our ideologies, preventing our capacity to think about our own ideologies conceptually, to evaluate their effects and desirability. I think this is often the goal of meditation–many teachers won’t answer the why, because that would weaken its power, just as explaining the rhetorical strategies a novel uses to inculcate its ideological position makes it less able to do so. Most people angrily refuse to consider why the “love” the novel the do, it is considered an obscene question. In the same way, if meditation intensifies our attachment to our present ideologically constructed phenomenological experience of the world, then to ask why we do it is an obscene question, one that would destroy all our enjoyment of the world.

    We can meditate within a conceptual framework, to distance our ideologies, or we can pretend not to have one (as we many English teachers pretend not to have a “theory” of literature), in which case, we are meditating within a theoretical framework of mystical interpellation, one which we aren’t aware of, a sort of thaumaturgy of pure experience. My guess is, if someone cannot answer your question, this latter is what they are doing. But I would love to hear more people attempt an answer to the “why” question–not what you do, or what the experience is, that can come later, but just, why bother to do it at all? What, really, do we get out of it?

    As I’m writing this, I see that Glenn has posted an new post on the topic, an essay by Matthias. Perhaps we can make some progress in answering the obscene question there.

  134. Robert Avatar

    Michael, 132

    I don’t know about you, but I’d view my being-here as a pretty complex and problematic phenomenon– there’s nothing very simple about it. If it was, Heidegger would sure be easier to read….

    Well, Heidegger should have talked to me before he wrote all that stuff. Any other major philosophical problems you would like me to solve?

  135. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Hey Robert and Tom (#133, 134).

    Would you mind re-posting those last two comments on the new thread? I think they’d help that discussion immensely.


  136. stoky Avatar

    Tom Pepper: I had a talk with Matthias at his blog and I learned that in this case “thought” also refers to “non-explicit thought”

    Considering this, most of your statements are in line with my own opinions.

    Though, most of the misunderstanding was ultimately my fault, I would recommend to be more patient with “new guys” and take the time to explain things more, not as a matter of “compassion” but of efficiency.

    P.S.: The main cause of my misinterpretation was probably because if you use “thought” in this way “stop thinking” doesn’t make any sense….

  137. angkorverlag Avatar

    Matthias: “You derive input from the old folks? How could this possibly be?” Well, in the same way someone else derives input from a French guy who once said: “I think, therefore I am” (and may have to balance that with new findings of neuroscience) or from a much older Greek guy who stated: “I know that I don’t know” or from this one: “Everything is in a state of flux”. How do you think I was able to publish and translate for 12 years with the aim to make available especially the main classic sutras and the best excerpts of great old masters? By being bored by them? By finding out in my life that they were all nuts and their advice lets me only stand in my own way? I can tell you a story that happened while dealing with the reprint, i.e. proofreading of the Kegon-sutra for 6-8 weeks. I do not just read those works, I sink into them, in a kind of dhyana-mode, I kind of get absorbed in the stuff and exhaust myself while reading, as I said before. I started not only to dream differently, this process alone had an effect that must be similar to taking in psychotropic drugs during my waking hours. Now how is that possible? And am I now allowed to suggest at least to other Buddhists to do the same or not? If you think that it did happen just because of my prejudices and buddhist blinders – does it change what happened and what I tell you about the ability to see more detailed connections with certain beings in the world now that I have made it through the first boring 100 pages and met the concept of Indra’s net? Tell me about other concepts and how you apply it to your life, maybe they suit me better. But don’t start with the chaos theory, I never deny chaos and coincidence, I only do not think that they are all there is.

    I wouldn’t be surprised, as everything is changing, if my view on things does, too. It did before. I once believed in a God, can you imagine! But with that part of the mind that creates an opinion – you have to convince it somehow.

    “Didn‘t something happen since Dogen lived?” Well, the best things in zen probably happened even before Dogen. On the other hand, I heard that even that philosopher with his late night show on ZDF (German TV) is quoting Dogen (and a modern adept named Sawaki) in one of his latest books. You just don’t have to follow the “whole Dogen”, the “whole sutra xy” etc. You pick out what is good for you. You must know that this is not a common attitude in most Buddhist traditions. Rolf Elberfeld tried to explain the concept of time (and space) in Dogen. “they are certainly not Dogens insights” but that doesn’t matter, maybe they are all Rolfs insights or mine or yours, but inspired by the ideas of somebody else. Insights need not belong to somebody.

    You have your own ideology. In your link (your comment in your German blog) you speak of modern capitalism creating needs. In communist China the need for religion was suppressed but Bill Porter found a lot of zen hermits in the mountains and portrayed them. The need for wisdom and insight is not linked to modern capitalism, it is there for ages. Then you link the word “Selbtverwirklichungszwang” (a compulsion for self-realization or personal fulfillment) to Buddhism. But the training is supposed to destroy this self, the one bound by market laws, artificial needs and state control. What if it is possible to destroy that self by zen training? I am sorry that guys who copyright or market ideas like “Big Mind” or “MBSR” are giving a wrong impression here, maybe even me, because I dare to make money with zen books, too.

    You advise to read Thomas Metzinger and others. I suggest that you post their main themes and where you see contradictions to modern Buddhism, where you see that “mind comes before action” not applied.

    Then you say we should question the Buddhist vocabulary instead of meditating over them. Just one thing here: I never “meditate” about words of Buddhism, concepts, vows or the like. I also usually do not dream of anything related to the sutras or spiritual world (but I do dream things that are almost impossible to do in this world and sometimes just illegal and get glimpses into a kind of ideal world or subjective paradise once in a while). This means that those words or concepts are not even part of my subconscious (with the exception of natural influences like in the example of the Kegon sutra above, through intensive reading etc.). I can do logical mindwork over that vocabulary, otherwise, if they pop up when watching my thoughts in the dhyana mode, they are not nourished or followed by logical thinking. They are part of the phenomenal world, the discourse.

    I am sorry that I have overlooked your comment in the German blog and will try to answer there. It is of course totally justified to ask for concrete explanations of words that do not mean anything to you like Tathagatagarbha etc. and fill them with blood. This problem runs through my mind a lot when I am translating. But then, I have to be understood when transmitting old Buddhist wisdom and use to stay with the common vocabulary, just because within the scene of zen practitioners there seems to be a common understanding of some words and concepts. Or just the understanding that the words must be filled by each one him- or herself and that defining them is not helping the realization of something that is considered to be “beyond thinking”. This tatatata-thing for example has only a few adjectives in a sutra, and they are like “eternal” (nitya) or “pure”. Now if you say there cannot be anything whatsoever called “eternal” or “pure”, there is of course no need for a Tathagatagarbha for you. If on the other hand your own experience leads you to the impression that you have fallen out of time and space, the concept of eternity or pureness may come close to expressing what you have gone through. In a fictional work I would surely try to find new expressions myself, i.e. probably metaphors.

  138. angkorverlag Avatar

    Dear Robert, I’m a bit puzzled now myself. On the one hand there are constant requests to bring blood into common Buddhist vocabulary and tradition, on the other hand a concrete example does not do. A freedom in action means that you can kill, otherwise you are not free. If you actually do kill is up to you. I speak of the potentiality of the freedom in action that comes with a mindchanging experience that Buddhists tend to call awakening. Therefore you cannot judge by those rules that are not particular Buddhist but overlap with other traditions, like the one not to kill. All those rules are transcended, and it will not work like this after the so-called “awakening”: ‘There is a rule not to kill, so I follow it (verbally).’ Matthias asked me in his blog what non-attachment means, and this is one example. Being not attached to dogma (while being conscious of the consequences).

  139. Jayarava Avatar

    @Tom Pepper

    Really I wish internet strangers would stop this practice of analysing other strangers on the internet. It is so seldom insightful or helpful. It does mean that you don’t have to engage with what I write on face value, since you are delving for “deeper” meanings. But on the whole I find strangers analysing strangers just reflect and project their own emotional turmoil – at least I assume so, because I never get the sense that internet strangers have any great insight into my character (I’ve been analysed professionally, so I know the difference).

    I’m sorry you felt provoked by my words into an attack on me personally.

    Just so you know – once I realise that it’s an attack on me personally – I stop taking it seriously. You don’t know the first thing about me Tom. Stop pretending you do.


  140. Jayarava Avatar

    @Glenn #72

    Thanks for your thoughtful and self-revealing response to my comment. My own revelations and worldview changing moments have been more mixed. The ones I remember and cherish are experiences that seemed to lift a veil and allow me to see a whole new world, or to see the world in a whole new way. Reading Thomas Metzinger, or Margaret Margulis for example. Experiencing dhyāna for the first time. Or learning about art and becoming a painter. On the whole these were smooth rather than chaotic transformations – they certainly challenged previously held views, but I was usually ready to let go and already seeking a new perspective.

    On the whole I find I learn from contradictions, but much less so from confrontations. I am a bit tired of being provoked by people who think they have something to teach me – like Tom Pepper. It’s just a failure to empathise dressed up as something admirable, and I don’t believe that bullshit for a second.

    But you are right to say that the consequences and causes of actions and reactions are opaque – responses to actions and words are very difficult to predict. For the same words I can be honoured for my perspicacity, chastised for my obscurity, abused for being arrogant, and more likely ignored as irrelevant and uninteresting. I suppose it highlights one’s expectations of experience!

    I’ve spent my life pursuing knowledge and being open to new ideas – my worldview has changed considerably over the years. I’ve never been afraid of learning. I’ve never really pursued having teachers – my most cherished skills and learning experiences have always come from self directed learning.

    Best Wishes

  141. Tom Pepper Avatar


    Sorry to have hit such a nerve. Clearly, though, you have stopped taking me seriously, and aren’t bothered at all by what I’ve suggested. In true analytic fashion, I will have to admit that your total lack of emotional reaction to my interpretation is evidence that it was wrong.

    I don’t see what I said as a personal attack at all–unless one sees any attempt at interpretation as offensive. I was only addressing the function of your comment. But then, you opened door for such interpretations, right?

    “I had this thought the other day about militant atheists. I wonder if, like many of us born in the 20th century they are at core angry about emotionally distant, and often physically absent fathers. It’s a bit Freudian, but I ponder Richard Dawkins in particular and how rude he is to people”

    If you can’t stand the heat, don’t set the fire.

  142. Geoff Avatar


    I thought you might like this recent exchange I’ve just had on Sujato’s blog.

    I thought you would like Sujato’s comment as a comparison to the exchanges on this blog.

    Reply ..Geoff / Mar 21 2012 6:51 am .



    Do you think these are legitimate questions I am asking or do you think I am just being ‘silly’?

    Reply .sujato / Mar 29 2012 10:45 am .

    Well, I think they are mostly questions that are legitimate in a certain context. But it seems to me that you have been asking the same kinds of questions for a very long time, and don’t seem to be getting any clarity. That’s a sign that things need to take their own time; they can’t be forced.


    So it looks like I’m just going to have to be patient and hope some answers come my way…….Mind you if might help if he actually tried to answer my questions….



  143. […] everyone else is engaged in the same intellectual exercise as the Speculative Non-Buddhists. I was attacked on their website for being ‘lazy,’ when I used the Buddhist metaphor of an end to views. I was […]

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: