Speculative Non-Buddhism

ruins of the buddhist real

Samsara as the Realm of Ideology

Posted by Tom Pepper on March 27, 2012

Speculative non-buddhism is way of thinking and seeing that takes as its raw material x-buddhism. It is a thought-experiment that poses the question: shorn of its transcendental representations, what might x-buddhism offer us?

Matthias Steingass’s last essay on the prospects of a reconfigured “meditation” (or, perhaps, non-meditation?), exemplifies both the spirit and method of this theoretical aim. His subject, “meditation,” is, moreover, one of the three central, and recurring, recipients of speculative non-buddhist analysis.

Tom Pepper, in the current essay, “Naturalizing Buddhism Without Being Reductive,” continues a discussion on the second recurring concern of non-buddhist analysis: ideology. In short, he asks: if, as it seems, we are ideological creatures by nature, might we still be creatures that are capable of gaining conscious awareness of our ideologies?  And if that is the case, might certain reconfigured forms of x-buddhism offer us methods with which we can do so?

It may be that such reconfigured x-buddhist postulates are unrecognizable to traditional practitioners. But, if this small act of destruction enables us to produce more effective ideologies and—who knows—a better world, surely no one will object, will they?

Please note Tom’s questions at the end of the essay: “Is this coherent?  Where are the obscurities, aporias, and just plain conceptual blunders?  Does there seem any possibility of such a practice ever existing?” (Glenn Wallis)

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Naturalizing Buddhism Without Being Reductive

a radical, and ridiculously arrogant, reinvention of Buddhist thought

 Tom Pepper

It’s almost a commonplace in academic thought that it is impossible to accept all of the core teachings of Buddhism without accepting contradiction.  We cannot, it is assumed, take seriously both the teaching of non-self, and belief in rebirth; either one, taken to its logical conclusion, would necessarily preclude the other.  What I am going to present here is a redefinition of the core terms of Buddhism which allows all of them to be accepted without requiring any contradiction, without the need to choose which concepts to accept and which to reject, and without any hidden acceptance of a world-transcendent atman.

I am writing this to ask for criticism, to ask for any response that can point out errors or blind spots.  That said, I am going to insist on a few provisos.  First, I am not willing to engage with disagreements which depend on the insistence that there is in fact an atman, soul, or world-transcendent consciousness; I will offer, here, no argument against such beliefs and do not expect to persuade anyone out of these beliefs with this essay.  Second, I am not willing to engage the debate the I use too many hard words or ask to much mental effort of my audience; I intend, in this essay, to be fairly accessible and clear, but if you don’t know the meanings of the terms I use go look them up.  Finally, I am especially not interested, for reasons that I hope I will be able to make clear, in any citations from specific sutras which contradict my reconstrual of terms; my interest is not in the academic attempt to determine how exactly a term was used, or what exactly a concept meant, to a particular school of Buddhism at a particular time.  I think this is an incredibly valuable kind of work to do, but it is not what I am doing here; instead, I am trying to construct a possible construal of Buddhist concepts which would allow them all to cohere, and allow them to be of use for us today.

This attempt is somewhat in the vein of Laruelle’s concept of non-philosophy, not as an attempt to disprove, reject, or dismiss philosophy, but to determine what kind of human practice it is, and what we might still be able to do with it.  However, it will probably be clear that I have some serious objections to Laruelle’s thought, that I am much more in league with Badiou in that current debate.  Nevertheless, I think a non-buddhism, which enables us to step back from the realm of x-buddhist thought, can be of benefit here, so I will shamelessly use some of Laruelle’s strategies while reserving the right to disagree with what seem to me to be his most fundamental conclusions.  What a non-buddhism can do, I will argue, is explore what truths appear in the history of Buddhist thought, what can escape the insistent drive toward relativizing everything, the postmodern attempt to disable all conceptual thought through hyper-contextualizing and over historicizing and remove any means of directing our attempts to act in the world to change things for the better.  My claim is that there is a way of understanding Buddhism, of reconstituting it from its frozen concentrate if you will, that can enable us to use Buddhist thought and practice to establish a discourse and practice capable of guiding meaningful change.

I want to be relatively brief here (for me), and so I will offer limited citations and limited debate with or warrant from other thinkers.  I won’t, that is, take the space here to demonstrate that my understanding of Nagarjuna, of Buddhist history, of the sutras, or of Althusser, Badiou, Lacan, etc., are correct.  I feel sure that they are, and I may make a fuller presentation in some other venue.  At this point my question is: Is what I am saying comprehensible, and does it seem potentially useful?

Before I can even begin to present my reconstrual of Buddhism, though, I will need to begin with a defense of the Althusserian concept of ideology.  Whatever errors Althusser may have made, it seems to me that he his greatest contribution to philosophy is in his concept of ideology as the reproduction of our relations to the relations of production.  It will be my claim that many of the conceptual difficulties and apparent contradictions in Buddhist thought dissolve once we understand samsara as the realm of ideology.  The endless wandering in circles is the blind reproduction of existing relations to relations of production, and the project of Buddhism is to escape the prison of our ideologies.  Not to escape the need for ideologies, but to break free of the naturalizing and reifying of particular ideologies.

Ideology and Its Discontents

Althusser’s most famous, most anthologized, most cited, most widely read work is, I would argue, almost never understood.  “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses: Notes Towards an Investigation” (hereafter, the ISA essay), has generated thousands of pages of commentary, more often than not attempting to argue against the existence of such a thing as ideology.  So, despite the fact that the essay is so well known that almost any graduate of a halfway-decent college probably believes she already knows what it says, I am going to briefly recount its most important claim here.

Ideology is not an illusion, a false consciousness, or a deception.  It is not a mistaken understanding of reality, because it is not primarily an understanding of reality at all.  The most important insight in Althusser’s essay is that ideology does not represent reality in some distorted form, in order to deceive us into accepting our oppression.  Instead, ideology is that set of practices in which we reproduce our relations to the relations of production.   Our ideological beliefs always exist in a material practice—if they do not, if our beliefs are not productive of an reproduced by some concrete behavior, then they are not our actual ideology, and we do  not in fact believe them at all (although we may believe in the need to claim we believe in them).  There is nothing necessarily false or distorting about ideology; it may include some distortions, some falsehoods, but it does not need to do so.  What it must include is a set of beliefs-in-practices which function to reproduce the existing relations of production, the material and economic system in which we are living.  These beliefs are primarily on the order of morals, values, tastes, emotions—not beliefs about mind-independent reality, although certain conceptions of what is real may be entailed.

This seems to be tremendously difficult for most readers of Althusser to fully grasp, to think and not just “understand.”  We do not represent our mode of production in our ideology, any more than we represent the physical universe there.  Instead, what ideology does is to produce a set of beliefs and values connected to practices, all of which function to enable the reproduction of our existing social formations.  The educational system serves as Althusser’s central example in the ISA essay, so perhaps we can use that example here.  There is clearly a sense in which education requires a conception of the mind-independent world, a depiction of both the physical universe and human social formations.  However, the specifically ideological function of education is in its reproduction of the existing means of production and social relations.  Without education, we could not reproduce our current relations of production—we need individuals with specific technical skills to keep things running, and need to sort individuals into specific social functions, and education is the system we have produced to do this training and sorting.

Let me try to clarify this with a metaphor.  What Althusser would call “scientific” knowledge functions to describe reality, both the natural world and humanly created social formations.  It functions, in a sense, like a map: scientific knowledge attempts to give a useful model of the world, and can be more or less accurate.  Our maps may be wrong, may be imprecise, and can be corrected and refined.  Ideology does not function to map the world, but to enable us to get around in it; so, metaphorically, ideology functions more like the mode of transportation.  The mode of transportation and the map are, of course, related.  If our mode of transportation is an automobile, we are most interested in road maps; road maps are not “incorrect,” they are not (usually) deceptive or illusory, but they are of limited use if we decide we want to go for a hike in the forest.  The difficulty of ideology is that we tend to believe that our existing mode of transportation is the only one possible, that it is natural, universal, and cannot be modified or changed, so that it becomes inconceivable to do such a thing as go for a hike.  Instead, we focus on changing the map of the world, paving the forest to make is accessible.

Keep in mind that this is only a metaphor, and like all metaphors it is limited.  Ideology functions to enable us to keep the world running, but it also produces much of our motivation and investment it the world.  We need to educate new individuals in our existing technology, to produce new technology, and to organize the world in such a way that individuals are sorted into functional roles.  In order to do this, we need to value technological change, hard work at tedious tasks, financial success, an understanding of higher education that emphasizes technical training over critical thought.  Our ideologies are, for Althusser, how we reproduce the existing relations of production; they are not an image of those relations of production, not an image of the world.  Education clearly enables the reproduction of relations of production, but so do other ideological practices.  We believe in love, so we court, marry, reproduce, and support our families: love and the nuclear family are essential ideological formations in the reproduction of the exiting relations of production, assuring that there will be new individuals interpellated into all the existing roles in society, into each socio-economic strata, in a way that appears to us fully “natural;” for an American today, what could be more “natural” than the nuclear family as the primary unit of social organization?  These ideological formations are not false or delusory, are not imaginary in the ordinary sense of the term—people really do feel romantic love, really are attached to their children—but they can become problems when we mistake a socially produced practice for a natural and necessary one.  We will always need some ideology, but we need to know that that is what it is, and be able to change it when it is no longer a useful way to produce human happiness.  If it should become desirable or necessary to go into the forest, we need to realize that we can get out of the car.

And for Althusser, this is entirely possible: “As is well known, the accusation of being in ideology only applies to others, never to oneself (unless one is really a Spinozist or a Marxist, which, in this matter, is to be exactly the same thing)” (ISA, p. 175, my emphasis).  We are, as Althusser puts it, an ideological animal by nature: we produce practices invested with meaning which enable us to reproduce and transform our relations to the natural world, so that we can escape the constraints of natural history.  And we do transform our ideologies all the time (metaphorically, we produce new and better modes of transportation with every passing generation); but too often we do it without conscious awareness.  Our ideologies, that is, begin to reproduce themselves, and we simply go along for the ride.  What must not be missed, but often is, is that we are also an animal capable of gaining conscious awareness of our ideologies.

Althusser’s theory of ideology has come in for quite a bit of criticism, not least from Marxists who see it as leaving the subject completely trapped in the realm of illusion.  This is, I would argue, a misunderstanding of the profound insight of Althusser’s essay.  The usual argument against Althusser goes something like this: on Althusser’s account of ideology, only subjects can take action in the world, and subjects are always only functioning as supports for social structures (they are subjects of and ideology); theoretical practice can produce objective knowledge of the world, but is powerless to motivate action, since action can only be taken in an ideology by a subject.  We are left, the argument goes, with the choice of knowing what changes to make but being unable to make them, or being active subjects in the world but with no objective knowledge of the effects of our actions and so blindly reproducing the existing social formation.  All objections to Althusser’s theory of ideology I have ever encountered ultimately boil down to this same problem.  But this is a misunderstanding of Althusser, which ignores the importance to his theory of those subjects (Spinozist or Marxist) who can know their own ideology.  The ISA essay does present an overwhelmingly claustrophobic picture of the pervasiveness of ideology, but this must be understood to function as Ernest Mandel has suggested Marx’s third volume of Capital does: it is meant to explain how such a system is so often able to work at all, not to argue that it is inexorable.  We have powerful attachments to our ideologies.  Certain degrees of transformation are already built into the system of reproduction.  We mistake our humanly created social formations for inexorable natural occurrences.  And so, ideology keeps us going round in circles, reproducing our subject positions and filling the vacancies in the structure with new individuals interpellated as subjects.

For Althusser, we can escape this endless going round in circles, and there are practices which will make it more likely that we can do so.  It will be my argument that a non-buddhist practice can serve this purpose.  It can do so, I will argue, because Buddhism has always operated in the register of the ideological.  It can function to produce another kind of subject aware of its ideology.  In order to explain how this is possible, I will want to have recourse to many of the concepts produced in the thought of Alain Badiou.  So, to make the leap from the Althusserian theory of ideology to my reconstitution of Buddhist concepts, I will need to detour through a brief reading of Badiou’s project, in which I will make what may seem, to those familiar with continental philosophy, an unlikely claim.

Alain Badiou’s Continuation of the Althusserian Project

It is my contention that, perhaps even contrary to his own claims, Badiou’s entire body of work is in fact a continuation of the project begun by Althusser’s ISA Essay.  In the seventies, Badiou published a book largely devoted to the rejection of Althusser’s theory, entitled De L’ideologie.  His argument there was that as an “image of an image, ideology has no referent,” with the effect that “consciousness of our exploitation and revolt against exploitation are unthinkable, with no possibility of objective knowledge of class relationships having any effect” (p. 30).  His concern was that “if the ‘young Hegelians’ struggled against the illusions of consciousness, our ‘young Marxists’ have gained no ground at all if they are only using their knowledge to incite the ‘subjected’ masses to struggle with all their hearts against the unconscious”(p. 21).   Badiou is clearly concerned that Althusser’s theory will lead to a kind of postmodern relativism, in which all we can do is blindly struggle to change our ideological cathexes, with no guarantee that the change will be for the better, and no real need to develop a practice in which to change the social formation.

This is a valid concern; there is always the danger that Althusser’s theory could be misunderstood (in fact, it very often has been misunderstood) to suggest that we need only change our ideologies to eliminate our oppression.  This is clearly not the intention of the ISA essay, however, which is motivated by the events of 1968 and is an argument that change will require a reconstruction of our material institutions.  Althusser’s goal is to enable the production of a subject that can go out and change the social formation.  This, I would argue, is what the ISA essay calls for, but does not fully realize; Badiou’s theory of the subject, of “Worlds,” and of the relationship these have to truth, makes enormous progress toward producing the kind of subject Althusser suggests is possible.

In Theory of the Subject, Badiou had suggested that the subject be understood very differently from the Althusserian’s subject of an ideology.  In that work, Badiou wanted to insist that the only true subject is the subject of a truth, free of the limitations of its ideology and able to force the acceptance of a truth foreclosed by the ideology of its time and place.  When we get to Logics of Worlds, however, the role of the subject has become more complex, with multiple possible relations to truth and ideology.  It is now possible for the subject of truth to be opposed by the reactionary subject, intent on denying the truth, or the obscurantist subject, intent on mystifying it.  Badiou has replaced the Althusserian concept of ideology with his concept of “World,” but the function is much the same.  Worlds, in Badiou’s theory, are the structuring of a particular appearance or construal of reality, and reality can only ever appear in a particular World.  There is truth, but there it must always appear in a World, and every World, in allowing a certain reality to “appear,” necessarily excludes from appearance other parts or construals of reality.  Badiou’s concepts of truth procedures and Worlds may be more subtle and sophisticated, may be a useful advance in thought, but it is still in line with the Althusserian division of science and ideology, which always shape and limit one another, but operate in different registers.

Worlds, for Badiou, are produced by a structuring principle which determines what appears, and what remains unthinkable.  Like Nagarjuna’s concept of “conventional truths,” Worlds are all we have to work with, we cannot step outside of them, and they are always limiting, subjective, socially produced—but, they are nonetheless capable of presenting truths.  To clarify at the risk of oversimplifying, we can think of a mind-independent truth such as the occurrence of evolution of species.  This can only ever be known in a World, in a conventional construal of reality, and so, for us, will always necessarily include some value judgments functioning to shape how we experience ourselves.  In some Worlds, this truth may be completely foreclosed, but it remains a truth; in other Worlds, in which it appears, it may take on different meanings, different significance, different importance.  We could imagine, for instance, a World in which we referred to the “adaptation” of species, without the implicit teleology and anthropomorphism of the term “evolution.”  The process, however, as a mind-independent truth about reality, would still be the same.

The subject of the truth, then, is the subject which functions to force the truth into appearance in a World which forecloses it.  The subject is not identical with the biological individual, cannot be mapped onto a brain, but exists in the human socially produced symbolic/imaginary system (the influence of Lacan’s thought on Badiou is quite clear).  To overstate the matter somewhat, the mind is not in the brain but in systems of symbolic communication, which must always take place between multiple individuals.  It is not that we have a mind which then attaches to a symbolic system, but that there is a symbolic system which makes use of individual biological organisms.  A subject may be a political party, a couple, an entire school of thought.  This subject, then, transcends the individual bodily being, and can be reborn, brought back to life, by new individuals in a new World.  The actions of each individual’s life will affect the subject, of which it is part, far beyond its bodily death—because the subject can and often does continue, even “unappear” and “reappear” in Worlds, far beyond a bodily life.  As Badiou puts it: “Several times in its brief existence, every human animal is granted the chance to incorporate itself into the subjective present of a truth. The grace of living for an Idea, that is of living as such, is accorded to everyone” (Logics of Worlds, p. 514, my emphasis).  If we are able to become the subject of that truth, we have the chance “to live . . .’as an immortal’”(p. 40).

We must not forget the significance of what Badiou calls, in Ethics, “interest.”  Our motivating cathexes, attachments, sources of pleasure, which we cannot and should not fully renounce, may at times, in ideal situations, align with the demands of the truth procedure, and “disinterested-interest might be representable as interest pure and simple” (55); this is possible, but it might always turn out that the alignment is less than perfect, and we will need some form of thought and practice which can enable us to persevere in the truth.  And pursuit of truth is always going to be a struggle, because there is a tendency for any truth in any World to produce a reactionary subject, fighting against the emergence of that truth. Worlds will tend to reproduce themselves in an endless circle of blind determination, oppression, and suffering.  And a World, it seems, will always produce a degree of suffering, because despite his objections to Spinoza, Badiou is quite Spinozist on this point: the source of joy for the subject is in its ability to move towards the greater appearance of truths in its World.  Depriving us of this ability, attachment to a world, blocks our conatus and produces suffering.

Much of Badiou’s work, then, is an attempt to determine what kinds of practices are truth procedures, capable of producing subjects which will force the appearance of truths in the world.  My suggestion is that, in Althusserian terms, this is an aesthetic project, because for Althusser the aesthetic is the practice of producing a distance from our ideology.  In “’The Piccolo Teatro’: Bertolazzi and Brecht,” Althusser argues that, like Brecht’s epic theatre, the production of Bertolazzi’s play produces an alienation of ideology which “is really the production of a new spectator, an actor who starts where the performance ends, who only starts so as to complete it, but in life”(151).  The danger is that the aesthetic object may be captured by what Althusser calls an “aesthetics of consumption,” in which it produces only comforting pleasure that subtly reinforces our existing ideologies—sort of like watching Avatar or reading Harry Potter.  To ensure the aesthetics of distantiation requires a certain prescriptive practice and a conceptual framework for the aesthetic experience.  This theoretical apparatus would consist of a theory of ideology and the subject, and also a theory of the strategies of containment by which the distantiating effect is managed in various literary genres, according to what ideology is being distanced and what alternative ideology is being produced in its wake.

If Badiou’s project is a step forward in producing the subject that is aware of its ideology, this is because it advances the theoretical knowledge of ideology, subjects, and strategies of containment. To return to my metaphor of the map, the subject of truth is more capable of choosing the best mode of transportation for any part of the map it seeks to explore.  We can stop reproducing Worlds, and start remapping them.  The final section of this essay, then, will suggest that the production of this form of subjectivity has always been one possible use of Buddhist concepts; the production of the reactionary subject seeking to reproduce the existing World is perhaps the unavoidable consequence of this.

Buddhism as a Theory and Practice of Ideology

My final claim, here, is that we can thoroughly “naturalize” Buddhism, eliminating all supernatural and otherworldly notions from its profound philosophical insights, only if we see it as operating in the register of the ideological.  That is, Buddhism has nothing useful to tell us about the neurological processes underlying contentment, or about ontology or the natural world.  Its domain is the realm of humanly produced symbolic and imaginary systems, of Althusserian ideology, or Badiou’s “logics of Worlds.”  It can teach us a great deal about how we produce Worlds, and about how we can more consciously transform them.

The historical emergence of Buddhism, what we might in Badiou’s terms call the Buddha Event, occurred at a time when the stagnation of the social system was becoming particularly difficult to maintain.  The existing World of the ruling class sought to fix the social system, by insisting on the existence of a pure divine language in which truth existed, and the repetition of formal ritual.  The truth that appeared in the world was the rejection of the Brahmanical ideology, the recognition of the socially produced nature of social formations, the chance to break out of stagnation and open up new possibilities for the exercise of human productive and creative potential.  Buddhism, in short, is an attempt to produce a new social practice that enables a subject capable of escaping the endless circle of the reproduction of the existing relations of production—a primarily agricultural form of production and a “sacrificial” form of distribution and exchange.  The history of Buddhism ever since can be seen as a struggle between the reactionary, obscurantist, and faithful subject, the dialectic of radical forcing of truth and mystical or institutional strategies of containment.

I offer here a partial glossary of naturalized Buddhist terminology, then, as an illustration of how Buddhist concepts can be coherent and useful once we reject the reactionary denial, and the obscurantist mystification of, the truth of the Buddhist Event:

Samsara becomes simply the endless self-reproduction of a World, which always requires the closing off of the appearance of something new, the foreclosure of some truths, and so is always a source of suffering.  Reproducing our existing ideologies, as if they were the goal instead of the means, is the source of the suffering of subjects.

Karma can be understood as the structures of our reality, including both ideological formations and the relations of production.  Karma has always referred to both intentional actions and the effects of those actions.  In my reconstitution, then, we can see karma as a thoroughly natural concept, referring to both the ideologically shaped actions we take in the world and their ongoing effects in shaping the possible actions of subjects in the future.  We reproduce our world by acting with “intention” in our ideologies, and will bear the effects of these actions as subjects long after our individual bodies are gone.  We can, then, escape our karma, not by being freed from some magical force, but by coming to see the constraints on our actions produced by our ideologies, which exist in structures that have been built up by the actions of countless generations.  As Marx said, we can make our own history, but we cannot make it exactly as we choose.  We escape our karma once we can see the constraints within which we can act, and the degree to which we can change the structures we bear instead of merely reinforcing them.  Karma, then, exists and operates at multiple levels: it is the existing productive capacity of the human race, but it is also the current social construction of the form and content of our unconscious minds.

Punabbhava (rebirth) is possible, then, because there is no soul to be reborn, no world-transcendent entity that leaps from body to body.  Instead, the mind, which exists only in the socially produced symbolic and imaginary system, can interpellate new concrete individuals to participate in a subject position.  As Roy Bhaskar puts it in From East to West: Odyssey of a Soul: “If the soul is regarded as a disposition to be embodied, then traditional Buddhist objections to a realist rendition of it are overcome” (p. 92).  The reborn “soul” is nothing but a disposition or tendency in the symbolic/imaginary structure to reproduce a certain kind of subject by interpellating new bodily individuals.  Our attempt to change our karma, to transform the structures we bear, can lead to better rebirth, to dispositions to produce subjects less prone to suffering.

Bodhi (enlightenment, awakening) then need not be a supernatural state we must humbly deny having reached; instead, it can be a quite real state of being the Buddhist/Spinozist/Marxist subject which is aware of its ideology and better able to change it.  It is, in Badiou’s terms, the subject faithful to a truth, and engaged in changing its World to force the appearance of this truth.  We can be awakened without claiming grand supernatural powers or even perfection as human beings: we can be awakened only as subjects, not as individuals, and no subject can be awakened except in relation to some truth.  Bodhi can be far more common than the reactionary or obscurantist subject of Buddhism would have us believe, and to claim it is not to make a claim about one’s individual, personal worth but about a truth procedure to which one remains faithful.

Finally, the concepts of sunyata, anatman,  pratityasamutpada: we can see that once we grasp these as attempts to theorize the particular immanence of a truth in a World, the mystery and incomprehensibility disappears.  Nagarjuna becomes much more comprehensible once we grasp that he is arguing that there is certainly a truth, but it can always only appear in a World.  There is no single form in which a truth must appear (it can potentially, if it is a truth, appear in every conceivable world, and will always take the form necessary to that World); there is no abiding self, because the subject is always only a socially constructed symbolic/imaginary system, which transcends the bodily individual but is clearly not other-worldly or immortal; everything is always dependently arisen, even a universal truth, because it can only ever exist in a particular World, and to change any subject requires a change in the entire social structure which it inhabits.  To claim, in postmodern fashion, that all we can change and all we need to change is our minds, is absurd if we understand that the mind is a product of, dependently arisen from, the structures it inhabits.  To change our mind, we must change our World.

The only question, then, is: how is change possible?  If our mind is the socially produced symbolic/imaginary system, where is the Archimedean vantage point from which to force a change?  This is where we must reject the radical disconnection Badiou argues exists in Althusser’s thought between ideology and objective truth (the argument is echoed in the Anglophone world by Althusser’s major expositors, Eagleton, Elliot, and Benton).  To suggest that there is no clear way out of the prison of ideology fails to see that the solution lies precisely within the register of ideology, not in a move into a realm of pure truth.  Ultimately, Althusser remains a realist, and our ideology is not so perfectly sealed-off as it might appear to be when it is working successfully.  There is a mind-independent world, which does not yield to our conceptual reconstrual of it.  Occasionally, we are going to drive our car into a tree.  There will be catastrophic failures of the economic system, for instance, which cannot make any sense in the current state of knowledge.  Our ideologies may just break down.  Eagleton suggested that Althusser has “produced an ideology of the ego, rather than one of the human subject” (Ideology: an introduction, p. 144), and this is true to an extent: to the degree that ideology works seamlessly and smoothly, it works like the ego—but it never does work completely seamlessly and smoothly, there is always the problem of the unconscious, of the superego.  If Althusser seems to have produced and “ideology of the ego” this is only because he is trying to explain how it is ever possible that something so certain to produce error and suffering is so powerfully persistent.

There is always the possibility that, even without crashing head-on into reality, we can gain the capacity to alter our World.  It is important to remember that there are always multiple Worlds, that there is no single, monolithic ideological position, that there are always multiple subjects.  We need not worry about the problem of solipsism, because there is no possibility of a private, personal and untranslatable symbolic system, and we need not worry about being trapped in a single ideological vision because we can always see another person’s ideology, and point it out to them, and they can, hopefully, see ours.  Just as there are limits to the possibility of psychoanalyzing oneself, there are limits on an individual’s ability to escape her ideology; however, we can serve as one another’s analysts, and bring to consciousness what is unconscious.

There are some difficult implications of all of this.  We cannot, for instance, simply “live and let live.”  The current obsession with “tolerance” and “multiculturalism” would need to be rejected, because we cannot gain our own freedom from samsara without forcing a change in the world.  Our mind is a social construction, and so I cannot change “my” mind without changing “yours.”  We must not accept the quietist notion of learning to accept the world as it is, because the world as it is constructs our mind; we must demand the right to change the world, to insist that others see truths they don’t like, because we are not atomistic individuals.

There is also the likelihood that the “interest” of the individual, in Badiou’s sense, may trump the desire to see the truth.  There may be so much material benefit, so much comfort, so much attachment, that seeing the truth would require a kind of asceticism, an abandonment of individual cathexes, that is unlikely to be successful.  As I mentioned earlier, Badiou suggests that in the ideal state the individual interests and the interest of the subject faithful to the truth will so coincide that there is no feeling of ascetic renunciation, no need for great effort; however, this ideal state is unlikely to often occur.  What, then, can take its place?

For Althusser, the aesthetic is the practice that can produce a motivational attachment to changing our ideologies, and the world.  I would argue that Buddhist practice can become such an aesthetic practice.  Because the best way to produce an investment in change is to actually experience the truth that the mind is not an atomistic entity but a socially produced effect of a symbolic/imaginary system.  We can become subjects faithful to a truth, even a truth that opposes the interest of our own individual bodily existence, once we experience the truth of what a subject is.  To experience the existence of our mind in the trans-individual symbolic/imaginary system could motivate us to place the interest of the entire system above the interest of our individual bodily selves.  The difficulty, and importance of this experience can easily be seen in many works of and on Buddhism.  To take just one particularly explicit example, Sue Hamilton, in her book Early Buddhism: A New Approach, attempts to reconceive Buddhist concepts in modern philosophical terms.  The book is interesting, provocative, erudite and insightful; but ultimately Hamilton’s understanding of Buddhism is limited by her insistence that one simply cannot “experience that one has no self . . . in any context outside of a madhouse” (p. 21).  For all her knowledge of Buddhist thought, and that is quite a bit, she cannot access an experience which would allow anatman to make sense to her.   Much like psychoanalysis, in which simply accepting the truth of the offered interpretation does nothing to alleviate our symptoms, a purely intellectual agreement with this theoretical position can do little to produce change.  Perhaps only engaging in a material practice, which must involve multiple individuals, and which is designed to allow the experiencing of the constructedness of the mind, can produce subjects faithful to the truth of the Buddha event.

The history of Buddhism has been a dialectic of emergence and containments of truth, of faithful subjects being endlessly absorbed into reactionary or obscurantist subjects.  When meditation seeks to stop all thought, to insist on a world-transcendent experience of pure consciousness outside of language, it is functioning to strengthen the hold of our ideological formations, to shore up the walls of our World, by insisting on the timeless universality of our purportedly “pure” perceptions.  What we need, instead, is a framework for Buddhist practice that is faithful to the truths of samsara, sunyata, anatman, karma, bhava, and bodhi.   We can produce subjects capable of stepping out of the car and walking.

My suggestion, though, is that we can do this only if we grasp that Buddhist concepts can be understood in a completely naturalist way, with no need to accept any world-transcendent of mystical beings or forces.   Further, we need to grasp that Buddhism operates completely in the register of the ideological, its truths are transcendent truths of human ideological practices; Buddhism includes no truths of physical reality external to the existence of human social structures.  We may be able to produce such truths, we may even need to do so, but we would be better able to do so as subjects aware of our own ideologies, and able to change them in productive ways guided by rigorous thought.

The Buddha’s great insight was that humans are ideological animals; in Althusser’s terms, it was a production of a theory of, or truth about, “ideology in general.”  This insight enables us to escape samsara, to be freed of our karma, and to create our own World.  Unfortunately, it requires us to break free of our ideology, to take responsibility for the structures we bear, and to remake our World.  The price of awakening is eternal diligence.

So, I ask, is this coherent?  Where are the obscurities, aporias, and just plain conceptual blunders?  Does there seem any possibility of such a practice ever existing?

There is, clearly, much to be worked out.  There are clearly different strata of ideology, from the construction of the structure of individual psychology to political and economic strata.  It would be necessary to determine whether different practices or different theoretical frameworks would be needed to address each different strata, and to decide how extensive one’s theoretical knowledge must be to produce the proper distantiating aesthetic experience.  What might be the role of ritual, what kind of meditation might be most useful?  Most of us, I believe, still participate in some Buddhist practice, and non-buddhism need not entail walking away from this, but remaking it.

References

Althusser, L .  “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatusses (Notes towards an Investigation.” Lenin and Philosophy.  Trans. Ben Brewster.  New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971.

—.  “A Letter on Art in Reply to André Daspre.” Lenin and Philosophy.  Trans. Ben Brewster.  New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971.

—.  “The ‘Piccolo Teatro’: Bertolazzi and Brecht.” For Marx. Trans. Ben Brewster.  New York: Vantage Books, 1970.

Badiou, A. Logics of Worlds.  Trans. Alberto Toscano.  London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2009.

— . Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil.  Trans. Peter Hallward. New York: Verso, 2001.

— . De L’ideologie.  Paris: Francois Maspero, 1976.

Bhaskar, R.  From East to West: Odyssey of a Soul.  London: Routledge, 2000.

Eagleton, T. Ideology: An Introduction. New York: Verso, 1991.

Hamilton, S. Early Buddhism: A New Approach.  New York: Routledge, 2008.

__________________

Tom Pepper

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121 Responses to “Samsara as the Realm of Ideology”

  1. Cory Lewis said

    Hi, thanks for this. It is interesting, and I do see the potential of developing this kind of re-reading of Buddhist concepts.

    But I find your reading of bodhi in particular to be inadequate. Being aware of an ideological network that one is embedded in is not the same as being liberated from it. Being aware is a relatively straightforward intellectual task – being liberated involves the transformation of the whole personality. This distinction has an analogy within your own re-reading – a subject could be perfectly aware of their own ideological embeddedness, even in an aesthetic sense, but still be personally trapped within it. An enlightened person is not so trapped, they are free. Without the distinction between awareness of/liberation from, you can’t make sense of the buddhist technologies of self, nor the phenomenology that they engender.

    You may be ok with that, but if so that raises another question about your project: do you care about continuity with what has historically been called buddhism or not? If not, offering a translation of buddhist concepts seems pointless. Nothing appears to be added to the conversation. If you do care, then making sense of the practices and phenomenologies of those practices should matter to you, and my first issue arises.

  2. Tom Pepper said

    Thanks for your response, Cory. It’s clear from your questions that you either aren’t understanding what I’m trying to say or are simply refusing one of my premises–and this is my major concern here, that I am not making my point clearly enough, that what I am saying is obscure or muddled. If I’m going to respond to you, I want to be clear about where the misunderstanding is. You say that the enlightened “person” is “free”: free of what? In what way? My point is that the “individual” cannot be free in any sense, but the “subject,” which is always a part of a larger, collectively produced World, can be free, in the sense of freely being able to change its ideology. Are you suggesting that the subject can be altogether outside of ideology, or are you rejecting the idea that the subject/mind is always a collective entity and not individual/atomistic? If I could understand what part of my argument you aren’t getting (or are perhaps simply rejecting), then I might be better able to respond.

    As for the last question, again, I perhaps didn’t make this clear enough. I am not so concerned with preserving “what has historically been called Buddhism,” because much of this is what I would call reactionary/obscurantist containment of the TRUTH of Buddhism. What I am concerned with, and why offering this translation has a point for me, is recovering the truths that Buddhist thought, the Buddhist subject, has struggled to force into appearance in the various Worlds in which is has existed. The point is that there is a fundamental and unique truth in these concepts, and “translating” these terms is not simply abducting them for a new use, but an attempt to extract this truth from the accretions of reactionary and mystical ideologies.

    I also cannot agree that being aware of one’s ideology is “a relatively straightforward task.” Very, very few people are able to do even this, much less gain the capacity to actually consciously change their ideology. The goal here is to avoid the attempt to do this as individuals, which is perhaps impossible, and to do it as a subject, in Badiou’s sense, which is difficult, but perhaps possible.

    Thanks again for your response, and I would appreciate any help you can give me in clarifying this, in figuring out whether you are rejecting my premises or just can’t follow what I’m saying.

  3. Cory Lewis said

    I took freedom to be what you describe here – the freedom to alter ideology, to reframe the world. I’m suggesting that the freedom of enlightenment is the non-attachment to any World, the absolute fluidity of interaction with Worlds. What I’m trying to suggest is that an intellectual/aesthetic recognition of ideology is insufficient to bring about a state of being unbound to any particular World.

    This kind of absolute freedom from, but not rejection of, symbolic participation is a cornerstone concept in much of buddhist thought (I’m thinking particularly of later writing like the diamond sutra), and a key feature of the phenomenology of buddhist practices.

    Whether become aware of ideology is “relatively straightforward” depends, of course, on your contrast class. I would say that becoming a good marxist, while rare and difficult, is relatively much easier than become an arhat. Complete liberation of mind is, as you say, really really hard, and very few people will get there. But that does not count as a strike against its cogency as a concept, nor its utility in mapping the space of human possibilities.

  4. Tom Pepper said

    I think I see the difficulty, and I’m still not quite sure if I’m being obscure on MY position, but it does seem clear that you are not accepting my basic assumptions. From my perspective there is no possibility of being “unbound” from ANY World, in an absolute sense, of being completely outside of a World, since the mind and so the subject always and only exists IN a World. To suggest that we could gain a position outside of any World (instead of, as I am suggesting, simply gaining the capacity to change our World) is, for me, insisting on the existence of a subtle and world-transcendent soul/atman/consciousness. So, I am disagreeing on what the “cornerstone concept” of Buddhism in fact is, I guess. That is, your suggestion is absolutely a traditional understanding in much of Mahayana Buddhism, but my argument is that it is the reactionary subject’s attempt to deny the truth of Buddhist thought. From my perspective, then, becoming an arhat as you understand it is not just more difficult than becoming a spinozist/marxist subject, it is completely impossible and merely an obscurantist mystification of Buddhism.

    So fundamentally, you aren’t so much arguing against my conclusions, as rejecting my basic premise. Admittedly, it is a highly debatable premise, so I would expect most people will reject it. Still, as I see it, if we assume that there is a postion free from all Worlds, we are still thoroughly within the most powerful ideology while thinking we are outside of all ideologies. My position is that, perhaps paradoxically, you are still trapped by ideology because you think you can potentially get outside of it, while I am much more “free” of my ideology, because I know there IS not outside of it.

    I’m still not quit sure I’ve made this clear enough in the essay, though. That is, I’m not sure if my position is clear, and you are intentionally rejecting it, or if it was unclear what my postion is.

    Thanks again.

  5. Cory Lewis said

    Now I think you’ve misunderstood me. I’m not positing a position outside of worlds, or free from ideology. I’m positing a mental condition which is not trapped by any particular world – that moves with complete freedom between worlds.

    The difference is as basic as the difference between a wind-cock which moves freely with the wind, and one which points in no particular direction. The latter is a contradiction (it would not be a wind-cock if it did not point), while the former is merely an asymptote which real systems can approach but few if any will ever achieve. The ideologically bound subject would be like a wind-cock that is stuck in one position, unable to flow with circumstances appropriately.

  6. […] akzeptieren. Mit dieser Feststellung beginnt Tom Pepper seinen jüngsten (englischsprachigen) Aufsatz im Blog Speculative Non-Buddhism. Was er in diesem Aufsatz versucht, formuliert er folgendermaßen (Übersetzungen von mir): „Ich […]

  7. Greg said

    I’m a little unclear as to what the ultimate raison d’être of Pepperian Naturalized (non)Buddhism is. If I understand correctly, breaking free of ideology is the means, but to what? To reduce human suffering in the course of our (presumably singular) lives? What do you suppose is the scope of the reduction you imagine is possible?

  8. Tom Pepper said

    Re #5: I don’t think I’m misunderstanding you at all. I think there is just a difference in our basic assumptions. It is my assumption that there is no way to be “free of” a World, because we are always, can only be, in one. Your metaphor reveals this difference: from my perspective, to be tossed by the wind is to be completely bound by ideology, completely determined by it, while fooling yourself that you are free, so the weathervane metaphor wouldn’t be helpful. Your “mental condition” is, for me, just another term for a soul or atman or consciousness that is outside of Worlds, in the sense of not being completely dependently arisen. I do see what you’re saying, and this is in fact what many schools of Buddhism teach–I’m not saying you’re misunderstanding Mahayana teaching or anything, simply that we have different basic understandings of what reality is actually like.

    Re #7: Greg: it seems to me your completely clear on the purpose. I really don’t, in this essay, spell out what kind of suffering we could work to reduce first–that’s another topic, once this basis is established. As for the scope of the reduction, well, what kind of suffering have ya got? Then we’ll see how our World perpetuates it, and try to think about how to reduce it. The most important thing, though, is that it is not an individualist project; the first goal is to produce a sufficiently expansive Buddhist subject, incorporating enough bodily individuals, to seriously attempt a structural change.

  9. On first reading, it seems to me that this is a viable reinterpretation of Buddhist principles, as long as we accept Althusser’s radically expanded definition of ideology as being something reproduced on the level of “morals, values, tastes, emotions.” On that level, your interpretation is a sociopolitical spin on the central dharma practice of observing how reactive thoughts, emotions and behaviors arise in one’s experience and developing strategies to be free from that reactivity. Since that reactivity is informed by the biosocial imperatives of ideology, freedom from reactivity would also be freedom to practice another truth. And in my experience, mindfulness of necessity involves the awareness of the social production of consciousness; practice, therefore, is always practice with others. I would be concerned to emphasize that this not only can be but needs to be an aesthetic process, ie it must occur on the level of the body/mind, and not simply be seen as a process of intellection (although thinking is obviously involved). Thanks for taking the time and effort to write lucidly!

  10. Cory Lewis said

    I’m sure you don’t think you’ve misunderstood me, but your response only furthers my suspicion that you have. I don’t know where you got that reading of ‘mental condition’, but it wasn’t in anything I wrote. I have not posited anything that is not a result of dependent origination. I have posited the possibility of a dynamic flexibility with respect to symbolic forms, not a subject which is empty of ideology.

  11. Brad Potts said

    Tom,

    This is a very interesting piece, one that I have been mulling over all day. Before I respond in full I wonder if you could expound on Badiou’s idea of “truth” (“Truth”?). How can one know one has a truth? Are these truths timeless or provisional? What methodology do you (Badiou?) advocate in apprehending a truth? Is Marxism “true”?

    As far as the coherency of your essay: I think, taken in full and according to your definition of terms, it is very coherent and I applaud your intellectual creativity. The real question is whether coherency is sufficient grounds for acceptance of your project.

    Thanks for opening up this dialogue; much to think about…

  12. Tom Pepper said

    Okay, perhaps I did misunderstand you. When you said, in #1, that the enlightened person is “free” and “liberated from” ideology, or in #3 “absolute freedom from, but not rejection of, symbolic participation”, or in #7 “moves with complete freedom between worlds, apparently I was not supposed to understand you to MEAN free, liberated, or absolute freedom from, but complete embededness in? Your position, then, is that there is no subject position separate from the socially constructed world of symbolic systems, and the only thing the subject can do is do gain enough flexibility to alter these symbolic systems? Okay, so then we completely agree. What, then, WAS the point of your question? My reading of bodhi, which is exactly the same as yours, is inadequate?

    Clearly, I’m being a bit ironic here. I’ve had this debate a dozen times on this blog–I respond to exactly what you say, and you say you didn’t say that, and I am misunderstanding you. I do understand what you say, even better than you do. You are unaware of the implicit atman in your understanding of liberation or enlightenment etc.–and becoming increasingly impatient and upset as you are having more trouble avoiding seeing that it is there. Trust me, I am not the only one here who sees what you are saying more clearly than you do.

    If you want to hold to the concept of a transcendent consciousness or mind or soul or whatever, fine, just do it–but I can’t see why you want so badly to deny this belief, and then hide it behind ever changing terms. In #10, for instance, you change your terms again, but still, who or what exactly HAS the dynamic flexibility you suggest? It must be something OTHER THAN the symbolic system, since it has this flexibility “with respect to” the symbolic system, right? If, on the other hand, you are arguing that the symbolic system itself is dynamically flexible, and the subject is completely within this “World” (in Badiou’s sense), then we agree–and again, I can’t see what your initial question is.

    I really don’t want to get bogged down with this kind of debate, though. If you still can’t get this, maybe we can discuss it off the board?

  13. Tom Pepper said

    Brad,

    No, coherence isn’t really sufficient grounds, but it is necessary.

    As for truth, well, there are some guides to indicate what is a “truth” and what is not. Badiou suggests, for instance, that one indication that something is not a truth is if it is limited or limiting. For instance, if one’s idea of the ideal state could only be inhabited by a superior race, than it is not truth, because truth would need to be accessible to all beings. If a concept is untranslatable, if it depends on one particular cultural context, then it is not a truth–for instance, if only an easterner can possibly understand a concept, because it cannot be understood outside of their particular culture, then it is really orientalist ideology, not a truth. Marxism, as a science of historical formations, is a truth, because what it says about all existing social formations is true for everyone. If there were a social formation without an economic system, there would be no way to apply marxist theory to that social system, but it would still be true about those systems which DO have economic systems. On the other hand, if you mean communism, or marxism as a “world view,” then no, it would not be a truth, but exactly an ideology, a World.

    There is quite a bit more to this idea of recognizing what is and is not a “truth” in this sense–I can give examples, but to fully explicate this would take another essay. Does this little example help at all?

    Also, what do you think WOULD be sufficient grounds? That is, I agree that clarity and coherence is not enough, but I’m curious what would count, for others, for convincing evidence?

  14. Cory Lewis said

    If you read what I initially wrote before you decided that I didn’t understand you, I was arguing that there is a space between being the ” the Buddhist/Spinozist/Marxist subject which is aware of its ideology and better able to change it” and having complete freedom to move through the space of ideology.

    But I’m actually done here. You’ve been nothing but dismissive since the start of this conversation. The only possibilities that you can conceive of are that I’m confused, or that I’ve rejected one of your premises. You are even willing to believe that, rather than any failure of communication, I’m actually confused about what I’m writing. That’s an incredibly arrogant rhetorical stance to take.

  15. Robert said

    Tom, your essay is clear and lucid, a lot of new and exciting ideas to absorb, really amazing stuff. I have been struggling with Badiou’s second manifesto for it seems forever, it is a tough little book and difficult to grasp without prior training. Your essay will help.

    My one immediate question is also about truths. I understand Badiou to claim that there are four types of truth, or four domains where truths appear; love, politics, science, and art. Also, if I understand correctly, he does not consider philosophy to offer up truths on its own, the task of philosophy is to point out when/where truths occur but it isn’t a truth domain as such. I wonder, is what you describe in the last section of your essay a truth event (you talk about the Buddha event), or is it in a sense a rewording of Badiou’s philosophy in Buddhist terms? And if it is a truth event, what would be it’s domain?

    Sorry, I realize my language is imprecise.

  16. Tom Pepper said

    Re #15: Thanks for your question. I think what you ask may help clarify further my muddled response to Brad in #13. There, I was thinking of how we might know a truth from a falsehood, how we might be sure we are being faithful to a liberating idea, and not an oppressive error.

    But this is another aspect of Badiou’s idea of truth that I probably need to be clearer about. As you say, he suggests four domains in which truths appear–this is a better way to put it than types of truths, I think. The point is that truth is not so much a “fact” as it is something that the World, the present “situation,” forecloses. There is some similarity here to the Spinozist idea of intuitive knowledge, I think. The existing World includes our discourses of knowledge, of what it is possible to say, but it always excludes something, something which exists IN the World, is an essential part of it, but must not be spoken of or “understood.” The source of capitalist wealth in the appropriation of the productive power of the masses would be such a “truth” for classical economics and the World of early capitalism–in fact, some would argue it remains a truth today, when most economists insist that the source of wealth is the savvy of the investor combined with proper government regulation, and the current crisis was unpredictable and remains inexplicable.

    The truth, as I understand Badiou, is less a matter of conceptually understanding this aporia, which is often the strategy of the reactionary, than it is of forcing the consequences of this really existing but not appearing element of the World. For instance, in “Logics of Worlds,” he suggests that the political subject of truth arises when “the world exposes a variant of the gap between the state and the affirmative capacity of the people.” The slave revolt lead by Spartacus is one of his often used examples.

    Badiou, in opposition to the postmodern and to those who have taken the linguistic turn, makes a distinction between knowledge and truth. Knowledge is a matter of the existing symbolic structure, shaping what we can see, say, and think, but truth is like the Lacanian Real, the powerful and persistent incomprehensible thing that is always there but remains unthinkable in our current symbolic/imaginary system. So, truth is less a clear and precise statement of something than it is a practice or process that demands the expansion of our existing knowledge system.

    My suggestion is that Buddhist thought can be seen as one of these events which “exposes a variant of” a truth, the truth that our World is socially and ideologically constructed and so can be transformed. That is, the truth that we are by nature ideological animals, which live in our symbolic/imaginary worlds by necessity, and cannot function purely on the basis of a representation of mind-independent reality (we do need and use this, but we cannot operate on this alone). Exposing this truth, the revelation of the powerful force of ideology really existing in the world but unthinkable and unrecognized, is the event of Buddhism, and the practice of Buddhism is to alter our symbolic/imaginary systems in ways that can enable the reduction of suffering.

    I’m not sure where, or if, this would fit into Badious four truth processes. I have suggested that perhaps it is in the domain of art, but I’m not sure we need to accept these specific four domains to make use of Badiou’s concepts.

    I’m not sure if this helps clarify anything, or merely muddies the waters. There is a sense, in Badiou, in which conceptual clarity that doesn’t requires actual action to change the world is not really desirable. At the risk of slipping into mystification and relativism, then, we need to see that some truth won’t be “clear” until there is a change in the World. As Mark suggests in #9 above, we must be sure to insist on the need for a practice, a material action, and not attempt to keep this in the realm of thought, which is becomes a reactionary strategy of containment.

  17. Robert said

    Tom,

    My understanding of suffering was always relatively straightforward: There is impermanence, manifesting in things like old age, sickness, death and traffic lights changing to red just when you approach. If I understand you suffering should be seen as the result of as a subject being engulfed in an ideology, helplessly repeating and perpetuating that ideology and its resulting world through time. The absence of suffering then is realized through the collective subject pursuing a fresh truth in a world, implicitly recognizing that the dominant ideology need not be a cage, and that a world can be changed. Correct me if I am wrong.

    I wonder if there is more you can say here to give this kind of suffering the realness or concreteness that for me is evoked when I think about things like old age, death, the list goes on. I find it especially difficult because in your system the suffering occurs not in good old me, but in the trans-individual symbolic/imaginary system. Your suffering does not feel like suffering. Should I think of this as a result of my own ideological blindness?

    I think my question is fundamentally about the issue you raise towards the end of your essay, what would a practice look like that would aim to steer away from a purely intellectual interpretation to somehing that can provide a more fundamental, I almost want to say heart-felt, motivation.

  18. Brad Potts said

    Tom,

    Thanks for elaborating on Badiou. Your understanding of bodhi (awakening, enlightenment) seems to depend on a robust epistemology of “truth” – with Marxism as ideology-unmasker the most notable truth one can be awakened to. Put another way, the reconstituted Buddhism you are espousing rests on the veracity of some form of Marxism (classical, Althusserian, etc) both as a critique of capitalism as well as a prescription for some better society. Marx had little to say about what this new society would look like, perhaps necessarily so. I notice you are just as silent about this. What do you think we should be working towards, I wonder?

    I do not know if we can ever come to absolute certainty about truth claims, though I have no problem believing there are statements we can call more-or-less “true.” Perhaps you could say I am a skeptic who takes as a matter of faith that some truths exist, although what those truths are is an open question that I grapple with. It seems as if the more banal a question is (Where was I born?) the more certain I can be of the answer (Chicago), while the more profound the question is (How should society be organized for maximal social justice?) the less certain I am of the answer (well…). While total relativism is surely a lie, certainty is still a myth. For that reason I am uneasy with the concept of awakening/enlightenment, both in classical Buddhism and in your reconstituted Marxist-inspired Buddhism. How can you ever really be so sure you’ve got “the truth”?

    I’m also not as confident as you seem to be that Marxism, in toto, is a truth, or even “probably” true. My view is that Marx was very prescient in his critique of capitalism and his ideas illuminate much of our contemporary situation, indeed eerily so. But he clearly made miscalculations and these are well known. He did not foresee the rise of welfare-state capitalism or Keynesianism, for instance. Although our contemporary capitalist way of life is surely unsustainable, it’s unclear to me that some form of Marxism is the answer to our woes. I frankly have no idea what the answer is and fear the coming century will be a bumpy ride for all. Indeed, we may all just crash into a tree.

    I suppose this would put me in the camp of those who would question (note: not deny, but simply question) your basic premises, notably: 1) Truth exists, and we can ascertain the truth with some form of certainty, 2) Marxism is in some very real sense “a truth” we can be certain of. On the other hand, perhaps I have misread you or have filled in spaces in your argument that you really have left blank.

    I have this other feeling when reading your essay: You seem to be advocating some form of anti-humanism. (Note: This does not mean you are “against” people, only that individual persons are not a central concern of yours.) In this respect your reconstituted Marxist-Buddhism in much in line with traditional Buddhism, which can rightly be called an anti-humanist religion. Your anti-humanism rings loud and clear when you insist on the importance of the Badiouian “subject” over (and against?) the individual. Perhaps I am again misreading you (and Badiou) but it seems to me that the “subject” you write of is nothing more than an idea, an abstraction: “a political party, a couple, an entire school of thought.” Evidence of this is when you write:

    “To experience the existence of our mind in the trans-individual symbolic/imaginary system could motivate us to place the interest of the entire system above the interest of our individual bodily selves.”

    Why this rejection of the body and individual human identity? How can you be so sure you know what the interests of the entire system really should be? I agree that identity is fluid and that raw self-interest is a lonely, brutish existence, but I am a bit uncomfortable placing abstractions over persons.

    I don’t take such a dim view of the individual qua individual. We surely are social creatures, but that is not to say, as you do, that “I cannot change ‘my’ mind without changing ‘yours.’” As you state, we do not live in one World, but many, and there are “multiple subjects” that have produced, with emergent novelties along the way, the diverse population of unique individuals that make up any society. Again, perhaps I misread you, but you seem to take a very dim view of the individual and her interests as such.

    Nevertheless, you’ve given me much to think about and I’m simply brainstorming possible objections to your essay. Onward dialogue!

  19. Brad Potts said

    I just noticed comment #16, Tom. I was responding to the original essay and comment #13 by you. Your recent elaboration on what you mean by “truth” does temper to a large extent my comment #18. Still, there are a few clarifications you may want to make towards my response.

    All ears…

  20. Tom Pepper said

    Brad: These are great questions. I want to give a quick answer right away, because I’d like to try keep this kind of discussion going.

    First, I wouldn’t say that there is any truth we can be “certain” of in the sense of ever having a “final” truth. Knowledge is infinitely corrigible, and if “truth” is, in one sense, the point at which our state of knowledge need to be corrected or extended, there will never be a single truth. Marxism is the truth about the nature of social formations which have economic systems and unequal distribution of wealth and exchange value. It is, as you say, not much of a prescription for what kind of social formation we should end up with, in part because we should never “end up” anywhere. If the subject is a product of the social formation, then the subject will change when the economic and ideological systems change, and so to predict an ideal future state would be impossible and pointless. People seem to fear Marxism for two reasons; the first is that it prescribes a rigid an unchanging state with no potential for growth and change—the other is that it demands an endlessly evolving state in which we will always need to work for growth and adapt to change.

    My suggestion is that Marxism is a truth, but not a final truth (as you mention, Marx could not have foreseen the protean ability of capitalist states in their effort to perpetuate oppression and inequality). Marxism is also not the only truth—the theory of ideology depends heavily on psychoanalysis as a truth of the structure of the human subject, and on semiotics as a truth of the theory of symbolic systems, etc.

    You ask “How can you be so sure you know what the interests of the entire system really should be?”, and this is the crucial question, but is not one we can answer and settle in advance or abstractly. The bigger point would be that this must become the focus of our discussion and debate—it must become thinkable and debatable, in place of obsessions about individual rights and multicultural tolerance and the inscrutability of the economy. The debate on this issue would be unending, we would need to be thinking and discussing for as long as there are human social formations. Do you see the difference, here? The goal is not to settle the question once and for all, because we cannot (at least at present) imagine the (collective) human mind having a complete and final understanding of reality. And this is a good thing, because it means that this mind would always be expanding, and not seeking to sink back into a blissful bodily contentment. We would, in psychoanalytic terms, have to give up the bid for imaginary plenitude.

    In one sense, I guess, truth is a matter of changing the questions, not arriving at the final answer.

    Probably the biggest concern, though, is connected to Robert’s comment in #17, when he says that my idea of suffering doesn’t “feel like suffering.” You’ve said that my idea of the subject seems to be “nothing more than an abstraction.” I think these are the same issue–the inability to experience the lack of a self. Our personal suffering certainly “feels” more real and important than social injustice, and the acceptance of the possibility that we don’t have unique, individual, and separate minds is bound to make people, as you say, “uncomfortable.”

    My position would be that this is the result of our ideology, and this certainty that there IS an “individual qua individual” is the principle delusion, against which Buddhist offers its most important truth. Our “mind” is, I am arguing really always a part of the greater symbolic/imaginary structure, and thinking that we have a unique mind that merely makes us of this structure is the primary source of delusion. The subject as Badiou theorizes it is not, then, a denial of the “real” subjectivity of the individual and her interests, located in a concrete body—because the real subject IS what you call the “idea” or “abstraction,” and the bodily individual is simply the what the subject must always use. This does not deny the importance of the interests of the individual—Badiou is very clear, in “Ethics,” that asceticism is not a useful goal. We may ultimately be driven, as subjects, by the pursuit of greater truth, but we need the bodily interests and enjoyment of the individual as well.

    Now, if you reject this basic premise about the nature of the “mind,” then I would say my revision of Buddhism doesn’t have much use. If you accept it intellectually, though, we still have the problem of getting to the point of EXPERIENCING the truth of it, so that the suffering of the subject DOES feel as real and concrete as our individual suffering.

    Robert:

    ultimately, I would say that the suffering of the individual over sickness, aging, and death, and especially over bad drivers and poorly timed traffic lights, is completely dependent on the construction of the collective symbolic system. If you know full well that you are only the effect of a symbolic system acting through a body, then wouldn’t individual death cause less suffering? Wouldn’t it be much more important to produce the “disposition” in the symbolic system for the interpellation of individuals who are better able to engage with reality?

    The question, still, is: can some form of meditation produce this experience of the absence of a self? This is why I would class this as a kind of aesthetic experience, one which does produce emotion and motivation, but guided (as Althusser’s suggests Brecht’s is) by correct theoretical concepts. If you really could meditate on the specific experience of, say, becoming furious when you get caught at one too many red lights, and with another person guiding and discussing this with you determine what the real source of that particular moment of “suffering” is, then might this be a way to begin to “feel” the broader symbolic/imaginary formation as real, and as the real source of the suffering?

    Thanks for the great responses! Keep the discussion going!

  21. (Brad, #18; Tom, #20.)

    On the “idea [that] the subject seems to be ‘nothing more than an abstraction.’”

    I am grappling with this very idea right now. Laruelle’s idea of “the stranger subject” is proving useful, if terribly elusive. In giving my thinking on the topic, I don’t want to pretend to have Laruelle’s notion firmly in my grasp. If there are any readers who can set me right, please do! But, as always, I am not applying Lareulle’s ideas so much as–as he might say–cloning them for my own purposes. As with x-buddhism itself, I am merely using non-philosophy as material for my own thoughts.

    But first, do we agree that there is something in the very notion of the/a subject that necessitates, in the first instance, an abstraction? Based on Tom’s usage, I think we are using “subject” to mean the product of particular structures and processes (linguistic, symbolic, unconscious, etc.) rather than that of, say, biology. In other words, I understand here “the subject” to stand for the person whom Altusser says is summoned into being. Doesn’t that last part, “into being,” permit us to shift from the abstract to the real? In the end, I think, we all want to talk about concrete beings, right?

    The non-buddhist stranger subject is “cloned” from (patterned on) radical immanence (or the real). The real doesn’t give a flying fuck about x-buddhism, non-buddhism, or anything else. It posits nothing, not even itself. It indulges no dualities because it is deaf and dumb. It cannot even be said to exist (because that would require a concept of non-existence). But it is. And in order to avoid further discussion–and to get on with our work–we, like Laruelle can just state “radical immanence” axiomatically (i.e., performatively). The stranger subject, then, in being cloned from this radical immanence, stands in contrast to the x-buddhist subject, which is modeled on the transcendental material constituted by the x-buddhist decision. As any reader of this blog knows, the non-buddhist subject continues to utilize–to think with and perhaps act on–x-buddhist material. It does so, however, not to fulfill the (circular, dharmic) demands of decision, but precisely to break free of those demands in order to effectuate, to whatever degree possible, radical immanence. (“Radical,” for Laruelle, means minimally representational.) When the decisional cyclone becomes still, all of x-buddhism’s postulates thrash against, and then lie alongside of, radical immanence. (They never tumble into immanence because the real is foreclosed to them–they are synthetic reflections and representations of the real, which is always One, a simple identity.) Whereas acceptance of dharmic decision (living in the midst of the decisional swirl) creates a subject that stands in an unequal, subordinate, vertical relationship to x-buddhistic postulates, the non-buddhist subject stands in an equal, horizontal one. How? By taking its place alongside of the real, in so far that it eschews superfluous representations. The non-buddhist subject, in performing this decisional suspension, creates a newly ordered relationship to the original x-buddhist material. The non-buddhist subject, then, is one who is determined not by decision but by “the real,” whose immanence the subject effectuates precisely via the theoretical practice.

    This has nothing to do with Laruelle, but I am also thinking of the stranger-subject/real-person relationship somewhat in the terms of reader-response theory’s model-reader/empirical-reader distinction. The model reader is not a real person. It is an inchoate complex of signals given in the text. Umberto Eco says the model reader “is a sort of ideal type whom the text not only foresees as a collaborator but tries to create” (Six Walks in the Fictional Woods, p.9) He says that a text is a lazy machine that requires a real reader to activate its signals. That suggests that empirical readers can at least approximate ideal or model ones.

  22. Luis Daniel said

    The marriage of “psychoanalysis” and marxim – Mr. Pepper´s love of althusser-. The subject not as subject of the unconsiouss but of ideology. The self-less collectivation of being. The Lacanian Real. The non-buddhist subject who is not determined by decission but “by the real”. To “activate the [pre-existing] signals” of a text.

    There is no-one, not one person out there, who is ONLY conformed and created by a defined ideology or a defined form of x-buddism. Enuntiation of just general traits, general characteristics, general forms of conditioning and allienation. With what purpose, to predict the behaviour of and control people ?

    What do you do, what can you do, with ideology, the collective, the Real, hidden signals: these are ALL forms of the very thing we strongly crticize, which is dogma. Mr. Pepper, very coherently, cannot even explain what truth is! Some other people have solved this fictional problem by talking about truthfulness, which is relative, never “One”.

    Whoever speaks in third language assumes the position of God, a non-human descriptor of things, with its own set of adscribed needs which are simply vulgar projections of someone´s very concrete needs -generally to escape from time and death.

    Careful guys, democracy and difference IS important, nothing is fixed. Being critical is one thing, nesting over dormant truths is quite another.

    I say, wrong direction altogether, a dead-end. I dont pretend to change your views. I just think that they deeply betray the very reason of this blog.

  23. From Tom’s essay:

    Does there seem any possibility of such a practice ever existing?… What might be the role of ritual, what kind of meditation might be most useful? Most of us, I believe, still participate in some Buddhist practice, and non-buddhism need not entail walking away from this, but remaking it.

    I want to say more about this later (I have to run to a “Meditation and Creativity” class). But quickly, I would say “yes” to that first question. And I think that what it takes to do so is, first of all, to maintain that last premise–although by virtue of the conditions that will create that “yes” will also profoundly alter, perhaps to the point of cancellation, the “Buddhist” modifier of “practice.”

    So, quickly: I think that the work that Tom, Matthias, and I are doing on this blog constitutes the first condition for realizing such a practice. I am referring to the dovetailing of theory (me), conceptual work (Tom), and social/ethical work (Matthias). This is a simplification; but it may be useful for getting us thinking about the basic, real-life components of the practice Tom suggests in his essay.

    We need an applied theory; we need concept creation and reevaluation; and we need ethical forms and models.

  24. Robert said

    Tom, about the difficulty for an individual to recognize his/her being caged within an ideology, and the ability of others to expose this. You say

    there are always multiple Worlds, that there is no single, monolithic ideological position, that there are always multiple subjects.

    and

    we need not worry about being trapped in a single ideological vision because we can always see another person’s ideology, and point it out to them, and they can, hopefully, see ours.  Just as there are limits to the possibility of psychoanalyzing oneself, there are limits on an individual’s ability to escape her ideology; however, we can serve as one another’s analysts, and bring to consciousness what is unconscious.

    How diverse can ideologies really be within a specific set of worlds, say for people like us living where we do? As the purpose of ideologies is to provide ‘a set of beliefs-in-practices which function to reproduce the existing relations of production, the material and economic system in which we are living’, how much variety in ideologies/worlds can we realistically expect? Wouldn’t the material and economic system that all worlds have in common impose a sameness on all subjects? Different flavours, same candy?

    Thanks 

  25. Robert said

    Glenn, re 23

    Where you say

    that “yes” will also profoundly alter, perhaps to the point of cancellation, the “Buddhist” modifier of “practice.”

    I want to say not perhaps, but absolutely, without a doubt. There is nothing “Buddhist” about this practice in that it can and should provide impetus and continuity to any subject struggling to remain faithful to a truth, not just to what Tom calls the Buddhist event.

  26. Tom Pepper said

    Re #24 (and #21)

    This is a great question, Robert. There is always the danger that we might simply be shifting deck chairs on the sinking ship of capitalism. For Laruelle, as I understand him, this is the most likely occurrence, because using philosophy to intervene in the World can only make minor alterations, not extend the boundaries of the World. I would say, though, that our ideologies don’t need to be so very dramatically different to be able to point out one another’s blindspots, and we can make progress from fairly small differences if they are used to produce dialogia in the Bakhtinian sense, a confrontational struggle for meaning, instead of dissolving them in multicultural tolerance. I would also suggest that the clash of different ideologies, functioning to perpetuate different parts of the relations to the relations of production, can be useful here. For instance, the clash between the ideology of the professional-managerial class and that of the working class, with their different values and interests and construal of the world, can help expose the ideological blindness of both—they are both needed by capitalism, but to bring them into collision can be dangerous. Then, there are always what Althusser calls “bad subjects,” those individuals who are just not properly interpellated and fail to reproduce existing social formations.

    This question raises, for me, some further considerations related to what Glenn says about Laruelle’s “stranger subject.” My understanding of this is that Laruelle is trying to produce a subject that is removed from the conceptual structuring of the world that occurs in philosophy, in order to radically expand or transform that structure, to “break the spell of its bewitchment by the world” (as he put it in “What Can Non-Philosophy Do?”). This is a similar project, as I read it, to Althusser’s, and to Badiou’s. The idea is that we can work with philosophy, from the outside, or perhaps from beneath (or some other metaphor), to change not just philosophy but he structure of the social formation. There is considerable overlap, then, in the goal, but differences in how we can get there.

    In a really helpful and interesting essay called “Capitalism and the Non-Philosophical Subject,” Nick Srnicek describes the non-philosophical subject as “like Badiou’s subject . . . radically non-intuitable, non-phenomenological, non-empirical, non-reflexive and non-conceptual. As with non-philosophy, the “non-“ here refers not to simple negation…” He uses the example of the “multitude” as the radically immanent subject which must reject the philosophical “decision” of capitalism, and change the world in ways that are unthinkable in the conceptual framework of capitalism. This radically immanent “stranger subject” must be seen not as the product of the philosophical decision (we would typically say, for instance, that capitalism produces the masses) but as an always-already existing power that can reject the constraints put on its actions by capitalism.

    In the end, though, Srnicek suggests that this non-philosophical subject is a necessary but not sufficient condition for real change. He end by suggesting that “what is required . . . is some functional equivalent of Badiou’s concept of forcing, whereby the event is investigated and its findings integrated into a new situation.”

    I would suggest that this is why we need a kind of aesthetic practice, to force into existence the new truths, to allow us to “feel” and not just “think” them. So, to come back to Robert’s question, I would suggest that the version of the arising of the “Decision” that Laruelle’s thought implies is too limiting, and does leave us with no way to consciously change the world. We can either intervene in a World, but not change it, or change it without an concept of what kind of change the non-philosophical subject might effect. To return to Srnicek’s example, he says that “the capitalist Decisional structure was NOT the result of some philosophical act of thought, as though it’s mere positing in thought were sufficient to bring about its effective reality. Rather, the Decisional structure has been the unintentional product of numerous and varied social practices which led to capitalism.” I would agree with this, but would suggest that to simply retreat back into the “numerous and varied social practices,” rejecting or bracketing off the philosophical thought, could just as easily then produce another, and equally terrible, new decisional structure: there is not reason to believe the non-philosophical subject would change things for the better.

    My suggestion is that the theoretical conceptualization of the decisional structure is possible for us as a symbolic species, and this is our advantage over all the other, non-symbolic species—it is why we can escape determination by our natural history. So, instead of bracketing off thought and retreating into radical immanence, which as Srnicek suggests is only an initial step, we need to think all the way through the situation of the World, in order to choose practices that can produce a subject of truth that CAN “force” the change of the world.

    That is, we need to be careful not to fall into the postmodern sophistry which asserts that if there is such a thing as ideology, there is then nothing BUT ideology and so not way out of the endless circle of samsara. We can neither think our way out, nor blindly blunder free, but we can get out by thinking AND acting. My interest is in producing such an aesthetic practice.

    Does this respond to your concern, Robert? It is not an insignificant question, I think, but is the concern that seems to me to be at the core of the difference between Laruelle and Badiou.

    By the way, the Srnicek essay is in a collection of essays called “The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism,” that is available as a pdf from the publisher here: http://re-press.org/books/the-speculative-turn-continental-materialism-and-realism/ Most of the essays seem to be devoted to Meillassoux, and Toscano’s essay is really helpful as well.

  27. Luis Daniel said

    Well Mr. Wallis I cannot wish you luck on your project.

    Your own words:

    “The non-buddhist stranger subject is “cloned” from (patterned on) radical immanence (or the real). The real doesn’t give a flying fuck about x-buddhism, non-buddhism, or anything else. It posits nothing, not even itself. It indulges no dualities because it is deaf and dumb. It cannot even be said to exist (because that would require a concept of non-existence). But it is. And in order to avoid further discussion–and to get on with our work–we, like Laruelle can just state “radical immanence” axiomatically (i.e., performatively). The stranger subject, then, in being cloned from this radical immanence, stands in contrast to the x-buddhist subject, which is modeled on the transcendental material constituted by the x-buddhist decision. As any reader of this blog knows, the non-buddhist subject continues to utilize–to think with and perhaps act on–x-buddhist material. It does so, however, not to fulfill the (circular, dharmic) demands of decision, but precisely to break free of those demands in order to effectuate, to whatever degree possible, radical immanence. (“Radical,” for Laruelle, means minimally representational.) When the decisional cyclone becomes still, all of x-buddhism’s postulates thrash against, and then lie alongside of, radical immanence. (They never tumble into immanence because the real is foreclosed to them–they are synthetic reflections and representations of the real, which is always One, a simple identity.) Whereas acceptance of dharmic decision (living in the midst of the decisional swirl) creates a subject that stands in an unequal, subordinate, vertical relationship to x-buddhistic postulates, the non-buddhist subject stands in an equal, horizontal one. How? By taking its place alongside of the real, in so far that it eschews superfluous representations. The non-buddhist subject, in performing this decisional suspension, creates a newly ordered relationship to the original x-buddhist material. The non-buddhist subject, then, is one who is determined not by decision but by “the real,” whose immanence the subject effectuates precisely via the theoretical practice.”

    This is as dogmatic as it can get. By stating this you are making a small contribution (by way of translating the ideas of some writers) in the long tradition of essentialism. As you well know essentialism is the prefered tool of the right for keeping things as they are. Perhaps with the help of Mr. Pepper you can also make it the tool of the left to keep things as (conveniently confused) as they are. Of course I know you are very sincere in what you do. But so were our mainstream buddhism teachers. I can already imagine you both sitting there as teachers of this new practice, guiding people to find their place alongside “the Real” and to collectively reach a selfless state out of ideology. At the end Thucydides will always be sitting next to you (both?).

    Should you ever consider humbly to back up, or just simply try to better understand what I am saying here, please read Philosophy and Social Hope by Richard Rorty. I know new fire would come out of it for you.

  28. Luis Daniel (#27).

    I wonder if you can say more about how you see as “dogmatic” my vague, rough, suggestive tracing of the foggy beginnings of a slight articulation of how a non-buddhist subject might be conceived. When I hear that term, I think of a view or claim’s being asserted in a way that does not permit questioning. I understand a dogmatic claim to be one presented as unchallengeable.

    Maybe you’re referring to the idea of an “axiomatic” claim? That’s a good question. I can see how that very notion comes across as dogmatic. After all, an axiom is, by definition, an irrevocable element in a system of thought. So, maybe the rough distinction here is that my formulation is not dogmatic–it is nothing if not open to questioning and challenge; but the idea of the axiomatic may be used dogmatically.

    For Laruelle, axiomatic argumentation is meant to replace specular and reflexive argumentation. In our terms, x-buddhist argumentation turns constantly toward the mirror of dharmic decision. As a result, decision is perpetually reflected in its arguments. Decision, remember, involves the (conceptual) splitting and subsequent mixing of immanence (in x-buddhist terminology, characterized as spatiotemporal vicissitude [samsara] and causal contingency [paticcasamuppada]), with its transcendent warrant, The Dharma (the norm of exigent knowledge). Since this operation constitutes an inescapable circularity (each reflects the other), x-buddhists are not so much thinking as they are reflecting the specular abstraction of The Dharma and interpreting what that means for “reality.” An x-buddhist is a person who cannot conceive of thinking without reflexive reference to either dharmic specularity or its interpretation. This is why I argue that the x-buddhistic decisional syntax is a fecund supposition of uncircumventable validity that manifests as infinite iterations of “x-buddhism.”

    How can we break free of specular/intrepretative pseudo-thinking? How can we counter reflexivity? In Laruelle’s terms, axiomatic thought is non-specular and non-reflexive. Being such, furthermore, it eliminates both the need for and the object of interpretation. The axiom “radical immanence” or “the real” merely has the force of performatively providing thought its own enabling condition, without seeking to establish it via yet another act of decision.

    Before I had even read Laruelle, I posited the axiom of “empty reality.” So, rather than explain Laruelle’s view, I’ll explain my own. I wanted to establish a condition against which we could begin to discern the representational quality of the x-buddhist dharma. (That is very difficult to do in part because x-buddhism presents itself as a system of natural deduction, in which one can form proofs from its assumptions in a manner that appears to follow the contours of natural reasoning.) And I wanted to do this in a way that refused to play with the same loaded dice as do x-buddhists. That is, I considered it necessary to silence the interpretative vibrato that endlessly intones, in endlessly varying pitches, The Dharma. My way of doing that was to establish “emtpy reality” as an axiom. I chose this term in part because it echoes x-buddhism’s own major assumption of sunyata; bit it does so in a way that thoroughly drains sunyata of its dharmic specularity. Hence, there is nothing left to interpret x-buddhistically. I invite you to read my heuristic called “Empty Reality” (in the article “Nascent Speculative Non-Buddhism,”), and perhaps we can talk some more.

    One thing I hope you’ll reconsider is this: You say, “I can already imagine [Tom Pepper and] you both sitting there as teachers of this new practice, guiding people to find their place alongside “the Real” and to collectively reach a selfless state out of ideology.”

    At every step on the way, Tom has expressed his view that there is no escape from ideology. Reread his argument. Get it right, then say some more. Also, “the real” as I discussed it is nothing but an element in thought. Tom explains a way around this limitation in his comment #26; but it still doesn’t amount to something that can be taught or subscribed to. And as Matthias’s posts and the subsequent commentary show, we are just beginning to imagine what a “practice” might look like.

    I appreciate and share you caution toward the dogmatic and the thaumaturgical.

  29. Robert said

    Tom, another question if I may, around your comment # 20, in particular where you state that this certainty that there is an ‘individual qua individual’ is the result of our ideology. My own thinking has always been that our certainty of there being a self is the result of evolution/adaptation, and that we humans have this belief in a self in common with many animals. And clearly animals aren’t ideological creatures. I can understand how ideology appropriates this kind of a belief in a self, and uses it, so to speak, for its own purposes. I cannot understand how belief in a self would be the direct result of an ideology. Am I misunderstanding?

  30. Robert said

    re 29 Of course the answer is partly that a belief (in a self or whatever) resides in the collective symbolic system, a system that animals do not participate in. So our certainty that there is an individual qua individual is fundamentally a different thing from what we observe in animals. Is that all the response that is required?

  31. Tom Pepper said

    Re 29 and 30: I was using the term to refer to Brad’s statement that he has a more optimistic view of the “individual qua individual”: his statement seems to me to assign to the individual the source of its own consciousness, its “mind,” as something it then uses in the realm of ideology, in social interaction. In this sense, the sense that includes the mind and consciousness, then I would insist that it is only in ideology that this kind of individual exists. Animals may have some kind of limited form of communication, may be able to produce a consciousness in their social formations–this is a matter of debate–but if they do, it is to a far lesser extent than humans do, and any sense of a “self” is dramatically different. That they have a sense of themselves as bodily individuals is, on the other hand, quite obvious for most animals, and is probably an evolutionary occurrence for humans as well. My suggestion is that the recognition of our bodily selves as do some degree separate from the world around us is probably an evolutionary adaptation. The sense of our “minds’ as in some sense “individual” and unique, existing prior to and separate from the world, must only be ideological, because the mind itself only occurs in symbolic communication which assumes some, at least minimal, social relationship between multiple beings.

    Ideology is enormously powerful, and even more so when we refuse to recognize that it exist, but it is not everything. We still have other kinds of thought that, while they may interact with ideology, are not necessarily ideological (the mapping of the world, in the metaphor I use in the essay, is this kind of thought–it might be constrained by our ideology, but it refers to the external world). We also have our animal instincts and needs, which can be shaped, but probably not successfully eliminated, by ideology. Our tendency to fill in missing parts of patterns, or to perceive things as being in groups, many of the gestalt perceptive tendencies, are probably not ideological but instinctive. I would guess that there is a fundamental sense of self-preservation connected to the individual as a biological organism, which perhaps gets transferred onto the mind as an ideological organism, and may be why this is the first, most fundamental, and most difficult delusion to give up.

  32. Tom (#26, and re the essay).

    the version of the arising of the “Decision” that Laruelle’s thought implies is too limiting, and does leave us with no way to consciously change the world. We can either intervene in a World, but not change it, or change it without an concept of what kind of change the non-philosophical subject might effect…So, instead of bracketing off thought and retreating into radical immanence, which as Srnicek suggests is only an initial step, we need to think all the way through the situation of the World, in order to choose practices that can produce a subject of truth that CAN “force” the change of the world.

    I think there are some goods in Laruelle that would permit a forceful subject. He says, for instance, that the stranger subject is made of “the sheer lived.” This is interesting since one of the “first names” of the real is also “lived.” So, the subject that is “molded from and into” it is capable of real thought and action that is forceful precisely in that it is “affected by immanence.” The stranger subject thinks and acts, and does so namely, “in fidelity to the Real” (references are in Katerina Kolozova, “The Figure of the Stranger”).

    Still, I agree with your and Srnicek’s assessment. There is a terrible austerity to Laruelle’s approach. I almost get the sense that at the end of the non-philosophical day the world is a sort of Westworld, Maybe a more productive way of saying the same thing is that I think that, in your essay, you–using Badiou and Althusser–have fashioned a more workable approach. My use of Laruelle is more as an aid to stimulating thoughts of my own. (I use Dada and Nick Land and Georges Bataille and Samuel Beckett in a similar way.) You and I have both been scolded for being “philosophical”–French, Teutonic, even!– on this blog; and we both have responded in our own ways that we are not interested in philosophy as a discipline per se, but rather in thinking and ideas and conceptual models. So, I appreciate the way you are using the thinkers that you are (non-philosophically, so to speak). And I just want to remind others of that fact. (Philosophie? Nein Danke!)

    in Althusserian terms, [the attempt to determine what kinds of practices are truth procedures capable of producing subjects which will force the appearance of truths in the world] is an aesthetic project, because for Althusser the aesthetic is the practice of producing a distance from our ideology.

    Would you say that some of the thinking on sitting/meditation practice in earlier threads address such an aesthetic project? If so, can you point to a text or two here that would contribute, if not completely constitute, such a practice?

    The danger is that the aesthetic object may be captured by what Althusser calls an “aesthetics of consumption,” in which it produces only comforting pleasure that subtly reinforces our existing ideologies.

    This is the reason that I withdrew my involvement from, first, my decades-long participation in Soto Zen practice and, second and most recently (this week!), from the Secular Buddhist Association. The phrase “aesthetics of consumption” captures perfectly what increasingly struck me as the central concern of both endeavors.

    To ensure the aesthetics of distantiation requires a certain prescriptive practice and a conceptual framework for the aesthetic experience. This theoretical apparatus would consist of a theory of ideology and the subject, and also a theory of the strategies of containment by which the distantiating effect is managed in various literary genres, according to what ideology is being distanced and what alternative ideology is being produced in its wake.

    Do you think that this explains why dialogue must be an aspect of practice? Or can distantiation come from the aesthetic form itself? In my own group, the constant looming possibility of new ideological formations–as well as the existence of current ones–is made explicit in the dialogue portion of practice (after sitting for an hour). Dialogue impacts practice in that we, as practitioners, become increasingly sensitive to both the barely discernible hum and the high-pitched screech of our ideology-apparatus.

    Maybe some more on (or a pointing back to a previous text on) what to you an aesthetic project/practice might look like.

  33. Luis Daniel said

    Glenn, I am just crossing the Nicoya Gulf with my 18 year old daugther on our way out of civilizarion for few days, so I am away from a proper computer with a decent screen. I will read your article on emptiness. I will also review mr pepper piece, though I remember clearly that he claims there is not way out of ideology. That is not my point. The problem with what you state is the very premise or axiom of the real. Just as much as the problem with pepper’s essay is the very (difuse) concept of ideology. I do get your genuine attitude of exploring the creation of a more useful practice. As long as we all keep an open mind I think there is hope. Or at least sincere dialogue. This dialogue should take advantage of our supposedly well trained skill if suspending all judgement without suspending our positions or perspectives. I may even sustain that perspectives is all we have. So you have lucidly passed a deadblock, a conversation stopper, one of the main traits of dogma. And I simply glad that that is the case here now. Good.

  34. Robert said

    Tom, at the risk of becoming a nuisance, my questions keep coming. This question is about what would motivate an individual to pursue a truth event. I suspect that one key to this question resides in your radical redefinition of mind as a system of symbolic communication, which must always take place between multiple individuals. If this is true than – in the political domain for instance – injustice to the extent that it shapes the symbolic communication no longer occurs somewhere outside, somewhere else, and you are an active participant no matter what. I am not sure if this is a correct conclusion. Maybe it would also be helpful if you can say a bit more about Badiou’s thinking in this context, especially around the following quotes: ” The grace of living for an Idea, that is of living as such, is accorded to everyone”. Why a grace, why living as such? Similarly you quote or paraphrase Badious as follows: “the source of joy for the subject is in its ability to move towards the greater appearance of truths in its World”. Again, I think a bit more on this would be helpful.

    Mucvh appreciated! 

  35. Brad Potts said

    Tom (#s16, 18, 31):

    You clarified things regarding my apprehensions surrounding your (and Badiou’s) notion of “truth.” Perhaps it could be said that truth is simply the process of finding out what is true? It’s never an endpoint, but a process – such a stance avoids the epistemological overreach of “certainty” as well as the chaos of total relativism. That being said, perhaps we could also say that truth as “a practice or process that demands the expansion of our existing knowledge system” will entail necessary lapses into error along the way? This is a valid conservative fear?

    I think you may have misunderstood my view of the individual. I am not arguing that individuals exist “prior to and separate from the world.” I do not believe in at atomistic self. Our environment, most especially the social environment, always shapes individual subjective consciousness and discursive thought, as well as our unconscious minds. What I mean by “individual qua individual” is nothing but the subjective stream of discontinuous conscious experience and bodily integrity of a single human organism. In this sense an individual may have “interests.” I do not want my head beaten with a club, nor do I wish to have a storm of psychotic thoughts, for instance.

    What I think must be avoided is some soppy new-age idea such as “we are all One.” I’m not in any way saying this is your view at all but I think that the individual as a unique bodily organism with a mind that is in some sense separate from other minds – you do not know what I had for breakfast, for instance – must be juxtaposed alongside the idea that the atomistic self is a fiction, or worse yet, an ideological construct. And I feel that real social justice depends on this vindication of the integrity of the interests of the unique bodily self. The fact that billions of individuals live on less than $2 a day is a tragedy of epic proportions. If we lose sight of a robust sense of basic individual interest I fear that efforts at societal improvement will be the worse for it. I’d rather fill an empty stomach with nutritious food than “live for an idea” any day. (Of course, filling empty stomachs does not preclude living for an idea. Why not have both?)

    Again, I think you may agree with me on many of these points and it could be that we are simply misunderstanding each other. These are deep waters I am swimming in and I thoroughly confess you are more well-read than I in continental philosophy, non-philosophy, etc. I mentioned to Glenn that a reading list of thinkers often discussed on this blog may be in order. Till then I will try to catch up on my own.

    Glenn (#32)

    Would you mind sharing the format of what your meditation group does?

  36. Brad (#35). Yes. Great suggestion. Thanks.

    The practice of our group is extremely simple. I should mention first of all that participants generally understand “meditation” to mean sitting in stillness and silence with attention hovering around the breathing body. That approach to practice is presented to people as an “hypothesis;” namely, that to do so is “useful” or whatever adjective they prefer (or none at all).

    People come into the empty hall between 6:45 and 7pm. The leave their shoes and bags and coats and stuff in another room. The hall is not really empty. We share it with a group of traditional Buddhists, who have an altar at one end of the room. But we set up away from the altar, so that the effect is that it is virtually eliminated from our session. We sit in a circle. Some people sit on traditional cushions; some use benches; some on chairs. (I eventually want to find an alternative to the zafus and zabutons. I am thinking of those little beach chairs with a holder for your drink. Another possibility is those low toilets for old people!) The room is pretty dark. No incense. Sometimes a candle or two; sometimes not. By 7 or so, the circle is full. There is no indication that the session has begun. The session is still and silent. There is, of course, the usual fluttering of clothes, clearing of throats, rumbling of stomachs, and coughing. But noise is, for some reason, quite minimal. We sit like this for an hour. People can get up and stretch or walk outside of the circle whenever they need to; but, interestingly, they seldom do; and when someone does, s/he is very quick to sit back down. People who visit from other groups tell me that our session is extremely austere. I think it’s just not frilly or not conducive to what Tom called “comforting pleasure that subtly reinforce our existing ideologies.” (More about that later.) So, after an hour, at 8pm, I or someone else will begin speaking. The speaking is typically in the form of a poem or text. After the text is read, we sit Quaker-like, waiting. Invariably, a dynamic dialogue unfolds. It is often, perhaps even always, a dialogue with heat.

    As an example of our discussion material. Last session, we discussed a comment Samuel Beckett made, and a comment that Harold Pinter made, as a young man. about Beckett.

    I don’t know any form that doesn’t shit on being in the most unbearable manner. ―Samuel Beckett

    [On Samuel Beckett.] The farther he goes the more good it does me. I don’t want philosophies, tracts, dogmas, creeds, ways out, truths, answers, nothing from the bargain basement. He is the most courageous, remorseless writer going and the more he grinds my nose in the shit the more I am grateful to him. He’s not fucking me about, he’s not leading me up any garden path, he’s not slipping me a wink, he’s not flogging me a remedy or a path or a revelation or a basinful of breadcrumbs, he’s not selling me anything I don’t want to buy — he doesn’t give a fuck whether I buy or not — he hasn’t got his hand over his heart. Well, I’ll buy his goods, hook, line and sinker, because he leaves no stone unturned and no maggot lonely. He brings forth a body of beauty. His work is beautiful. —Harold Pinter

    You can find additional texts at our Facilebook page.

    At 8:30pm, we stop. We usually recent the following fragment from Parmenides:

    Useful is the letting-lie-before-me. So, too, the taking-to-heart. For not separately from the presence of what is present, will I ever find out the taking-to-heart.

    We recite this statement three times. The reason we use it is that it encapsulates the minimal features of our practice.

    In the past, a visitor would know that I was the “leader” or “facilitator” of the group. But this is becoming less and less apparent, and indeed, less and less the case. As more people get involved who are sympathethic to this minimal approach to practice, and who value the refusal to preach cleansing delusions, I can step back. All I have to offer, anyway, is the very form itself. Other than that, nothing.

    I want to give more thought to what Tom calls the prescriptive and the aesthetic forms of practice. Before Tom’s essay, I would have spoken of protocol as “the aesthetic” aspect of practice. That is, the protocol determines how we interact ritually in the sitting session. Those ritualized actions presume and encode particular values. And these need to be made explicit. Althusser’s notion that, in Tom’s words, “the aesthetic is the practice of producing a distance from our ideology,” raises new and interesting questions for me. I am wondering if sitting in such a way as I described can be seen as a “truth procedure” in Badiou’s sense. I am certain of the possibility that practice like this (including, always, dialgue), is “capable of producing subjects which will force the appearance of truths in the world.” But I–we–stop short of such pronouncements in the session itself. What happens when the sitter leaves–that lies in darkness, pure opacity. I will make no pronouncements regarding how the world should be. And whenever other people begin to do so, I raise a critical, questioning voice. This stance of mine disturbs many people. They would like more explicit prescriptions. I say, the aesthetic form itself displays–if tacitly–prescriptions; and it generates new prescriptions. Both both types of prescription are ultimately indeterminate.

    I would like to hear more from Tom and others what might constitute the “prescriptive practice and a conceptual framework” that, as Tom puts it, will “ensure the aesthetics of distantiation.” I think I am talking here about prescriptive practices, conceptual framework, and aesthetic practice.

  37. stoky said

    Glenn (#32):

    This is the reason that I withdrew my involvement from […] the Secular Buddhist Association. The phrase “aesthetics of consumption” captures perfectly what increasingly struck me as the central concern of both endeavors.

    Are you interested in going into more details about this? Maybe even on the SBA-site?
    I saw the discussion on FB about Martine Batchelors quote and was quite shocked. I hope this is just on Facebook, if not Secular Buddhism is pretty doomed.

    P.S.: In case all details are already covered in this current text: I didn’t read it yet because I’m quite busy right now, but I hope to find the time soon.

    P.P.S: “Facilebook-page” ROFL 🙂

  38. Tom Pepper said

    I’m going to try to integrate responses here to Robert, Brad, and Glenn, because I think there are three questions here that need to be brought together to get a clear answer.

    First, Brad, I did misunderstand your expression “individual qua individual” to mean that the individual had some kind of (however limited) essential nature. Your last post is fairly close to my position, but I would want to push it even further. The individual IS, clearly, shaped by the social formation, it is not incorrect to say that it is, but I would go farther and say that it is PRODUCED by the social formation, that it is nothing BUT an effect of the social formation, to the extent that it participates in one at all. One could imagine a kind of Mowgli raised by wolves who is a bodily member of the human species, but I would say that without any contact whatsoever with humans Mowgli remains a body without a mind–he has a brain, but without any symbolic interaction he has no consciousness.

    Such extreme cases aside, there is a sense in which the collective mind does, in fact, “know” exactly what you had for breakfast, right? That this information is not stored in my individual brain isn’t relevant–that’s like saying of a book that page 5 doesn’t “know” what’s on page 107. Assuming you didn’t hunt and gather for your breakfast, that like me you bought it in a grocery store, the larger social system clearly does know what you eat for breakfast, in order to supply it in advance.

    This is not a flippant response, because it bears on the answer to the question of the individual belly that needs food, or the many individuals living on $2 a day. These individuals are part of the social system as well, the fact that there are so many people hungry when we destroy enough food to feed the world, the very fact that the people living on $2 even need money to live on at all, is a result of the global social formation. The ideology of capitalism depends on producing individuals with varied interests and needs and then convincing them that these needs are somehow natural, preceding and outside the system, and that any systemic change would deny or repress individualism, when it is in fact the existing system that produces the individualism we are so attached to. So, instead of seeing feeding the hungry as somehow in addition to living for an idea, why not see the idea for which one lives as the idea that the social system that produces my comfort here in Connecticut is also responsible for producing those starving people in the third world, or even other parts of the country, or even in the urban areas of CT itself? Badiou has long devoted himself to working for the rights of undocumented aliens in France, most of whom come from former French colonies–they don’t have access to healthcare and the social welfare system, but their poverty results from the same system that produces those benefits for the “citizens.”

    This is related, then, to Robert’s concern about motivating people to live for a truth. A core strategy of capitalist ideology is to persuade us that our individual interests are always going to be at odds with the interests of others. Greed is good, the virtue of selfishness, competition is healthy, all that crap. For Badiou, the problem has long been that we can see the truth, and refuse to allow its introduction into the World. We can become a reactionary or obscurantist subject. We can have individual interests that are at odds with truth, if, for instance, my personal wealth derives from stocks, the truth that capitalism necessarily requires the poverty and oppression of the majority of the human species and the destruction of the planet is opposed to my individual interest. I would respond by denying this truth (the reactionary) or by insisting that capitalism is eternal and has existed as long as there have been humans, that the basis of even the first two humans interacting is the universal existence of exchange value (the obscurantist). It is hard to motivate someone who is reaping all the reward of our social structure that there is any advantage to moving outside of his ideology.

    And this takes me into Glenn’s question, about the aesthetics of meditation. I would suggest that this is one way to begin the process of distantiation. It seems to me to depend on what the dialogue involves. The Shin Buddhist discussion group I participate in met yesterday, and discussed (among other things) the problem of NOT meditating, of why several members have given it up, and what their anxiety is about resuming the practice–because some members did really see returning to meditation as anxiety producing in some way. Several members said they used to meditate, and they felt it did make them less impulsive, irritable, stressed, all that stuff, and yet they felt enormous reluctance to return to the practice. My thought is that they have resistance to the sort of empty mindless comfort that their meditation practice provided, and don’t want the semi-lobotomy it produces.

    There are many levels of ideology, of course, and we don’t need to start with, probably shouldn’t start with, concern about attachment to exchange value or competition or nationalism or any other larger concept. The place to begin is with the sense of the self, with the persistent belief that we have an autonomous self outside of any socially produced symbolic/imaginary system. Just talking about the difference in our experience of sitting in a group as opposed to sitting alone can contribute to this awareness that we are not autonomous, not a consistent entity, but our self is the result of the place we presently inhabit in a symbolic/imaginary network.

    For the people in the group I belong to, for instance, I would suggest just focusing on the anxiety about returning to meditation, on what stress reduction may really be taking away from us. For the group Glenn describes, what kind of discussion comes up, and where does it go? Is there a kind of rebellious bad-boy feeling about refusing to mediate like the traditional Buddhists? What is the source of the pleasure in that rebelliousness? Could it lead to a kind of pleasure in being a bad subject, a kind of ideology of resistance and revolt? How much does it depend on the support of a rebellious and contrarian group? There is a sort of distancing of one ideology (the traditional) in order to appropriate its unconscious power for the new one we want to produce. Does this group explore with awareness the pleasure in being different?

    A few weeks ago, I gave the Dharma talk at our weekly gathering on Sunday morning. I talked about poetry, and how to read beyond the level of comfort a poem gives us. I used a Robert Frost poem, which gives us a “deep” and “profound” truth about human nature, and then tried to push farther, to demonstrate the emptiness of that deep truth, how it is simply a ruse to direct our attention away from the non-existence of human nature, and the force of social formations. Afterwards, somebody in the Sangha commented to me “I’m not sure I’m happy about you taking away my comforts.” This, for me, is the first step in the distantiation, but it doesn’t produce any new ideology. The goal would be to find a way to actually get real pleasure out of the process of taking away the comfort, to produce a new kind of enjoyable activity instead of seeing this as always taking away pleasure. Giving up the idea of the self is always seen as a terrifying abandonment of any enjoyment, and it is likely to be stressful and uncomfortable at first, but we can produce an ideology of anatman, in which not being a self is just as enjoyable.

    Anyway, I’ve gone on way too long for one comment, and I’m not even sure I’m making sense any more. I really appreciate all the discussion!

  39. Tom (#38). Thanks for that very illuminating comment. I want to address the questions you pose about the group I described.

    what kind of discussion comes up, and where does it go?

    The discussion revolves around the double-faceted question: how does text Y contribute to sitting in attentive silence and stillness, and how does sitting like that contribute to examining/realizing text Y? Last night, for instance, someone read from Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death. I don’t have the actual paragraph, but this description of the book should give you a sense of the kind of discussions we couple with sitting to form “practice.”

    Becker believed that each of us carries a “vital lie”, that which gives our life meaning, and we would do anything to protect that lie. Becker’s hope was that by becoming conscious of the vital lies that we live by, we could by some degree be free from them. We, as a society, could choose better vital lies to live by such as the principles of freedom, truth, and peace. Ultimately, Becker wrote that the fullest achievement of man was his self-transformation, submission to being the creature that he is. We are neither animal nor god, only human.

    (Ernest Becker site.)

    There is no attempt to control where the discussion goes. Many members, though, are prejudiced toward close-to-the-bone language and claims. So, when people start talking about, say, the “spiritual” nature of this and that, a pointed question will be directed at that language. There is an understanding that the dialogue is an open discussion whose logic is one of exploration and discovery. Having said that, I think that all groups have a certain self-selecting quality to them. I can imagine that a lot of people would like the “spiritual” trajectory to be taken further, and not interfered with by the critical question. So, that person might not come back. The unfortunate result is that groups tend toward groupthink. But a group that addresses this danger in its very discourse can minimize the danger.

    Is there a kind of rebellious bad-boy feeling about refusing to mediate like the traditional Buddhists? What is the source of the pleasure in that rebelliousness? Could it lead to a kind of pleasure in being a bad subject, a kind of ideology of resistance and revolt? How much does it depend on the support of a rebellious and contrarian group?

    A traditional group that moves away from its traditional approach will probably go through a phase of rebelliousness vis a vis the tradition. But to get stuck there would be counter-productive. Speaking for my own group, we went through something like this. Redefining ourselves seemed to require that we set ourselves apart from “Buddhism.” But just for a while. We are over that. We are not contrary to anything. We are just doing what it is we do (namely, what I have been describing over various comments). I see that transitional rebellious period as a “critical” period in two senses of the word. It was unclear whether, at the end, anything would be left of the group; and indeed many people have stopped participating. It was also full of the kind of questioning and actions that eventually found their way into my non-buddhist heuristc. Cognitive actions like cancellation of warrant, stilling the vibrato, and indifference, as well as affective ones like incidental exile and aporetic inquiry, were forged in this real-life environment. I see a parallel to the critical work I am doing with non-buddhism. At some point, the critical work will run its course, and the “buddhism” will disappear altogether.

    There is a sort of distancing of one ideology (the traditional) in order to appropriate its unconscious power for the new one we want to produce. Does this group explore with awareness the pleasure in being different?

    As is probably clear from what I just wrote, there is no pleasure in being different because the “other/traditional” differential has disappeared. I am not entirely sure, but I think a group like the one that we are creating will never get as big as the traditional one in large part because it offers no differential. We don’t even permit the differential “meditator/non-meditator” since we continually employ a spectrum or continuum metaphor for what we’re doing (that is, meditation is not categorically different from any other human activity). That refusal–or really, inability–to offer cleansing solutions to life becomes a problem because most comers to a “meditation” session or a Buddhist center are seeking precisely some new, powerful ideology or vital lie. When they discover that, at our group, there is none being offered, they go elsewhere.

  40. Robert said

    Glenn, re 39.

    I like very much what you are doing, this first and foremost. It sounds great. I wish I could join you.

    I think that there is also a danger in this go with the flow approach, a risk that you just end up treading water, that nothing changes. Earlier I likened it to the 1000 monkeys with typewriters phenomenon. What are the chances that these monkeys will write anything sensible at all, let alone a dominant-ideology-deflating masterpiece? I believe that to deal with that risk we must also accommodate very different meditation techniques, techniques that are much more directed, even controlling. And be less hesitant to set topics for discussion to move things forward rather than rely on the wisdom of the group.

    I don’t think an ideology is necessarily a vital lie. Actually, I think ideologies as such are neutral, and there always have been and there always will be ideologies. I just want to expose / make explicit and shed an ideology not of my choosing and replace it with an ideology that I consciously take on and that reflects what is the case. Focused and deliberate techniques such as contemplation of specific topics can be very efficient tools to accomplish this. I believe there is even room for curriculums. These are the tools that have been used to create obedient buddhist monks, but just as ideologies as such are neutral, up to a point so are the tools that support and reinforce the ideologies. Why not use them?

    I read what I just wrote, and it sounds manipulative, controlling, it sounds like everything I hate. But remember: contemplation = thinking. And thinking we all love.

    What do you think?

  41. Stoky (#37). Yes. As the influence of the Stephen-Batchelor-inspired Secular Buddhist movement increases, the need for some critical reflection would be in order. Really, that would be right in keeping with an aim of this blog, which is, namely, to apply the theory and heuristic of non-buddhism (as a kind of leveling device) to actual x-buddhistic data.

    I have asked a very astute observer and thinker of this issue to write an essay, to get us started. I and others will then bang our gongs. You, too? (Aber Du bist doch ein säkularer Buddhist, oder? Also, Kritik von innen?)

    I would like to hear more from you regarding your comment that you “hope this is just on Facebook, if not Secular Buddhism is pretty doomed.” Would you mind elaborating on the referent to “this.” (I read your post in German, where you say more; but maybe something for English readers?)

    Robert (#40). I agree that we will always have an ideology. And thank Dog we can shed them and adopt new ones. But, I ask myself, why is it that whenever I do so, whenever I find that I have stormed the gates of my ideology and installed a new regent, that old one looks like a vital lie? Maybe I am just hard on myself; but when I look back on the old ideological frames I’ve employed in my life, I am some combination of baffled and confused (how could I have possibly thought that?), embarrassed, ashamed, rationalizing (but it made sense then) and relieved (thank Ogd I now see the light! Never ever again shall I err!).

    I can see how what I described looks like a “go with the flow approach.” What keeps it from being so is the same element that risks creating out of our dialogue a new, coercive ideology. I mean the fact that certain shared beliefs, values, assumptions, views, and so on seem to adhere slowly but surely to group structures. I see explicitness about that danger as the only recourse to this ever-threatening groupthink. Maybe another way of say the same thing is that “groupthink” becomes a group meme–one that just might stave off groupthink. (I know, this is beginning to sound paradoxical.) There is a certain directedness, as you recommend; it is just more of discreet rather than explicit quality. Believe it or not, I am not shy about stepping in and suggesting a course of exploration.

    May I add that I despise go-with-the-flow approaches? I hate the “anything goes” mentality of the Buddhist glossy mags for just that reason. In subscribing to (or feigning, for the sake of optimizing their market?) a belief in “One Dharma,” those magazines abet–perhaps even create– the lifeless, undemanding bumble that counts as thinking in x-buddhist circles. Those magazines are pure specimens of the contradictoriness and incompatibility of claims.

    I agree, too, that there is “a risk that [we] just end up treading water, that nothing changes.” My experience, at least, suggests otherwise; namely, that the kind of sitting-dialogue practice I am proposing effects change on the participants’ thinking, actions, relationships, self-understanding, in short, on their lives. Sitting for an hour, then engaging in a non-cleansing, delusion-combusting dialogue is the very canvass for a “dominant-ideology-deflating masterpiece.”

    Thanks!

  42. Robert said

    Glenn. Like you I have changed my opinions, views, whatever you want to call it. Like the folks in your group I have changed my “thinking, actions, relationships, self-understanding”. But when I reflect on my own life I see clearly that I have never fundamentally shed what I would consider my pervasive ideology. I have never even come close. I mean that my ideology continues to shield me from truly seeing that I am a full and knowing beneficiary of a social system that is fundamentally exploitative and therefore unjust. In other words, ideology is doing exactly what you would expect it to do. This for me is the thing I can’t get myself to recognize. Similarly Tom rightly points out that in order to recognize that you even have an ideology it is crucial that the belief in a self is exposed for what it is, a belief. Again, in my own case, years of Buddhist practice has hardly made a dent in it. This then also is why I have been so pessimistic about just sitting / just talking as a strategy to shed this ideology, this ideology is such a formidable opponent. You claim success with what you are doing with your group, but how do you know that you aren’t just entertaining yourself?

  43. Tom Pepper said

    Glenn, re #39 and 41:

    Rereading what I wrote, I’m concerned that it sounded dismissive or belittling, that I may have not made my point clearly. My position would be that I would want to maintain the “bad-boy rebel” source of pleasure, that it is a positive thing–I didn’t mean it to sound (as I think it probably does) like an insulting term. If we take a little pleasure in doing things like pointedly sitting in the back of the meditation hall away, “ignoring” the altar, not using zafus, for me, that pleasure is a source of energy for a new kind of ideological practice. I would want to explore with the group whether you are as “over that” as you think; personally, I would hope you are not. Even if we choose our ideologies, we still want to have some fun with them, right? Isn’t Becker’s point that there is no point to life, there is no “true” ideology, so we might as well just pick the pleasant illusion that produces the most joy for the greatest number, the one that doesn’t inherently require anyone’s exclusion from the game?

    Given your concern about pursuing various ideologies you later became disillusioned with, I can kind of see why Laruelle would have more appeal than Badiou. Badiou suggests we have to commit to a truth with no guarantee, because within the existing state of knowledge it is going to be dismissed as ridiculously misguided. We might just commit, then, to something that turns out not to be a truth at all. We might find out we were mistaken–which, of course, turns out to BE a discovery of truth. Laruelle wants to reject this kind of decision, and avoid the danger of being misguided; it is kind of like the aesthetics of distantiation with absolutely no new interpellation–like a work that simply undermines all our beliefs and leaves us free of them, exposing them all as empty, and we are left with, well, to use a very x-buddhist term, the death of the bodhisattva. I would agree with Srnicek that Laruelle’s project, and also the aesthetics of distantiation, are necessary, but not sufficient. We need to start there, but go on to actually take a chance on committing to some ideology.

    I will admit to a great deal of pleasure in being the bad subject, the rebellious child. I have a colleague who made it a point, knowing I am a communist, to email me news articles about the exploitation of Chinese workers–so when he was proudly showing off his new ipad I had to make a point of saying “Wow, great! You helped exploit those Chinese factory workers so you can save fifteen minutes day! Good for you! Your fifteen minutes is so much more important than the lives of some factory workers.” Of course, those standing around now know I am a jerk, and yes, I do take some pleasure in it. We have to have some fun, right?

    The Becker book is interesting. I haven’t even thought about it in years, but I remember it as one of those books that gave permission to actually agree with Freud, suggesting that all of the dismissals of Freud were a result of fear of the implications of his theory. Now I want to read it again, and see what he says that I don’t remember or didn’t understand at the time. My vague memory is that the book did, for me, produce a kind of pleasure in investigating Freud but also in being a sort of contrarian who always wants to push beyond the comforting illusion. It helped, along with Marcuse and some others, to make it actually enjoyable to look into the abyss.

    I’m curious about the kind of conversation this book might prompt, and I would love to belong to a group that willingly shows up to discuss such things. When you say that talk of spirituality gets some “pointed questions,” what kind of questions? What woud be “close-to-the-bone language and claims”? Why wouldn’t they be a source of pleasure? Reading Beckett is fun, for some of us, right?

  44. stoky said

    Glenn (#41),

    thanks for your answer. I’ll write something in English the next few days. I’m just not sure yet how to explain my concerns and where to put it as the sba-site is unusable right now.

    I’m not sure whether my concerns are the same you or your friend have, but it will only be helpful to have different perspectives (internal and external).

    I’ll post a link to it on my blog when it’s ready (so I can avoid adding more off-topic stuff here).

  45. Robert said

    Re 42. Glenn. Sometimes I get pretty stupid, this comment was a prime example. It is one thing to get discouraged, but I should quit while I am ahead. I should never suggest that you all the hard work you put into your group is somehow merely entertainment. I am very sorry. Not sure what got over me.

  46. Robert (#42) and Tom (#43). You raise great questions and make powerful points. They need a lot more time and reflection than I am giving them here. So, just for starters.

    Tom, I didn’t think you were being belittling or dismissive at all. In fact, if we had had this conversation two months ago, I would have said, what an astute description of what is happening in the group (appropriating the power from the rejected ideology, deriving pleasure from rebellion against the old way, and so on). We were doing that. At first, I was not even conscious that we were doing so. After a while, though, I began to discern patterns in our speech and attitude. So, I just dropped a silent, invisible bomb on the group, and created a new one out of the debris.

    Like you, I will admit, too, that I do derive pleasure from a certain amount of bad-boy behavior.* But when I reflect on the cost of my bad-boy behavior to the Human Agreement System, that pleasure quickly turns to a stomachache. So, the pleasure is not the only animating force. It is mixed in there as an active ingredient; but it dissolves into something else–something like anxiety or a troubled concern–that propels the project further. I am curious to explore what you and others (on the blog and people like Badiou, Althusser) might say about this moment of the “aesthetic” of practice, when a commitment to some truth seems to be immobilized by the ever-hovering specter of untruth?

    how do you know that you aren’t just entertaining yourself? Robert
    Reading Beckett is fun, for some of us, right? Tom

    That’s a great, galvanizing question, Robert. Thanks. I want to always keep my eye on the matter you raise here. I am glad that we are making explicit the entertainment/enjoyment factor in practice. I think, on reflection now that you mention it, that this factor serves as a node for me as “facilitator” of the power grid called “a sitting/meditation group.” When that node receives juice and hums, I instinctively (it seems*) attempt to disable it. I know how to create a powerful, pleasing, aesthetic environment for practice. It’s very easy to do so: just fill the practice space with pretty images and pictures; light some incense; have lots of soft candle light flickering in the darkness; give reassuring instructions in a soothing voice; let them sit just long enough to feel like good girls and boys; then allow them to coddle their aching bodies; ring a bell; give a talk exuding wisdom and certainty; use an exalted voice; be the thaumaturge. If you really want to make it entertaining, chant, recite mantras, get a sanghic-dharmic-symphonic drone going with the Heart Sutra. Even better: do you have some special apparel you can wear–say a koromo? How about a dharma name? This is practice as spectacle. That’s what they come for! And that’s why I refuse to entertain. My practice hall is cold in the winter and hot in the summer. It is empty. No incense or pretty pictures. No ritual toys, like bells. No secret mudras. No specialized vocabulary. We sit an hour; and we talk. We talk about some topic or text that is utterly opaque to virtually everyone who joins us. More people than not leave disappointed. More than not don’t return. So, it’s not really entertaining. It’s not really fun. Those wouldn’t be quite the right words. It is, as you say, something. But I can’t quite–or yet–say what.

    I think of these lines from Larkin’s poem “Church Going:”

    Power of some sort will go on
    In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;
    But superstition, like belief, must die,
    And what remains when disbelief has gone?
    Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,

    A shape less recognizable each week,
    A purpose more obscure.

    [A nice video here.]

    I will say more later. Thanks!

    *[Personal note: I was the bad kid in school from kindergarten on. I attended an anarchist free school in high school, and dropped out when it closed down rather than attend the public one. My father was a socialist when it was dangerous in the US to be one. My farmer grandfather hired blacks and communists to work his fields in Baptist Oklahoma in the 1930s and 1940s, incurring censure and ostracism. So, this tendency to take on the man seems to be both in my blood and in my environment.]

  47. “There is a famous phrase that divides artists into two categories: revolutionaries and decorators.” -Michel Houellebecq

    Is this distinction apropos of meditation practice, too?

  48. Tom Pepper said

    Glenn: I would say that such a distinction is always the case. We are either working toward truth, or trying to close it off with pleasing distractions. The Buddhist truth of anatman, sunyata, whatever term it appears in, is a kind of rejection of the idea of a fixed, full, meaningful, blissful state–a rejection of the bid for imaginary plenitude which plagues symbolic meaning. We want a final truth, in which we can rest contentedly in permanent pleasure, and barring that we want only pleasant illusions to distract us. It is sort of the lottery winner mentality, that when my numbers come in I’ll have my every desire instantly gratified–but that moment of full gratification is always postponed to some distant future, or pushed back into some obscure past. To take pleasure in the unending effort of pursuing truth and reducing suffering is nearly unimaginable. How could effort be enjoyment?

    It does seem to me that too much focus is put on contentment in meditation, and not enough on the kind of pleasure we might get from working hard. I can imagine your meditation group would be slow in building, since most people come to meditation seeking some form of the Lacanian imaginary plenitude, and you’re not offering it. Personally, I would love to develop the line of thought in this essay, but I’m doubtful there would be any interest, and I doubtful of my ability to reach a larger audience. The idea that we might be able to take anatman completely seriously is just too troubling to most of those who are interested in Buddhism, in my experience. They want the anatman-that-is-not-one offered by “experts” on “non-self” like Wallace or Rodney Smith.

    To my way of thinking, in my little corner of the symbolic order, the completely naturalistic understanding of Buddhist concepts seems quite simple, clear, and obvious, if at times a bit disconcerting. But when I advance these ideas to others I am often met with either anger or dismissive impatience. The interest and engagement of a few people here, on this blog, is encouraging, though.

  49. Tom (#38). I am reading the comments a little jaggedly, so back to #38.

    In my eyes, this comment goes to the heart of the matter we are discussing here, namely, that of the interface between practice and ideology (Worlds, truth commitments, aesthetic practice, interpellation, and so on).

    A few weeks ago, I gave the Dharma talk at our weekly gathering on Sunday morning. I talked about poetry, and how to read beyond the level of comfort a poem gives us. I used a Robert Frost poem, which gives us a “deep” and “profound” truth about human nature, and then tried to push farther, to demonstrate the emptiness of that deep truth, how it is simply a ruse to direct our attention away from the non-existence of human nature, and the force of social formations. Afterwards, somebody in the Sangha commented to me “I’m not sure I’m happy about you taking away my comforts.” This, for me, is the first step in the distantiation, but it doesn’t produce any new ideology. The goal would be to find a way to actually get real pleasure out of the process of taking away the comfort, to produce a new kind of enjoyable activity instead of seeing this as always taking away pleasure. Giving up the idea of the self is always seen as a terrifying abandonment of any enjoyment, and it is likely to be stressful and uncomfortable at first, but we can produce an ideology of anatman, in which not being a self is just as enjoyable.

    (Bold added.) I think my talk of the “node” in the net of practice that hums and buzzes when the participants’ demand of comfort is being served–first and foremost–is similar. Cancelling the buzz is, in your terms, the beginning of distantiation. I can’t see any way to initiate this distantiation than what you describe here. But I think you are right that the key is to “to produce a new kind of enjoyable activity.” The difficulty is that we are walking the edge of paradox, where discomfort meets enjoyment. That’s a paradox (assuming it’s not a form of masochism). Or, at least, it is a very, very sensitive “node” of its own. I’d like to explore the pragmatics of what you raise here in more detail.

  50. Robert contributed the follow statement to the “Before You Read” page; but I also see it as valuable comment on the topic of this thread. So, from Robert (how you don’t mind):

    Hitherto philosophers have had the solution of all riddles lying in their writing-desks, and the stupid, exoteric world had only to open its mouth for the roast pigeons of absolute knowledge to fly into it. Now philosophy has become mundane, and the most striking proof of this is that philosophical consciousness itself has been drawn into the torment of the struggle, not only externally but also internally. But, if constructing the future and settling everything for all times are not our affair, it is all the more clear what we have to accomplish at present: I am referring to ruthless criticism of all that exists, ruthless both in the sense of not being afraid of the results it arrives at and in the sense of being just as little afraid of conflict with the powers that be.

    Karl Marx, Letters from the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, 1843

  51. Tom Pepper said

    I’ve been giving some thought to the question of “discomfort meeting enjoyment,” and it recalled something about Sartre, or more precisely something Badiou says about Sartre’s idea of “love.” For Sartre, who could not abandon the idea of the individual consciousness, love could only alternate between sadism and masochism; but if we give up on the individual consciousness, and accept the Human consciousness as the ability to communicate symbolic, and to create truths that exceed our individual bodily interests, we can conceive of love differently, as a recognition of the possibility of “disjunction,” of the radical difference of individuals which cannot even be united into a single “world” and so can enable the collision and opening up of a powerfully closed “world.”

    Anyway, my question is whether there is a way out of the masochist trap in distantiating our ideologies? Can we maybe see removing comforts as a way to get out of attachment to the self, our belief in the individual consciousness, and then see other kinds of enjoyment as simply more useful than the comfort of our individual interests? I’m not sure how to motivate people to give up their comforts, because there a bit of unsettling, disturbing truth to face before the enjoyment begins. Maybe we just have to embrace our inner Jack Nicholson, and “handle the truth,” but why would somebody want to do this?

    Perhaps it is just a matter of my approach appealing only to those for whom the existing state of things is NOT producing perfect contentment. If you’re perfectly happy with the way things are going, why change? So what if some poor saps in the third world are suffering, or a bunch of folks on the other side of town just got laid off, that’s just their karma, right? Maybe this approach will only ever be of interest to those who are already not happy about the way things are going, so that the loss of contentment/masochism thing isn’t really much of an issue to begin with?

    I look at this discussion, how limited the interest is in the suggestion I made–not even enough to prompt much hostility–while a review of a book by Alan Wallace got attention all over the place, and I was called (on various blogs from around the world) “irrational,” “insane,” a “poor thinker,” and described as having an “apoplectic fit” for what I thought was a fairly clear and reasonable review. Here, I’ve made what I think is a more unusual claim (although to my mind what I’ve said seems perfectly clear and obvious), something I haven’t heard anyone else say before, and it doesn’t attract nearly the attention of a simple review of a book.

    So I’m asking, is this suggestion just not so interesting or unusual as I thought? Does it not seem likely to lead to any real practice? Is it just so outrageous that it seems not worth bothering with? Well, I just wanted to run it up the flagpole and see if anyone would take a shot at it.

  52. Tom Pepper said

    Just to clarify the last part of my previous comment: it’s not that I so much wanted to be called a crazy moron again, but it seems a bit puzzling that when I write something that is primarily meant to be critical of someone else’s work it is surprisingly popular, but when I try to offer something that is productive instead of critical, it draws far less attention. Then, I am repeatedly criticized for being rude, mean, hostile jerk.

    And I do appreciate the really good questions I got from the few who took an interest. I suppose a few really tough questions is better than a hundred stupid ones, right?

  53. Robert said

    Tom, re 39. When you say:

    Giving up the idea of the self is always seen as a terrifying abandonment of any enjoyment, and it is likely to be stressful and uncomfortable at first, but we can produce an ideology of anatman, in which not being a self is just as enjoyable.

    When I read the Althusser essay he seems to suggest that the subject, which I take to mean an ongoing autonomous agent, a self, is the sine qua non for ideology to occur. This same subject in its turn is sustained by ideology, very much a circular thing, a closed loop. This makes sense to me, ideology needs autonomous agents who do ideological things and think ideological thoughts, and assume their rightful place in the ideological scheme of things. If I understand Althusser, how could there be an ideology of anatman, an ideology without subject? What would Althusser think of that notion?

    And some more general questions / observations:

    In terms of knowing that you are in an ideology, and the Spinozist and Marxist quote. That is not a thought Althusser seems to pursue in his essay. I don’t know about Spinoza, but would the Marxist reference possibly refer to a Marxist philosopher being able to recognize ‘petty bourgeois ideological influences’ in his or her thinking? What makes you think that Althusser is opening the door to anything more fundamental than that? Is there more on that elsewhere in Althusser’s writing?

    And reflecting on how to change a person’s ideologies, from Althusser’s perspective wouldn’t the obvious response be that what you do is overthrow the ruling class, take control of the Ideological State Apparatus and effect ideological change that way? That seems so logical. In your essay that approach isn’t really addressed. Why is that? Is it because an actual revolution seems like such an unlikely scenario? I believe one of the reasons Althusser developed this theory was as counter-balance against prevalent notions of abandoning the dictatorship of the proletariat, euro-communism and all that, which would entail leaving the capitalist ISA’s in tact. Clearly Althusser thought that would be a dangerous mistake.

    And lastly, I just read your #59. I think it isn’t that your ideas aren’t sufficiently unusual or interesting, on the contrary, they are so unusual and so different from the familiar buddhist naratives that it will take time for all this to be understood. I am a fan, clearly, so maybe not the right person to respond.

  54. Luis Daniel said

    Tom,

    Here are a few comments on your essay.

    I would simply argue that the ONLY acceptable “truth” worth fighting for is more social justice in the context of a democracy. In this sense the “true” is used as a way of imagining a concrete better situation for all, a better future. Doing this democratically means that everyone can participate and explain his or her justifications regarding public debate, the organization of the State as public good. Very particularly the rules regarding the redistribution of wealth. I am not sure however if you consider any or all individuals capable of claiming more social justice on the ground of s/he not being “aware” of his ideology or the ideology of his or her subject group. You can be sure there are a great number of people who are not comfortable with things as they are. Maybe things are kept as they are precisely in part because they are cut off from participating democratically from public debate. As is the case of workers in China for example.

    But claiming that this dynamic of public debate of public good should be made part of buddhism is something I am not sure is good or even desirable. Buddhism is inscribed in the realm of individual satisfaction of private needs. This is not a luxury but a concrete exercise of tolerance, of living in a world of difference. A pragmatic way of dealing with different personal private beliefs and needs of different subjects – including a community or sangha as a subject – most of which based on their foundational essentialist Truths or dogma and their corresponding power structures-, which due to this fundamentalism can never to be in agreement with each other but can instead more or less agree on rules on how to spend tax money on a better future for all, on more social justice, on more democracy. Hence the separation of the private / public discourses. And hence my objection of creating a new “buddhist ideological party (BIP).”

    Simply questioning why one believes what one believes and rejecting any received beliefs –as I do here- is a useful practice both in the private and the public.

    On the lacanization of buddhism.

    You keep bringing lacanian concepts to the fore. It surprises me that you don’t mention the very useful concept of “lack” and desire and its obvious connection with suffering. I think that elaborating along those lines would be very interesting. On the other hand the Real -or Buddha Nature or Empty Reality or Truth or Reason or God or Tich Nhat Han´s True Home or Culture – as a substitute of personal will and finite existence is complete non-sense. At some point you even suggest that “we can serve as one another´s analysts”. Mind the complexities of the ethics of transference, projections and vested interests present in any social exchange, let alone within the imaginary context of a “buddhist ideological party” community.

    Your idea that mind is not individual is from my point of view a bit elevated. To me what you are saying is that there is language and meaning, and that they are always social, which is hardly news.

    On your revision of Buddhist terms.

    Central to Buddhism is suffering, and thus dukkha is a term which you should have included from the beginning. Also I question the quite light way of choosing which terms or ideas are the “true event of Buddhism”. If the problem is reproducing our relations to the relations of production, wouldn’t monastic life be the way out of the conventional production system par excellence?. When you define Bodhi as a “real state of being Buddhist/Spinozist/Marxist”, my question is what is then the contribution of buddhism to this state, in other words, if you can reach that state by practicing Spinozism and Marxism, why mix it with buddhism, what do the latter two gain with the former? Is this not just a rebranding exercise?

    On the use of culture as rebirth.

    It is sad, to say the least, that once again the very human need of immortality – or going beyond time and chance – appears and re-appears. Culture as a way immortality is not only just nothing new, but within the context of a buddhism without dogma is a sad repetition of the same need already institutionalized in mainstream Buddhism and all other religions. Indeed the dharma could be seen -and is seen- as a form of immortalization within culture. In my view this another fiction to calm the angst of death as something final. Another cultural sedation, as there are plenty others.

    About Truth Procedures. Truth procedures are permeated by the dominant forces in culture and hence are biased towards favoring them. This applies to any form of social expression (philosophy, art, science, medicine, etc). Technology as the commoditization of the “truths” of science to which you adhere by reading this in your computer is a good example. It follows that social expressions that question those dominant and generally abusing forces ideally must enable a different concrete alternative better for all. The only hope against this systematic abuse of people are people themselves, and the only proofed “truth procedure” that can enable more social justice and place people over capital is democracy. The very intention of “forcing” results out of “truth procedures” that enable individuals within the buddhist ideological party community to “persevere in the truth” (paragraph 19 of your essay) is the kind of monster we need to get rid of, namely another dogmatic religion, be it nascent or not.

    I welcome your call about the need to reinforce higher education as a source of generating critical thought. And also, derived from this reflection, I now think that fully embracing dukkha or suffering should be connected with the more complex causes of “social discontent” for the individual or any group.

    Thanks.

  55. Tom Pepper said

    Re # 53

    Robert,

    This has long been the difficulty most people have with Althusser’s concept of ideology—the “closed loop” that allows no escape. However, I see Althusser as trying to explain how ideology so often works so well, and outlining a kind of “ideal case” of a perfectly operating ideology. He clearly doesn’t think it ever does work quite that well, though. There are always what he calls “bad subjects” who require the intervention of the repressive state apparatuses.

    My suggestion is that when Althusser mentions the marxist or spinozist who “knows” he has an ideology, he means something more than just recognizing the influence on one’s thoughts of an ideology other than one’s own. This is the reason for the mention of Spinoza, who Althusser sees as one of the first thinkers of the register of ideology. For Spinoza, we have conventional beliefs but know them to be conventional and not final truths—just as for Hume we should recognize that our claims about causal mechanisms have no real ground, and so we can be open to refining and changing them, but we still use them as if they were true until they become unworkable or are replaced with better ones. That is, this is more than just being aware of influences of external ideologies on our own thought—it is a matter of recognizing that our own thought itself is ideological, and not making claims to universal truths in the register of ideology. The assumption is that if one is a Marxist/spinozist subject, one can still BE a subject, be motivated to act in the world, without needing the illusion that our ideologies are timeless verities. I would suggest that this possibility is difficult to grasp, but is the central point of Nagarjuna’s thought—and is perhaps why he is so often seen as incomprehensible by many thinkers in the west AND in the east. As Nagarjuna suggested, we need to remember that there IS a self, but it is a conventionally constructed self—so an ideology of anatman would not be an ideology without a subject, but an ideology with a subject aware of its own constructedness, of its own conventional nature.

    The reason for the ISA essay was very much to encourage the transformation of the French educational system—as you say, Althusser is, I think correctly, insisting that we cannot change an ideology without changing the practice that supports it. However, there were clearly, at that time, many subjects not sufficiently interpellated into the dominant ideology who were already willing to try to make such changes. That is, the change of the system assumes a certain number of subjects of a different ideology, whose ideology is produced in some other practice (perhaps the practice of student protests or communist party meetings). So, I don’t address the radical overthrow of the ruling class and the transformation of the existing ISAs because first there needs to be a sufficient number of individuals interpellated as bad subjects, rejecting the dominant ideology and able to see their own ideology as something to be held provisionally. Despite the optimism of Neitzsche, god is hardly dead, and religion is still one of the dominant ISAs in the capitalist world. My suggestion is that Buddhism could become an ideological appartatus itself, producing subjects who are self-consciously interpellated into an ideology that is a negative relations to the relations of production, that seeks not to reproduce but to interrupt the reproduction of those relations.

    I do see the goal as radically transforming the existing ISAs, but there need to be a sufficient number of bad subjects to begin such a struggle—a sufficient number of awakened subjects, in the way I’ve defined awakened. I know this runs the risk of becoming mere gradualism, but I think the important difference is in NOT slowly struggling toward the transformation of an existing ISA but developing an altogether new ideological practice outside of the control of the existing system. My greatest difficulty is that I can see no other solution to developing a critical mass of bad subjects/awakened subjects. Who wants to wake up while the dreams are still pleasant? Perhaps the only hope is that capitalism is, for an increasing number of people, turning into a nightmare. There is great chaos under heaven . . .

    I appreciate your questions, Robert, and the chance to try to clarify my position. I have some difficulty seeing why what I have written would “take time to be understood,” because to me it seems so obvious that I think I must be missing some major error that everyone else has already seen through and moved beyond—otherwise, why wouldn’t someone have said this already? Of course, most of what I say HAS been said, just not put together in one place—that is, I see myself as just taking ideas from various thinkers in a very eclectic mix of disciplines and putting them together. Maybe that’s what makes it seem so strange?

    Thanks again. Keep the questions coming!

  56. Tom Pepper said

    Re #54

    Luis,

    I’m sorry I’m not giving you much of a response, but I really can’t quite figure out what your argument is. I’m guessing there is some language barrier, and I can’t make sense of much of what you’re saying. As near as I can figure out, you want to preserve the absolute private/public split, and reject my basic assumption that this split itself is the most fundamental illusion. Is this right? If so, then I don’t think I can persuade you here. I take it to be a basic and obvious truth that the individual is always already produced by the social, and I take this to be one of the core insights of Buddhist thought. Your version of Buddhism as the satisfaction of private needs is just unrecognizable as Buddhist for me.

  57. Luis Daniel said

    Tom,

    I think my critique is concrete and quite precise. But I will try to make it simpler:

    1. Under the system that you propose what is the truth we need to commit to? Who decides what it is?

    2. If the problem of ideology is reproducing our relations to the relations of production, wouldn’t self-sufficient monastic life be the best way of not reproducing this economic system?

    3. If buddhism is not only about private needs based on personal beliefs of an individual and a group, would you say it is then it is also about substituting the state, government services, and taxes and how they are democratically managed in the pursue of social progress for all? If that is the case then on what grounds would you reject religious-based states? Why not then follow the Tibetan or Bhutanese models?

    4. I am saying very clearly that from my point of view the ONLY acceptable “truth” worth fighting for is more social justice in the context of a democracy. In this sense the “true” is used as a way of imagining a concrete better situation for all, a better future. Doing this democratically means that everyone can participate and explain his or her justifications regarding public debate, the organization of the State as public good, very particularly the rules regarding the redistribution of wealth. Please tell me if you think that a given individual who is not aware of his or her ideology is not capable of defending his or her rights, of demanding more social justice and freedom of expression?

    5. When you define Bodhi as a “real state of being Buddhist/Spinozist/Marxist”, my question is what is then the contribution of buddhism to this “state”, in other words, if you can reach that state by practicing Spinozism and Marxism, why mix it with buddhism, what do the latter two gain with the former? Is this not just a rebranding exercise?

    6. What is the importance of self-determination, democracy and freedom of expression in this practice for you?

    I dont understand what part of the following two critiques is not clear for you:

    On the use of the symbolic/imaginary and the subject of truth (culture) as rebirth.

    It is sad, to say the least, that once again the very human need of immortality – or going beyond time and chance – appears and re-appears. Culture as a way “to live … as an inmortal” (your quote) not only is just nothing new, but within the context of a buddhism without dogma is a sad repetition of the same impossible need already institutionalized in mainstream Buddhism and all other religions. Indeed the dharma could be seen -and is seen- as a form of immortalization within culture. In my view this is another fiction for calming the angst of death as something final. Another cultural sedation, as there are plenty others.

    About Truth Procedures.

    Truth procedures are permeated by the dominant forces in culture and hence are biased towards favoring them (witness shifting science paradigms as an example).
    This applies to any form of social expression: dominant philosophy, art for pleasing the powerful, science as truth of the powerful, medicine as a profitable business of the powerful, history as written by the powerful, etc.
    It follows that social expressions that question those dominant and generally abusing forces must enable a different concrete alternative better for all.
    I am affirming that the only hope against this dominant use of “truth procedures” (and axioms as is the case too) for abusing people are people themselves, and that the only proved “truth procedure” that can enable more social justice and place people over capital is democracy.

    I say that truth procedures and axioms are only useful when organized as the result of democratic processes, what do you think?

    I entirely reject your suggestion of “forcing” results out of “truth procedures” that enable individuals within a “buddhist ideological party” community to “persevere in the truth” (your words in paragraph 19 of your essay) because from my point of view it would be another perfect setting for abusing others this time in the name remainding them “how the keep the faith”.

  58. Tom Pepper said

    Luis,

    I think I get a little more of where you’re coming from, but I’m not completely sure. Much of what you say is still incomprehensible to me, and I can’t see how it has anything to do with what I wrote in my essay–you do quote a couple of phrases out of context, but I can’t see what you think I mean by them.

    To the degree that I do understand you, though, I would have to disagree. You ask “Please tell me if you think that a given individual who is not aware of his or her ideology is not capable of defending his or her rights, of demanding more social justice and freedom of expression?” Well, perhaps they can, but from my perspective the insistence on the rights of the individual is itself an ideology, the most powerful capitalist ideology, and is just once again a kind of atomism that has no place in my understanding of Buddhist thought at all. Your approach seems to be one of assuming a bunch of atomistic individuals in a social system that does not create or change their essence, but can only enable or hinder the exercise of their “rights.” From this perspective, capitalism is universal given, and the only truth is the majority opinion. This is so foreign to my way of thinking, I’m not sure how to even begin to respond.

    At other times, though, you seem to be completely contradicting this position, so I don’t really know if I’m getting your right. All I can tell is that you object to what I’ve written, but I cannot get any clear sense of why. You seem to think I am advocating some kind of Tibetan use of Buddhism as an ideological support for a powerful oligarchy, and then suggest I am promoting some kind of attachment to an immortal atman–these are so far from what I am trying to say, I cannot really see how you are getting this idea. The best I can figure is that you are latching on to a few recognizable phrases and assuming I am saying the same thing as someone you once heard use those phrases before. Your questions just don’t seem to have any bearing on what I’ve said. For instance, if you had understood even a little of my essay, you would have to conclude that my “position on self-determination” is that it is an illusion, and does not really exist, and the purported defense of it is just deceptive capitalist ideology.

    I still think there must be some kind of language barrier here–you don’t seem to be getting my point (although I’m guessing if you did, you wouldn’t like it) and I cannot comprehend your response.

  59. Luis Daniel said

    It is ok Tom. I read your essay in detail. I think I am also understanding you an inch better. There is a language barrrier, but not the kind you suggest. There is no useful place in my vocabolary for the words ideology, truth and inmortality or any other self-referenced concept. I see language as a relational tool for handling the concrete. Period. The power you ascribe to objectivity contradicts your “social” conception of being. I guess the main difference bwtween you and me is I have no problem with capitalism and you do.

    I still dont understand why you are interested in buddhism, except as a sort of useful rebranding exercize of Althusser, Spinozism and Marxism. Maybe you are interested in the buddhist audience because of its size and implicit power. I think that for your propposed rebranding of buddhism to be successful you need to get rid of capitalism entirely. And that is not likely to happen any time soon. So wouldnt it be better to actually achieve something concrete in your life-time, like non-dogmatic/politicized meditation for all? or social justice and freedom for all? Arent you choosing althusser´s dead-end view of the world for other reasons? do you think althusser´s depressions were just irrelevant?

  60. Tom Pepper said

    “the main difference between you and me is I have no problem with capitalism”–yes, that is exactly the kind of language barrier I suspected. If you have no room in your vocabulary for words like “truth,” we probably cannot communicate well. You want Buddhism to be an ideology of capitalism, I hope it will be, well, anything else. Capitalism causes suffering, requires competition, poverty destruction of the environment–and I suppose nothing I could say could persuade someone who “has not problem with” this.

    I do find it kind of funny, though, that you think “the Buddhist audience” has some “size and implicit power.” I don’t know where you live, but it sure doesn’t have either size or power where I am.

  61. Luis Daniel said

    I live in Costa Rica, a country with no army and social indicators better than those of Cuba. I live thus in central america, where the cold war killed hundreds of thousands of people due to the stupid veil of “ideology” and the interests of superpowers one of which I suppose you supported for ideological reasons. I come from a socialist democracy and neopragmatism, but you know that. I am also a lawyer with a doctoral degree in development economics from the Institute fo Development Studies, Sussex University, UK.

    When you say I want buddhism to be an ideology of capitalism, I suppose you are right if that means I want non-dogmatic buddhism to stay out of the political debate. I suppose that by doing that you would reply that that is the way it would serve as a tool of capitalism. Well, you live in country where you support war every day when you pay taxes. Where your indifference (or resignation) not to act but to teach and write for changing the way other people think allows more than 40 million people to live under poverty. You could something about that but you choose not to, because that would serve capitalism. In my case not subscribing the politization of buddhism allows room for a secular social action through the state or government, anywhere.

    I think you are very wrong when you say that defending rights is the “essence of capitalism.” We kicked infinito gold, a powerful canadian company, out of Costa Rica and we did it using the law, the judiciary. Not buddhism. Not ideological change. We used concrete legal action to protect our country from a corrupting agent that would have destroyed the environment and strengthened our democracy in the meantime.

    But maybe I am just assuming too much, would you like to help in fighting poverty through education, which is what I do – if you care to read some Spanish you can go to http://www.piad.or.cr -, or join any other concrete fights against the powerful which is what I try to do? You would probably prefer to sit aside and keep on critizising how that also helps capitalism. Well I don’t. I prefer capitalism and social democracy with all its -really ugly – warts and faults than subscribing to autocrat corrupt regimes, such as the Chinese, which purposely kill with no previous decent trials hundreds of innocent people every day, maybe becasue they dared to say something against the regime. So I suspect nothing I can say can change your mind about supporting China or Cuba in the name of fighting capitalism. I am not even sure capitalism could be properly defined. Actually I don’t think it exists as such. I believe in fighting injustice everywhere I see it. I believe in the larger loyalty which states that democracy is good, even for people like you, who not only don’t defend it but openly attack it. I think this is the problem with the radical left, that it has no national project, it is completely unpatriotic,and divides any efforts against the powerful or mighty right. You can remember this every time you use your individual rights of freedom of speech -which I am sure you would not hesitate to defend legally- in the university campus where you teach.

    And regarding buddhist power, well let me be more precise: this blog has over 60,000 hits in less than a year, and Glenn so far has been quite effective in generating controversy and attracting interest, so yes, I think you wouldn’t be writing about buddhism if it wasn’t because you could have a freeloading shot on top of his shoulders to reach out to this buddhist related audience, versus, for example writing letters to your sangha peers. Ahh and also your name appears relatively big in the cloud of subjects. But I am sure that is unintended and is part of the capitalist individual ideology fantasy you dont subscribe.

  62. Tom Pepper said

    Well, Luis, all I can say is, I hope you succeed. Because if the whole world demands material equality with the “first world,” America is doomed and capitalism will collapse sooner rather than later. With nobody to oppress and extract surplus value from, the wealth of the first world is becomes useless. Good luck.

    Sixty thousand hits hardly seems like a lot of power. How many hits did the website for the “Hunger Games” movie get? How many hits a week does Justin Beiber get?

  63. Luis Daniel said

    There is a paradox here. The most advanced liberal democracies in the world are expensive and that is in itself unsustainable so you are right. We in and with Costa Rica can demosntrate that an even more advanced or just liberal democracy can be achieved with less. That is with an income one third that of the rich countries. Gradually other countries will join in. Perverse dominant over exploitation will try to keep corrupt regimes in poor countries such a nigeria ir sudan. But if power to the people means anything to you, eventually greed may be overcomed in all countries. Including rich ones. You are forcing me to be optimistic. I dont like that. I only think this truth is worth fighting for.

    And about justin beiber, i dont know … maybe if you try to change you hairstyle we will get those extra hits!

  64. Robert said

    Tom, re 51 (and 53)

    So I’m asking, is this suggestion just not so interesting or unusual as I thought? Does it not seem likely to lead to any real practice? Is it just so outrageous that it seems not worth bothering with? Well, I just wanted to run it up the flagpole and see if anyone would take a shot at it.

    Well, when I referred to the strangeness of your essay as an obstacle I was mostly thinking of two or three things that make your essay particularly difficult for people like me, whose thinking has mostly been shaped by western buddhist attitudes and concepts.

    First of all there is the notion that consciousness manifests in systems of symbolic communication only. I understand that this notion has been kicked around in western philosophy for a long time, but this is not something I ever heard in dharma talks, and regardless, it is a very counter-intuitive claim. I posted some questions around that very issue. It is also a claim with a lot of merit, and that is why I assume/hope other readers of this blog like me continue to mull this over. Remember, not many readers actually post comments ever.

    This raises another point, looking back on my own involvement with a buddhist sangha, and that is the insularity of much of the thinking that occurs there. We relied entirely on teachers and teachings from our own tradition, even to summarize debates about the fine points with other very similar schools. And western philosophy simply didn’t exist for us. As a result we are mostly babes in the wood when we do start looking over the fence at the bigger world out there. Western philosophy altogether, as do the specific schools within it, all bring their own vocabulary and groundrules to the discussion. I know you can look those things up, but in my own case I find it difficult to establish a beach head, so to speak. That’s why I have been bombarding you with questions. I am sure other visitors to this blog are like me and also experience these hurdles.

    Finally, and again based purely on my own experience, we are not used to thinking politically, and the political is of course another major theme in your essay. My own sangha was strictly a-political, which I believe is a very common stance in western buddhism. Politics just wasn’t discussed, and I don’t think many sangha members even subscribed to a newspaper. Even in those western buddhist circles where the political has some traction, I am talking about what we call engaged buddhism, it is generally not very sophisticated. This is surprising given all the talk about compassion. So there you have it, another barrier that many of your readers need to wrestle with.

    Hope this helps at least a litle bit.

  65. Tom Pepper said

    Re 64:

    I think you are correct that most American Buddhists have somehow gotten the idea that Buddhism is completely apolitical. We assume anyone as wise as Buddha must have had our modern American notions of absolute separation of church and state. But maintaining this idea requires some quite determined ignorance of Buddhist history. Clearly, in the Pali canon Buddha is depicted as advising kings, and in a society in which there was absolutely no division between political an religious power the rejection of the dominant religion was itself a political act. Then, of course, there’s King Ashoka. And the use of Buddhism as the official ideology of the feudal oligarchy in Tibet. Zen as the ideology of the Japanese warrior class. Shin as the official ideology of the Japanese empire up until WW II. Buddhism as one of the major ideological state apparatuses of Sri Lanka. It’s hard to come up with a time when Buddhism was in any real way separate from politics, until it was introduced to the west in the twentieth century. Nevertheless, the idea that Buddhism is “otherworldly” and has nothing to do with politics is nearly universal in the U.S.

    As for the idea of consciousness existing only in a symbolic/imaginary system, I wonder if non-western Buddhists would find this as strange? I wonder if it would help to approach this by going through a particular text of Nagarjuna, from this perspective, to demonstrate how much more sense it makes if we abandon the atomistic concept of consciousness? The basic Buddhist understanding of the mind as one of the six sense, and the madhyamaka concept of sunyata, seem to me to be only comprehensible if we understand consciousness in the way I suggest–understood in any other way, we would be forced to introduce some kind of subtle atman to make any sense of reality. In studying something like Nagarjuna, how do western Buddhists make sense of what he says? I mean, I know some of them, like Hayes, just insist he is a sophist and makes no sense, but barring that, I can’t see any way to explain what he says unless we accept some sort of collectively-produced consciousness, completely dependently arisen and therefore completely impermanent.

  66. Tomek said

    Tom, you write (# 65):

    “The basic Buddhist understanding of the mind as one of the six sense, and the madhyamaka concept of sunyata, …”

    Perhaps my question won’t have much to do with the current discussion, but nonetheless I am very curious how Buddhist like you, who is so active on this non-buddhistic blog, approach statements as the following:

    “(…)Dispelling occlusion of empty reality—which occlusion ensues from excessive, e.g., buddhistic, representation—constitutes speculative non-buddhism‘s very reason for being. Against the narcissistic impulses of the homo sapiens ape to reify and aggrandize his evanescent cultural fictions, empty reality must not be re-inscribed as buddhistic shunyata, no-self, “things as they are,” dependent origination, and so on. Empty reality is given in the “just so” of everyday life. The term ―empty reality is used because it names the intimately real, the radically immanent, while refusing to pluck the heartstrings of the soul’s vibrato. Buddhicized terms, like “shunyata,” do the latter. Shunyata, for instance, is Joe Jikyo Jones Roshi to empty reality’s Joe Jones; namely a rhetorical flamboyance that serves to occlude what it purports to name precisely because it overwrites what it names (with its grandiosity, cultural-historical complexity, etc.). Buddhists, as the shape of Buddhism, may attempt to comment on empty reality; but, in doing so qua Buddhists via buddhemic utterance, this would amount to yet another inscription of buddhistic decision—yet another turn on the circularity of the dharmic dispensation. Empty reality is not an issue for Buddhism; it is none of Buddhism‘s business. Empty reality is nothing at all. To a great extent, the term ―Buddhism names a particular manner of representationally stylizing empty reality. As terms such as shunyata intimate, finally, a dark irony is at hand here: Buddhism encodes its own undoing. But no Buddhist is able to undo it. That would be impossible. (Hence: non-buddhism.)”

    This fragment is taken from Glenn’s heuristicsempty reality (p. 15-16). Would you say couple of words what do you personally think about Glenn’s treatment of “shunyata” above? Would you agree with him that it might “pluck the heartstrings of the soul’s vibrato” or that it represents “rhetorical flamboyance that serves to occlude what it purports to name precisely because it overwrites what it names”? Do you think that Glenn’s sabotaging of all buddhistic representations, as in the case of “shunyata”, is a beneficial action for some of those who are caught in the dharmic dream?

    Thank you,

    Tomek

  67. Uri Sala said

    Dear Tom,

    In your essay you say:

    The subject is not identical with the biological individual, cannot be mapped onto a brain, but exists in the human socially produced symbolic/imaginary system (…). It is not that we have a mind which then attaches to a symbolic system, but that there is a symbolic system which makes use of individual biological organisms.

    With this sentence, I wonder whether you are saying that the mind has absolutely no inherent structure and that via socialization and the right changes in institutions we can come to adopt any ideology. Are you advocating some sort of blank slate here? Are you completely confident that the kinds of changes you are advocating could eventually meet a bigger obstacle than capitalism’s resistance to alternative ideologies: namely, human nature?

    Thank you very much for your ideas.

    Uri

  68. Tom Pepper said

    Tomek,

    I kind of agree with the point Glenn is making, but I still see some value in using the terms some of the time. That is, all too often the terms are used ONLY as a way to avoid saying something specific, as a kind of empty rhetorical maneuver. Many times, someone will use the term anatman to attempt to create a sense of inexpressible or mystical meaning, to baffle instead of explain–usually, there is a kind of suggestion that the term is like a powerful mystical mantra, instead of a term for a concept. So, to avoid that, there is some value in avoiding the pali or sanskrit or Japanese or Tibetan or whatever. However, there are times when there really just isn’t quite a good English term to convey the meaning of the concept, so it might be better to introduce a foreign term rather than have twelve different “translations” that lead to confusion (not-self, non-self, selfless, no-self, empty self, etc.). I’m a little on the fence on this one. I am nervous about using the terms sometimes, because they might lead to that kind of mystical thaumaturgy Glenn points out, along with the wearing of robes and the incense and Tibetan art; on the other hand, I often use terms from continental philosophy to convey concepts that just can’t be conveyed in ordinary English without being misleading. I use terms like sunyata fairly freely here, because I assume the readers on this blog know what they mean, and will not be impressed or baffled by them.

    So, why do you ask? What’s your position on this?

  69. Tom Pepper said

    Uri,

    I do not mean to suggest a tabula rasa here, exactly the opposite. The “blank slate” assumes that the brain starts empty, and then acquires all its ideas from experience. My suggestion is that the symbolic/imaginary system is already in place before it incorporates a particular organic body. There are clearly some limits on the possibilities of symbolic systems (we can see that clearly enough in semiotics or the philosophy of mathematics), and also on the imaginary system (the human species has a limited range of sensory perception). There are, of course, also limits that would be necessary because of the nature of the human animal, limits that cannot be overcome by the symbolic/imaginary realm.

    And yes, I do feel confident that the conception of consciousness and the mind I am suggesting is a better way to meet the bigger challenges that might lie beyond capitalism. Not to overcome them, because that engagement would be endless (as long as the species exists, at least), but to meet them with less production of suffering. I’m wary of the term “human nature,” because I this term is usually used to naturalize things that are not “nature” but ideology. Can you say more about what you mean by the term?

  70. Tomek said

    Tom (# 68)

    I think I can understand your nervousness while using terms like shunyata here on this blog. Why? In some place in your essay you write: “(…) Buddhist concepts can be understood in a completely naturalist way, with no need to accept any world-transcendent of mystical beings or forces.” And then, when I read Glenn’s words (again from the definition of his empty reality): “To a great extent, the term “Buddhism” names a particular manner of representationally stylizing empty reality,” I just can’t see much agreement between you two. I think that Glenn is far from any attempt to naturalize buddhistic concepts. On the contrary, what he seems to aim at is to reveal how the very usage of any ‘buddhemic utterance(s)’ creates, what he calls voltaic network of postulations, which is precisely the breeding ground for “world-transcendent of mystical beings or forces” or better, where plucking “the heartstrings heartstrings of the soul’s vibrato” is possible or where subscribers to buddhistic ‘decision’ succumb to “the narcissistic impulses of the homo sapiens ape to reify and aggrandize his evanescent cultural fictions, (…) as buddhistic shunyata , no-self, “things as they are,” dependent origination, and so on.”

    “The primary purpose of enacting speculative non-buddhist postulates is to encourage us 200,000-year-old homo sapiens apes to settle alongside of empty reality with, of course, whatever culturally minimal representation is required. “

    This is yet another of Glenn’s statement from empty reality definition and I wonder, would you say that concepts as shunyata belong to the set containing those “culturally minimal representation(s)” that are required to settle alongside of empty reality? Or maybe to the contrary, they inevitably – just by being uttered – help to create conditions that enable representationally stylizing empty reality?

    Empty reality which is, as Glenn writes, “nothing at all”.

  71. Tom Pepper said

    Tomek,

    I’m not sure, but I don’t think my attempt to naturalize Buddhist concepts is really at odds with Glenn’s attempts to demystify them, to strip them of their rhetorical magic. I think of it as different approaches to the same thing. If karma, for instance, becomes something that everyone can understand with not magical psychic powers, just the very real and completely explicable effects of the structures we bear, the limits within which we can make our own world, then it loses some of that ideological power that it has in x-buddhisms, it doesn’t work at an unconscious level supporting or creating a kind of euphoric buzz of “mindfulness.”

    Glenn may have a different take on this, but it seems to me we are working toward the same thing from different angles.

  72. Robert said

    Hello Tomek,re 70.

    I am a bit puzzled by how your exchange with Tom is evolving. In comment 66 you asked a very good question: what about using a term that elsewhere on this blog is defined as a meaningless buddheme. Tom responded in 68. Now what we get are more quotes from Glenn, and the suggestion that Tom should be nervous because he has the audacity to say those things on this non-buddhist blog. Maybe I misunderstand, but this is what it reads like to me. Shouldn’t you rather more directly respond to Tom’s comment, and in your own words?

    By the way, Glenn has been providing feedback on Tom’s essay all along, some of it touching on the very issues you raise.

    Hope this contributes to the discussion.

  73. Robert said

    Tom, re 65. A Nagarjuna/Althusser/Badiou essay on non-self would be helpful for a particular audience, no doubt. But if you are looking for opportunities to further clarify and more importantly, be beter understood, than I would suggest you pick up where this essay leaves off: what would a practice look like, “what might be the role of ritual, what kind of meditation might be most useful”.

  74. Tomek said

    Tom (# 71)

    I’m not so sure that your attempt to naturalize Buddhist concepts is the same thing as, what you call, “Glenn’s attempts to demystify them, to strip them of their rhetorical magic.” Glenn’s demystification seem to begin with revealing how x-buddhistic syntax renders Buddhist believers from reality and his reconfiguration or rather destruction of x-buddhistic postulates is to make them, as he writes in the introduction to your essay, “unrecognizable to traditional practitioners.” You in turn seem to be quite comfortable with upholding traditional syntax, and as your essay or random application of buddhemic vocabulary on this blog exemplifies, you prefer to keep the buddhemes intact only infusing them with naturalized meaning. I see Glenn’s approach as incomparably more radical then your attempts of naturalization. His non-buddhism tends toward suspending “the structures that constitute Buddhism” and as he further says that “only once we have muted Buddhism‘s cosmic vibrato, are we free to hear fresh, terrestrial, resonances.” (Nascent … p.11) Are sure that the naturalization of Buddhism postulates that you attempt, is the same thing as Glenn’s attempt of muting its vibrato and eventually discharging of the whole voltaic network?

  75. Tom Pepper said

    Tomek,

    “Are sure that the naturalization of Buddhism postulates that you attempt, is the same thing as Glenn’s attempt of muting its vibrato and eventually discharging of the whole voltaic network?”

    Well, no, I’m not sure of that at all. It seems so to me, but perhaps Glenn will have to weigh in on that for himself.

  76. Tomek, Tom (#66-72).

    I am finding your exchange very valuable. Tomek, you are asking really good questions. I appreciate that you have read my essay with such obvious care. Thank you. I find your questions and comments (here and on other threads) particularly helpful because you are taking seriously the non-buddhist heuristic and are thus able to put it to the test. That is exactly what I hope for the theory that I am developing; namely, that people like you apply it to the x-buddhist data. In other words, I hope that people will think along with the theory for a while–apply the heuristic–and see what emerges (and disappears). That’s what you are doing; and, doing so, you are in an ideal position to discern nuances and contradictions and gaps and slants, etc., in the theory and in its various applications by different people. Particularly since the non-buddhist theory is a tool that is still in the forge, we need more, not fewer, questions. And we need increasingly pointed critical responses. So, we need to continue to hear from you.

    This is a good opportunity to remind everyone of one of our mottoes: Kick out the jams, motherfuckers! Why hold back? If you don’t express that thought that’s on your mind, it is slung into oblivion. Long live the ephemeral blog-thought!

    What I find so interesting and helpful about Tom’s work on this blog is how he is enriching and advancing the discussion that I meant for it to serve. Our first exchange exemplifies our relationship here. I made some rough and vague comments about meditation as a potential organon of ideological blindness. Tom came back with some thoughts from Althusser on the subject that served to expand, clarify, yes, even alter somewhat my own thinking. What I said then, I still think; namely:

    Tom’s questions, insights, suggestions, and general attitude exemplify the kind of thinking needed for the work that I am hoping to stoke, or indeed incite, on this blog…Tom’s approach effectively suspends Buddhism’s system of postulation, challenges its axiomatic regency, and cancels its warrant of truth by opening Buddhism to the influx of foreign ideas. For instance, he says to Buddhism, “let me introduce you to Louis Althusser;” and, “please meet the acquaintance of literary theory.” I contend that Buddhism’s mien is altered—perhaps radically and unrecognizably—in the company of the wider community of thought and practice. This altered mien invites, indeed requires, a “re-reading” of Buddhism, one that, moreover, stimulates a re-visioning of Buddhism’s possibilities.

    My impression so far in your exchange is that Tomek perceives that Tom and I stand in different relation to x-buddhism. Is that right? In the article, I contend that a necessary condition of realizing non-buddhism is “incidental exile.” An exile is “someone who finds himself in fitting proximity to x-buddhism‘s vallation.” “Fitting proximity” means, to me, that the person still has the vallation/dispensation in view, but stands out of the range of its tremendous gravitational pull. “Finds himself” means that this position cannot be virtualized; it results, rather, from a kind of cognitive and affective devastation. But as the spatial/temporal metaphor suggests, it can’t be predicted how much time within the vallation a person needs to gain the necessary (i.e., non-buddhist) critical distance. In the meantime, we make remarks from where we stand. I think one thing is clear to anyone following this blog and reading my recent work: I stand at an extreme. Because I do, so much of what I hear in dialogue with x-buddhists is either adhanic-screech or echo-speech. The first is pseudo-speech that is like the call of the muezzin, bellowed from the minaret, summoning the faithful to dharmic remembrance. The second is the speech of x-buddhists in some stage of exile. Still close to and oriented toward the dharmic fortress, their speech bounces off its walls and into the barren field of empty reality (that is, the field devoid of the representations produced in and projected out of the vallation). The farther a person gets from the walls of the refuge, the closer to the bone his speech becomes. When the vibrato is stilled, the screech is muted. Words clap with the thud of the body. The echo fades.

    When that happens, we speak to one another as exposed homo sapiens apes. And “Buddhism” is no more–it is nowhere to be found. I don’t think many people are ready, willing, or even able (given the gravitational pull of decision) to come stand with me. –And they shouldn’t. Let’s each find our own proper place.

  77. Tomek said

    Hello Robert (# 72),

    I didn’t suggest that Tom SHOULD anything, all the more he should be nervous. Writing that I understand his nervousness was my response to what he mentioned in comment #68, namely “I am nervous about using the terms sometimes, because they might lead to that kind of mystical thaumaturgy Glenn points out (…)”

    Anything wrong with quoting from Glenn? To my surprise not many people commenting on this blog try to apply speculative non-buddhism heuristic to highlight their views. I’ve translated some of the articles posted here into Polish and in that process I gradually found Glenn’s terminology very revealing. So if you don’t mind I will keep quoting from Glenn from time to time to help myself to articulate what’s in my head, OK?

  78. Robert said

    Tomek, re 77. Of course, Tomek, I don’t mind at all, and even if I did that still shouldn’t slow you down. I wasn’t sure where you were going with this is all. And I missed the earlier nervousness reference. I am all for quoting, and even more for articulating what’s in your head. Sorry if I wasn’t clear.

  79. Tom Pepper said

    Robert,

    Re #73: This could be an interesting way to go, but I’m not sure if there could be a general prescription, a universal ritual. What kind of mediation would be most useful is they key question, but for me it depends on the answer to another question: what kind of evidence would make this account of Buddhist concepts most convincing? Somebody mentioned earlier that being clear and coherent is not sufficient to make a theory true–it needs some empirical evidence. What kind of an empirical experience would really make this convincing, would help us to “think” from this theory and not just “understand” it?

    I think this depends on what our most powerful, most naturalized, ideological assumptions are, doesn’t it? Could you (or anyone) speculate on what these are in our culture today? I, for one, feel totally out of touch with culture on this point. I don’t think I assume the same things as most people anymore, and haven’t for a long time. I also think some of the assumptions I do hold powerfully, that shape my actions, are probably not common and may not even be true–just as one not too personal example, i have a deeply held assumption that the best, most rational argument will be persuasive; I “know” this to be false, but I still operate as if it were true, and cannot often remain conscious of even having this assumption. I doubt most people operate on this assumption–at least, my students nowadays seem to implicitly assume that rational argument is pointless and appeals to emotion are the only appeals that are effective. I also work under the assumption, which totally clashes with the previous one (sometimes with unfortunate results), that we are completely the product of our symbolic/imaginary systems, and have no autonomous self; I doubt many people work under this assumption. What are those powerfully held assumptions that most people in our culture cannot let go of? We would need to begin from there, and then develop experiences that denaturalize those ideologies. We may still “keep” those ideologies, still need to work within the practices that support them, but they would no longer blind us to reality.

    Tomek: As you suggested, my approach may not be as thoroughly radical as Glenn’s. To borrow his metaphor, I’m still standing outside the vallatiion pitching stones at the wall, while he’s off in the distance trying to do his own thing.

  80. Tomek said

    Tomek: As you suggested, my approach may not be as thoroughly radical as Glenn’s. To borrow his metaphor, I’m still standing outside the vallatiion pitching stones at the wall, while he’s off in the distance trying to do his own thing.

    So, Tom I assume, that pitching stones at the wall you still hope that an echo it creates will bring you some answers to your questions?

  81. Tom Pepper said

    I don’t know, Tomek. I think I may just be foolishly hoping one of my pebbles will knock the edifice down.

    On the question of an aesthetics of Buddhist practice, I just read the article by Tim Parks, “The Mind Outside My Head,” that Glenn links to in the “twitter updates” on the left. This raises an interesting possibility, because Parks suggests that grasping a new concept of consciousness will undermine his ability to write novels. He clearly has the assumption, which remains completely outside his “World,” that novels must produce ideology and reinforce the sense of a natural autonomous self. This is, in fact, what Literature most often does–produce ideology in the guise of timeless truths. So it is telling that he mentions Joyce, as someone who disturbs that sense of autonomous self. Unfortunately, I think most people, like Parks, just don’t like Joyce, and refuse to read him. Others, most (not all) English professors, will restore him to the comfort zone by focusing on the autonomous transcendent genius of the author that transcends the work, and lead students on “Leopold Bloom” walks around Dublin to contain the really disturbing impact of “Ulysses” in a magical aura of experience.

    In a very entertaining piece of literary criticism in the guise of a novel, Terry Eagleton’s “Saints and Scholars” presents Leopold Bloom as the only character who can see what needs to be done and do it, while the “sholars” are all frozen in their ideological dilemmas. The suggestion is that Joyce can (if read correctly) break us free of our ideologies sufficiently to see clearly what needs to be done, AND motivate us to do it. My question is, can we produce a Buddhist practice like this? How long could it last before it, like “Ulysses”, is contained by ideology and has to be reinvented?

    It is interesting that Parks cannot see the glaringly obvious omission in Manzotti’s thought. Manzotti thinks he has, once again, solved all the hard problems of philosophy with a slightly more radical phenomenology–but there is no consideration whatsoever of the nature of language as a symbolic system. He has simply pushed the Cartesian mind (which he says is one of the great errors of thought) into the realm of language, where it remains invisible to him. I think reading Manzotti’s theory of the “spread mind” can help clarify what my position is: for Manzotti, the mind is outside the head, but in the phenomenological context; I would want to add the material practice of language production to that context. In fact, I would suggest that the material practice of symbolic communication by human beings is the single most important component of the “mind,” which is in fact outside the head but not in quite the way Manzotti thinks.

    For this reason (ie, because symbolic meaning is central to the mind), I would suggest that language and thought must be the focus of whatever kind of Buddhist aesthetic practice we might be able to come up with.

  82. Tomek said

    I don’t know, Tomek. I think I may just be foolishly hoping one of my pebbles will knock the edifice down.

    Tom, I think I can understand you on this metaphorical level, but on the other hand, you’re certainly aware that your laconic responses to my questions like this last one or the one before that (at the end of #79) does not match your eloquence shown in the essay at all.

    If I may ask you more concretely, does this “foolish hope” has something to do with your attempts of naturalizing buddhistic concepts, like shunyata and others you mention in your essay? Am I wrong thinking that this “foolishness” might somehow refer to your suspicion, that in the end such maneuvers (pebbles ?) like your clarifying the meaning and leaving the traditional buddhemes intact, can in fact do just the opposite of knocking the edifice down, that is, strengthening the vallation and be just another perfect iteration of x-buddhism decision, called in this case, for instance “naturalized Buddhism”?

  83. Tom Pepper said

    Tomek,

    No, I can honestly say that I do not in the least believe that my naturalized redirecting of these concept could in any way support the ideological mystification that most western Buddhism produces. My sense of “foolishness” results from the expectation that most people will simply ignore such ideas, or refuse to understand, them. If this approach to Buddhism were even understood, not even practiced but just engaged, then western Buddhists would have to abandon their infatuation with the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism with the pseudo-zen of the seventies generation and with their obsessive pursuit of “mindful” bliss. Almost all of the celebrity Buddhist teachers today would have to admit they are completely incapable of understanding such concepts, and they would lose their audience of bookstore buddhists. Retreat centers woud be abandoned as a useless thaumaturgical prop and Buddhism would become ordinary, losing all its mystique and power. Of course I feel foolish–who could imagine that a few true ideas could do battle with the enormous desire-producing machine of capitalist ideology?

    However, if by “decision” you’re suggesting that this approach to Buddhism would produce an ideology, I would say that yes, if it were ever to be adopted it would do exactly that. It would, however, produce an ideology that knows it is one, instead of an ideology that pretends to universal truth, and that’s quite a difference. Unlike Laruelle (or Bhaskar, or many others) I do not believe that we can ever exist without an ideology. That would be like suggesting we could exist without a language, or without technology in the most full sense of that term–perhaps possible, but only if we were to become like the Eloi in H.G. Wells’s “Time Machine.” An ideology that does not depend on deception, illusions, contradiction and reification would be the ultimate outcome of such a project–but, as I said, I am not terribly hopeful. Just imagine the endless work, the unceasing thought and creative artistic production necessary to keep such an ideology from slipping back into illusion and reification? Who wants to spend so much time thinking and being creative, when we can spend our energies oppressing the people of the third world so we can get a faster iphone?

    If you see my project as “strengthening the vallation,” can you perhaps say more about exactly how it would do this?

  84. Robert said

    Hello Tomek,

    I am not an x-buddhist and I am not a non-buddhist, if anything I am a contented ex-buddhist, which is an excellent position to occupy in this discussion. I have argued on this blog that Glenn in his defense of the notion of ‘just sitting’ is fundamentally a crypto-buddhist, and nothing Glenn said so far has caused me to change my mind.

    Re-reading Glenn’s definition of empty reality in your comment # 66 for me confirms this suspicion. There is nothing to distinguish this non-buddhist statement from those made by any x-buddhist who claims his or her emptiness (empty reality) is really empty, much emptier than the emptiness of all those other x-buddhists. We are asked to understand that this non-buddhist emptiness – unlike the emptiness of the x-buddhist competition – is super empty, and why? Because the author says so and he is a person of integrity and he really means it.

    Surely we must do better than that.

    Offered as a question, in friendship so to speak, not because I want to win an argument. What do you think?

    Many thanks!

  85. Robert said

    Tom, comment 79.

    I meant to respond earlier, and now I see (comment 81) that you essentially responded to your own comment, and more eloquently than I ever could. There is a lesson in that!

    I am definitely not looking for a universal ritual or a general prescription. I am eager to learn more about what in 81 you call the aesthetic practice, or, in an exchange with Glenn, distantiation. I raise this because I am curious, of course, but also because I think there is no better way to further clarify what it is you are trying to say.

    Nor do I think it is crucial that we pinpoint what our most naturalized ideological assumptions are. I expect there is no such a generalized phenomenon. What we need are exactly the practices that help us understand / drive out that: first of all we carry these ideological frameworks (I almost said ‘within us’, but thought better of it); secondly where they are localized and how it all works; and thirdly what in each individual case these ideological assumptions consist of.

    In doing this I suggest you cconsider another component to the two you mention for further exploration in your comment 81 (e.g. language and thought) namely the notion of subject. At least as I am beginning to understand this concept from reading what Althusser has to say about it (no ideology without subject and no subject without ideology, Althusser’s subject and atman/soul are very similar, if not the very same thing).

    This entire project may turn into a potential truth event, in a modest way. From the little reading on Badiou I have done, such events don’t lend themselves very well to orchestration, there are always wildcards, and it is our very own ideological blindness that may cause us not to see its full potential.

    On another note, where you believe so firmly in the power of the rational argument. I must confess I am on the other side of the spectrum. I am with Glenn on this, never underestimate the power of magical thinking.

    Thanks.

  86. Tom Pepper said

    Robert,

    Just to clarify my point about rational argument. I do know that it is rarely powerful, that the best, most correct, argument, the clear statement of truth, almost never carries the day. My point is that I have a tendency to still operate as if rational argument had some real effect–this is one part of my ideology, something which shapes my actions despite my knowing very well it isn’t realistic. It is sort of like the stupid cognitive therapist insisting the analyst stop wasting time with emotions and transference and all that silly stuff and just point out how illogical the patient is being. It’s dumb, I know, but it is so deeply ingrained at this point I fall back on it automatically.

  87. Tom Pepper said

    To continue (I posted 86 accidentally):

    I do think we would need to have some idea of what an ideology looks like before beginning to consider how to distance it. And there are any number of practices that could work quite easily to do this. They don’t have to look anything like zazen or vipassana or whatever. For instance, think of your absolute favorite movie, one you deeply “enjoy” (assuming you like movies at all). Watch it carefully, with this question in mind: why do I enjoy this? The easy out of “it is well made” or “it is unexplainable” is off limits. You have to thoroughly account for the ideological investment that produces your enjoyment, for how the form, as well as the content, of the film works to produce its pleasure, how the strengthening of your core ideologies works. Or try it with a poem, or a novel. Or just consider a problem, something that exasperates you because it is insoluble, and consider why it cannot be solved–is there a solution that remains unthinkable only to you? Why is it so impossible to accept? This distancing aesthetic could take any number of forms, but for any individual it would likely depend on what his or her core ideological investment is. Most of the time, we won’t even be able to do this by ourselves–we will need someone to respond to our initial (usually overly simplistic and false) solutions.

    I would also not want to line up the concept of the subject with the concept of the atman. The whole idea of ideology and the subject, for Althusser, is that we typically DO think of it as something essential and unchangeable (like an atman), but we can stop thinking of it that way, and still have an ideology–one could not think of the atman as impermanent and changeable, because being permanent and unchanging is exactly the defining feature of an atman. So, yes, the atman is exactly an ideology that does not know it is one–but ideology need not remain unaware of its own social construction. It usually DOES, but it does not need to.

  88. Robert (#84).

    Is this at least a remote possibility: my postulates pluck your (e)x-buddhist heartstrings? Is it possible that there is in you still some hum of the dharmic vibrato. Is it possible that it is this that you are hearing?

    Part of the problem may be context. When I use words like “just sitting” and “empty reality” on a blog called non-buddhism, I suppose it is easy for the brain to merge conceptual-neuro-pathways. I “just sat”–i.e., sat still and silent with my attention directed toward my breathing body–in a Quaker Meeting House (I lived in Philadelphia) before I did so in a Buddhist zendo. Does that raise the suspicion that I have been a crypto-Quaker all along? When I had a conversation about “emptiness” with a mathematician friend, she kept referring to empty set theory and zero.

    I am interested in a decimated meditation. I aim to contribute to the production of a devastated subject. X-buddhist postulates crumple and shrivel in the prism of my heuristic. X-buddhism appears as the opposite of what it gives in its rhetorics of self-display, namely an impoverishment of life. Let me explain by changing a few terms from Debord’s thesis 60: “The x-buddhist, the spectacular representation of a living human being, embodies this impoverishment by embodying the image of a possible role. Being an x-buddhist means specializing in the seemingly lived; the x-buddhist is the object of identification with the shallow seeming life that has to compensate for the fragmented productive specializations which are actually lived.” Debord’s thirteen-word thesis 100 comes closer to what I mean by “empty reality” than does the Kaccāyanagotta Sutta, the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, the Śūnyatāsaptati, the Pratītyasamutpādahṝdayakārika, the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā, and the ocean-like wisdom of a hundred Dalai Lamas and Thich Nhat Hahns combined: “The representation of the working class radically opposes itself to the working class.” It’s this issue of representation. Sunyata empties the world of adventitious representations, and then fills it with new, exclusively x-buddhist, ones. My “empty realty” puts a period where that first comma is. (It would be more resonant with a Beckett than the Buddha.)

    I think one feature of our disagreement or misunderstanding or whatever it is, is this: you may still hold to the Principle of Sufficient Buddhism. I do not. That is why I no longer hear the dharmic vibrato. It has been silenced. The Principle of Sufficient Buddhism states that everything under the sun is grist for the x-buddhist mill. Subscription to the principle, however minimal that subscription may be, causes all words, theories, and ideas to be filtered through x-buddhism’s voltaic network of postulation. So, it is inevitable that something like “empty reality” registers as yet another iteration of x-buddhist “emptiness. The prism remains that of x-buddhism. The non-buddhism prism does not reveal something that “is really empty, much emptier than the emptiness of all those other x-buddhists.” What it reveals is this: the lack of emptiness–that is to say, the exorbitant reflections, postulates, and representations–of x-buddhist “emptiness.” The non in non-buddhism is subtractive. Non-buddhism is acid.

  89. Tomek said

    Robert (# 84)

    Never mind I still add my diluted comment …

    If I correctly understand Glenn’s overall speculation about dharmic syntax and try to look at your arguments from the opposite direction, I’d say that what makes x-buddhistic emptiness really empty is first, that it’s called shunyata, and also that this distinct signifier is embedded in the whole network of other interdependent dharmic postulations. This set of relations constitute powerful gravitational field that evokes in the followers affective and cognitive reactions that further strengthen the loop of reflexivity and makes shunyata even more empty and simultaneously more real.

    Non-buddhistic empty reality on the other hand lacks comparable framework and thus cannot even try to compete with the mana-like power emanating from the realness of shunyata.

  90. Tomek said

    Tom (# 83)

    By strengthening the vallation here I would mean the almost inevitable threat of misunderstanding of your project resulting directly from the very fact of your using the same bricks of buddhemes that the traditional Buddhism’s wall is built of. When you write that “Just imagine the endless work, the unceasing thought and creative artistic production necessary to keep such an ideology from slipping back into illusion and reification?” you just confirm that it would be very difficult to accomplish such a project. If decision marks the affective, cognitive and linguistic reflexivity or even hyper-reflexivity – do you imagine that it’ll ever be possible to produce an ideology, that could be immune from “deception, illusions, contradiction and reification”?

    Would you tell me, why exactly do you insist on using the same x-buddhistic vocabulary to demystify the ideology “that most western Buddhism produces”? Wouldn’t it be less frustrating for you to just back out from the conceptual pool of Buddhism’s postulates and carry out your critique totally from outside of the x-buddhistic edifice? Or maybe, that would be too much, too threatening to the very existence of that edifice or at least to its true ideological core?

  91. Robert said

    Hello Tomek, Glenn, 88, 89

    Thank you both for your attentive responses. I really (yes, really) appreciate it. Your responses strengthen my original point that this is fundamentally a discussion about integrity. For instance:

    Glenn: “Is this at least a remote possibility: my postulates pluck your (e)x-buddhist heartstrings? Is it possible that there is in you still some hum of the dharmic vibrato. Is it possible that it is this that you are hearing?”.

    Well, no. I thought about it, but really (yes, really) I do not think that this is the case. I say, fuck reality, who needs it. Take a hike, Shunyata!

    But think about it: Glenn’s question is a very strange question in the context of what should be in some shape or form a philosophical debate. Once again it speaks to integrity, and raising the issue of integrity in a philosophical discussion is a dead end. “So Mr Marx, do you really believe that class struggle is fundamental to understand the flow of history? Or are you just saying it?”. And not only is integrity a dead end in any rational discussion, it reminds me of the finger-pointing arguments that are made when ideologies clash, schisms among obscure Calvinist sects, that kind of stuff. Tomek’s response, with all due respect, is illustrative of those non-debates. Just quote some scripture, and ignore the gist of the argument that you are supposedly refuting.

    Good day. My name is Glenn Wallis. I have studied paperclips for a very long time, both academically and in my private life. I am holding up a paperclip right here. After much pondering I have concluded and assure you: this, ladies and gentlemen, is an ordinary paperclip. Please behold this ordinary paperclip! Especially note it’s ordinariness. Do not think for a second that it isn’t ordinary. Others may tell you that this isn’t an ordinary paperclip, and then they will deny it. They are sneaks! Don’t listen to them!

    After that, how can that poor paperclip ever again be ordinary?

    This is certainly what x-buddhists do with emptiness/reality, and this is apparently what non-buddhists do. Nothing subtractive about that. If it walks like a duck…

  92. Tom Pepper said

    Tomek,

    This is a good question, and it is something that Matthias has asked as well. In part, you have suggested my answer, because in fact I absolutely do NOT think that it will EVER be possible to produce an ideology that is “immune” from mystification, deception, reification, etc. This is why there is not much use in just inventing a new term for a concept every time it is obscured by some mystificatory misuse. That just abandons the field of struggle. The terms from Buddhist thought refer to concept for which there just is no ordinary-language equivalent in English; so, I could either produce a neologism and be accused of reinventing the wheel, or try to recover the correct concept and be accused of reproducing the incorrect, mystificatory concept. I choose to try to recover the concept, without any neologisms.

    As I understand Laruelle, his concern is that there is an ideological containment of human potential, a restriction placed on the power of the subject to, in his words, “break the spell of its bewitchment by the world and enable it to constitute itself through a struggle with the world.” His non-philosophy is expressly NOT anti-philosophy, but a way to “use philosophy” to our purpose by stripping it of its ideological reification. This is how I would understand a Laruellean non-buddhism: not a rejection of Buddhism, but a way to use Buddhism by stripping it of its “bewitching” illusions. If you want to abandon all Buddhist practices an concepts completely, then why be a “non-buddhist,” instead of just inventing your own new concepts, language, and practices? Why not be an “anti-buddhist”?

    The point for Laruelle, as I understand him, is that there are useful concepts and practices, and then there is the “decisional,” which is a kind of reificatory reflection of those practices, but a reflection of only PART of the useful concepts and practices, and we become trapped in the illusion of correlationism, insisting that the reflection is true and the real and powerful and useful concepts and practices are somehow “wrong” because they are NOT reflected in the decision. In this sense, then, to abandon the powerful originality of concepts which are not reflected in our present philosophical decision would not be “not-buddhism” at all—it would be to accept the decision and ignore the real—the very opposite of what Laruelle is suggesting.

    So, I would turn your question back to you. Why would you want to be a “non-buddhist” instead of just dropping any attention to Buddhism altogether? We can hardly say we need to deconstruct it because it is such a powerful ideological system—at least, we cannot claim that here in the west. On my reading of Laruelle, by refusing the uniqueness of the real concepts, the “Real” term in the Buddhist duality, you would be exactly reinforcing the purely decisional power of the x-buddhist ideology, while I am trying to destroy it.

    I’m just trying to take Laruelle’s concepts and apply them here; as I’ve said before, I think this is a necessary but not sufficient step in transforming the world.

  93. […] human beings [which] is the single most important component of the »mind«” is corrupted (q.v. here). How could it be otherwise? There is no way out. Aynway, has there ever been a way out? No! […]

  94. Robert (#91).

    About integrity, I agree with you. Sorry about that. I won’t do it again.

    About the paperclip, this is a wonderful illustration of our problematic:

    I am holding up a paperclip right here. After much pondering I have concluded and assure you: this, ladies and gentlemen, is an ordinary paperclip. Please behold this ordinary paperclip! Especially note it’s ordinariness. Do not think for a second that it isn’t ordinary. Others may tell you that this isn’t an ordinary paperclip, and then they will deny it. They are sneaks! Don’t listen to them!

    After that, how can that poor paperclip ever again be ordinary?

    This is certainly what x-buddhists do with emptiness/reality, and this is apparently what non-buddhists do. Nothing subtractive about that. If it walks like a duck…

    But I think one thing needs to be tweaked to make it fit what I am saying. X-buddhism “may tell you that this is an ordinary paperclip, and then they will deny it.” That is, sunyata says “emptiness;” and then flips the switch that lights up the volataic network of x-buddhistic postulation. Therein lies their “sneekiness.” Power in and of itself is not manipulation. Power that is hidden is. I call that cavity of earth a hole; x-buddhism calls it a crater. The latter hides its cosmological assumptions about the origins of the concave earth. I don’t make any assumptions. The dharmic paperclip keeps the cosmos intact. Mine’s only good for paper.

  95. Tom (#92) and Tomek (#90).

    As I understand Laruelle, his concern is that there is an ideological containment of human potential, a restriction placed on the power of the subject to, in his words, “break the spell of its bewitchment by the world and enable it to constitute itself through a struggle with the world.” His non-philosophy is expressly NOT anti-philosophy, but a way to “use philosophy” to our purpose by stripping it of its ideological reification. This is how I would understand a Laruellean non-buddhism: not a rejection of Buddhism, but a way to use Buddhism by stripping it of its “bewitching” illusions.

    I agree with that assessment. Laruelle’s “usage” of philosophy, though, gives pause. Laruelle explains his own method of treating philosophy as follows:

    The method in any case is not that of doxography, nor is it that of traditional history of philosophy. No inventories of particular works are to be found here, no presentations of authors, no summaries of doctrinal positions. It will be not so much the names of philosophers that we will uncover as philosophy, and not so much philosophy as it’s very work of philosophizing. There is a frivolity of doxography from which “the history of philosophy” does not always escape. It is not a matter here of objects, authors, themes, positions or texts; it is solely the matter of a problematic and of the reconstruction of his problematic. Which one? The most enveloping and comprehensive of contemporary thought: that of “Difference” and its variants. Precisely whenever names are cited, it will be as modes of this invariant that forms our horizon of thinking. (Philosophies of Difference, xii).

    He says that such an approach leads to philosophically untenable results. And anyone who reads his treatment of, say, Heidegger or Hegel can not well argue against this claim. Similarly, a non-buddhist usage of buddhist material keeps intact and reconstructs the major problematic of x-buddhism, namely, “The most enveloping and comprehensive” feature of contemporary x-buddhist thought: that of “The Dharma” and its variants. As such, its not an anti-buddhism–it is not an attempt to rebut buddhism per se. As Tom says, it is an attempt to break the spell, pierce the ideological veil, force the wizard out from behind his curtain.

    Tom has taken x-buddhist terms, reconfigured them in light of other material and concerns not given in the originals, and come to some preliminary conclusions that may, if enacted, have real force in the real world. I don’t know many, if any, x-buddhists who would say that Tom has not rendered those terms buddhistically unrecognizable. Yet, Tomek raises a very important question. I understand him to be asking a question about extent, force, degree. Does such a reconfiguration go far enough? Does reconfiguration leave the form intact thus over-determining the content? Are x-buddhist terms untranslatable? Or is retention of a technical term a move in the ideological game made up by x-buddhists? That is, in saying “sunyata” are we merely playing with loaded dice that the x-buddhist brought to the game? When we bring, say, “bodhi,” to the Great Feast of Knowledge, to the site of struggle, does it became just an exotic version of something else, say, Emily Dickinson’s “the consciousness that is aware” or Wallace Stevens’s “luminous companion.” If we answer “no, there is no equivalent,” does that mean that some or all of the x-buddhist network of postulation is, after all, necessary? Where are we then, in relation to the whole? I would say we are still at the threshold of the dharmic refuge, the vallation. Or is it a matter of degrees, steps, giving things time? Might neologisms therefore be useful in facilitating reentry into field devoid of x-buddhists representation? Are neologisms necessary to avoid the gravitational pull of x-buddhist terminology’s pulling us back into the fortress?

    I don’t have answers to these questions. But as I go about my exile, I tend to err on the side of a loosening of the x-buddhist material. When I loosen it, it seems to float away or merge into non-Buddhist (not non-buddhist) tropes, metaphors, idioms, and other forms of expression. That’s why, I think, I am seen as tending toward destruction. Someone else may err on the side of retention.

    Who knows? This is the work!

  96. Robert said

    Glenn, Tomek, 94, (and 91)

    This duck assures me that it gallops but it hasn’t changed it’s gait.

    You say: “About integrity, I agree with you. Sorry about that. I won’t do it again.”

    And then you do it again, just as I predicted. They hide their assumptions, you don’t make any. They are after power and hide it, you aren’t and don’t.

    This is exactly the same thing that all the rinpoches and suzukis will tell me. The Trungpas, the Barry Magids and the Naked Monks. I could find the quotes for you, if only I had the energy. And note that it is integrity that settles the argument once again.

    But there is a solution. Leave the poor paperclip alone. Don’t raise it. Don’t hold it. Don’t talk about it.

    Any notion that reality needs to be intuited is nonsensical. Reality is not a project. Meditation is a waste of time. Decimated meditation = meditation.

    On this site you frequently invoke the spirit of Beckett. My advise is: get yourself a bracelet that says: What Would Malone Do?

  97. Tomek said

    Tom (# 92)

    So, I would turn your question back to you. Why would you want to be a “non-buddhist” instead of just dropping any attention to Buddhism altogether?

    I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a “non-buddhist”. I don’t think that non-buddhism has been created to serve as another ideological patch to be stitched to the person of blood and flash. But to be honest, there is certain comfort – at least temporarily – in occupying non-buddhist seat in fitting proximity (to quote from the scripture again) to the stage and focusing my attention on the x-buddhistic show. There is some primitive, perverse pleasure of peeping at the nakedness of the dharmic king, and also, of just registering the emotional tides of the x-buddhist audience sitting all around identifying with it thoroughly. Is it seer curiosity, pure instance of aporetic inquiry or some compensation of my ancoric loss, I don’t know, perhaps both. There is of course the enjoyment of the presence of other non-buddhist observers, not to mention some hope of being potentially helpful to those X-buddhists bored or dissatisfied by the unexpected blurring of this old and intimate hallucination, who can spontaneously “pierce the ideological veil” and in some sense suffer from the inevitable effects of the dissonance caused by that act, however short it might last (hence, for instance my efforts to translate some of the material presented here into Polish)

    On my reading of Laruelle, by refusing the uniqueness of the real concepts, the “Real” term in the Buddhist duality, you would be exactly reinforcing the purely decisional power of the x-buddhist ideology, while I am trying to destroy it.

    Maybe my question is banal, but how have you in the first place reached the conviction that “the real concepts” of x-buddhist discourse are unique? Take for example the case of “bodhi” that Glenn mentions in # 95?

  98. Robert said

    Tom, re 87. Thanks for this. I agree with your notion of practice, it is very close to what I have been thinking about and experimenting with. To be precise, I try to do this kind of thing with the same discipline and structure that I used to instill on my ‘just sitting’ practice. To say that we need someone to respond and correct is easier said than done. Humans tend to run away when I suggest that we discuss this, and my cats go like, yeah, whatever, where’s the food? I am not just joking.

    I wasn’t saying that the belief in atman is an ideology, it may be, but what I tried to say is that the belief in a self and having an ideology are dependencies, much like what I take Althusser to argue towards the end of his essay. I take permanent and unchanging here to mean that it remains permanent and unchanging for more than one instant (many people can reconcile the notion that they will die with the belief in a permanent self, even if they know that they will die and don’t hold to reincarnation). Therefore it seemed to me that subversion of the solidity of the subject will inevitably subvert or reveal the ideological nature of what that subject holds to be true. I know I am not very clear. Maybe I need to do a bit more thinking.

    Thanks, as always.

  99. Robert (#96).

    I take it back. I thought that the lack of integrity you were referring to had to do with my not taking you at you word. In a forum like this, that would mean not taking your text at face value. In #88, I questioned whether you were writing one thing and meaning another. I thought that my challenge to the good-faith veracity of your text was what you were calling a challenge to integrity.

    But based on #96, I see two reasons for now believing that I just misunderstand you. First, you say that I am doing it here (in #94) again; namely, claiming not to be doing something different from x-buddhism. So, no, I will not stop doing that. The second reason I think I misunderstood your charge of challenging integrity is more serious: You are doing here precisely what I thought counted as a challenge to integrity; namely, insisting that I am writing one thing and meaning another.

    Here’s one way beyond the impasse: do muster up the energy to find a few quotes from some rinpoches, Suzukis, Trungpas, Barry Magids, and Naked Monks. Then, I will show you how what I am doing in fact differs. Again, the difference lies in the fact that while I mean what I say, they don’t. But I am not just accusing them of not meaning what they say; I am presenting evidence that that is in fact the case. For instance, in the post Flinching, I show how Barry Magid presents Charlotte Beck’s teaching on being “just this moment” + “having no hope” + “radical acceptance of the totality of the present.” Magid takes this necessarily incomplete formula and adds an equals sign: being “just this moment” + “having no hope” + “radical acceptance of the totality of the present” = “deep joy.” It’s that refusal to stop at that threshold where nothing becomes something, to abide in incompleteness, that I am calling “flinching.” Give me a few quotes from those enlightened masters, I will show you what I mean. On the other side of it, I will show you how a non-buddhist stance can be defined as a refusal to flinch before the manic human desire to shore up indeterminacy with the sandbags of spiritual meaning. I said in my last comment: Sunyata empties the world of adventitious representations, and then fills it with new, exclusively x-buddhist, ones. I said that non-buddhism puts a period where x-buddhism puts a comma, and then continues (flinches). But you still insist that I, too, place a comma there. So, now, back to this issue of integrity. All you have to go by is what I have written. Show me some examples of where you see me playing the same game as the Suzukis, etc. Working with actual text is much more productive.

    I said elsewhere that we are misunderstanding each other. You said, no, we disagree. Disagreement, in my usage of the term, is quite an advanced stage of dialogue. It can’t happen until both sides feel like their meaning has been grasped by the other. When you reflect back to me what it is you think I am saying, I don’t recognize it. So, we’re nowhere near “disagreement” on my side. Here’s what I mean. Throughout our exchanges, I have offered many examples of differences that make a difference. Let the most recent one serve as an example. I say “hole,” the Suzukis, etc., say “crater.” Can you explain what, if any, you see the difference as being? Maybe I am seeing significant differences where you see sameness. For instance, I say, “decimated meditation.” You say “decimated meditation = meditation.” Again, I have a period. You have an equals sign. Do you see any difference?

    What Would Malone Do? He would continually remind himself (and anyone else who cared to listen) that, “Nothing is more real than nothing.”

    What would Beckett do with that paperclip? My Beckett would do anything but what you are suggesting. Anything, that is, but “leave the poor paperclip alone. Don’t raise it. Don’t hold it. Don’t talk about it.” He would hold it for a hundred years in his spindly hand, stare at it with his piercing, pale eyes, and finally spew a torrent of decimated language about the paperclip. Why would he do so? In the utterly vain, foolish non-hope that some representation-junkie of a human being will see that it is, after all, just a fucking paperclip. Period.

    Raymond Federman:

    Years later, sitting in Sam’s study in Paris, he showed me a text he had just written. I read it while he sat there in silence, the kind of silence only Beckett could make comfortable. It was a short text, only a few pages, as all his later texts were — short but precise, without any superfluity of words — and I commented on it, saying how beautiful, how powerful, how moving it was. It was called Company. Sam replied (in French, we always spoke French together): Oui, c’est pas mal, mais ce n’est pas a encore [Yes, it’s not bad, but it is not there yet.] After all these years (Sam was in his seventies then), after the millions and millions of words he had scribbled, in English, in French, he was still not satisfied. It’s not it yet. I felt so humble that day as I wondered if he would ever be satisfied.

    Of course he’d never be satisfied. Period.

  100. Jane N. said

    Wallis,

    Your group is making progress. You’ve reached the stage of freedom from idols. Keep working, there are stages beyond.

    The next major stage is indifference to idols and no idols. This is when the group can sit near the altar, burn incense, chant, etc., or not, indifferently.

    The stage after that is knowledge of the use of idols and no idols. This is when the group knows when to use the altar, incense, etc., or not, in accordance with the true needs of the people present.

    These stages of course have counterparts in the “inner world”.

  101. Hi Jane N (#100).

    Thanks for joining us.

    I don’t know what you mean by “group.” This is not the site of a group. This is a crucible. This is a site of struggle. No group here.

    I understand even less what you mean by “progress.” Did someone tell you that there is such a thing as progress? If I were you, I’d shrug my shoulders, say, “whatever, brother/sister,” and keep on walking. No progress here.

    Even less than that do I understand “stages.” Is “stages” an ideomeme–a move in an ideological game that you are playing? No stages here.

    “Indifference to idols and no idols”? Is that a paraphrase of the zen buddheme, the Ishinese, “before awakening, mountains are mountains,” etc., etc.” Will you please give Master Ishin thirty whacks for me?

    And least of all do I understand “inner world.”

    Jane, I hope you’ll engage us more robustly here. To which texts on this blog are you referring to when you make these comments? Which ideas or claims are you responding to? Obviously you want to communicate something that you feel will benefit the rest of us. So, why not do so with more care and attention?

  102. Tom Pepper said

    Tomek, re 97, are you actually asking HOW I reached the conviction I know hold? Do you mean be what process I reached it? I’m not sure how that would necessarily be important–I could describe it in a mini-autobiography, but I can’t see why anyone would care.

    As for thinking that concepts “of x-buddhistic discourse” are unique, well, I thought i’d made it clear that it is my position that they are mostly just western capitalist ideology with a touch or racist orientalism. On the other hand, I do think that certain Buddhist thinkers, such as Nagarjuna, produced some original and useful concepts.

    Sunyata is a good example–I have never seen a text in any x-buddhist discourse that does anything other than try to pretend that this is simply a profound term for the existence of a world-transcendent atman–which, of course, has nothing to do with what Nagarjuna is saying at all. I think that to use the term “emptiness” never helps avoid this mistake–many popular x-buddhist writers do use that term, to the same end, and teach that “emptiness’ is exactly the same as absolute “fullness of meaning,” a kind of imaginary plenitude or state of unending primary narcissism.

    The term bodhi, for instance, indicates to me something that is, in fact, similar to many western concepts, but never exactly equivalent. I have compared it to Althsuser’s marxist/spinozist subject or to Laruelle’s “stranger subject,” but there is an important difference from these. Althusser still does not conceive of the “mind” as existing in the symbolic system, external to individuals or even individual subjects. He could theorize ideology, and see a possibility to be outside of it, but could not quite account for how we could do that. The concept of a mind that is in a symbolic/imaginary structure and NOT in the individual brain is the difference here–such a thoroughly dependently arisen mind is an assumption of the term Bodhi, but not of the other terms.

    Still, I do agree with your suggestion that my approach MAY just be too easily mystified. It still seems to me, at this point, the more useful approach, but that could change.

  103. Tom Pepper said

    Robert, re 98, “To say that we need someone to respond and correct is easier said than done. Humans tend to run away when I suggest that we discuss this.”

    Yes, I don’t doubt that most of the time they do. For me, this would have to be the practice, though. I requires multiple individual willing to devote time to one another. Clearly, just doing this would itself, in its very form, be an ideological practice–but it would be one that is completely at odds with the ideology of capitalism, and it would be an ideology that is insistently calling attention to itself AS an ideology. I would suggest that just finding three or four people to discuss these matters in an unhurried and careful way, willing to challenge on another, and not worried about checking cellphones or rushing off at the end of an hour, would be a practice that is so alien to our culture it would inherently be disantiating.

  104. re 87, 98 & 103. And now read again what I say in “No more meditation”. Thanks.

  105. Tomek said

    Tom (#102).

    As for thinking that concepts “of x-buddhistic discourse” are unique, well, I thought i’d made it clear that it is my position that they are mostly just western capitalist ideology with a touch or racist orientalism. On the other hand, I do think that certain Buddhist thinkers, such as Nagarjuna, produced some original and useful concepts.

    Sunyata is a good example–I have never seen a text in any x-buddhist discourse that does anything other than try to pretend that this is simply a profound term for the existence of a world-transcendent atman–which, of course, has nothing to do with what Nagarjuna is saying at all. I think that to use the term “emptiness” never helps avoid this mistake–many popular x-buddhist writers do use that term, to the same end, and teach that “emptiness’ is exactly the same as absolute “fullness of meaning,” a kind of imaginary plenitude or state of unending primary narcissism.

    Maybe for now, instead of bothering you to write a mini-autobiography, let me ask you something concerning sunyata: what would you say about Garfield’s reflections about “emptiness” (Sunday, April 25; 10–10:15 a.m.) Would you also classify his untamed, wild version of “emptiness” as an example of the modern x-buddhistic discourse, that is “just western capitalist ideology with a touch or racist orientalism.”? Or, in the same context, do you think that M. Siderits catchphrase “The ultimate view is that there’s no ultimate view” also stinks of capitalist ideology and it just clears the space to cunningly implant “a world-transcendent atman”? If it does, in what way?

    At the end, Garfield concludes that it has to be left in the wild and that this wildness has to be tolerated, in order to be transformative. But before that conclusion he’s strongly emphasizing that Nagarjuna is to him seemingly the first thinker in the history of philosophy to prove that reality is fundamentally paradoxical, contradictory, and that Nagarjuna, instead of pushing some blissful drug to his readers to achieve this understanding, clearly encourage them to think into that paradox.

    Am I wrong to think that this short exposition presented by Garfield might be in some way close to your understanding of the concept sunyata?

    The concept of a mind that is in a symbolic/imaginary structure and NOT in the individual brain is the difference here–such a thoroughly dependently arisen mind is an assumption of the term Bodhi, but not of the other terms.

    If you agree with me that your “approach MAY just be too easily mystified”, why not to at least try to abandon those traditional representations like “bodhi” and move into the wild creating neologisms (# 92), playing with concepts less prone to mystification – muting vibrato – but still aiming to achieve your goals to strip the mask away from capitalist values and its concomitant pursuit of “unending primary narcissism”?

  106. Tom Pepper said

    Tomek,

    I have read this essay, and yes, I do think Garfield is one of very few scholars who get the point of Nagarjuna’s thought. I’ve suggested to some friends that we use his book on the MMK for our Buddhist book discussion group, and the suggestion was rejected. Several people have told me that Garfield’s writing is too “difficult,” or that it is impossibly abstruse, or that he is too arrogant or insulting in his writing. Personally, I don’t see this at all–maybe it’s because of the kinds of thing I’m used to reading, but he seems the very model of clarity to me–I may not always agree, but I never find him hard to understand; he offers a strong reading of texts, instead of retreating into vague claims about the ineffably mystery of this profound spiritual truth, and so he is seen as egotistical and arrogant–I would see the vague assertions of the x-buddhist teachers that their flock is not yet prepared to grasp the deep truth as the extreme of egotism. My point here is that the kind of thing Garfield suggests is not “too difficult” to understand, but is incomprehensible because of an ideological blockage. The typical American Buddhist just doesn’t WANT to understand what Nagarjuna is really saying, the implications are too disturbing.

    I would agree that the postmodern cultural-relativist Buddhism suggested by Huntington and Siderits is pure capitalist ideology. Nagarjuna’s point is not that there is no truth, but that the truth must always appear in a conventional language–to use Badiou’s terms, truths appear in Worlds, any truth COULD be made to appear in any WORLD, but it may require a bit of struggle, because sometimes the very structure of a “conventional language” is meant to prevent the appearance of particular truths.

    Ultimately, I have some differences in with Garfield, but they are mostly differences in emphasis, I think. He does suggest somewhere the possibility of an idea of a collective “mind” (I can’t remember which article, but I’m pretty sure it was Garfield). However, in general his reading of Nagarjuna remains a little to “Humean” for me–and for all Hume’s radical and terrifying insights, he still does remain stuck in an atomistic/empiricist model of the mind.

    As for abandoning terms (it’s the terms, not the concepts, that are prone to mystification, right?), well, I’ve seen too many people try to take the approach of inventing new terms and run into the same problem. I can’t see how neologisms could avoid this, and it has the additional difficulty of trying to start from scratch–which, on my understanding of the nature of the mind as collective, is a foolish endeavor.

  107. Tom (#102).

    The typical American Buddhist just doesn’t WANT to understand what Nagarjuna is really saying, the implications are too disturbing.

    Amen to that! I would broaden the accusation and say:

    The typical American Buddhist just doesn’t WANT to understand what Buddhism is really saying, the implications are too disturbing.

  108. Robert said

    Hello Glenn,

    I sure hope that final-sounding period at the end of your post is really a comma. You consider yourself an exile from x-buddhism. I offer the view that you are in essence an x-buddhist, well within the gated suburb, throwing pebbles at the neighbours’ mansion. That may be a crazy notion, but what if it is true? We’ve all been wrong at times, and completely blind to our wrongness. I think this is a nice hot potato to pick up and hold once in a while if you are a non-buddhist. Call it a practice. See how long you can hold it.

    Now let me assure you that I believe you are remarkably different from your average x-buddhist neighbours, in fact I agree with your claim that you have integrity where many other buddhist teachers don’t. I never suggested otherwise so I feel no need to apologize. I am not going to bother with the quotes by various teachers, because you already told me what you will do with them, prove them wrong, and yes, provide evidence, give examples. And I will agree. But winning these arguments will not make you a non-buddhist, it will make you an x-buddhist with exceptional integrity. Real arguments never get settled that way, real arguments get settled through logic. Schisms however typically rely exactly on the kind of argument that you are so eager to make as long as I provide the quote.

    The logical argument that I have been making is that as long as there is an absurd notion of reality as something that can be approached/understood through some kind of just-sitting meditation practice you are an x-buddhist. It was the theme when we argued about just sitting a while ago, and as far as I am concerned it is the theme now that we are arguing about reality, the reality being ‘just so’ part. What is it about that word just, implying so much yet meaning so little? Approaching reality through sitting meditation is like sneaking up on the air that you breathe, The conclusion of my argument is that you stop your just sitting meditation practice. Spend more quality time with the kids, take longer showers, anything is better. I happen to think you and I disagree about that.

    Whether you put effort into making a beautiful shrine room with matching zafus or you put effort into creating a non-hierarchical non-obvious effort-less environment, it’s still effort.

    Decimated meditation = meditation, like a little bit pregnant = pregnant..

    And my hands are just as as spindly as Beckett’s so that should settle that argument….

    Comma!

  109. Robert (#108).

    I think I am inching closer to understanding your point. And, as I do, disagreement recedes. But you’ll correct me if I’m wrong.

    The conclusion of my argument is that you stop your just sitting meditation practice. Spend more quality time with the kids, take longer showers, anything is better. I happen to think you and I disagree about that.

    I completely agree. I could not agree any more. I agree wholeheartedly. I rejoice in agreement. Ditto for “it’s still effort.”

    In earlier exchanges with you, I have used the image of a spectrum or a continuum to explain what I mean by “decimated meditation.” You say:

    The logical argument that I have been making is that as long as there is an absurd notion of reality as something that can be approached/understood through some kind of just-sitting meditation practice you are an x-buddhist.

    I don’t hold the idea that there is more reality in sitting, or that meditation is a necessary means of “approaching” reality. As an analogy, I don’t hold the idea that an intense workout at the gym yields more body, or is a necessary means of approaching my body. But given the nature of a workout, I sure as hell am locked into my body like at no other time. Similarly, sitting in stillness and silence for an hour sure as hell brings subjective experience into focus like at no other time. I can write a torrent of words. That’s one mode. I can also slowly and carefully go over what I’ve written. That’s another mode. It’s all a question of modes, degrees, position on the continuum from + to -.

    One thing that confuses me about your insistence that I am still an x-buddhist and that decimated meditation = meditation, is that I have approached sitting and silence from various places in my life. I’ll name a few: bio-feedback; psychotherapy (logo-therapy and reality therapy); Trappist contemplation (in Belgium and Germany); Quaker meeting; Dzogchen sky gazing; daydreaming. “Decimated” means a conscious attempt to eliminate all such conceptual frameworks from the practice of still and silent sitting. Of course, there will always be remnants of this and that for each sitter. So, I also build into the practice conscious awareness of that fact, through dialogue.

    Are we finally getting closer to genuine disagreement? Something else

    Question mark

  110. Tomek said

    Glenn,

    In the comment # 102 where Tom writes words quoted just below, he clearly differentiates between Buddhist terms and concepts, and some concepts like sunyata or bodhi and others listed in his essay are obviously useful in his view. Only PART of those concepts form “decisional” (#92), which is according to him “a kind of reificatory reflection (…) of the useful concepts and practices”:

    “As for abandoning terms (it’s the terms, not the concepts, that are prone to mystification, right?), well, I’ve seen too many people try to take the approach of inventing new terms and run into the same problem. I can’t see how neologisms could avoid this, and it has the additional difficulty of trying to start from scratch–which, on my understanding of the nature of the mind as collective, is a foolish endeavor.”

    On the other hand, you in the Nascentempty reality article write that:

    “Every utterance, every written word, every claim of the type “Buddhism holds” or “the Buddha taught” or “according to the Heart Sutra/Pali canon/Shobogenzo this or that teacher,” every attempt to formulate a “Buddhist” (or crypto-Buddhist/mindfulness) response/solution to X invariably instantiates buddhistic decision.” (p. 5)

    Here you don’t try to differentiate between Buddhist terms and concepts at all, you just simply call all of it an instance of x-buddhistic decision. I wonder, if this strategy signalizes that you find all those Buddhist concepts totally useless and misguiding, or such a treatment of x-buddhistic syntax is in some sense a sweeping strategy to counter “the loaded dice that the x-buddhist brought to the game”? (# 95)

  111. Robert said

    Helo Glenn, 109

    You say: “Similarly, sitting in stillness and silence for an hour sure as hell brings subjective experience into focus like at no other time”.

    It is this statement that makes you an x-buddhist, this is where the real thaumaturgy occurs, never mind the presentation. This is where x-buddhists and non-buddhists know something the non-initiated do not. This is your secret handshake. This is your incantation to reality.

    My follow-up question, as always, is: why is bringing subjective experience into focus desirable? This you do not explain at all. But this is the heart of the matter.

    And subjective experience of what? Not of life in all its fullness, but of something artificial, contrived and rarified, namely the subjective experience of sitting in stillness, the subjective experience of bringing subjective experience into focus.

    If it is subjective experience you want, may I suggest sitting in the dentist chair. That sure as hell brings subjective experience into focus like at no other time. Or losing your spouse. Or sitting in traffic for an hour. Or, to get a bit less North American, a bit more global: living on two dollars a day and having a child die of a perfectly curable disease, now that brings subjective experience into focus.

    It is because of this that I conclude that just sitting is indeed a waste of time.

    As always, grateful that you so patiently allow me to discover my own thinking, looking forward to your response,

    your curmudgeonly friend.

  112. Robert said

    Glenn, re 109, 111,

    As well, and appropriately since we are posting to Tom’s essay: if the subjective experience is indeed shared and originates in the collective mind are we even looking at the right place when we sit down on our cushion to bring subjective experience into focus?

  113. Tomek (#110).

    Here you don’t try to differentiate between Buddhist terms and concepts at all, you just simply call all of it an instance of x-buddhistic decision. I wonder, if this strategy signalizes that you find all those Buddhist concepts totally useless and misguiding, or such a treatment of x-buddhistic syntax is in some sense a sweeping strategy to counter “the loaded dice that the x-buddhist brought to the game”? (# 95)

    Great question. In the terms you present, I would say that I do the latter in an attempt better to determine the former. I like your term “sweeping” because it captures both the sense of a large, far-reaching gesture (as in a sweeping proposal) and an eliminative clearing away (as in mine sweeping). What I am discovering when I employ my heuristic is that a doctrinally responsible explication of some x-buddhist term requires an apparatus of such gargantuan proportions that there is neither end nor escape. That is why I use the phrase “dharmic juggernaut.” Once you begin explicating, say, nirvana, responsibly, you can’t help but see it as but a single phoneme within a massive grammatical system. But “responsibly” here means on the terms established by x-buddhism. So, all I am ever discovering in this tedious process of x-buddhistically-determined explication is x-buddhism itself. For people who affectively and cognitively acquiesce to the demands of decision, and thus subscribe to its warrant, the two are one–what x-buddhist terms reflect is reality and our human situation. The terms are thus not so much “misguiding” as simply “guiding.” They guide the affectively/cognitively willing person into the voltaic network of postulation–a sticky web with dharmic-decision waiting hungrily in the center (decision is a particular genus of desire). But I have lost my decisional appetite. My entire reason for initiating the process of explication was to learn something about reality and human existence, not about a particular reflection on reality. So, I ask: how can I extricate myself from the brute force of the x-buddhist term-machine? The heuristic offers a way out. And x-buddhist terminology, I find, cannot survive the scrutiny of the heuristic. The heuristic is a rigor that makes of the terms rigor mortis.

    We can continue to use the x-buddhist terms. But they will be zombified. Maybe that’s not a bad temporary solution. It can, from what Tom has shown, present some very interesting possibilities. Along those lines, I am working on a re-configured x-buddhist conceptual calculus (sunyata, paticcasamuppada, anatta, sati, etc.). I am showing how these terms create a trajectory that leads to an x-buddhistically untenable conclusion (nihil). I begin with the x-buddhist terms; but quickly settle on uncontroversially viable English translations (insofar as that’s possible). In that way, they spin away from the decisional pull. Of course, in doing so, they are decimated of their strictly x-buddhist content.

    Have I answered your question?

  114. Tomek said

    Glenn (# 113)

    Your last paragraph in the comment reminds me the words that you wrote sometime ago in <a href=”https://speculativenonbuddhism.com/2011/07/12/raw-remarks-on-meditationideology-and-nihilism/” target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow” Raw Remarks on Meditation, namely:

    “Speculative Non-Buddhism is deeply curious about the role that meditation practice might play in transcending the division between ideology and self-reflective critique. The raw remarks that I present below stem from a re-reading, and hence a re-commissioning, of primary classical Buddhist postulates; namely, disenchantment, ancestral anamnesis, vanishing, phenomenal identity, nihility, conceptual proliferation, contingency, world, surface, perspicuity, unbinding-extinction (my translations of, respectively: nibbida, sati, anicca, anattā, suññtā, papañca, paticcasamuppāda, loka, sabba, paññā, nibbāna/nirvāṇa). My, still speculative, contention is three-fold: (1) these postulates can be (re-)read to constitute the Buddha’s calculus, understood here, briefly, as the qualification of real-world limits; (2) the calculus, thus re-commissioned, subsumes nihilism, and (3) meditation is, for the practitioner, precisely an organon of nihilistic dissolution.” (…)“Non-Buddhism is a theoretical practice proceeding by way of classical Buddhist axioms yet producing theorems which are buddhistically uninterpretable.” (…) “Senselessness and purposelessness are not merely private; they represent a gain in intelligibility. The cancellation of sense, purpose, and possibility marks the point at which the ‘horror’ concomitant with the impossibility of either being or not-being becomes intelligible.”

    I still try to pin down – naively most likely – what is the ultimate aim of this speculative trajectory that starts with your preliminary “zombification”, your potent “substitute” of the desired dharmic good, aka “deep joy”? I gather from what you write above, that if meditation is, as you say, an organon of nihilistic dissolution, then might it be that what you desire by gaining in intelligibility, is something that Brassier also calls “the truth of extinction” (Nihili p. 239)?

  115. Tomek (#114). I have been thinking about your comment for a few days now. In trying to formulate an answer, I think an entire post might be helpful. If I end up not doing that, I will at least get back to you on it.

    Thanks for the stimulation (and complication)!

  116. saibhu said

    I’ve read this essay a couple of times but there are some things I’m unable to make sense of:

    – If we cannot escape the realm of ideology but all we can do is producing “better” ideologies, then what does “better” mean? Isn’t this (the value “better”) part of our current ideology? Or do we adjust our ideology to the mind-independent world?

    – About karma: Is it possible to avoid producing any new karma? What would this mean? To only reproduce our ideologies to the degree necessary?

    A little side-question that is not so important for my understanding:

    – Why are Marxists and Spinozists the only ones who are aware of their own ideology? Is there one single feature/axiom/idea that distinguishes them from the others?

  117. Tom Pepper said

    Saibhu: Re 116, I would say that the word better is part of our ideology, but what counts as better, improved, etc, in capitalist ideology isn’t what I have in mind. We could just say we want ideologies which don’t cause subjective suffering for anybody–a better ideology would be one that requires less suffering, not just for the person who is within that ideology but for all sentient beings.

    On my definition, we are always going to produce new karma–the goal is to produce better karma (better social structures and ideological practices). The goal is to re-produce our ideologies, to allow them to change, by remaining aware that they are ideologies, by avoiding reifying or naturalizing them. This is the sense in which we are “free” from the bonds of karma–we can see the structural constraints on our thoughts and actions, and know that they can be changed, although we cannot always change them just as we would like, and the change requires effort.

    As for “marxist or spinozist,” that’s Althusser’s example. I would say they aren’t the only ones capable of this, Althusser is just saying that they are more likely to be aware of their own ideologies. The only axiom necessary is to know that there is such a thing as ideology, and that we are always living within it, our consciousness is created and reproduced in ideological practices, not by some timeless and immaterial “soul.” Most people, though, would avoid this because they are bothered by the thought “yes, I am ‘falling in love’ with her because I am thoroughly interpellated into my culture’s social structure for regulating reproduction”; they would rather think “she is my soul-mate.” Most ideologies are more easily reproduced when they are believed to be natural and inevitable; so, perhaps a corollary to the axiom would be that any ideology which requires that we not recognize it as an ideology is a bad one, likely to cause suffering, and any ideology which denies truths about mind-independent reality (requires delusion), is also a going to cause suffering.

  118. Tom Pepper said

    I just came across this in a notice for a new book about to come out from Verso:

    For a long time, the term ‘ideology’ was in disrepute, having become associated with such unfashionable notions as fundamental truth and the eternal verities. The tide has turned, and recent years have seen a revival of interest in the questions that ideology poses to social and cultural theory, and to political practice.

    The book is called Mapping Ideology, edited by Zizek. I’m doubtful that the tide has really turned, but glad to know there are others rowing against it!

  119. […] aber auch Tom Pepper’s Samsara, the Realm of Ideology. Alternative (marxistische) Deutung von Begriffen wie z.B. […]

  120. […] Quelle: Ausgabe 8 von Non+X (oder Direktlink zum PDF). Zum Verständnis vielleicht auch hilfreich: Samsara as the Realm of Ideology. […]

  121. […] on the SNB blog. Assuming that his version of ideologically conscious Buddhism (or in his words “ideology that knows it is one”) consists of the good teachings, I seriously wonder – employing speculative non-buddhism […]

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