I want to ask a simple question: Are contemporary western Buddhists complicit in what is arguably a rabid capitalistic system? I don’t just mean the conservative western traditionalists, like the Zennites, Theravadins, Vipassanins, Tibetophiles, etc. I mean those communities that modify “Buddhism” with words that are meant to impress you with their enlightened advancement over such regressive and irrational religionists. Modifiers like Secular-, Atheist-, Progressive-, Post-traditional-, Agnostic-, Existentialist-, Naturalist-, Insight-, Non-sectarian, and Postmodern-. And we certainly can’t leave out the Mindfulnistas.
Are these communities unwitting agents helping to extend our predatory social, cultural, financial, and political status quo? And, if so, do they give a shit? In Marxist terms, which comes first for an x-buddhist: private profit or social need? Please pause and think before those bodhisattva buddhemes start booming in your brain.
We may have to pose an even graver question: do western Buddhist communities and media actively aid in the creation of a person who is incapable of the passionate, risky, and sustained commitment that is perhaps the first condition of real change? Is the contemporary Buddhist person-subject just too nice, mindful, and equanimous to be anything but a dupe to Exxon and J.P. Morgan? I cannot tell you how many times I have seen an x-buddhist douse himself/herself with a debilitating dollop of “non-reactivity” or “non-judgmentalism” in the face of genuine passion. Well, why should I be surprised? After all, the roots of x-buddhism lie deep in the yearnings of world-renouncing ascetics.
At some point, I want to return to an earlier post on this blog, called “Slavoj Žižek: From Western Marxism to Western Buddhism.” That post presented Žižek’s controversial essay contending that western Buddhism “is establishing itself as the hegemonic ideology of global capitalism.” Indeed, thumbing through the latest slew of western Buddhist propaganda organs–Shambhala Sun, Tricycle, Buddhadharma, Mindful, The Mindfulness Bell –and checking my Google blog aggregator for x-buddhisty headlines, it is difficult to argue against Žižek’s claim that although “’Western Buddhism’ presents itself as the remedy against the stressful tension of capitalist dynamics, allowing us to uncouple and retain inner peace and Gelassenheit, it actually functions as its perfect ideological supplement.” More Žižek at another time.
For your present consideration, I would like to present to you a fragment of a comment that TOM PEPPER made on the preceding thread.(For the entire comment in its original context, go here, #7; edited to stand alone.) Pepper makes a crucially important assertion here. It is one, moreover, that will be pressed with increasing fervor on this blog. For, unlike x-buddhists, some of us at this blog still believe in the possibility of human liberation. (Glenn Wallis)
I want to point out what I think is the core article of faith of Secular Buddhism: the unquestioning belief in the ideology of capitalism. Badiou defines this very succinctly: the belief that “there are bodies and there are languages.” That is, we are bodily, biological organisms, seeking pleasure for our bodies (including our brains), and we do this by adopting the most convenient language/culture at will. There are no constraints to the culture we can adopt, and no truth content to it: we need only adopt the one that maximizes our bodily pleasure—what Batchelor calls “moment-to-moment flourishing.” This is why in his first paragraph [of his statement “A Secular Buddhist”] he can refer to “biological evolution,” “self-awareness and language,” the “brain” and our “fragile biosphere,” but it would never occur to him to mention our humanly constructed social formations as a source of suffering that we CAN ACTUALLY CHANGE!! This is why Secular Buddhists always seek to limit the discussion of suffering to sickness, death, loss, etc.—to those things that we certainly must learn to accept because they will doubtless always be with us. Passive acceptance of the inevitable, and maximization of bodily contentment, is the goal of Secular Buddhism AND of global capitalist ideology. This is why we accept the “scientific” research on mindfulness that operationally defines the successful achievement of “happiness” as the ability to remain undistracted by external stimuli; we achieve mindful bliss, it seems, as the ability to remain completely Unmindful of the world around us, and never let it disturb our brain/body comfort.
Badiou explains: “the modern name for necessity is, as everyone knows, ‘economics,’ which should be called by its name: the logic of Capital.” The one unchangeable truth is the ineffable uncontrollability of the capitalist economy, and we must all simply adjust our languages and medicate our brains/bodies to maximize our bliss in the face of this inexorable truth. Secular Buddhism seeks to become the ideology of this power, which forces us to participate in the production of oppression, poverty, and suffering for the majority of the world population. We focus on being nice and accepting sickness and death, and believe if those poor folks in the southern hemisphere would only become secular Buddhists too, they’d be fine. Their suffering isn’t the result of economic and political oppression; it results only from their inability to become oblivious to the world around them! Be mindful, and enjoy your poverty!