Are Buddhists Stupid?

I dislike referring to the work of Howard Gardner; but, for better or worse, his idea of multiple intelligences seems to have settled into the memestream. Just this morning, I heard a sportscaster refer to LeBron James as “a genius.” Just as I was muttering “huh?” under my breath, the sportscaster rattled off a list of James’s  athletic abilities. He meant, of course, that James was a genius at basketball. Gardner holds that such locutions are wholly justified. We may, he says, speak of intelligence as manifesting within specific domains; namely: spatial, linguistic, musical, interpersonal, logical-mathematical, intrapersonal, naturalistic, and kinesthetic.

So, if counting cards at a blackjack table is any indication, Rain Man was a logical-mathematical genius. But when it came to interpersonal relations, he was a fucking idiot. I am an intelligent decoder of obscure ancient Sanskrit texts. But ask me to explain my financial matters, and you will be subject to the incoherent burble of a sorry-ass moron. Why not, then, ask whether we may speak of “multiple stupidities“? I am not ashamed to say that, in many areas of my life, I am stupid. How about you?

In the following essay, Matthias Steingass argues that x-buddhists exhibit a specific form of stupidity. I will let you read for yourself what he says about that. I would like to take a moment and put his argument in the terms of this blog’s project. Very briefly, the issue concerns what we may call “the principle of sufficient buddhism.” This is, obviously, the idea that when it comes to “the crucial matters of life and death,” x-buddhism is sufficient in itself. Whether we are concerned with the nature of consciousness or with the tone of our language, x-buddhism’s got it covered. Some of you may be thinking, “well, the Salvador Dalai Lama conducts dialogues with scientists all the time.” Yes, he does, indeed. But if you be a gambling man or woman, I suggest you put your cheese on x-buddhism’s remaining just as it is, thank you very much. For x-buddhism is sufficient in and of itself. It don’t need no science telling it what up.

Might we see this insistence on sufficiency as a sign of x-buddhism’s stupidity?

Imagine if LeBron James were to approach every life situation through the lens of basketball. Don’t you think that would be pretty stupid? More to the point, wouldn’t it reveal specific domains of stupidity in his life? An x-buddhist is a person who, by definition, subscribes to x-buddhism’s prescriptions for living life. You are, furthermore, x-buddhist to the very extent that you do so. Can we ask, then, whether the principle of sufficient buddhism makes the x-buddhist stupid—stupid in a very particular, x-buddhist, way?

As you will see from Matthias’s piece, the point of employing a solid Anglo-Saxon term like “stupid” in communication is not to bully. What is the point, then? Ultimately, the point is fostering human freedom. “Stupidity” is related to the words “stunned” and “stupor.” Here, we can suggest a double correspondence: (1) the extent to which one subscribes to the x-buddhist program—as a sufficiency—is the extent to which s/he is stunned or in a stupor; (2) the extent to which one awakens to this condition is the extent to which s/he is free. In our image, Rimbaud asks: “What is freedom?” Well, that’s a big question. Can we start by asking about the constraint that our capacity for stupidity places on our capacity for freedom?

We have featured many styles of presentation on this blog. You will encounter here essays and posts that are formulated from classical thesis-arguments to schizo-poiesis, and several venerable genres in between. According to many critics, you will also encounter here screeds, diatribes, vituperation, fulmination, invective, harangues, and polemics (all actual accusations—or are they observations?).

Matthias’s piece inaugurates a new form on the blog. For now, I’ll just call it a “passion editorial.” What I have in mind is what Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael Gartner means when he says, in Outrage, Passion, and Uncommon Sense: How Editorial Writers Have Taken On and Helped Shape the Great American Issues of the Past 150 Years: “Today’s editorials…inform but do not inspire…Sometimes, they lack opinion. Usually, they lack passion.” Matthias is very personal in this editorial; but he also offers one argument after another. All of you who would so quickly dismiss his piece for its passionate intensity—as vituperation, or invective, or whatever—please note that fact well. Better yet, respond to the arguments, whether they are implicit or explicit, and whether they are couched in language that is acceptable to your sensibilities or grating on your fine sense of politeness.

Finally, a word about right speech, passion, and the fate of x-buddhism in North America. I just saw a quote on an email from a friend: “I am not interested in good will. I am interested in change” (Glenn Close). It made me think of this long exchange I read recently on an x-buddhist blog. One of the interlocutors was arguing. He used words like “stupid” and “wrong.” His voice was big. His partner in conversation—an increasingly influential figure in contemporary North American x-buddhism—was being impeccably polite. He sprinkled his comments with words like “friendliness” and “I’m sorry if.” His voice reminded me of a line from Hilary Mantel’s new book, Bring up the Bodies, in which she describes Anne Boleyn as a queen tamed “to a small voice, empty of everything except politeness.”

X-buddhists leaders: If change must indeed come at the cost of diminished good will, which will you choose?

And now, a big voice. Brace yourself . . .

(Glenn Wallis)


The X and the Non—One Year

by Matthias Steingass

When I discovered this blog in August 2011, I was really surprised. I had never before seen a blog or any internet site addressing Buddhism in such a way—in a way which seemed logical to me. Questioning the hidden assumptions of Buddhism, one’s own hidden assumptions, asking how the mind works, seemed to me at the heart of Buddhism. The problem was that nowhere in the forms of Buddhism that I had encountered in the course of several years, was asking questions in an open, unrestricted way welcome.

This blog is an absolute exception; and with this, it is about the real. It is about the real because a question which cannot be asked is a distortion of reality. To be hindered in honest articulation is always a move against the force of thought—against that which makes the world visible. It is not about the one reality: it is about making visible facets of reality which are all truthful to the conundrum humans find themselves in.

I think that one has to have a very different mind-set not to flinch in view of one’s own contradictions, and to really be able to formulate questions that make the distortion of reality visible. This blog is about that: Seeing contradictions and distortion and formulating questions which address the distortion and the ensuing disturbance one feels when the seeming smoothness of one’s little nicely gardened spot on earth gets invaded by the worms of doubt. Certainty is for true believers. Knowledge is for those who dare to doubt.

This will sound arrogant, I know, but I come more and more to the conclusion that Neo-Buddhism in the West is for the kindergarden. – “Thou shalt not ask!” – The one who comes do Buddhism in the West has to put himself into the position of the most stupid person. One has to think and behave in the most ridiculous ways. One has to forget even that which is simply the heritage of being human. It is not only that in our culture, being human, is replaced with an infantile narcissism which believes in reincarnation, karma and the free market; no, one is forced even to distrust our capacity for the most basic impulses of interaction: of caring, of giving our fellow being a helping hand and comforting the other. With this forced stupidity, consumer Buddhism goes hand in hand with consumer capitalism. For the most basic human actions you need either a self-help 101-book or just another smiling guru from the bustling market of wishful thinking and esoteric bullying.

Glenn Wallis wrote a critique of Stephen Batchelor’s Secular Buddhism a short while ago (find a German summary here).

Stephen Schettini, The Naked Monk, wrote a response to Wallis’s piece and, in doing so, proved: Neo-Buddhism, Western Buddhism the whole x-buddhistic scene, is for people who feel morally superior while they have nothing to say. The response and the ensuing discussion proves, for me, that not only is x-buddhism unable to work with real thought, to think, to infer, to question, to doubt—it proves that secular Buddhists, like any other Buddhist—like the Neo-Tibetans for example, who are certainly the most superstitious bunch around in pay-for-enlightenment-buddhism—have no argument when they are criticized. All they know is a primitive ad hominem. They simply do not know what a discussion is. They ask for tolerance but in reality they ask thinking humans to shut up. This is, admittedly, a generalization that leaves out many details. But then, up until now, there is simply no response to the distortion made visible in the critique of Secular Buddhism. Why not?

Buddhism as I have experienced it over some years since 2004 and on the internet in online forums over the last eight, nine months needs people of a mind-set that has to be assured over and over again. Yes, do this, it is the right thing, just follow me, no need to ask about it. Tradition is good, no need to doubt, no need to think. Just bow, sit down and shut up, mind your mantra and – that’s all.

This is nothing for people who want to explore. Exploration is about risking something. It is about leaving the known. It is about taking the risk to think new thoughts, as Glenn puts it. It is thereby also about risking being wrong. But hey, you simply close down a wrong position and move on. The only hindrance is a mindset which is fettered to the one and only truth. I myself have been on a dead end road several times, and I feel lucky about what I have encountered. But what is this different mindset of mine which does not fit into credulously serving every other colorful fool burning incense, chanting incomprehensible bullshit? Once, with a healthy dose of satanic aversion against those who are so sure about themselves, “non serviam” seemed a good motto to me. But in the end it turned out not to be about refusing to reach out. It is about killing the false master, the pseudo-authority. It is against those who take pride in postulating the truth in one direction only. The Buddha said this and that, Stephan Batchelor extracts what he really meant and the Secular Buddhists accept. No experiment allowed?

I was fascinated by William Burroughs. I experimented with cut-ups, with film, with cassette-recorders. I was fascinated by Aleister Crowley, who simply invented his own cult, injecting a refreshing dose of that special kind of English humor (which of course his followers had difficulties seeing). This was much more interesting than the easy-going esoteric pulp, when it was en vogue in the nineteen eighties to just change one’s name into something Asian, and then to ride the road to nirvana. As if it takes nothing more to hang a mala around one’s neck or to participate in a strange Tibetan ritual to become a member of a global elite of the real wise. How lucky I was to not follow this easy way, I can only see today. The esoteric experiment that people like the Dalai Lama or the Baghvan provided shipwrecked big-time. But this is another story—about a youth who searched eastwards and found nothing but cheap tricks to turn on the endorphin-machine without any clue what to do with it. In the end it shows that addiction ensues anyway. Whether you put a needle in your vein or get a kick out of lying flat-bellied in front of a fool from the funny-farm is the same in the end. If you don’t develop a mind of your own you will be destroyed.

Cutting magnetic tapes to pieces and splicing them together again, hearing what happens to the text when it comes together in new constellations is by far more instructive and creative than anything else I happened to see in x-buddhism. But doing cut-ups, working with collage, using samplers to distort and bench speech into strange articulations is not the mind-set an x-buddhist has. Cutting up reality, pasting it together again and hearing what happens at the new intersections is a kind of divination which really can expose something new. It is like forcing the mind to think differently. But one has to be curious and one has to curse ready solutions once and for all. In 1954 Burroughs warned Jack Kerouac that “Buddhism is not for the West. We must evolve our own solutions.”[i] In 1958 he writes to Alan Ginsberg and complains that Kerouac would end up in a cul-de-sac practicing Buddhism without any psychoanalytical insight. Kerouac, with his sad end, might look like an exception, but his is a romantic notion which pervades all Buddhism in the West and which might be an overarching cause for all this longing for the one truth. Would Alan Ginsberg sit down with Chögyam Trungpa without such a longing? While the former tried to get rid of his own demons the latter had a great time in the Free West putting everything into his system that served his limbic pleasure dome. Trungpa was a boozer, just like Kerouac, the only difference being that he made a cult out of it. Trungpa was an artist, just like Kerouac, but both went astray with no idea of what they were doing. Trungpa obviously had no idea about yoga or asceticism. He was a real addict. He put himself to death with drugs. Men like Bukowski, Burroughs or Crowley didn’t achieve this. These men had a certain honor. The honor to admit the addiction. The fool from the top of the hill thought it was yoga, while it was plain bullshit. Addiction doesn’t mean self deception in any case. Being clean isn’t the entire matter. The Dalai Lama, as the most prominent Buddhist in the world, proves this. He is hooked, too. To the marketing guys—and he doesn’t know. That’s the worst thing that can happen. It’s the curse of playing the postmodern jumping jack jester (German: Hampelmann), having a great time being fucked up.

So what is the mindset that contrasts to being under the spell of the funny guys? When I took a look into Buddhism in 2004—after being marginally interested in it for a long time and after having practiced yoga-sittting-breathing for quite some time in my twenties—it soon became clear to me that Buddhism must implode at some point. It has built-in its own annihilation. It is about the mind and its creativity; and in no way is it about certain cultural artifacts like mantras, weird clothing, having permission to teach in a certain tradition, having practiced mechanically this or that for long periods of time—that is all a betrayal. When the Tibetans speak about a certain super-secret kind of refuge, this is simply about the mind, consciousness, awareness, the being right here in a situation. There is a big difference between this and “mindfulness.” Being right here in a situation is devoid of the narcissistic self-assurance that everything is ok or that one is able to see things as they are. It is about a certain kind of status quo. It is about having a certain kind of self-esteem. In a way it is simply about becoming human—and Buddhists, the thinking ones, haven’t been doing the only thinking about this.

Kant’s answer to the question “What is enlightenment?” is very much about this: Stop being full of angst when developing and thinking your own thoughts. Contrary to this injunction, postmodern Buddhism is a regression into a hierarchical order where some magical teacher with perennial knowledge—a magician-like figure—tells you what it is all about. It is a move backwards, backwards from the curse of postmodernity—the confusing everything-is-possible; all-is-equal; truth-is-an-agreement-and-a-deal—into an order of being told. That is it what x-buddhism is about: Being told. Being underway backwards, in the wrong direction. It is a chimera. It is valuing yesterday more than today, the dead more than the living. It is valuing the fool from the top of the hill more than the person right here on my side. It is a regression; and the new is forbidden. X-buddhism is about sticking your head in the sand instead developing new forms of interaction beyond postmodernity.

I think x-buddhists should ask themselves whether they are really too stupid to think for themselves? Why is it that you should know The Word of the Buddha before you set out to enlighten yourself? X-buddhists lament the most basic things every other chimp knows. I see discussions like “should I teach my child Buddhism and dependent arising if she or he is in the midst of a dramatic situation” (loss of a parent for example)? Who—or what—is making you so stupid? Aren’t we sensitive beings? I hear x-buddhists argue that before we get into social engagement we have to “develop,” we have to become “bodhisattvas,” we have to be “mindful.” The Lamas say and you obey. But these lamas, gurus, fucked up roshis in their splendidiot isolation obviously forget that we are social animals 24/7. They forget that our brain is a interactive organ all the time. So to whom do we turn to ask for advice in postmodernity? Take a look at your teachers. How much do they really know about the circumstances we live in? For what good reason do you need people jetting around the globe to tell you about mindfulness? If you are unsure about how to act in this world in which all tradition is worthless, and in which we are lost often enough, why not look for role models right next door? Why do you need a Batchelor, a Naked Monk, a Grinning Lama poking his nose in your life while giving initiation or a stupid just-shut-up-and-do-your-zazen, sucker? X-buddhists should ask themselves whether they really are so stupid that every thought has to be brought to them as if it were a splinter from the cross of Jesus Christ. If you act like this, you are driving through life looking into the rearview-mirror; and while you try to decipher the writing on it—objects may appear farther away than they arewham!!! at some point you hit the concrete wall of reality.

If you want to know what mindfulness is really all about, just ask someone who knows his business. What else is it? How does a chef cook a good dish? Even the worst capitalist is mindful. A hooker knows more about mindfulness than your holy meditator. The prick is the proof.

What does it take to recognize that somebody is in despair or delighted? Nothing. Every gorilla can do it. Kick the lama in the ass, shoot him in the head, cut him to pieces and through him away into the organic waste-bin for decomposition.

What does it take to reach out, to get into contact? It takes: Real contact! That is precisely what our society destroys: Contact. X-buddhism is too stupid to realize that. It has no methods to look behind the mechanics of postmodern society. The Word of the Buddha is worthless.

Don’t you want to play? Do you really want to be mindful all day from moment to moment, forgetting with all this mindfulness what it is like to be in a situation? Aren’t you curious about what is out there, beyond mindfulness? When you combine, without any respect for tradition, everything that is at hand, and to do so  in new ways? Does a child learn to be creative? No she doesn’t. She has no respect. She plays. Playfulness is it.

So what is the difference? It is about curiosity! In spiritu ludi. And perhaps it is absolutely useless to wait for a response from x-buddhism. What more can it offer but absolutely nothing? Has there ever been something new in x-buddhism? Punk Rock Meditation, MBSR, stale re-combinations with no impulse but the one to have an USP—a Unique Selling Proposition?

We have a tradition in which there is a great deal of thinking about thinking. I find that Husserl, in describing the “epoché,” does exactly what, in very different wording, a Tibetan calls “shyiné,” calm abiding.[ii] What does Nietzsche mean by his “eternal recurrence”? Strangely, it seems as if he turns “momentary transience into an object of unconditional affirmation and thereby into a locus of absolute worth.”[iii] What Ray Brassier has to say about eternal recurrence in his last chapter of Nihil Unbound should ring alarm bells in the ears of Buddhist meditators—if, that is, they would not have their x-buddhism be the great occlusion they make of it by feasting on the rotten remnants of a corps named The Original Word of the Buddha.

In doing this, x-buddhist searches for himself a role to fulfill. Martin Heidegger asks why it is that we have to give ourselves such a role. Have we become so meaningless to ourselves that we need a role? Did all things become so unimportant that they yawn at us? Is it that we, from sheer boredom vis-à-vis ourselves, have to take on a role not to get lost in postmodernity’s “truth is just a convention.” Why, he asks, are we so compelled to take on a role in an effort to be something? Why, do we pretend to escape truthlessness? If truth is just a convention then nothing is a true truth. Is the solution really to pretend that we re-present something that is really true?

The x-buddhist solution is the regression. The true word of the Buddha. X-buddhism has no solution to this problem of postmodernity. Of course not. But it is all here. The great x-buddhist teachers should look at our tradition. There are texts—that is, real original thought—that deal with our situation, in our time, with knowledge about our circumstances. And it does so without a blind man poking in long-cold ashes.

To give an example regarding meditation: Heidegger in his text “Lagebeschreibung; Grundstimmung”[iv]—Situation Report; General Mood—in which he asks the above questions, is making a very precise analysis of our situation. That we in our philosophy always only re-present man in his situation without ever becoming being. Such a differentiation is absent from any x-buddhist discourse. X-buddhism is by definition unable to see itself as re-presenting a certain position vis-à-vis being, in contrast to being. But it is not only this differentiation—which is, I think, also what Glenn Wallis tries to convey in “Nascent Non-Buddhism“—Heidegger also goes on (and this, again, should ring alarm-bells in the ears of meditators), to solve the postmodern riddle with the very problem it poses: Boredom. Everything is equal, nothing is true, we can choose as we like; there are no more binding rules in postmodern nihilism. It is so cool. Why not Buddhism today, and who knows what tomorrow? Even the Dalai Lama gets boring at a point. He is boring. It takes a while, but before long we are up for something new. But, of course, before long, again we are bored again.

The German word for boredom is “Langeweile”—literally “long while” in English—and Heidegger identifies this as a “general mood.” A mood we generally try to chase away. Instead of being bored we try to while away the time. But he asks if maybe this long while—boredom—isn’t understood rightly; that it, maybe, holds a certain key to the problem it itself seems to be.

But is it again that we must do something? No, we need not do anything. “This boredom becomes significant on its own accord in that moment when we are no longer against it. It does so, that is, if we no longer react to seek safety, but when we give room to it.”

Now, if this is not a most original meditation instruction—meditation through boredom, whoever has heard about such a thing?—I don’t know what can be better. It is in our language. Everybody can look it up. It certainly is much easier than to learn Tibetan, Pali, classical Chinese, etc. One can decipher it, think about it, criticize it—all by oneself. One can look for oneself—didn’t some important man in history say this: look for yourself!

What is important here is that this is not the cheap esoteric quietism one can purchase at every other x-buddhistic hangout. Heidegger differentiates very well between a re-presentational role-playing and a significant existential mood. But this short re-presentation here cannot be more than a hint. There must be involvement. At another place, Heidegger says the following about engagement with new thought: “The more original a thinking is, the richer becomes its unthought. […] But for common sense, the unthought of a thinking always remains unintelligible. […] [What is needed is] appreciation. This demands the willingness that we could be, in our own thinking, overthrown be the unthought.”[v] In other words, common sense is no way to engage new thought because it is always only the known. To think something new is to go beyond known thought. The way to do this is to acknowledge that somebody really is thinking differently and thinks thoughts unknown to us—that s/he is indeed bigger than we. The Word of the Buddha is in this sense nothing new, because, as the example of Stephen Batchelor shows, it is a reconstruction with our common sense at its base, with all its limitations. It is, at last, just another re-presentation, a specular mirage, a circularity.

The point with boredom as meditation is that we have here, in one example, one of our own thinkers we can decipher all by ourselves. It may not be an easy task, but it is nothing compared to what lengths x-buddhists go to “accomplish” something. Such a text would be one to discuss, and its insight could be put to real work in buddhist sanghas. The “x” could vanish in quite some cases. Moreover, the words, the terminology, are learnable. It is not the great guessing game in which one is ensnared when one looks at old texts about meditation in translations from long-forgotten languages. It is the real here in which one could learn. We can even forego the jet-setting, oh-so-wise meditation masters. Everybody can be bored. One needs no teacher to learn it.

It all depends on how autonomous x-buddhists can become, and what they really want. Do you want to play a role or do you want to be significant?

The significance of this blog of Glenn Wallis’s and of speculative non-buddhism lies in the fact that it tries to think new thoughts. The intentional destruction of the transcendental part of the decisional dyad leads in every instance to a spontaneous new  configuration of this very dyad. The transcendental part, as I see it, never ceases to “exist,” but its destruction forces thinking into new configurations, if, that is, it dare combine itself with new components. We are free to recombine everything under the sun and look at what happens. The heuristics Glenn provides is something of a cure. In William Burrough’s terminology it is apomorphine. It is about risking disenchantment. Buddhism is about disenchantment. It is even about disenchantment with itself. Nothing remains.

This is about life. It is about the real life. About angst, fun, death, fucking and the end of it all. It is about the real.

Happy birthday.

[i] Cited from Thomas Collmar: William S. Burroughs, Exorcist des Wortes; p.19; Wenzendorf, 2011; (emphasis by Burroughs).

[ii] cf. Edmund Husserl: Cartesianische Meditationen, especially § 8. Das “ego cogito” als transzendentale Subjektivität. I don’t intend to say that Husserl meditated like the Tibetans, of course, but that there are seemingly similar observations about the phenomenal self. What conclusions that Husserl, in contrast to the Tibetans, draws, is another question.

[iii] Ray Brassier: Nihil Unbound; p. 207; London, 2007.

[iv] Martin Heidegger: Lagebeschreibung; Grundstimmung; in Heidegger Lesebuch, p. 95; edited by Günther Figal; my translation. This text is from 1929/30. In Germany at this time there was a massive break-out of postmodernity. After the Kaiser had his exit, suddenly everything was possible. The Third Reich was one possible “solution” to the postmodern truthlessness and boredom. X-buddhism faces a somewhat similar problem: It opposes the vanishing of truth with a, in this case imported, “new” hierarchy. The refusal to develop original new thought is prone to be exploited by those who do not hesitate to put to work their knowledge of the human psyche. Today this is marketing. This is not to say that marketing is the new Third Reich, but it is, rather, that marketing is unscrupulously exploiting, with the help of a lot of new thought, x-buddhism to its profit. X-buddhism is as such is not only a refusal to new thought, it is already a victim without knowing. It is easy prey to reactionary forces—especially when it refuses to engage with “worldly concerns.”

[v] Martin Heidegger: Was Heisst Denken?; p. 72; Tübingen 1997; my translation.


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

Matthias can be reached at:

Available in downlaodable pdf format on the Articles page.

104 responses to “Are Buddhists Stupid?”

  1. sometimes Avatar

    Glenn and Matthias: Wonderful writing and questions! I have to save more detailed comments for later as I am almost late to pick up my daughter (said child who plays without respect…but just plays, and sometimes begs me to join her.)

    Are we listing our stupidities? That seems like fun. I want in!

  2. Matthias Avatar

    Reblogged this on Der Unbuddhist and commented:
    Are Buddhists Stupid?

    Some thoughts about contemporary Buddhism and about the advantages of thinking the unthought.

  3. jonckher Avatar

    #3 glenn wallah

    Those comments are pure awesome! I especially liked the heartbreaking inducement to support theravadian nuns. Also “stupic” is utter genius and made me gnash my teeth in envy.

    However, the risk is spam. Plus many of us being trolls ourselves tend to love feeding them. You know who you are dont pretend otherwise! This troll versus troll conversation fun as it can be decreases SNR.

    But that could teach us all a valuable lesson: right speech was always intended by the Buddha as an injuncture against troll feeding.

    [From the wallah of the glen: Thanks, jonckher, for having a say. But I decided to remove that comment of mine because I answered my own question. Long live the stupics!]

  4. Avatar

    What is the difference from your idea of bringing the use of boredom and what Chögyam Trungpa of x-buddhism labels “cool boredom”?

  5. Alan Avatar

    This is a really thought-provoking piece. Your comments on Burroughs reminded me of a line from a letter of his to Kerouac that I wrote down in a notebook years ago: “Buddhism is psychic junk…a man who uses Buddhism or any other involvement to remove love from his being in order to avoid suffering, has committed, in my mind, sacrilege comparable to castration.” Some interesting words and images in that quote. Matthias, it seems to me, that your piece does imply an answer to Rimbaud’s question. Perhaps Burroughs is saying that freedom involves the courage to not relinquish all that is human (including thinking) in order to avoid suffering. And if embracing the human is exactly in the non-avoidance of suffering (and I don’t know that it is), what would that say about the whole buddhist project?

  6. Sabio Lantz Avatar

    Cutting up reality is what happens in dreams, it seems. And even when we watch our day-dreams, we can see them do the same. Our conversations are similar. Hell, our ‘normal’ minds are cutting up and pasting reality into montages every minute it seems.

    I will have to experiment with doing montages with sound and photos in the future. Thank you for the inspiration. I look forward to playing with these art forms.

    “Being right here in a situation is devoid of the narcissistic self-assurance that everything is ok or that one is able to see things as they are.”

    This sentence resonated very true to my nauseating experiences with books on Buddhism and many Buddhist bloggers.

    Having already been tricked by Christianity, seeing my mind trying to do the same to itself with Buddhism (or other worldviews I encountered) was preserving. Seeing past the particulars and into the habits of comforts and life-vests of beliefs helped me to not jump into yet another pot of dirty water.

    I loved how you show that the apparent deep wisdom of Buddhists are also captured by thinkers who wair no religious garb – Nietzsche, Husserl, Heidegger…

    And so, even with secular friends who have not had a philosophical thought tempt them ever and who pursue no dazzling, esoteric hobbies — I find wisdom and mutal pleasure of facing Langegweile together and tasting our relating as enough.

    I am amazed that with no significant Continental philosophical training, no deep experiences with the various Buddhists sects, no linguistic commitments to ancient texts and a decidedly unscholarly mind, I could enjoy your essay so much and resonate with much — I may be fooling myself, of course, but that is fine too!

    Fun essay, Matthias, it was good spending time with you this morning.

  7. Matthias Avatar

    Michaelcliffo67, #4

    Hello Michael, thanks a lot for joining in and thanks for pointing to the “cool boredom” of Chogyam Trungpa. I didn’t know that Trungpa said something about this.

    What is the difference?

    Trungpa was an enlightened being. He was “yeshe chölwa” – crazy wisdom. His boozing himself to death was an expression of his enlightenment like every other thing he did. “Cool boredom” is also an utterance of his enlightenment. Everything he did and say is, of course, seen in this framing of the principle of sufficient buddhism. Heidegger was also “yeshe chölwa” he collaborated with the nazis. He thought he could educate them. Perhaps the correct translation of this Tibetan term would then be “hubris”. Also Heidegger thought in terms of a sufficient philosophy – that he could explain everything with his view. So in this there is no difference between the two.

    The differences lie somewhere else. 1) It has to do with the notion of “meditation” now. 2) It lies in a prerequisite Heidegger establishes before he begins with boredom. 3) That we have with him a thinker who develops something in the context of our culture. 4) That Heidegger’s answer is not the end to all questions.

    This is stuff for the next several thousand words (at least). I put in here some short remarks.

    1) The signifier “meditation” is a term from the principle of sufficient buddhism. It says everything and so it says nothing. It just another form of the postmodern “everything is true somehow”. It is used in such a wide and undifferentiated way nowadays that it tells nothing but the notion that there is something deep deep inside, which, if we understand it, finally will save us all. It is the neo-romantic notion of the true self. So, what Trungpa had to say about “cool boredom” (1) should be explicated further in a very detailed manner. As he hasn’t reincarnated yet, as far as my knowledge goes, we have to wait for his next lesson. The example I give with Heidegger is this special, concrete ‘meditation’ Heidegger develops in his lesson about the “Grundstimmung”.

    2) Heidegger makes some important prerequisites before he goes into the phenomenological account of boredom. It is impossible in this format to convey this. But one thing is very important: He tries to differentiate between the representational thinking and representational philosophizing on one side (where he foreshadows Laruelle’s thought I think) and an mood which one really is on the other side. The problem is, this very differentiation which tries to overcome the separation of representation from being establishes it again. It is a circulo vitiosus. Heidegger tries to show a way how to overcome this catch-22. In doing this he sounds partly like every other mystic. But what he tries is a step by step explication which we can follow and whereby he wants us, in stark contrast to the business-mystics today, to follow him in his thinking (because he really has something to think about). The latter means that we develop our own thinking alongside with him. This than is the solution to the catch-22, this alongside, which becomes an interweaving, a being together. And so he says “The mood is not something existing which exists in the soul (Seele) as an experience, but it is the how of our being together (Miteinander-Dasein).” So, one important point he makes has to do with interaction. This also means that it is not automatically about sitting around somewhere alone – meditating – being bored and trying to feel cool by being bored.

    3) Buddhist mystics who understand a bit about their business might come into an interesting dialog with this thoughts of Heidegger. Our advantage with this thinker is that everybody can buy his books and begin thinking with him. It is a democratic move. It is not about having some strange initiations before one can buy the book. Take the business-buddhist Dzogchen Ponlop, he translated an important text from the mahamudra tradition which nonetheless is only for the initiated. The same goes for the “Yeshe Lama” an important text from the dzogchen tradition by Jigme Linpa which is also only available for the so called initiated. What these people do is that they try to revive their mummies. Our advantage is that we can think along the best for free.

    4) Unlike the business-buddhists Heidegger is far from being the one who said the last word. Chogyam Trungpa, whatever he himself might have thought about himself, is regarded as an enlightened being and as such he always only utters the last word. There has to be no more development. In contrast Heidegger hasn’t said the last word. He refused to see, for example, like Husserl, that there is a sphere in human cognition which isn’t available for his phenomenological account. Husserl and Heidegger should have had some beers with Freud. The unconscious leaves a strange trace which nonetheless leads to the diagnosis that phenomenology cannot stand alone. Derrida later exemplifies this in regard of Husserl’s work. That means the story goes on. I yet have to see this with Trungpa and Shambala – that the story goes on and that his answer – “cool boredom” – is not the end to all answers.

    I fear this is hopelessly preliminary and confuse but anyway, I hope I make it a bit clearer.

    (1) There seems to be only one place where Trungpa speaks about “boredom” in regard to meditation. This is in the 3rd chapter of “The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation” (I found an interesting post here) If anybody knows more places where Trungpa spoke about this I would be grateful to hear about it.

  8. Tom Pepper Avatar

    This post raises so many interesting questions, it’s hard to know how to start. So, I’ll jump in with this. Matthias asks if x-buddhists really are too stupid to think for themselves. Well, probably not, but they want to be. I’ve heard exactly the idiotic argument about how to teach Buddhism to someone who has just been raped or lost a child; it always goes like this: your version of Buddhism is too intellectual and heartless–how would it help a child who is the victim of molestation? I want to say, well, asshole, if you are even thinking of beginning to teach a kid Buddhism in this situation, you shouldn’t be allowed to be anywhere near troubled kids (this argument always comes from therapists).

    The goal, the ultimate desire, is to stop all thought, and just revel in the swamp of unexamined emotion. We hear, over and over, that thought is the antithesis of Buddhism, idle chatter that serves as a distraction, that satisfies our craving for mental activity–words are useless because reality is in the register of the emotions, and is ineffable. Of course, this would mean that Buddha was the worst Buddha of all–the Pali canon is thousands of pages long, the guy just wouldn’t shut up, and thinking? Well, he was “addicted” to it! And then there’s Vasubandhu, Nagarjuna, Buddhaghosa, Chandrakirti–they knew nothing about Buddhism, they wouldn’t stop thinking and writing! Worst of all, they didn’t think emotions were pure reality that transcend social construction–they were just so wrong about what Buddhism REALLY is! It seems nobody has ever really been a true Buddhist until postmodern culture became hegemonic in America! Now, we can all be fully enlightened, if only we would stop this disturbing THINKING!!

    The craving for stupidity is the worst kind of craving today–there is such a powerful desire to stop seeing what is going on in the world and sink into a blissful, thought-free, cloud of emotion. The same think seems to be what is behind Burroughs’s fear of Buddhism–the terror of realizing that the emotion of romantic love is just another ideology, another tub thrown out for the harpooned whale, so we can convince ourselves that suffering and true love are our real problem, not that boring and confusing social/economic crap. Nothing is more frightening to most people than seeing that their ideology IS an ideology–and thought really is the only way to do this, as so many Buddhist seem to have known, thousands of years ago.

    Ugh, Chogyam Trungpa, again. We need to consider whether a coke addict, alcoholic, serial sexual offender would be considered “wise” if he came from Trenton instead of Tibet. This was a deluded, suffering addict, who died young because a bunch of hippies attached to their racist orientalism needed to a figurehead to justify their own bad behavior. I just cannot believe that anyone who drank and drugged like he did was anything but miserable.

    I have many thoughts on the Heidegger issue, but this post is already long enough.

    Keep thinking!

  9. Matthias Avatar

    Jonckher, #3

    You are not so naïve as you like to seem, aren’t you?

    What is right speech? Is right speech defined through the absence of abusive words? What is lying? Is the steady repetition that, for example, personal reincarnation is a fact – in spite of modern knowledge – not lying? What is idle chatter? Look at the hundreds of thousands of books about Buddhism which flood the markets, is this not very often idle chatter? What is divisive speech? This one is, I think, the most important argument x-buddhists use to not engage in problematic topics. Don’t be divisive. This one is the single most important tool to suppress truth in x-buddhism.

    One cannot take speech at face-value.

    What really counts is what power is carried out through speech. If in a certain discourse there are (hidden) rules which function to suppress the expression of certain facts, questions, problems etc. then this discourse is not ‘right speech’ – regardless in which tone it is carried out. A soft tone is not the right measure alone to rate right speech, harsh words alone do not make a troll and of course right speech is situation dependent.

    Why don’t you come out and say what really interests you here? You hang around, sitting on the fence – what for?

    Alan, #5

    Hi Alan, many thanks for commenting. Your Burroughs-quotation is from the same letter as the one in my text. It is a longer sequence and he seems to have, in 1954, quite a critical stance vis-á-vis “the californian buddhists”. But later, in 1976, he took part in a retreat with Chögyam Trungpa, so he wasn’t totally averse regarding Buddhism. It would be very interesting to read something like a “History of American Buddhism since World-war 2” with special emphasis on the character-types involved and on the social, political and psychological situation this all happend in. Nobody is perfect, but different people have different strategies to work with imperfection. It seems to me that Buddhism is, like any other religion in postmodernity, prone to be used to hide imperfection behind a facade of perfection – and that’s perhaps what x-buddhism today is all about.

    If this is so then the avoidance of the suffering of imperfection is exactly the opposite of the realization of the first noble truth and by this measure x-buddhism is simply no Buddhism at all. The whole buddhist project as it presents itself today would then be a denial of the Original Word they themselves postulate.

    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.

    That’s Tom in his Samsara as the Realm of Ideology. I am personally very reluctant to speak about freedom because I belong to the few lucky ones on this planet and my existence is based on the exploitation of many. But I would say my freedom is it to try to understand better the reproduction of our existing ideologies.

    Cut-up could be a tool in this regard – Sabio – but only partly. Important with the cut-up is that it incorporates a strong emphasis on chance. Otherwise one reproduces only that what is already there. The importance lies in the irritation which ensues from forcing together by chance ‘unrelated’ topics. But I would think it is much more important to try to think new thoughts via learning from people who know something I don’t know. A cut-up today in a culture where everything is cut to pieces, to reorganize them and to sell them again could be a dead end again. But irritation is really important.

    Tom, I hope to hear more from your thoughts about the Heidegger issue. I know there is an issue.

  10. PerD Avatar

    Matthias, #9

    Re: Burrough’s participation in a retreat at Trungpa’s center, you might be interested in his comments, published as “The Retreat Diaries” and available all over the Internet.:

    Last summer in Boulder I was talking to Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche about doing a retreat at his Vermont center. I asked about taking along a typewriter. He objected that this would defeat the whole purpose of a retreat, like a carpenter takes along his tools – and I see we have a very different purpose in mind. That he could make the carpenter comparison shows where the difference lies: the difference being, with all due respect for the trade of Jesus Christ, that a carpenter can always carpenter, while a writer has to take it when it comes and a glimpse once lost may never come again, like Coleridge’s Kubla Khan. Writers don’t write, they read and transcribe. They are only allowed access to the books at certain arbitrary times. They have to make the most of these occasions. Furthermore I am more concerned with writing than I am with any sort of enlightenment, which is often an ever-retreating mirage like the fully analyzed or fully liberated person. I use meditation to get material for writing. I am not concerned with some abstract nirvana. It is exactly the visions and fireworks that are useful for me, exactly what all the masters tell us we should pay as little attention to as possible. Telepathy, journeys out of the body — these manifestations, according to Trungpa, are mere distractions. Exactly. Distraction: fun, like hang-gliding or surfboarding or skin diving. So why not have fun? I sense an underlying dogma here to which I am not willing to submit. The purposes of a Boddhisattva and an artist are different and perhaps not reconcilable. Show me a good Buddhist novelist. When Huxley got Buddhism, he stopped writing novels and wrote Buddhist tracts. Meditation, astral travel, telepathy, are all means to an end for the novehst. I even got copy out of Scientology. It’s a question of emphasis. Any writer who does not consider his writing the most important thing he does, who does not consider writing his only salvation, I — “I trust him little in the commerce of the soul.” As the French say: pas serieux.

    Per D

  11. saibhu Avatar

    Imagine if LeBron James were to approach every life situation through the lens of basketball. Don’t you think that would be pretty stupid?

    Well, that’s definitely true. So maybe we don’t need to change the stupidity but simply the extend to which it is applied?

    When being criticized various Secular Buddhists responded with a statement like the following: “We’re just trying to get our lives together.”

    That’s it. They’re not looking for truth. They’re looking for comfort, and what’s wrong about having a little fun? For them Buddhism is like watching movies and eating ice-cream.

    At one time at my meditation group a woman complained about a guided meditation that covered unpleasant thoughts. “I want to do *nice* things”, she said. A stupid thing to say when you go to a Buddhist group. A totally reasonable thing when you just want to enjoy the evening. You watch a *nice* movie, not an educating one, you eat sweet ice-cream, not vegetables even if this would be more healthy.

    Everywhere in Buddhism you stumble upon this conflict between, well, pleasure and truth (see “Flinching” on this blog for an example). Usually the response is that “they” should drop pleasure and care more about social-change/compassion/whatever.

    What if we do it the other way round? What if western Buddhism isn’t too ego-driven at all, but not ego-driven enough? I even started to write down some notes about the creation of a fun-joy-consumer-Buddhism, a movies-and-ice-cream-Buddhism. If you drop truth/liberation (and admit it!), you avoid the pleasure-truth-conflict. Things would go more smooth, maybe even for the truth/liberation-aspect of Buddhism.

    Sorry for my unorganized and unexamined thoughts. At least Matthias is used to that already 😉

  12. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    PerD (#10). Great quote. Thanks. Pas sérieux, indeed. A nice segue to…

    saibhu (#11)… not that you are Pas sérieux, but that condition is, I think, part of the answer to your questions:

    When being criticized various Secular Buddhists responded with a statement like the following: “We’re just trying to get our lives together.”

    That’s it. They’re not looking for truth. They’re looking for comfort, and what’s wrong about having a little fun? For them Buddhism is like watching movies and eating ice-cream.

    I’d say, first of all, this blog is really addressed to the trop sérieux gurus of x-buddhism, from the Salvador Dalai Lama to Papa Jon Kabat-Zinn and Mama Sharon Salzburg. They may in fact be handing out scoops of ice-cream; but it’s packaged as elixir. I would argue, from my observations in the field, that people come to x-buddhism precisely “for the truth.” They certainly hold it that way. Can you imagine someone defending a movie he saw or vanilla ice-cream just because you said you don’t care for it? I agree that there is an element of pleasure in practicing x-buddhism. So, for that reason, I’d like to hear more of your ideas on the following:

    What if we do it the other way round? What if western Buddhism isn’t too ego-driven at all, but not ego-driven enough? I even started to write down some notes about the creation of a fun-joy-consumer-Buddhism, a movies-and-ice-cream-Buddhism. If you drop truth/liberation (and admit it!), you avoid the pleasure-truth-conflict. Things would go more smooth, maybe even for the truth/liberation-aspect of Buddhism.

    Thanks for joining us.

  13. Jonah Avatar


    That’d be LeBron James, I believe.

  14. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Thanks, Jonah (#13): fixed. I am pretty stupid when it come to basketball.

  15. saibhu Avatar

    Just a short reply on the first part:

    I’d say, first of all, this blog is really addressed to the trop sérieux gurus of x-buddhism

    Well then, where do you draw the line?

    Even in my small meditation group (5-20 people) there’s definitely somewhat of a hierarchy. Some people just know more about Buddhism than others (so far nothing bad). But to some extent this turns into a guru-student-relationship that is not restricted to Buddhism anymore. (One of the reasons why I’m going to leave the group soon – whenever ‘soon’ will be).

    To me the line is where a kalyānamitta (equal) turns into a guru (superior). Where’s the line for you?

    They certainly hold it that way.

    Well, there are good reasons why one wouldn’t want to admit this (not even to him/herselfes)… but I have to do more thinking on that…

  16. jayarava Avatar

    Dear Matthias

    Some observations on your essay. Firstly I got bored after the first dozen or so times you made the same point. Some of us can and do think, and this repetitive style gets stale pretty fast, especially when it is constantly implied that everyone reading the essay is an idiot, and the accusation appears to be based on the authors ignorance.

    I think it would be useful to invoke a distinction that emerged out of David Chapman’s blog after some sustained criticism by me and others. David uses the term “Consensus Buddhism” which covers of the teachers you mention in your article. But it turns out that by Consensus Buddhism what David generally means is American Consensus Buddhism (ACB). When you say x-Buddhism, what you too appear to mean is ACB. Neither David nor I, for example, would consider ourselves to be practising that kind of Buddhism (and we’re both critical of it). But what Stephen Bachelor who is British? He’s only the subject of debate here because GW bought him up, and because he’s adopted a label that (I think) was invented by another American, Ted Meissner. I think Bachelor is very isolated and has limited (and probably declining) appeal or influence in British Buddhism. I’ve only ever met one person who was into Bachelorism, and he gave it up as insipid. I note that all of the Secular Buddhists commenting here seem to disavow Bachelor. In practice he’s a small player, with a tiny organisation, but a large reputation based on his past as a monk, and some books.

    I would agree that some of your criticisms apply to ACB, but at best they only partially apply outside that sphere. It seems to me that is a flaw of many of these x-Buddhist arguments, they are far too general. Since many Buddhist teachers don’t court publicity like the ACB teachers you/we have no idea how they operate. Granted the prominence of ACB in American makes it rather more than the tip of the iceberg, but still by over generalising you forget that ACB ≠ x-Buddhism, and ACB ≠ Western Buddhism. It sounds to me like your survey of approaches to Buddhism needs more research. After 7 years of blogging and a lot longer haunting forums I’d say that a fair proportion of internet Buddhists are loonies, many are complete idiots, and almost none of them resemble any of the Buddhists I know in person. From experience I know I can get a better level of dialogue by walking across the road to the Buddhist Centre and talking to whoever happens to be there. Far too few of the internet Buddhists have any experience of Buddhism in real life, but just read books, or have a remote teacher and no peers.

    Now, the movement I’m involved with does have some crossover with the ideas of ACB. We do have a “Transcendental Principle”, and probably lean towards a “sufficient Dharma” principle (though I’m not the only one arguing against it). But we also have strong critiques of groups (making some of our members refuse to cooperate in any activity involving more than 2 people) and strong narratives about becoming a true individual. Admittedly this is informed by Romanticism, but it allows us to welcome eccentrics into the Order. Though I’ve become stridently iconoclastic myself, I have a ready audience amongst my peers (not the whole Order, but certainly a good number of them). Many took the time to thank me for writing about the implausibility of rebirth for instance. My preceptor loved that essay, and encouraged me to send it to our Order’s founder! (No response yet, but he has acknowledged before now that many of us have trouble accepting rebirth, and seems not to see it as a show stopper). I live in the midst of Buddhists, many of whom can and do think. And many of whom are pleasant company which in some ways is even better.

    Our movement experimented much more in the past. But with mixed results. Some of the experimentation was unwise and went badly. Some of it was amazing though, and I still live in a semi-monastic community, with people who work together in a cooperative right-livelihood project. We have always ordained women on the same basis as men. Sangharakshita was ordaining women in 1968, and it seems like a joke that it could still be controversial. Some of our experiments lead other Buddhists to attack us publicly for many years afterwards as Māra’s earthly representatives. Some still like to put the boot in. I suppose in terms of doctrine I’m at the cutting edge of experimentation as far as our Order is concerned.

    The trouble with making the kind of argument you do is that we have no demonstrable proof that Buddhists are badly off as a result of their captivity as you say they are. You just oppose it on ideological grounds. You make a lot of implicit claims to having a superior view, which obvious float’s some boats, but where is the objective evidence that you view is superior? What scale would we measure your life against, and what is the magnitude of your superiority to the average ACB? You’re saying on principle that x-Buddhism is bad because of the way it operates. But consider the most extreme religious communities in America, such as the Amish who excel on all of the ideas your rail against. They are often found to be the most happy, and to have the least mental illness of any group in the USA. Indeed there is plenty of research to say that too much choice and freedom makes people miserable (APA Journal Jan issue of 1999 I think it was did a special on ‘happiness’). We need to do better than pit ideology against ideology. Because this simply ignores the way that people process information and judge the salience of it. Most Buddhists believe they are better off, and happier for being Buddhists. You’re arguing in principle that this must be wrong, that in fact that are not happier, not better off, because of your own ideological commitments. I have some sympathy with your ideology, but it’s not my ideology. I’d want more than a harangue before I reconsidered (but then I was trained to think by scientists).

    You also argue, for example, that Buddhism ignores that we are social animals. But you appear to be quite painfully ignorant of the way social primates operate. The alpha guru is every bit a part of being a social primate. You want us to over-ride our humanity in a more naive, and potentially psychologically damaging way than Buddhists do. You argue for lots of little groups of one in which we all determine what’s best for ourselves, through curiosity. But that’s not how social animals do things. Track down the National Geographic films about the chimps at Gombe stream and watch them (they contain excellent insights into social primate behaviour). Yes, some individuals are capable of independent thought and action, but most trade this off for the protection of the group. So if we’re going to insist humans as social animals we have to allow that most people don’t think for themselves and it doesn’t make sense to try to make them! It makes more sense for them to go along with things and support those stronger and more capable, and in fact to be submissive to the alphas. That is social primates, that is the nature of human groups. It is parodied quite amusingly in The Life of Brian. IN any case the social structure of primate groups precludes what you want us to do. Applied to wild primates we’d all die. Applied to us domesticated primates and we’d probably go mad. One can’t just blunder into this kind of territory and make ideological pronouncements about it. You haven’t really thought this aspect of the argument through. We might be stupid, us Buddhists, but some of us are at least educated.

    I think where Buddhists have a problem is that we have and confuse two roles. Firstly we are preservers of a tradition. If the tradition was worthless then it would not have survived. So one would have to question how you are assessing worth and again I think it’s naive ideology. It has worth to me, and the fact that you can’t see why changes nothing, but it does make you look stupid in my eyes. Or at least it informs me that you’ve failed to empathise with my values, and that you aren’t really interested in me as a person. And calling you stupid expresses something of the disgust I feel at you failure. The second role is that those of us with more experience of applying this shit to how we live have a duty to make it accessible and relevant to others. The two roles get confused. I think that a great deal of what we teach by way of preserving the tradition is not relevant to people’s daily practice when it is taught. And there is an argument for not teaching it until it is relevant. But if we teach everyone the tradition then those who get good at it will have the whole system at their finger tips when they need it, and we’ll all have a shared vocabulary. You seem to be in denial about who adapts this to the present and how it is adapted, Which makes it seem like you have not studied any Buddhist history at all. The teaching is constantly changing and adapting to circumstances, and it is usually the most gifted practitioners who drive this process. I’m not a guru, nor a ‘teacher’, I have no ecclesiastical responsibility or title. I’m just a Buddhist who happens to think about the doctrine and write about it. I have influenced some of my colleagues (including those seemingly senior to me in the Order) and I hope to continue my project. According to you this is impossible, and I don’t exist. D’oh!

    I gave it a good go, but overall I thought your essay was a bit repetitive and therefore boring. It didn’t make any points that haven’t been made one way or another in my current Buddhist milieu (if only by me). The essay appeared to lack a nuanced understanding of Buddhism, particularly confusing American Consensus Buddhism with x-Buddhism. You rely too much on books and the internet. I might be persuaded to admit to being an x-Buddhist by Glenn’s definition, though I never use a prefix, but I am clearly not participating in ACB! I think the essay comes off as a bit preachy, and naively ideologically motivated, naive in that you seem wholly concerned with critiquing the ideology of Buddhists but are blind to your own ideological commitments. You should certainly review the behaviour of social primates! I’m not sure who you think your audience is, but perhaps Glenn had the lurkers in mind? There’s no doubting your passion, but frankly you seemed dazzled by it.

    Are Buddhists stupid, Glenn? Well, are philosophers stupid?


  17. JP Avatar

    My first impressions from reading this new essay were similar to those of Jayarava.

    1) The essay is repetitive and not very well organized and constructed.

    2) Many of your remarks don’t just apply to Buddhists but other spiritual and religious systems, institutions, collectives, etc. In that sense, there are deeper dynamics in play here and without any attempt to develop them more explicitly, and without references outside the Buddhist realm, going passionately at X-Buddhists may be misdirected.

    3) In many respects, there is a disturbing lack of nuance. For instance, you and some others on this blog focus on ideas, practices, etc. that are pushed to their extreme logical conclusions or dispositions rather than opining on lived ideas and breathed ideologies. The issue is that Buddhists we meet rarely commit to these extremes. Instead, “they” are bundles of positions/views/ideas that are plagued by contradictions and comprises. By acting on and living using less ambitious versions of these views and ideas they can make it work (and hence remain ignorant or oblivious to the comprises and contradictions they are compelled to commit to). Unfortunately, that is a dimension of being a X-Buddhist that is mostly ignored on this blog. Instead, on this blog, X-Buddhists are no judged on who they are and what they actually think and act on but on who/what they should be or think in absence of their comprises, contradictions, cognitive dissonances and attenuating factors binding the activities of their minds. They are assessed on virtual characterizations or caricatures that are sometimes off with respect to the psyches and actions of the multiple flavors of the western Buddhist commoner. In many ways, it is probably why it is relatively easy for them to dismiss and move on when confronted with the criticisms you and Tom raise.

    4) Are you not the stupid ( I would prefer naive) one to believe everyone should or even can aspire to intellectual automony and self-sufficiency? As Jayarava wrote, are you not blinded by your own ideological commitments?

  18. Robert Avatar

    Matthias, Glenn, are Buddhists stupid? Yes. But not more stupid than most anybody most of the time. Thinking new thoughts, even thoughts new just to me, I find is incredibly difficult. I may no longer apply the rule of sufficient buddhism, but it has been replaced by something equally mysterious, call it an appeal to sufficient common sense. In many ways the workings and rules of the latter are as obscure and as resistant to visibility as the former. I am no longer a buddhist, but leaving a sangha didn’t make me smart.

    There are two main tasks that this blog has set itself. One is to expose the fuzziness and lazy thinking that is prominent in most x-buddhist arrangements. And the second one is to take the buddhist postulates and to think new thoughts with them, to sit down at the feast of knowledge (I really love that image) and compare notes with the other guests.

    Most of what has occurred here lately under the banner this first task, exposure of x-buddhism, has not taught me anything that I didn’t know before. Neither has it caused many x-buddhists to change their mind. Non-buddhism claims a disinterest in the fate of x-buddhism, but sometimes I wonder if that is a claim we can live up to. Some folks on this blog seem to care quite a bit. And sometimes we get carried away and sound just a bit too righteous, as if we know it all.

    What is more, I agree with Jayarava in that I do not recognize myself in the examples when I think back to the days that I was a buddhist. And I was in no way exceptional. I believe that the critique of x-buddhism we offer is waranted by and large, but that many of the examples we provide fall short of ringing true. The reasons why I became a buddhist were subtle, the skills that I learned there and the ideas that I developed continue to inform my thinking even now that I no longer consider myself buddhist, and the tolerance for critical thinking was considerable. That there were constraints is undeniable, and for me these constraints were ultimately sufficiently suffocating to leave. But we weren’t entirely, as Matthias puts it, “too stupid to think for ourself”.

    Where the value of this blog resides for me in this second task that we set ourselves, to think new thoughts informed but in no way beholden to buddhism. Politics and why we should care, what non-buddhist meditation would look like, those discussions have helped clarify my own thinking. Thanks to Tom’s essays and patient responses to my many questions I am now reading Althusser and Badiou, and it is incredibly exciting to sense that I am actually slowly penetrating this deep and dazzling philosophy, building upon what buddhism taught me before. I am sure Matthias recognizes that feeling when in his essay he makes connections between Husserl and shi-ne, calm abiding. For that matter, he is indeed doing new thinking, showing us what that could be like, towards the end of his essay when he tackles Heidegger. I think that is what should be our focus.

    Those buddhists that are indeed stupid are too boring to interest me, and too boring to be interested in us for that matter.

  19. Tom Pepper Avatar

    I’m plain bored with the old “painting with too broad a brush” argument. Sure, there are always exceptions–the problem is, most of the time, they turn out to be doing the same stupid thing in a different idiom; the most powerful argument around today is to shout “overgeneralization,” and require that someone explain exactly how a claim DOES in fact apply to each individual.

    I would want to insist, though, on the distinction between the willful stupidity of those who want comfort instead of truth, and an actual lack of intellectual capacity. I don’t think that people are really all lacking intellectual capacity, and actually those who might have limited ability to deal with abstract concepts aren’t really the problem. The problem is with those who want to insist on stupidity, because not thinking is perceived as “true wisdom,” and being an automaton of capitalist ideology WITHOUT BEING AWARE OF IT is the most comforting thing our culture can come up with. Those who lack intelligence, in the old-fashioned, non-Gardner sense of the ability to work with abstract concepts, still do interest me. Those who have intelligence but insist that nobody should ever be allowed to think try my patience.

    I teach a lot of education majors, and not a day goes by during the semester when I don’t hear, from one of my students or from one of my colleagues, the great mantra of the university today: really intelligent people don’t make good teachers, because they can’t “relate”. I am also a graduate student in psychology, and every graduate class I have taken opens with a disclaimer by the professor that intelligence makes it impossible to be a good therapist, because intelligent people can’t “relate”–we must NEVER try to understand someone’s problems, because that is “intellectualizing,” we must only ever “empathize”–which, by the way, can be done with no verbal communication at all, in the manner of Troy on Star Trek TNG. Not thinking is a requirement, today, for teachers and for therapists, at least–which may be why so many of them show up in Buddhist groups, trying to learn how not to think.

    By the way, is it true, as Burroughs says, that Huxley “got Buddhism” and started writing Buddhist tracts? I knew he was involved with some acid-dropping California Vedantic guru, but I didn’t know he was ever interested in Buddhism. Is Burroughs mistaking Vedanta for Buddhism, or are there really some Buddhist “tracts” written by Huxley? If there are, what are they called?

  20. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Robert (#18), yes, I agree. We can balance it out more with the second task of the blog that you mention. I’m writing this on my iphone, so real quick: the post on anicca and extinction was the latest example of that task, I think. Lots more on the way. Matthias’s essay touches on that task, too, I think, but more implicitly, perhaps.

  21. PerD Avatar

    Tom, #19

    Huxley’s main orientation after the war seems to have been a combination of perennialism and psychedelics. Although Buddhism was part of the mix, I don’t think Burroughs’ comment was meant to be taken literally. (I read it as a sly reference to the novel “Island”.)

    Perennialism is still an important aspect of x-buddhism, btw, and something that I’d like to see discussed in the context of SNB.

  22. Matthias Avatar

    I have seen a book title “No Ego No Problem” and that corresponds to Saibhu‘s point (#11):

    What if western Buddhism isn’t too ego-driven at all, but not ego-driven enough?

    That also has to do with the point I make in this text that x-buddhism is a regression. It is not locking forward beyond postmodernity but it is looking backward for help from old hierarchical structures. I make the point (in footnote iv) that the refusal to develop original new thought is prone to be exploited by those who do not hesitate to put to work their knowledge of the human psyche. This is a political question. X-buddhism, which is a well defined term when we use it here, is participating actively through it’s passivity in making people apolitical. Indeed, like it has been thematized here repeatedly, techniques like MBSR are actively engaging in making people functioning and not thinking.

    An example: In November a congress will be held in Berlin. It is about the be benefits of meditation in “a world gone off the rails.” The list of participants and topics looks impressive. It is all about how to reduce stress in school, at university and work, what meditation can do to reduce the load which is put upon us in our crazy world. But strangely at no point the question is asked where the stress is coming from in the first place. It is all about working with the symptoms of the disease, the result , and not with the causes. Buddhists engaging in such a debate without asking the question what these causes are, are actively, through their passivity, ignoring the suffering which is produced from our imperfection.

    That is the point where

    the refusal to develop original new thought is prone to be exploited by those who do not hesitate to put to work their knowledge of the human psyche!

    This is the point where we are not ego-driven enough. I mean this in the sense that we are not individuating by thinking about the situation we are in but that we are going in an internal immigration via certain kinds meditation.

    Jayarava. I don’t know how you get the impression that I could be addressing you. As I said, “x-buddhist” is a well defined term here, s/he is

    a person reflexively beholden to the structural syntax of buddhistic decision.

    I presuppose this. But you are right: I am preaching. This is a sermon. I am arrogant and stupid enough to say If you are not outraged, you are not paying attention! But also, with “x-buddhist” being a well defined term, everybody is able to decide wether, when I use the second person singular, s/he is meant or not. You are right in saying that “since many Buddhist teachers don’t court publicity like the ACB teachers you/we have no idea how they operate.” Very nice, then let’s talk about them or better even with them. Let’s get into contact with people who are not “reflexively beholden to the structural syntax of buddhistic decision.” I even thought about this, to go out and to look at and to talk with every other buddhist tradition I can get at.

    This said it seems to me that we both might have a somewhat narrow view about Western Buddhism. You seem to be in a group which is much more open minded then what I experienced. You are really lucky to have a preceptor who appreciates your essay about rebirth. That is simply impossible in Tibetan Buddhism – and that is where I come from. I checked out a lot groups in this area. So my view might be biased, but yours is too, only to the other side. You seem to have no experience how stupid people can get with Tibetan Buddhism. The problem is that Tibetan Buddhism is marketings darling. The result is that orders like yours, if it truly has this capacity of being progressive, in contrast to the reactionary Tibetan Buddhism, are sitting in the shadow and the development of Buddhism in the west is dominated by those who know how to occupy the limelight. This goes so far that the Dalai Lama can say in a highly official statement that

    „[a]s long as you are a Buddhist, it is necessary to accept past and future rebirth. c.f.

    He speaks for all Buddhists and he can do this only because he must have the impression that there is no other Buddhism in the world than his. That’s what marketing does with the guy.

    How do you like this?

    Regarding the Amish: I don’t know much about them but there seem to be one important difference to x-buddhism (as defined). They pull out of the world which causes the stress which x-buddhistic meditation for example sets out to reduce. I would not compare them to x-buddhism. Indeed, if you say “there is plenty of research to say that too much choice and freedom makes people miserable” you are on the spot and and I am with you. But the reduction of too much choice must be achieved without religion. Again this is the problem of regression. Backwards from postmodernity into good old religious thought or forward beyond postmodernity? There are big problems ahead. Especially with morality. But where does moral behavior comes from? From religion? Why do Buddhist feel so much better as you say? Through their religion? I doubt it. Their are techniques in yoga and meditation which change the metabolism in certain ways. It is a question of physiological techniques not of religion. We would do far better without any religion and if we would educate ourselves more in this techniques. Thomas Metzinger is arguing in this direction in the last chapter of “The Egotunnel”. But again: This is not for stress reduction. Or otherwise said: Stress reduction is only expectable if in the end it is used as a weapon against those entities which induce the stress in the first place.

    Your argument about social animals: My polemic is that we don’t need no Jesus Christ or Buddha to see that somebody needs help because s/he is in great pain. My polemic is against those who are so mindful that the don’t mind the feelings of other people any more. I have seen a lot of those in Buddhism and I am fed up with it. We as social animals are equipped by nature with the capacity to feel with the next. Full stop. It is only about this point I speak and not about the alpha guru etc. If you say

    you want us to over-ride our humanity in a more naive, and potentially psychologically damaging way than Buddhists do

    then you misinterpret my sermon. I say only, would you x-buddhists please consider that we don’t have to look back 2500 years to learn something about compassion. I say, please consider looking next door for your role model of compassion. Example: The caretaker at the school right around the corner. It is a difficult place. Lot”s of migrants, lot’s of teachers who are supposed to solve every problem the migrants have and who are mostly frustrated and stressed being totally overstrained by the demands put upon them. Then there is this caretaker. He is not studied and he certainly wouldn’t be very interested in Laruelle et al. but even the really tough little machos listen to him. He is a natural authority without being violent in any way. I say, look at this guy and try to figure what he is doing right.

    There is a lot more in this paragraph of yours. I come back to this.

    In the next paragraph I again have to ask why you get the impression that I could be addressing you?

    If the tradition was worthless then it would not have survived. So one would have to question how you are assessing worth and again I think it’s naive ideology. It has worth to me, and the fact that you can’t see why changes nothing, but it does make you look stupid in my eyes.

    I really don’t get it what point you are making in this paragraph. You clearly feel insulted. I don’t see why. All I can see in your writing at your blog is that you are the type of person who dares to doubt – and that is good.

    Regarding tradition for example I don’t say that it is worthless. It depends on how it is used how one engages with tradition.

    But one thing clearly is wrong: “If the tradition was worthless then it would not have survived.” That is simply the “winners bias”.

    And and last, Jayarava, how do you come to the conclusion that I’ve failed to empathise with your values, and that I am not really interested in you as a person?

    I did not set out writing this text with you in mind.

    JP. I did not expect to be loved by this text. I’ll just say one thing on responding to your objections. A lot of people reading this blog seem to equal somebody criticizing a position or somebody being polemic with a cold hearted vicious personality which thinks about itself as superior. You don’t seem to consider that the style of a text has to do with the message and that maybe the writer is intentionally employing a certain style. Maybe you consider reading “No More Meditation” in comparison. No doubt you will find this text also “not very well organized and constructed.” But let me say so much. My passion is about communication – believe it or not – and what I am outraged at is that what tries to hinder that communication. But what we don’t see here is how we all really interact. Would you believe that I am working together with my partner in counseling people in difficult relationships and that I am able to speak and act in a totally different way when engaged with those? Would you believe that I am capable of a very different styles of communication depending on what I want to say?

    Regarding your 4) Yes I am stupid enough to believe that there is much more autonomy possible for people. As the above example of the caretaker shows, that is not necessarily in regards of education you get at an university.

    I have a question for my critics: What do you think about boredom as meditation?

    Or what do you think about what I have to say about the different mindsets which set apart the ones who want to be entertained from the ones who set out to think something new?

    I think I make some positive points in the last part of my text. What do you think what I have to say about the advantages of our tradition, of our thinkers?

    Robert, #18. The second task indeed is the more important one, I think. My sermon is in part a reaction to the discussion which ensued from Glenn’s critique of Batechelorism. I am going into a project right now which will have a lot do deal with our thinkers. I look forward to engage in more fruitful discussions here regarding the topics which will develop from this. But of course, that is my contention, we will not speak about Buddhism any more at some point – and I mean this in the most positive and best sense I can imagine. I am really thrilled about the outlook.

    PerD. Thanks for posting Burroughs comments. I must say it ins’t terribly interesting what he has to say and in the Retreat Diaries he says next to nothing about the retreat. What is really too bad. He was there two weeks with Trungpa I wonder what the old junky thought about the tibetan boozer.

    I think this all is nowadays only interesting regarding the history of American Buddhism.

    But I must say one thing: When I see what Burrough’s had to say about Buddhism nearly sixty years ago – “those californian Buddhists who try to park in the middle of the road” – then I really should stop wasting my time with this shit.

  23. jonckher Avatar

    #9 Matthias

    That is a very good question!

    Mostly, it is because I have become addicted to looking up the names and terms that people keep throwing around and reading assorted articles that gets linked to.

    But very very occasionally, I get a glimpse that maybe something exciting could be happening here, that every now and then, the decades long fault-line / conversation between eastern buddhism and western thought is *furthered* however incrementally in a sentence or a paragraph within this blog and its comments.

    However, as I have been reading through all of the articles from the start of the blog, I am also detecting a slow down of ideas. Soon, non-buddhism will run out of the sacred cows of x-Buddhism to slaughter. Snappy one-liners can only be used once. It doesn’t take long for the same joke to become stale. A running gag is only effective until all variations are explored (and these are finite). The first time someone slips on a banana peel, it’s comedy, after that, it’s a tragedy. The same point made too often becomes a bludgeon.

    Once the initial shock and titillation of shouting “GOD IS DEAD” wears off, what then?

    For me, I’ll just move on to where the next bit of action is and maybe toss some peanuts there too.

    Until, then, I’ll stick around.

  24. Robert Avatar

    Jayarava, 16. You make some interesting points in your response to Matthias. But I do not always entirely understand your line of reasoning. Can you help me out?

    If the tradition was worthless then it would not have survived.

    What about all the bad ideas that have been around for too long a time? Does their survival also argue in favour of their worth?

    My preceptor loved that essay, and encouraged me to send it to our Order’s founder! (No response yet, but he has acknowledged before now that many of us have trouble accepting rebirth, and seems not to see it as a show stopper).

    Exactly what does this illustrate? Is this an example of the extreme openmindedness that we find in your order?

    You’re saying on principle that x-Buddhism is bad because of the way it operates. But consider the most extreme religious communities in America, such as the Amish who excel on all of the ideas your rail against. They are often found to be the most happy, and to have the least mental illness of any group in the USA. Indeed there is plenty of research to say that too much choice and freedom makes people miserable <

    Does it matter how happy an idea makes us? I understand Matthias to mostly argue that what he proposes is better, more rational, not that it will make us happier. Shouldn’t we conclude from this argument that we should all abandon (x,non)buddhism and join the Amish?

    You also argue, for example, that Buddhism ignores that we are social animals. But you appear to be quite painfully ignorant of the way social primates operate. The alpha guru is every bit a part of being a social primate. You want us to over-ride our humanity in a more naive, and potentially psychologically damaging way than Buddhists do.

    Where exactly does Matthias make this argument explicitly? More importantly, are you arguing that the kind of subservience we see in social primates is also a human characteristic, and one that we should just accept? Are there limits to this acceptance?

    I have some sympathy with your ideology, but it’s not my ideology.

    What do you believe Matthias’ ideology to be? How would you describe your own?

    Many thanks

  25. PerD Avatar

    Mattias #22

    I agree that Burroughs’ involvement with the Trungpa scene in the 70s isn’t terribly relevant for the present discussion. Perhaps you’ll get a kick out of the following quote, though. (It’s from Ted Morgan’s 1988 biography “Literary Outlaw”.)

    The whole Buddhist position, that anything wrong with anybody comes from his own psyche and not from the outside, is of course a handy thing for any mind controllers […] I am not much interested in Buddhism myself. The course I teach in the summer [at Naropa Institute] consists of three lectures on writing and literature.

  26. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Jayarava (#16).

    Are Buddhists stupid, Glenn? Well, are philosophers stupid?

    Yes, of course. They are stupid to the extent that they subscribe to the principle of sufficient philosophy, or, more specifically, to the principle of sufficient Deleuze, the principle of sufficient Plato, the principle of sufficient Laruelle, and so on. Sometimes, of course, for some people, the principle of sufficient philosophy is the thing. This principle is related to others, which fact further restricts the practitioner’s range of vision. I name these related principles in the non-buddhist glossary, or heuristic. To your question, these are all stupid-making functions. Maybe we should remind ourselves that, as Tom Pepper mentions in a comment, we are not addressing lack of intellectual capacity per se. I would argue, however, that it often comes to the same thing. Just yesterday I sat in a room of twenty board members, some of whom were devout x-buddhists–both Asian and western people. Even though they were intelligent, educated, professionals, whenever they spoke, they sounded stupid–stupid in the sense being delineated on this post. Why “stupid”? These formulations have x-buddhists in mind; but as David Chapman pointed put elsewhere, they can be applied very broadly. So, just replace “x-buddhist” with “philosopher” or whatever, and “the dharma” as “Deleuze,” “Laruelle,” “Heidegger,” etc. So, review of some non-buddhist claims:

    They ventriliquize the dharma. The x-buddhist (person) manifesting buddhistic representation via speech and writing. An instance of the x-buddhist as “the shape of the [dharmic] World.” Evidence of ventriloquism is the predictable iteration of buddhemes in everything from canonical literature to dharma talks and blog posts.

    They employ buddhemic speech. Buddhemes. The iterative vocabulary, phrases, and sentences that comprise virtually one hundred percent of x-buddhistic discourse. I may refrain from providing examples here because buddhemes are axiomatically and abundantly displayed in all x-buddhism journals, blogs, magazines, dharma talks, canonical literature, commentaries, secondary books, dialogue, and Facebook pages. In reflexively speaking and writing in buddhemes, x-buddhists effectively reduce reality to the descriptive terms provided by x-buddhist discourse. Significantly though, buddhemic usage evades its own ostensible indexing of empty reality by simultaneously repopulating reality with, and on, its own terms. In the speculative non-buddhism heuristic, such reflexive usage appears as symptomatic of not only decision, but of ideological subscription. Buddhemic speech usurps the practitioner’s potential expression of his or her own lived process. Speculative non-buddhism suspects that buddhemic utterance, like the employment of all borrowed language, is a sign of evasion, of taking comfort in the warm embrace of the thaumaturgic sangha. But, again, such utterance functions at the expense of the very purpose that that community is (ostensibly) meant to serve, namely, the combustion of representational delusion vis à vis empty reality.

    They reflexively employ specularity; namely the narcissistic reflection of the dharma in the world, the seeing of which reflects back to the dharma its veracity (seen, as it was, in the world). Specularity is intimately related to the ultimate cause of ideological stupidity (as opposed to ideological perspicuity): decision.

    Lots more about the nature of stupidity–x-buddhistic, philosophical, whatever–in the heuristic. As you may be suggesting, Jayarava, it would indeed be a mistake to think those modes of behavior apply only to x-buddhists or even only to religionists.


  27. Tom Pepper Avatar

    Matthias: I’m very interested in this idea of boredom as meditation. It seems to me that boredom is always a symptom of a lack of foreclosure in our world–boredom is a terrible kind of suffering, because we don’t know, cannot even think, the cause of our discomfort. Otto Fenichel, the great marxist psychoanalyst, wrote an interesting little essay on this. His argument is that true boredom is a result of a failure in the World–there is a failure of our social system to provide the possibility for us to exercise our human capacities–the real use of our natural powers is forbidden, and the channels into which they are supposed to be directed are “too distantly related to the original instinctual aim, there can be no displacement of the cathectic energy onto the new activity offered.” As a result, we have “cures” like addiction or “impulsional behavior”(Fenichel’s examples) or perhaps prozac and ritalin. Fenichel suggest that investigating boredom might lead to some real social action, because “One should not forget that we have the right to expect some ‘aid to discharge’ from the external world.” (You can find a copy of Fenichel’s essay in the original German here:

    If boredom is a symptom, and indication of what the World forecloses, then meditation on boredom itself, and being bored by meditation, might be a useful means of detecting our own ideological blindspots.

  28. saibhu Avatar

    What do you think what I have to say about the advantages of our tradition, of our thinkers?

    Probably off-topic, but: I wonder when (and more importantly) why we (as a society) turned away from our own thinkers. There are some thoughts about this in “Buddhist Anti-Intellectualism”, but I don’t think this is all.

    There are Jesuits practicing Zen, they even have their own Zen Masters. In Germany there was a survey where more persons named the Dalai Lama as a role model than the pope. Maybe the people in the survey just follow the pop culture and the exotic. But the Jesuits? I’m pretty sure they don’t care about these kind of things.

    Does anyone have any literature he could recommend to me concerning this question?

  29. Uri Sala Avatar

    Dear Tom #27

    In the “Samsara…” essay, back in April, in the comments, you said:

    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?

    I apologize for not replying but I confess being afraid that, whatever I said, I would be accused of being a puppet of capitalism. I also assumed that you didn’t think there was such a thing as human nature. But now you say:

    ..the real use of our natural powers is forbidden, and the channels into which they are supposed to be directed are “too distantly related to the original instinctual aim…

    This is something I think all the time. But I find it a bit hard to identify those “natural powers” and then I think that they might not exist at all, in isolation from a concrete ideology, which would be the condition for them to be “natural”. So, you do think there is such a thing as human nature? What are some of the traits and dispositions you think are part of it? Any literature?

    I should add that my idea of human nature is (more than) informed by evolutionary psychologists such as Pinker. But I am ready for you to call him names…



  30. Tom Pepper Avatar


    Whom do you consider “our own thinkers”? When do you consider the west to have had any interest in real thought? Was there such a Golden Age?

    Everyone loves the simplistic, exotic idea of Zen as “mystical wisdom,” but there is no serious interest in the thought of Eastern philosophers, any more than there is in the thought of the west. Thich Nhat Hanh is fine, but mention Nagarjuna and eyes roll.

    In one sense, it seems that almost everything that philosophers like Zizek and Badiou write these days is about why our society is terrified of thought. “The Century” comes immediately to mind.

  31. Michael Clifford Avatar
    Michael Clifford

    Thanks Matthias for your well thought out response my question. I really need to read Heidegger now. My father also holds his thought in high regard. Any suggestions on a good book to start?

  32. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    jonckher (#23).

    Once the initial shock and titillation of shouting “GOD IS DEAD” wears off, what then?

    What then? That’s when you do the work! If the aftershock of a insight does not include creating what comes next, what’s the point? Most of Nietzsche’s philosophy is his answer to the question: God is dead; now what?

    However, as I have been reading through all of the articles from the start of the blog, I am also detecting a slow down of ideas. Soon, non-buddhism will run out of the sacred cows of x-Buddhism to slaughter. Snappy one-liners can only be used once. It doesn’t take long for the same joke to become stale. A running gag is only effective until all variations are explored (and these are finite). The first time someone slips on a banana peel, it’s comedy, after that, it’s a tragedy. The same point made too often becomes a bludgeon.

    This statement is similar to the one I put before it in that both reveal your apparent interest in the entertainment value of the material. The jonckher text contains an abundance of burlesque tropes and metaphors. While those are fine–and entertaining in themselves–I think labor metaphors work better. There is real work to be done. One thing that x-buddhism and non-buddhism have in common is the force of desire. Some postulates:

    * X-buddhism is animated by the desire for The Dharma. X-buddhism does not think “the human.” It desires rather to form the human in its own image. That means that it seeks either (1) to overcome the human or (pretty much the same thing) (2) to think the human in terms that are precisely not human.

    * Non-buddhism is animated by desire for the human. It aims to democratize x-buddhism in order to converse with it. It aims to cancel its warrant in order to place it alongside of the human. It aims to think x-buddhism through the ordinary human.

    So, what now? Work. Create material structures that serve the task of radicalizing x-buddhism–returning it to its human roots.

  33. jayarava Avatar

    #26 Glenn

    As you may be suggesting, Jayarava, it would indeed be a mistake to think those modes of behavior apply only to x-buddhists or even only to religionists.

    Good thanks. I was starting to feel like this was a blinkered argument, with dodgy motivations, but actually its a general critique of knowledge domains, applied to Buddhism in this context. I suppose that anyone with an ideology will tend towards believing it sufficient, and subordinate other forms of knowledge to their ideology. Fucking economists for a start! Neat, plausible, and wrong. (I’ve been getting into Steve Keen today). Or in layman’s terms, when your only tool is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. Keen said (something like) “a theory that explains everything, actually explains nothing”.

    And guess what? I sat in a room full of relatively new Buddhists leading a discussion on the ariyasaccā last week and, fuck it all, I was ventriloquising the Dharma. I could hear myself doing it, and as much as I tried to bring it down to earth I was just not able to avoid bullshiting to some extent. I was just sitting in for one session in someone else’s study group, so I didn’t want to start a revolution and walk away. Must do better!

    Don’t we have a problem in that specialised jargons always appear as those in the know use shorthand ways of talking so as to have more interesting conversations?

    Mind you jargons can hide many demons. We say we understand words like viññāṇa, saṅkhārā or khandha, but do we? I don’t really understand any of these words anymore, though I’m pretty sure they don’t map onto our translations of them. I suppose I would grant that our jargon has become hypostasised, rather like Freud’s ‘ego’ and ‘id’ (which began life as ‘functions’). We do mistake the word for the thing, or the word for the experience of the thing. I wonder which is worse? It probably is time for a frontal assault on Buddhists using badly translated jargon that is divorced from personal experience.

    BTW one of your academic lurkers contacted me off-blog and wanted a conversation, but addressed me like an undergraduate and made categorical statements about Buddhism based on a peripheral interest in late Buddhist philosophy (which I vehemently disagreed with). When I asked this philosopher where his *doubt* was, he replied it was a “given”. Arrghh!!! A philosopher for whom doubt is a given, and need not be mentioned up front? Some people are harder to have good will towards than others 😉


    …I wonder if the Centre would let me run a course called “Buddhism without the Bullshit”?

  34. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Robert (#18). I’d like to say something to the following excellent point.

    There are two main tasks that this blog has set itself. One is to expose the fuzziness and lazy thinking that is prominent in most x-buddhist arrangements. And the second one is to take the buddhist postulates and to think new thoughts with them, to sit down at the feast of knowledge (I really love that image) and compare notes with the other guests.

    Most of what has occurred here lately under the banner this first task, exposure of x-buddhism, has not taught me anything that I didn’t know before.

    I’ve been thinking about what you say here throughout the day. I wonder if there is a closer connection to the two tasks than meets the eye. I call non-buddhism an applied theory. The “theory” part is the reflection on x-buddhism that constitutes your first task, exposure. But “applied” means that the aftereffect of our reflections must be put into action. If they are not, they are mere, impotent reflections. It’s the idea (e.g., in Marx, Kropotkin, maybe even in the x-buddhist canon) that we have to begin with clear descriptions of the world (first task) before we can change it (second task). Of course, what counts as one’s description of the world will determine the proposed modes and results of change; but there is clearly an interlocking relationship here. The basic idea is that the clearer we get about our actual situation, the closer we approach a desirable state of affairs. The goal of it all is, to my understanding, freedom: self-determination, creative realization. I imagine that, given the endless swirl of things, this interplay of knowing-doing-freedom is a never-ending project.

    It is difficult to see non-buddhist thought in action, or, in Laruellen terms, the force (of) non-buddhist thought. (He’s thinking of Marx’s “labor-force.”) I have received emails and even spoken face-to-face with people who are trying out some of the ideas they’ve encountered on this blog and in the non-buddhist heuristic.

    I have to get ready for my meditation group now, If you like, I can give some examples of effective changes later. The crucial point is two-fold: (1) they all involve material adaptations, and (2) they are inseparable from theory. Hence, the two tasks are really one.


  35. saibhu Avatar

    Tom Pepper (30),

    maybe I’m misusing the word “thinker” now, but I think I had something like the German Romantics in the back of my head, because I recently read: Roots of Buddhist Romanticism.

    Maybe this would also explain the feeling-is-better-than-thought-group you like to complain about.

    Anyhow, enough off-topic, thanks for the recommendations, I’ll have a look at them.

  36. Matthias Avatar

    Tom, #27.

    I have to be careful not to jump to conclusions about this topic – boredom and this Heidegger lecture. Heidegger is unfolding a complex argumentation in this lecture. Underway he several times contrasts the “mood” (Stimmung) he is looking for with “vulgar” psychological investigation into “feelings”. There is clearly an undertone of antipathy on his side versus psychology and psychoanalysis. But he comes in the end to important questions for which the “basic mood” (Grundstimmung) he is looking for is only the beginning. I think what he lays bare is a basic insecurity of human existence in our situation today. This insecurity has to do with this basic mood and he wants to come to this basic mood to really get into this situation. In the end he might not be so far away with this insecurity from a psychoanalytical (non-vulgar) understanding. At least in the sense that the human consciousness is a very fragile something which is very much an effect of causes it hasn’t under it’s control. But this latter he does not address directly. He seems to flinch, to pull back into some romantic notion of an “original mood” from which everything unfolds.

    I think Otto Fenichel, at least partly, addresses something different – but I have yet to really grasp his essay. One question: “Foreclosure” you use in the Freudian/Lacanian sense? Do I understand you right that you see boredom then as something of a tool? It seems so.

    I have a vague feeling that around here is a hotspot. Boring meditation…

    More tomorrow.

  37. Robert Avatar

    Glenn, 34. I think any excellence you perceive in my rather lame idea is merely coincidental, but I am glad it caused you to see things more clearly. I do agree that non-buddhism shouldn’t be something we engage in for our entertainment, or even for our edification. For me the question always is: what is to be done? So I am looking forward to hear of any examples you can offer. I note in your comment to Jonckher an emphasis on getting to work, in particular a new interest in radicalizing x-buddhism, less of the disinterest you tended to claim, is this a coincidence?

  38. Tom Pepper Avatar

    RE 29:

    We’re all puppets of capitalism, every time we go to the grocery store or put gas in the car.

    I do believe there is a “human nature” in the sense that human beings are not infinitely malleable. We need to increase our capacity to interact with the world, to communicate in symbolic systems, to interact socially. Basically, we need to make use of whatever abilities we have, or we will just be unhappy and “bored.”

    My concern is that the term “human nature” is usually applied to culturally produced behaviors–the old argument that it is “human nature to be capitalist: we are biologically programmed to be greedy, selfish, oppress others, and work at tedious meaningless jobs”; or, it is “human nature to be feudalist, we are biologically programmed to need a stable authority figure and most of us would prefer a life that is nasty, brutish, and short.” There is a limit to how much we CAN be shaped by culture, but much more is a product of culture than most people think. So, I wouldn’t speak of “traits and dispositions” as part of nature, but of culture.

    Whatever the limits of our “nature” are, they always appear in a particular culture, so the work of separating nature from culture can never be finished. However, when we live in a culture that requires that 10% of adults need antidepressant medication to function, and 3-5% of children need adhd medications to function in school, we need to wonder if we have passed the limit of the malleability of our “nature.”

  39. Jamie Avatar

    re: having to take on a role due to sheer boredom vis-à-vis ourselves

    This sort of boredom is an isolation of affect. It’s a defense, I think, against Loy’s “lack” (or however you want to define/describe what Loy talks about). All the cures that Tom mentions (#27) disguise that lack. So do the “roles.”

    Very worthy of a focus of practice, and of post-practice dialogue.

  40. jonckher Avatar

    #32 Glenn

    The mighty work begins!

    Non-buddhists, your mission if you so choose to accept it is to:

    1) Liberate your sangha from the chains of unthinking x-buddhism!
    2) Re-organise your sangha to ensure that traditional hierarchies are flattened and that all members are empowered!
    3) Invigorate your sangha with a new sense of direction and focus on social change and justice!
    4) Re-factor your sangha Buddhist practices to invigorate, engage and energise its members to do the work!
    5) Harness your sangha to change the world!!!


    – sings –

    “C’est la lutte finale
    Groupons-nous, et demain
    Sera le genre humain!”

  41. jayarava Avatar

    ‎”Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.” – Henry Menken.

  42. Robert Avatar

    I am arrogant and stupid enough to say If you are not outraged, you are not paying attention!

    Looking at the comments here it struck me that not everybody is really getting what this blog is about, that people don’t realize how radical, reckless and crazy the ideas being raised here are. I know this is a pretty presumptive statement. However, it is also a true statement. When Glenn talks about x-buddhism’s impotence of thought and infinite culpability this isn’t just a matter of speech. Infinite is a different league than quite a bit. Impotence doesn’t mean you can only get an erection on Saturday evenings, well, you get the idea. It is not a matter of fixing x-buddhism, it is recognizing x-buddhism for the mistake that it is and throwing it out with the garbage.

    This blog isn’t about getting people to understand that rebirth is not a very plausible idea. Mankind figured that out 300 years ago. Appealing to hierarchical organization in social primates, or making ironic remarks about oh those crazy people here are of course welcome, but not very relevant. They are just the background noise that the world generates to make sure everything stays fundamentally the same. Lazy common sense opinions floating around that have nothing to do with what thinking new thoughts implies.

    At least, that is what I think.

  43. Matthias Avatar

    Tom, re #27.

    I think we speak about two different things here. Boredom by Fenichel and boredom by Heidegger.

    Fenichel seems to speak mostly about boredom as something pathological of an individual while Heidegger speaks about “mood” in a way which is in his words a basis for interaction. That seems to be important. Heidegger arrives via “Langeweile” – literally “long while” – at the problem of time. He sees this “mood” as a way to get into the problem of time in an “authentic” way from where he then wants to tackle the questions about world, finitude and isolation. At last it his “care” about “future”, I think, which informs this program, although he doesn’t makes this explicit in this lecture.

    What I find interesting here is that Heidegger seems to have in mind an “authentic” human respectively a human who has the ability to become authentic in that s/he gets into this special mood what he defines as something like a mark of our historical time. What he means with this mark becomes clearer when he speaks about Nietzsche and his dionysian mood. I think Heidegger wants here like Nietzsche to come to a point where the insecurity in which the human finds itself turns into something positive – like with the “eternal recurrence” of Nietzsche. But this is my interpretation, Heidegger himself leaves this open.

    However this might be. What I find interesting is that one can read this text as an attempt of a meditation about or better in(to) our situation. Perhaps one can even go as far to say that he tries to use the deficit Fenichel analysis within boredom in a positive way. Seen from this perspective it might be that Fenichel and Heidegger might not be so far apart. Only Fenichel is talking about individuals who would not be able to become authentic in Heideggers sense.

    It seems to me Fenichel speaks about subjects who are prone to be exploited when they await a discharge of their boredom from society. Maybe this is what happens in consumer capitalism today all the time. Bernard Stiegler analyses this in detail in his “Prendre Soin” (Soin=Care=Sorge …. Heidegger again). He makes the point that marketing today is finding a direct way to exploit the Id and that in this marketing is destroying also the intergenerational process in which the superego (Überich) configures in a way to control the pure desire of the Id.

    Looked at it from this angle boredom is then indeed a symptom of a deficit! A deficit consumer capitalism is artificially creating to get the consumer hooked. To get into boredom-meditation could then become something like a detox-program. That would exactly be what I mean in “Meditation and Control” with “meditation as a weapon”.

    Do you know Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”? The line “Here we are now, entertain us” recurs several times in the refrain and in the end Cobain screams out the “denial” like a desperate curse. (and there’s a very good remake of this song by Patti Smith – strange, threatening… Patti leaves out the “denial”. Instead she puts in some extra lines. About the “Children of the junkyards! – Sleepy, illiterate, fuzzy little rats / haunted, paint-sniffin’/ stoned out of their shaved heads / Forgotten, foraging, mystical children / Foul-mouthed, glassy eyed, hallucinating.”

    Here we are now, entertain us.


    PerD, re #25. But Burroughs had some insights. Thanks for the quotation. Is the biography by Morgan good?

    Saibhu, re #28. Did you see this? Regarding romantic notions in western Neo-Buddhism Might also be interesting for others here.

    Michael, re #31. I am anything but a Heidegger expert and I am reading him in german. In german we have a “Heidegger Lesebuch” with a very good introduction and a collection of texts throughout his whole life. I don’t know about the Heidegger literature in english. I think a good introduction should be very helpful.

    Jayarava, re #33.

    It probably is time for a frontal assault on Buddhists using badly translated jargon that is divorced from personal experience.

    I appreciate if you do it, then I have more time to educate myself 😉

  44. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Jayarava (#41). I’m not sure if the Menken quote is meant to be a comment on #34 to Robert. If it is, I think it misses the point. I am not suggesting that there is anything like “the explanation of X,” just an explanation. Science might argue that we can speak of right or wrong explanations of physical processes. But I don’t think we can do so with social-cultural ones. We can, however, offer accounts that will identify certain features of some phenomenon and, from there, make the changes we think will improve things. Without a good account or explanation for why X is the case, we’ll probably just get stuck there.

    For example: The Buddhist priest I just spoke with for an hour spoke in ways that were wholly predictable to me–not only what he said, but the exact words he used to say it with. Same with the gesture he would use to greet and depart from me. His demeanor was one that I have seen 5000 times before. I knew before I met him exactly what he would look like, except for minor details. I would bet hard money that I could tell you many other things about this young man, such as his disinterest in politics; his deep desire for calm and equanimity; his limited knowledge outside of x-buddhism; his poor critical thinking skills; his respect for authority; his sense of mission to spread the True Law, and much more. If I were given the task to help him free himself from this binding predictability, my first step would be to provide an explanation for how he got that way in the first place. It would largely involve the activities that implicated him in affective and cognitive decision. That’s all I meant by “explanation” in #34.

  45. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel


    I think you under estimate Batchelor´s work. And your piece does precisely what you critique from x-buddhism: you are telling others how to think. The whole attitude throughout this blog is full of contradictions. Just as much as Batchelor´s work is. You talk about the real. Why not use the word concrete instead? But the real question is where does real change comes from? You and Glenn seem to suggest that the answer is from thinking, that is from critical thinking. I share Glenn´s dislike with regard to Gardners´work, however his reading of it is too light: Gartner never says that a sportsperson in a genius, he says that there are different ways of learning and the word multiple is there clearly for a reason. Yet another pathetic case of over simplification to justify what he wants to say.

    More and more I can see a great difference between people who have practiced and lived to pull out of it and those who have not. If you want to talk about buddhism, you really need to have practiced it. I have often said, originally by Glenn´s invitation, that the only thing my 10 years of zen buddhism gave me was the clarity of how destructive it is. But armchair criticizing of buddhist practice lacks value in that it is only theoretical, from the outside. Glenn has an advantage over you and Pepper; he has been truly inside the practice for long, passionately so. He does cuts through these blog pages with the precision that skillful -now critical – buddhist practice gave him. He is an expert buddhist practitioner.

    I like your honesty though. The part about the mindfulness of a prostitute is simply excellent. Also I think you and Pepper have a point about boredom. We live a culture of denial of suffering/angst/death/time where anesthetics play the biggest part. The very human project of escaping time is at the root of buddhism and all other religions. At the root of zen buddhist concepts such as buddha nature and rebirth. You don’t find that in Batchelor´s work, actually he does quote Heidegger’s being-in-world concept in COBA.

    New thinking? Perhaps. But not per se. It may lead, or actually it may represent a fictional problem in itself. And fictional problems are and old problem, especially in philosophy.

    Give us concrete problems. What are we concretely solving?
    Health, environmental sustainability, poverty, economic abuse, the lack of freedom, etc…

    Or is this another effort to try to save buddhism from itself?
    If so, my question is what for?

    Can’t we just accept the limits of communication, we can play all we want, but isn´t it just another narcissistic way of showing off our privileged positions in-the-world (well educated, with computers and internet, good buddhist knowledge, and time to write copiously)?
    We certainly need change, but of the concrete and for the better.
    Getting rid of dogma and essentialism is certainly useful.
    Elucidation-for-changing-the-concrete systemic and individual seems also useful.

  46. Matthias Avatar

    Saibhu, re #15

    Even in my small meditation group (5-20 people) there’s definitely somewhat of a hierarchy. Some people just know more about Buddhism than others (so far nothing bad). But to some extent this turns into a guru-student-relationship that is not restricted to Buddhism anymore.

    Jayarava, re #16

    You object to me.

    You appear to be quite painfully ignorant of the way social primates operate. The alpha guru is every bit a part of being a social primate. You want us to over-ride our humanity in a more naive, and potentially psychologically damaging way than Buddhists do. You argue for lots of little groups of one in which we all determine what’s best for ourselves, through curiosity. But that’s not how social animals do things.

    Jayarava, re #33

    I sat in a room full of relatively new Buddhists leading a discussion on the ariyasaccā last week and, fuck it all, I was ventriloquising the Dharma. I could hear myself doing it, and as much as I tried to bring it down to earth I was just not able to avoid bullshiting to some extent.

    This is all about communication and how it goes wrong in x-buddhism.

    First a question to Jayarava. You complain somewhere in this thread about people skimming throw texts and then objecting to what they think they understood. I appreciate that you read my text and that you responded in quite some length. I also find your reflections on your own order and your position in it insightful. That looks like one point where all this “x” vs. “non” can get more productive. But your objections against what you perceive as my position regarding interaction are absolutely not to the point. I make two polemical references in this text here to “chimps” and “gorillas”. I don’t know where from you draw your conclusions in the citation from #16. My I request that you read, and not only skim, my text No More Meditation?! Or, if you find this text not fitting your standards and therefore not readable, you stop making assumptions about what I try to say.

    Second, Jayarava, you feel insulted by my polemics, don’t you? Does this has to do with your own personal history about being very much interested in Buddhism, getting ordained and now being more and more disenchanted? Is it that you see that non-buddhism has something to say but it is a painful act to look at ones own contradictions? My anger certainly originates to a good part from being disenchanted, but I don’t think that being angry and disappointed about expectations one once had is necessarily bad. I lot of people seem to think that one never should show disappointment with a wrong decision one made. That is inhuman. The point is, one must get productive again. That’s right.

    You are certainly dissatisfied with the situation you describe in #33. You say you where “leading a discussion”. That is a situation where another knowledge comes in than that which is passed on in Buddhism. I don’t know the exact situation you where in but generally one could say in a “discussion” it is always possible by a moderator to frame it in certain ways. People have motivations to do certain things. They where “relatively new Buddhists” you say. Why do they want to be Buddhists? If you feel like not being able to “avoid bullshiting to some extent”, if you hear yourself “ventriloquizing”, then this is not something your knowledge forces you to do. It seems more like you simply don’t know how to have an informed conversation which finds a middle-way between “revolution” and “ventriloquizing”. I guarantee if you make people talk about their motivations and interests which take them to Buddhism and if you at the same time find ways to relate to them as somebody knowledgeable but not sitting on a high throne, if you get into a real conversation instead of a one-sided lecture, they will be satisfied in a very different way then usually.

    This is very general and therefore maybe useless. But it is about communication in groups and in this area Buddhism lacks a lot of knowledge. It is in buddhist groups that I saw the “alpha-guru” rise again and again. Group structures are often times centralized. Only certain forms of knowledge are allowed. There are tabus. – That is really primitive human behavior without any knowledge about creative interaction.

    I don’t think that hierarchy is necessary negative, cf. Saibhu’s quote. Indeed it might be unavoidable. Maybe it burns down to the question if somebody thinks his/her knowledge is sufficient – if somebody thinks that because he knows something he knows all.

    I would call for buddhist groups to really begin to make a difference in how the interact in their communities. To not avoid hierarchy but to avoid centralized, guruized, conversation. To experiment with different forms of conversation and interaction. To learn what we know about a good-hearted, open, creative but also (self)critical interaction.

  47. Matthias Avatar

    If you want to talk about buddhism, you really need to have practiced it.

  48. Matthias Avatar

    Hi Luis, re #45

    A disappointing posting of yours. Don’t know where you have the “armchair criticizing” thing from. You did “10 years of zen buddhism”. Very well. I experienced this a lot: If I am not bragging enough, people are not impressed. Jayarava makes the same point: I have no experience.

    And what puts my totally off is this sentence:

    If you want to talk about buddhism, you really need to have practiced it.

    I am sure you know what kind of Buddhism you have in mind I should have practiced.

  49. Matthias Avatar

    Luis, re #45 again and His Holiness Heidegger (henceforth HHH).

    Ok, I looked it up. What Batechlor has to say about Heidegger is next to nothing. Somehow, thirty years ago he was impressed by him because HHH solved everyhting from the “Seinsfrage” to the nagging problem of the subject/object dichotomy. Fine. But then it all boils down again to only understand the Gotama in the right way:

    [T]he existentialist philosophers can provide a helpful bridge, especially to a modern reader puzzled by the jargon of Buddhism, to understanding the relevance of Gotama’s discourse in the Pali Canon to their lives. (COBA, p. 145)

    That is a striking example of the principle of sufficient buddhism. And no question about the whole hermeneutical problem which unfolds here – that we, in this way, perhaps simply see Existentialism and not Buddhism. That in this way a possible anachronism forms. No, it is all about how to understand this mysterious discourse. Batchelor seem to have stopped with HHH for then to turn back to Buddha. He doesn’t “work” with HHH in COBA. Nothing happened in the last 30 years.

    I have to make one point here: I think Heidegger with his text “Grundstimmung” is a good example to work with a, more or less, contemporary thinker who engaged in activities resembling certain forms of ‘meditation’. But I think this can only be part of a curriculum to engage with our tradition. I am myself in the middle of this process and maybe I get it wrong sometimes. But one thing seems clear to me: Phenomenology alone isn’t enough. First, it runs into the problem how to ground itself what at last leads to pure solipsism. Second, it ignores with its unique view from within cognitive forces which clearly effect it but which it cannot perceive.

  50. Tom Pepper Avatar

    At the risk of insulting those who have practiced the various x-buddhisms, I have to say that I find the privileging of the “former monk” absolutely idiotic. I could see immediately, even in my teens, that Tibetan Buddhism was a silly set of superstitions that served primarily as a ideology for a horrendously oppressive aristocratic oligarchy; I didn’t need to spend eight of ten years as a monk to figure that out. Why is being slow to grasp the obvious a sign of greater wisdom in the Buddhist world? In any other field, it would be a sign of stupidity. Nobody would assume that a present-day scientist who took twenty years to abandon the Aristotelian four-elements theory must be wiser and more deserving of our attention than the scientist who never believed it in the first place.

    Of course, I still DO practice Buddhism, and have no plans to stop, so maybe I’m the dimmest bulb of all.

  51. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Luis Daniel (#45). Yes, Gardner does speak of the “creative genius” of the sportsman. I don’t have a copy of his work in front of me; but I read him and debated him with others in the early nineties. I’m going by my memory.

    About “concrete problems.” I appreciate your commentary on the blog. I think you need to move past your concrete(good)/abstract(bad) dichotomy, though. You were not born with the desire and motivation to help build roads and hospitals for the poor. You acquired that desire through your interaction with society and culture. You heard words spoken, your read words, you had conversations, you fantasized, you were inspired by the examples of others whether in real life or films, and so on. We could say two things about this, both of which amount to the same thing. (1) Abstractions are just as potent, because just as real, as the concrete. (2) The abstract is just a modulation of the concrete. Everything that I named–and everything that you could name that formed you as a person who likes to do real, concrete things–occurs through material structures. Matthias’s essay–his printed words–are concrete, real things: they have social-cultural force. Same with your conversation with Matthias. Concrete-abstract is only helpful to a extent. Then it gets in the way of what’s actually happening in social-cultural life.

    About practicing x-buddhism. The rhetoric of “long practice” is x-buddhistic through and through. The idea that we continue to learn things about it over time and see ever-more deeply into it isn’t really my experience. Again, I think what you say is true to an extent; bit not to the extent that x-buddhism would have us believe. We need to factor in issues such as a person’s maturity, prior experience, motivation, and lots of other stuff, don’t you think? Maybe the fact that I stuck around zendos and spent god knows how much time, energy and money getting a Ph.D. in Buddhist studies just attests to my foolishness or outright idiocy. Really, if you are intelligent, it doesn’t take much interaction with x-buddhism–or any system, if you ask me–to figure out the structure and thrust of things.


  52. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel

    Matthias, re #49

    I don’t know how many books about buddhism and existentialism you may have written or read, but back in 1983 Batchelor published Alone with Others. An existential Approach to Buddhism, you can check it too. Next in 1990 he wrote The Faith to Doubt. Glimpses of Buddhist Uncertainty. After that Buddhism Without Beliefs, Verses from the Center on Nagarjuna´s work, and Living With the Devil about the importance of Mara. And regarding COBA, it is full of well grounded criticisms of conventional buddhism from within. Including a frightening chapter about the Dalai Lama named Gods and Demons, where of all places, he quotes for the only time in his book my hero Richard Rorty, and explicitly introduces pragmatism. I say explicitly because his work is fully tainted by it. The same applies to existentialism; it is embodied throughout his work, no need to mention Heidegger too many times. I think the man deserves better. If you have been carried over by your affections to Glenn here, by the punch-batchelor game, well, I am not sorry to bring that little light to you. I respect you and quite appreciate what you write. But you make yourself a disservice, from my point of view, by generalizing and attacking his work in this unserious way. You could easily make a treatise of the important parts of his work. Knowing his work I can criticize him more properly, but that means having read, understood and followed his thinking, or as you say, having worked with his work.

    Perhaps this is something to meditate about instead of boredom. I sincerely hope I have made some type of service by touching a sensitive issue for you.

    I intend no lecturing nor diminishing in any way your practice and much less suggesting in any form what you should practice.

    And I am not referring to having been a monk, I am referring to having applied a sincere effort from within a sangha for at least ten years: becoming a formal student of a teacher, 7 days 16 hours a day sesshins, having been a cook, reading and loving dogen, beloving your teacher, fearing your teacher, becoming a passionate vegetarian, trying to solve sangha problems, pushing forward the whole group from within, loving you peers and hating them as well, crying of soul deep existentialist pain at 4 o’clock in the morning out in the snow in the middle of a sesshin, passing a 50 or 60 koans, visiting other sanghas, bla bla bla. And then desintoxicating yourself from all of it, keeping the sensitivity, directness, honesty, and the good reference of “reentering the world.”

    It is not a matter of how long you were there, it is a matter of how skillful and committed you became. And then killed the beast.

    I hope my questions don’t go unanswered.

    Why not use the word concrete instead?

    New thinking? Perhaps. But not per se. It may lead, or actually it may represent a fictional problem in itself. And fictional problems are and old problem, especially in philosophy.

    Give us concrete problems. What are we concretely solving? Health, environmental sustainability, poverty, economic abuse, the lack of freedom, etc…

    Or is this another effort to try to save buddhism from itself? If so, my question is what for?

    Can’t we just accept the limits of communication (this whole exchange is a good oportunity), we can play all we want, but isn´t it just another narcissistic way of showing off our privileged positions in-the-world (well educated, with computers and internet, good buddhist knowledge, and time to write copiously)?

    We certainly need change, but of the concrete and for the better. Getting rid of dogma and essentialism out of the way of elucidation-for-changing-the-concrete systemic and individual seems useful.

  53. saibhu Avatar

    Matthias (43),

    the essay is indeed quite interesting.

    It describes the different narratives used by Buddhism and by Romanticism (which is derived from Christianity and influenced Western Psychology).

    This could be a explanation for the fact that Buddhism often “doesn’t work”. The Romantic narrative is so deeply embedded in our culture that the problem we try to solve is totally different from the one Buddhism pretends to solve. The essay suggests that Buddhism in a therapeutic context may even be harmful because people get confused.

    I remember some place on “Der UnBuddhist” that it’s not about enlightenment but about “being Human” (Mensch sein). That’s exactly the Romantic narrative. Not surprising that Buddhism doesn’t offer much to achieve this.

    Glenn wrote in “On the Faith of Secular Buddhists”

    Batchelor is doing exactly what he asks us to believe he is not doing; namely, creating “just another modernist reconfiguration of a traditional form of Asian Buddhism” (pp. 3-4).

    The SBA-crowd argued that this doesn’t affect them, because they don’t follow Stephen Batchelor, but they definitely do a lot of Western Psychology.

    Thus, if we follow Payne and Unno the accusation even becomes stronger: The whole Happy-through-meditation-and-mindfulness-thing is not even creating a new form of Asian Buddhism, but simply the next configuration of the same old christian narrative (which – by the way – may be the more promising approach).

    […] the resulting convergence – Buddhism interpreted as psychology – has the appearance of being valid, when it is actually little more than an elaborate petitio princii fallacy: […]

    (Source: “Individuation and Awakening: Romantic Narrative and the Psychological Interpretation of Buddhism,” Richard K. Payne, in Mark Unno, ed., Buddhism and Psychotherapy across Cultures: Essays on Theories and Practices, Wisdom, 2006.)

  54. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel

    Glenn # 51,

    I helped founding and developing a private school based on Gardner´s ideas where my oldest son went to for a couple of years in the 1990s. And well, the whole point is about ways of learning, never about one of the intelligences in its own.

    Thanks for the point about the concrete. The concrete is also a product of culture, but some descriptions of it in order to change it can be less useful. I agree with you that in a way that language is concrete. However the thing is how useful and for whom are these descriptions, both the ones we learned and the ones we create.

    Is discussing about x-buddhism useful? Perhaps so, perhaps not. Once again the question is why? Let´s engage the hard thinking mode? Why why why?

    I have recently through and through defended what happens here, as something actual and fresh.

    I think you have achieved what Batchelor intended but was afraid to push through.

    Why don’t you move beyond the non-buddhism – buddhist dichotomy as well?

    I am not sure you will be able to do that in the long run.

    I would be glad to help and try in any case.

  55. Matthias Avatar

    Luis, re52

    I would prefer my sermon to be read as mainly the question about two different mindsets and not as a Batchelor-bashing. With him in mind I ask in the text why there is no response to Glenn’s critique? The ‘discussion’ we saw following Schettini’s non-response was useless. I think we can leave the topic here. Perhaps the last question I would have is the one I hinted at in #49: The phenomenology of HHH alone isn’t enough, did Batchelor went along with the development in thinking in our culture since HHH or did he just turned back to Buddha again?

    Then there is suddenly the question of legitimation. Do I have to practice roman Catholicism to criticize the Pope? Do I have to practice meat-eating to criticize it? Do I have to practices alcoholism to become sober? Do I have to practice Buddhism? What legitimation do I have to speak about Buddhism? It’s in the sermon:

    When I took a look into Buddhism it soon became clear to me that Buddhism must implode at some point. It has built-in its own annihilation. It is about the mind and its creativity; and in no way is it about certain cultural artifacts like mantras, weird clothing, having permission to teach in a certain tradition, having practiced mechanically this or that for long periods of time—that is all a betrayal. When the Tibetans speak about a certain super-secret kind of refuge, this is simply about the mind, consciousness, awareness, the being right here in a situation.

    I mean it. I found traces of this in mahamudra and dzogchen. Not in the goofy versions sold today. Especially in the semde-tradition of dzogchen. I am still absolutely enthusiastic about it.

    I come to this from a very different angle than you. I see absolutely no need for “reentering the world.” I never saw a reason to leave it.

    At last, about legitimation again, I have to ask what legitimation all those legitimate Buddhists have to talk about Buddhism? Are they legitimate? How can I see it? Do they have diplomas hanging at the walls of their gompas? Can they sit longer than me? Is it that they can decipher Pali? Can they drink more than me? Do they see ghosts, do they go through walls, is it about sitting four-thousand meters above sea-level in a bloody cold cave dreaming about central heating?

    What makes a wise person wise?

    Regarding new thinking. How about something practical, concrete for the real people?

    I would call for buddhist groups to really begin to make a difference in how they interact in their communities. To not avoid hierarchy but to avoid centralized, guruized, conversation. To experiment with different forms of conversation and interaction. To learn what we know about a good-hearted, open, creative but also (self)critical interaction.

    How about Buddhists changing their behavior in their groups. To change they would have to think differently. There you have it both: New thinking & new interaction. The result … another Buddhism… who knows. Anyway, if interaction is to change new thinking has to take place. This is very practical, a concrete problem and for real people.

  56. saibhu Avatar

    Glenn (12),

    my thoughts are still incomplete and unstructured, but I won’t be able to get them in a better shape soon, so here they are.

    My basic idea is: If we drop the “How to live your live”-aspect in Buddhism, what remains? If we, as Westerners, really are looking for the solution of a problem (from Romanticism) Buddhism doesn’t even care about, why are so many people still there?

    In the following I assume: For the same reason we eat ice-cream. Just for the fun of it! For the joy and the comfort Buddhist practice provides.

    Surprisingly often people admit that they’re there for the joy/fun/comfort of it (somehow Stephen Schettini does in “So What?”, Ajahn Brahm, one of the most popular Theravada-Monks in the West also does).

    Assuming most people are into Buddhism because of this in the first place, why not drop everything else?

    So far I thought of the following benefits of doing this:

    – No moralizing anymore. I know people who feel guilty, when they didn’t do the mindfulness “homework”. If we put mindfulness in the same category as going-to-the-movies/eating-ice-cream this obviously becomes ridiculous. If you enjoy it, do it, if not just don’t.
    – No (less) need to justify fun. Buddhists sometimes seem to be afraid of admitting that they are there for the joy of it. They build beautiful retreat centers but then they have to emphasize that “it’s not about the beauty”. Imagine a gardener who says it’s not about the beauty of all the flowers – simply ridiculous.
    – Part-time Buddhism. The ice-cream-guy doesn’t tell you how to live your live. A fun-Buddhism wouldn’t tell you to be compassionate or to maintain equanimity all the time. You’d just do that for the fun of it, and only when it’s appropriate (to have fun).

    A Buddhism like this seems like a perfect match for the capitalist system we live in. So it’s quite surprising that Buddhism isn’t like that already (of course, in part it already is).
    Well, there are definitely disadvantages for both leaders and followers, pas sérieux and trop sérieux, when fully committing to this.

    For the leaders there’d be a massive loss of moral superiority: Once you abandon compassion (unless it’s fun) they’d lose a lot of superiority. Abandoning the principle of sufficient Buddhism also means abandoning the principle of sufficient Buddhist teachers. You’d not selling “wisdom” anymore but simply “ice-cream”. Consequently you’d have to justify everything on a completely different basis. They also would have more competition (“ouch, the ice-cream guy is attacking us!”).

    For the followers there’d be a follower-version of the loss-of-moral-superiority. Additionally there’d be a “loss of ‘hope’”. Once you admit that Buddhism only can give you temporal joy (like eating ice-cream), is not “sufficient” at all, doesn’t provide a solution for *your* problem (whatever that might be), you’d be left alone with the problem. Not very comforting…

    So far my thought. I’m not sure whether this makes any sense or complete bullshit. Anyhow, I enjoyed the little Gedankenexperiment.

  57. Matthias Avatar

    Dear Jayarava, re #16 once more. I think you will not answer this. You do not seem to be the dialogical type of guy. But any way, I put this in just for the record.

    You mentioned David Chapman‘s “Consensus Buddhism” and I indeed took the time to take a look at it. David defines Consensus Buddhism, or American Consensus Buddhism if you prefer (ACB), as something like “a systematization of the hippie ethos” (cf.). This might be an interesting topic to develop – if somebody really would develop it. But what follows from David’s definition and description is not what you say: ACB ≠ x-Buddhism. Correct is =>

    ACB ⊂ x-buddhism

    American Consensus/Consumer Buddhism is a subset of x-buddhism.

    You or David may not be practicing ACB, but David, for example, is clearly practicing x-buddhism. His “Reinventing Tantra” seems to be just that. How is it with you? Rereading your post makes me wonder if it is in part simply an act of defense.

    What is your position? You are writing well informed texts. You are critical. In your most recent text you end with the question, what are the implications that reincarnation is no longer plausible?

    For whom is this still a question? It is a question only for those who thought to have found good shelter in the bay. But now the storm threatens to throw you on the riff. Good shelter is a trap now. You will be crushed to pieces. If you don’t find a way to the open sea you will be ship-wrecked in no time. Cut off the anchor, set sail, ride out the storm. Hold fast.

  58. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel

    Matthias # 55

    This is more about performance. You can’t talk your way to play well in a jazz concert. The same applies to the organizational experience and skills required to organize a practice group. Receiving a group of people for an hour and lecturing or even engaging in dialogue with them or simply writing here is one thing. Addressing responsibilities and consequences of concrete actions within a group in a permanent way is quite another.

    Performance related and other questions

    Should the list of payments by the group members be fully exposed to others, half so or not exposed at all?
    Who organizes the storage area after buying the food for a retreat?
    Who cleans each area?
    What are the rules in this community?
    Who decides what should be included in a bulletin or website or blog and why?
    Who writes and defines the contents of all signs within the place -this wouldn’t be important for you or anyone here I suppose?
    Who deals with the neighbors?
    Who defines what the contents of an introductory workshop should be?
    Who represents the group and why?
    Who is allowed to teach and why?
    How do we learn as a group?
    How do we solve conflicts as a group?
    Should there be issues to be dealt with privately?
    Is a library important?
    Should the food be vegetarian?
    If so, to what extent?
    Should it be organic?
    Should the group promote the use of sustainable energy?
    Would there be any rituals?
    What legal form should the group have?
    How often should the board of directors be appointed?
    Who appoints the board of directors?
    Should the money of the group pay for the expenses of the teacher?
    What would you do with the seniors versus the beginners regarding repeated discussions?
    Why would the group name itself buddhist at all?
    Would you have an assistant?
    If so, with which responsibilities?
    Would it be a group based on badiou and laruelle´s teachings?
    How would the group deal with badious and laruelles essentialism and dogma?
    How would you differentiate collective impositions from collective consciousness?
    How would you address no-self in practical terms with respect to any decision making?
    What about succession, who would replace wallis?
    Would his writing be the center of the teachings?
    His early writings or his late writings?
    What would happen when the first legal suit comes in against any of tom´s potential aggressions?
    How would deep dissent be handled?
    Who says what is official t/here?
    who will deal with -now clear to me- the positive unintended consequences of this blog – i.e. creating a new form of budhism that is not what wallis wants?
    What would you do with psychopaths or extremists when they apply to the group?
    How would you deal with fanatics within the group?
    How would you learn to be aware and avoid your own thought illusions -heuristics-?
    How do you deal with thought illusions in this blog?
    How can you benefit from batchelor´s work?
    How do you avoid self-validation here?
    How do you avoid group self-validation here?
    Since there is no self, how can you self-validate?
    Who validates?

    Some of the obvious heuristics and affections here

    Truth is objective because I say so
    If it’s derived from laruelle´s writings is ok
    If laruelle says badiou is the most important philosopher alive it is so
    Badious writing are seminal
    Secular buddhism is a variation of traditional budhism
    Batchelor´s work is not critical and is self-suffcient
    Batchelor´s work supports capitalism
    Capitalism is bad in all its forms and should be entirely replaced
    Individual rights are the cornerstone of capitalism
    Freedom is an illusion
    So is democracy -very little tiny space left from the market you said
    Wallis has the last word in every subject
    Mindfulness, traditional and consumer buddhism is all worthless
    Heidegger was a genius
    Ideology is the matrix of personal beliefs which are illusory
    Don’t have to practice something in order to be able to criticize it
    Buddhism should be political
    Buddhism is important and is worth being rescued by you
    Speculative non-buddhism is not self-sufficient
    New thinking is what is most important
    No need for self-criticizing (“critics don’t get it right even after a year”)

    The unintended good effect

    This blog is fresh and actual
    Complete freedom of expression
    Direct brutal confrontation
    The importance of direct interaction – as opposed to no direct interaction with Batchelor
    Radical criticism of traditional buddhist practitioners – this is where this blog departs from batchelor
    Indirect co-formation of those who manage to engage and do so in the long term
    Provide another perspective besides that of Batchelor

    The unintended bad effect

    Almost absolute self-validation of the mission and contents of so called speculative non-buddhism
    Very little change for wallis, pepper and you
    Repetition of laruelle´s and badiou´s work
    Inability to construct a concrete proposition
    Long term isolation

    The irrelevant effect

    More attention

  59. Matthias Avatar

    Luis, re #58

    It seems from your list that you have in mind a certain kind of group which is developing here and that you have in mind a certain re-presentation how the people engaged here think and interact.

    You seem to think of a kind of centralized group around Glenn Wallis as a leader and with a certain dogma composed out of thoughts of the “essentialists” Laruelle and Badiou and the “genius” Heidegger. There is quite some insinuation in your list. For example “Truth is objective because ‘we’ say so.”

    This shows that you don’t get it what this is about.

    This here is about – in my opinion! – changing the point of view. About the ability to do this and about how to develop this ability. I presume that you, for example, or Jayarava very well realize this but that you affectively reject this de-centering. Jayarava will stay with Triratna and you with Batchelor. You both seem to think in terms of a center of gravitation which is needed to build a working group. You are obviously unable to think other then in terms of your group leader or what ever is the transcendental glue which determines your experience. You take it for granted that there is only your experience – otherwise you could not construe this re-presentational picture about ‘us’. What you do not realize is that this here is about the insight that there can be another experience. What you reject as anathema is the theoretical insight that there can be practically another experience. This theoretical insight is very well pictured in Laruelle’s comparison of ‘his’ non-philosophie to non-euclidian geometry. The axiom about the parallels isn’t necessary.

    Your responses and the ones of Jayarava show that you are still beholden to the axiom of a centralized, hierarchical organized structure of thinking which is always lead by a supreme genius. This is the regression of x-buddhism I mention several times in the text. For example how does it come that you think Laruelle or Badiou or Heidegger is essential reading here? It is because obviously you think that opinions which are formed here are to be held as obligatory for everybody else. Who said that this is so? Nobody. So then where does this opinion comes from? It is your projection.

    At last I have to say, it is frustrating, for example, that after quite some words I wrote about Heidegger in this thread, for you it is that somehow here for ‘us’ “Heidegger was a genius.” Did you read what I wrote in the last third or so of my text and in the thread? Obviously not. So what do you think I should do? Arguing with your opinion which ignores my argument?

  60. Peter K Avatar

    Jayarava #33 says

    We say we understand words like vinnana, sankhara or khandha, but do we? I don’t really understand any of these words anymore, though I’m pretty sure they don’t map onto our translations of them.

    Yes, the five khandhas. There seem to be many different translations of the Pali into English and many intricate attempted explanations of what they mean exactly. Which has recently set me wondering:

    Are there truths about humans that are only expressible in a particular language? For example, in Pali rather than English? Or to put it another way, do we operate under a presumption of “sufficient language”? Is English actually a sufficient language to express human truth?

    (Leaving aside that the five khandhas seems to me a pretty clunky way of analysing the human being. Why these particular aspects? For example isn’t lumping everything physical under “rupa” a bit, well, simplistic? Without getting all scientistic, surely even neuroscience has a more subtle approach than this? Isn’t the Buddhist approach a bit…dated?)

  61. Matthias Avatar

    Peter K, re#60

    Hello Peter, you ask

    are there truths about humans that are only expressible in a particular language? Do we operate under a presumption of “sufficient language”?

    We had this discussion with Brahmali Bhikkhu recently. One of my argument against The Original Word of the Buddha was that we cannot be sure if ‘they’ then had the same form of identity we have today. Your question formulates, in my opinion, an important part of the problem. If identity is really formed in part or entirely by language it is only logical to ask if different languages lead to different forms of identity. With identity I mean here the form of being in the world, “forming truths about humans”.

    Thinking seems very much to be influenced be different languages. Lera Boroditsky, professor of psychology, neuroscience and symbolic systems at Stanford comes to the following conclusion about language and its defining charckter regarding experience:

    “Language is central to our experience of being human, and the languages we speak profoundly shape the way we think, the way we see the world, the way we live our lives.” (p. 129 in What’s Next, edited by Max Brockman)

    Boroditsky gives a lot of examples how different languages lead to different cognitive representations of the world. One is about certain Aboriginal communities in Australia and their relation to spatiality. They always relate to spatiality in terms of cardinal directions. They do not say “this is on my right side”, but they say “this is on my eastern side” (or which ever direction is on their ‘right’ side). When they are given cards which represent a short story with the task to lay out the story in the correct order, they always lay it out from east to west. We would lay it out from left to right. Hebrews from right to left.

    This example seems trivial but it has consequences. How do such people relate to the world? They position the world not relative to them but they are positioned in the world. Maybe that is like Augustinus’ “being the thought of God”. It is a very different being in the world. Can we really imagine how such a being is?

    I think there is the possibility that certain truths can only be expressed in certain languages and that therefore our regular language is not sufficient. I am sure that this is enough to be very skeptical about what knowledge we can gain from other cultures thousands of years apart from us. It means also that new knowledge is not only a question of substantiality but also of form.

  62. Tom Pepper Avatar

    RE 60 & 61:

    I would still argue that a “truth” can be expressed in any language–at least, any language can be “forced” to acknowledge it (this doesn’t mean there won’t be resistance, or that such attempts at expression never fail). However, this only applies to truths about mind-independent reality, which range from the laws of the physical world to the nature of symbolic systems. What cannot be translated are ideologies–the construing of the “world” that is humanly created and so much MORE impermanent than biology or chemistry; of course, sometimes these can be translated too, but if something simply remains untranslatable that is because it is ideological. There is still great value in understanding these ideologies, in studying how other groups of humans have constructed their relation to the real conditions of existence, to see what works and what doesn’t but also to see the limits of our ability to adapt to different “cultures” (ie, just what IS our genetically constructed “nature” and what is “culture”).

    Langauge does shape our perceptions of the world–as Boroditsky’s statement says. It shapes what we know about the world and how we experience it–but it doesn’t change what is in the mind-independent world. Any language can be made to name a tree easily enough, but our attitude toward that particular kind of plant is not necessarily translatable. There are terms in Buddhist texts that clearly are meant to refer to culture-specific ideological formations/concepts, not “truths”, and sometimes we just cannot come up with an English equivalent no matter how we try. This isn’t much of a concern for getting at the truth–except if the truth we are trying to get to is the truth of the history of ideological formations.

    We also need to keep in mind the importance of the “imaginary” register. There are culturally constructed experiences of the world that are not part of language, that have meaning but not symbolic meaning. The world is a different place if we live in individual rooms, with carefully guarded personal space, than it is if we live in a communal lodge were everyone eats and works and sleeps in the same space. The way we sit (on the ground, on chairs, on benches), the kinds of clothes we wear, even cultural norms regarding how close to someone we stand when speaking to them, shape our experiencing of the world. These can’t be “translated,” because they have no “truth” in the sense of mind-independent existence, but they have meaning, and the social meaning of such non-symbolic experiencing of the world CAN be explained and understood in any language–we may not want to, we may try to exclude such meaning from our “world”, but it could be done.

    The question is, is English as it currently exists a sufficient language to construct a useful ideology.

  63. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Saibhu (#56).

    In a way, your idea of “fun” buddhism reminds me of the debates we used to have concerning “lifestyle” and “social” anarchism. Advocates of the former doubted the prospects of widespread anarchists social structures. They thought we should just concentrate on personal behavior–language usage, shopping choices, maybe volunteerism. As far as I could tell, they were in it for the sense of moral pleasure that ensued from theor lifestyle choices. Social anarchists really believed in the possibility of things like social reorganization and the abolition of class. My interest in social anarchism back then (this was in the late-1970s to mid-1980s) was almost purely limited to abolishing unjustifiable hierarchism. That is still my interest. Abolishing unjustifiable hierarchies has real and far-reaching impact on social structures. (Note the importance of the term “unjustifiable.”) Murray Bookchin’s classic article “Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm” might be worth a look in this regard.

    I see something similar happening in contemporary x-buddhism. Matthias discusses an important aspect of this when he speaks of the alignment between x-buddhism and the entertainment industry, or even more broadly, between x-buddhism and those many structures that struggle with one another for our attention. X-biddhism can certainly be a sort of adjunct to Disney Land and prime-time TV. It may even appear totally harmless in this role. But my interest in x-buddhism involves extracting from it potent means for change. I profoundly dislike popular culture. I think it just makes it easier for the people around me to remain stupid and shallow, not to mention complicit in an inhumanely unfair social-economic system. I am not an American patriot. I despise my country. I think the amount of wealth we are able to create shows our American genius. But by the same token we show our idiocy in our inability to manage it equitably. So, I may be a party-pooper, but in my few moments of consciousness, I will look to x-buddhism for something more than, or other than, fun.

    That’s not to say that there is no place for something like aesthetic pleasure in our choices–no matter how “serious” those may be. But I have to run–Feierabend!, meint meine Frau . . .

  64. saibhu Avatar


    there’s one difference that might play a role here: My “fun” buddhism doesn’t pretend to lead to any “change”. Quite the opposite, it is totally stripped of any “deeper meaning”.

    “Fun” buddhism wouldn’t have to align to the entertainment industry, it would be part of it. Of course, this wouldn’t change anything, but it would make certain things more explicit.

    I wonder how many people enter Buddhism for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with Buddhism (see e.g. the responses of various Secular Buddhists, or the mix of Romanticism and Buddhism). “Fun” Buddhism would resolve this issue partially, because it wouldn’t be a “full time” thing. If we – I’m refering to “Un-Mindful Collusion” here – assume that equanimity prevents change, then fun Buddhism would make it explicit that equanimity might be pleasant and there even might be a need it, but that this need shouldn’t define how we interact with the world.

    Anyways, it’s still a plain Gedankenexperiment and if you’re interested in change within Buddhism it’s probably not very interesting.

  65. Matthias Avatar

    Saibhu, re #53

    I still haven’t read the text and I lay the whole topic aside until later (or until I get the book I ordered). But the topic is very important indeed and I just want to mention this in regard to your posting.

    I think your conclusion and what follows from this topic is dynamite.

    The whole Happy-through-meditation-and-mindfulness-thing is not even creating a new form of Asian Buddhism, but simply the next configuration of the same old christian narrative.

    To add a few pounds of explosive one can think of a hypothesis Donald S. Lopez puts forward in his book “Prisoners of Shangri-La”. The book is about Tibetan Buddhism but one can ask if one of the main hypotheses couldn’t by true for other kinds of Buddhism which also transmutated to the West.

    It is not only that our Buddhism is suffused with western values and fantasies, it could be that this western Buddhism reflects back onto eastern Buddhism and changes it according to its western offspring. The latter is the hypothesis put forward by Lopez. He shows this for example regarding the so called “Book of the Dead” and regarding the Dalai Lama.

    C.G. Jung’s reception of the “Book of the Dead” shows how Jung projected his own psychological thinking into the text. To this strange hermeneutics adds the fact that he was using the first rendering of the text in a western language (english) which could barely called a translation. Non the less “The Book of the Dead” is famous since then. Today even the Dalai Lama calls it “The Book of the Dead” – although this title has nothing to do with a convolute of texts which was arranged in this particular order for the first time with this first western edition.

    The real dynamite chapter is the last one in the book in which Lopez shows how the Dalai Lama incorporates western (Buddhist) values into his brand of Buddhism. He shows for example that a certain reception of a western concept of “culture” is informing the self-image of the Tibetans. From the many elements which formed the specifics of the various cultures which developed in the realms of the Tibetan ethnic area, the Tibetans in exile extracted one particular element and universalized it into an eternal essence: Compassion.

    This compassion has nothing to do with the realties in Tibet before the 1950s, but everything with post-WW2 romantic notions of peaceful living in the west. The german sociologist Jan Philip Remtsma has noted that one of the markers of civilization is the growing absence of autotelic violence (autotelische Gewalt). This is the form of violence which purely targets the destruction of the body of the delinquent. This form of violence/punishment has been practiced in Lhasa in one horrible incident in 1930 for the last time.

    Also the interim between the death of the 13th Dalai Lama and the ‘finding’ and education of the 14th has been an unbelievable time of selfishness, corruption, violence, poisoning and killing (even a mail-bomb was used by the first teacher of the Dalai Lama. Just think of that…). At last, 1947 if I remember right, there even was short civil war in and around Lhasa and one of the big famous Gelug monasteries was shelled with mortars by troops from Lhasa. One can go back in the history of Tibet and it will not become better – at least for the times of the Dalai Lamas.

    That compassion is a heritage from Tibetan Buddhism is far from being true. It is an import form the West to Tibetan Buddhism.

    I think this whole topic, not only regarding Tibetan Buddhism should be watched closely. It seems exactly as you say: In the end we are still Christians seeking salvation. Maybe we have not the least clue what Buddhism is.

  66. lux Avatar

    May I interrupt?

    I thought this was going to be a great piece pointing out the failures of Buddhist thinking.. and at times it sortof was.. but also at times people are so polite and apologetic that I, as a stranger to this page, wonder if you are all Buddhists trying to reform the faith.

    I have been studying Buddhism recently and find the Buddha’s observations so flawed I find them offensive. That’s how I ended up on this page. My line of thought went like this: I thought to myself “Buddha was a moron” and then typed it into google to see if anyone else had said such a thing… to my surprise there were no hits. This was as close as I could find.

    Why do I find the thoughts of “The Buddha” offensive?

    He claimed there was no self… but his own statements reveal nothing but an egotist (He actually said that if you want to see truth.. look at him).

    His reasoning for why there was no self.. was there simply was no “things” in this world.. because everything is in a constant state of change. First… the observation that everything is in a state of change is incredibly trite – and it would be 2500 years ago as well. This is not revolutionary. Second… simply because things are in a state of change does not in anyway mean that things do not exist in a defined form. It’s ridiculous simplistic word play and sophistry. It’s snake oil as religion. He claimed that to see yourself as seperate from everything else is an illusion. Wrong and right. The error is in his absoluteness. We are all seperate and all a part of one universal consciousness as well – it is not an either/or. The great humor of it all is many of his statements rebuke absolutes… yet he postulates absolutes all the time. He claims that the individual is an illusion… that there are no constants – that all things change… those are all absolutes — and guess what! Absolutes are unchanging. The whole of the philosophy collapses inward on itself in completely ridiculous hypocritical contradiction.

    Then there’s the mythical life of the Buddha – He had everything.. but it didn’t make him content. He then tried having nothing.. and it didn’t make him content. This guy is so obtuse that he actually had to experience these things to figure that out? The majority of us, the simplest of us even, already are aware of this without actually trying it out! Seriously.. we know of the entire “money doesn’t buy happiness” concept.. it just rents it.. and we definitely know that absolute denial won’t bring bliss. But then.. not only does he have to experience these things to come to the amazing realization that ‘whaddya know! They didn’t bring contentment or enlightenment!” but he then goes and sits under a damn tree and bam! He brands himself a spiritually enlightened figure… and he’s quite willing to tell you he is. (ego).

    Then there’s those 14 questions he refuses to answer… like if the world is eternal.. and claims he won’t answer them because, you know, they’re a waste of time to consider. Not al all like it isn’t thinly transparent that he JUST DOESN’T KNOW and the egotist that is “The Buddha” just can’t say “I DON’T FREAKIN KNOW”.

    Heck… I could go on forever. I could take every single Buddhist statement and point to the gaping obvious holes in the line of reasoning. Sure, he said some smart things.. here and there… but he gets far more credit that he’s due and the majority of his philosophy falls to pieces under any slight scrutiny.

    Anyway.. no one was pointing out these things – and they are what I wanted to hear…. so there, I said em.

    Carry on.

  67. Craig Avatar


    Interesting post. The more I read this site, the more I realize how, ironically, I was deluded in putting so much faith in these, so-called, self-apparent truths of x-buddhism. I will say, however, that there has always been a gnawing in my gut about it all, similar to when I started questioning Christianity. One thing I can’t seem to shake is the need for some sort of, lack of a better word, meditation. Can one practice aspects of x-buddhism and BE Non-Buddhist?

  68. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    Hi Lux, wellcome.

    I don’t know how much you have been looking around on the blog already. It is about the failure of Buddhist thinking today. That is why the piece I wrote is not so much about specific contradictions or failures. The blog is not about a reformation of Buddhist faith. The “X” and the “Non” as a prefix to “Buddhism” respectively denote a qualitative break. The “Non” of non-buddhism stands for, in my thinking, the making visible of the decision. This is the quality which differentiates is from the “X”. The “X” stands for the syntax which structures all Buddhist discourse, regardless what brand. There is certainly a break which separates the two. You will find an explanation here and more here in this text,Nascent Speculative Non-Buddhism. The decision can also described as ideology. You will find more explanation here.

    If you have been drawn to Buddhism for some reason and are put off now, it could be very well that you find here some reasons why this is so.

    The question of no-self is a hot topic here. The position here is, that there is no atomistic, single, separate, independent self. Instead it is a function of ideology which is always in constant interaction. The problem with Buddhism in this regard is that x-buddhism per definition relies on old scriptures as definite teachings to explain the phenomenon of self and that it disregards modern knowledge. This leads to the simplistic statements that you mention.

    The mythical life of the Buddha is a kind of folklore which developed over time. That the mythical figure of a Buddha is taken literally as a historical figure who said this and that, is a typical feature of x-buddhism. This mythical person/godhead is an important part of the decision. It’s kind of a transcendental figure which authorizes everything which is said in x-buddhism. It’s a kind super-flexible glue with which you can put together instantaneously new forms of Buddhisms. The only other components you need is dependent arising and samsara. Samsara is the world of shit, the first noble truth, and dependent arising is the rulebook how samsara functions. The Holy Glue Buddha sanctions all this with his blessings via transmissions through holy men all around the world which have a special connection to him… something like a direct line. (Like when you can call Obama directly in the oval office.) They then tell you how you can get out of this mess. The wired thing is, they define the world as a mess to then try to find a way out. As I read you, you see that this is more alike a Monty Python sketch than modern day insights.

    Anyway, what’s the mission statement here? In my personal view it is about the inbuilt implosive Buddhism has with it. If this is a anachronism, a projection on my side or if Buddhisim really had this feature in the good old days when Gautama ruled is no point of debate. In my view we are separated from anything 2500 years ago through an abyss of ideological difference. The mission is to radicalize buddhist notions as we perceive them now. This is done through making visible the decision, testing what remains of buddhist notions after decision is taken away/made visible, testing how they relate to modern knowledge, to then using what stands the test.

    Excuse my awkward english. I am a Kraut.

  69. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    Hi Craig, #67

    Can one practice aspects of x-buddhism and BE Non-Buddhist?

    Definitely. The only point is that practiced within a non-buddhist perspective it is no longer an aspect if x-buddhism.

  70. Mat Witts (@mat_witts) Avatar

    To answer the question, the answer I have is “some probably are” but I don’t necessarily agree with the some of the implications of the introduction or the critique or the subsequent comments as to the “who”, “where”, “why” and “how”. My first impression – yes – my first impression – then is of a rather obsessive trait of contributors doing little more than finessing trivial entailment – sidestepping more obvious ambiguities and mistakes and falling over convergences and conflations mostly ancillary to the central point(s) of contention – and to the detriment of the requirement to identify, examine and then begin and develop a coherent and helpful conversation on the apparent, weak underpinnings of the work. For example – to suggest that some person – (whether they are Buddhist or not is of course irrelevant) becomes “stupid” in limiting their expertise or genius to a particular domain is based on a rather degenerate presumption that ones capacity for processing information is determined by, correlated to or effected by the focus of our action(s) or on some ideological or practical adherence to x-buddhism. I am not aware of any Buddhist teaching or any contemporary studies in cognitive science that points to a diminishing intelligence with the process of what might be described as “self-actualization” (Maslow) or escalating our commitment to a specific set of religious practices. Of course we will have less time to broaden or deepen our knowledge, skills and learn new theories if we do choose to commit to being nothing but an x-buddhist – but I do not see why that would lead us to conclude that we have then been pushed back on some imagined spectrum of stupidity. In reality (which some might see as a quaint and sentimental attachment to an unexamined arrogance and an indication of a lack of common civility or humility – I say fuck you if you even think it is OK to critique a generally disagreeable and rude person like me like that) – You see, I just have not met anyone who would fit in the category “NOTHING BUT AN X-BUDDHIST” – so it is a merely a model – a straw model – and possibly even a tacit approval of some preliminary neo-fascist dogma – and in any case certainly a category dreamed up in the laboratory of one mans creativity – not an objective location, culmination of consensus or a category of thinking we should concern ourselves too much with since it cannot represent even a token of absolute or relativistic reality. Moreover, I find that a good allegory for this project – of which I realize that this piece is onlya small part – is like the story of “Mobro 4000”. Here we have english speaking, well-educated and intelligent people dumping information on what is nothing but a floating eyesore – a rudderless barge of odious, disgusting, anaerobic decay – garbage if you will – which makes it as fascinating as it is pointless – so here are a few suggestions – modify the CSS file so that words are double-spaced, promote simple english – limit the size of comments so they do not dilute or crowd out the original piece – introduce some peer review – review the naming and hierarchy of categories and minimize the risk of duplicating content and the need to constantly re-invent or worse – just make shit up everyday to feed the machine – it just comes across as weak and pompous. Depending on which internet you use there are about 250,000 words in the english lexicon and although contributors seem to have an excellent grasp of syntax I am guessing that – since our working vocabulary is optimally only about 10,000 words (again – depending on which internet you use) – a little more thought and care could be given to the vocabulary that is selected to enframe the conversations people feel they want to have here – conversations, from what I gather so far too often seems to borrow far too much from the canon of white, gentlemen philosophers – or at least white, european translations of Indian thinkers – and so admits very little of what might be a lesser afflicted, received experience into the forum – and this tendency always raises my suspicions as to honesty in our collective and individual intents and purposes. Thanks.

  71. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    Hi Mat Witts

    As far as I can see you make your critique explicit at only one point.

    To suggest that some person becomes “stupid” in limiting their expertise or genius to a particular domain is based on a rather degenerate presumption that ones capacity for processing information is determined by, correlated to or effected by the focus of our action(s) or on some ideological or practical adherence to x-buddhism.

    I met a lot of rather intelligent x-buddhists – the well educated physician for example who believes in literal reincarnation – which I would judge stupid in the sense that they limit their ability to understand the world to an arbitrary set of presumptions which function to support and form an ideology they are not aware of. With the definition of ideology which is used here, it should be clear what kind of stupidity is meant.

    I am not sure if your really understand what the “x” in in x-buddhist stands for. It stands for a decision to remain in a certain frame of thinking without considering there could be something outside this frame.

    I perceive the rest of your argument as a rather general objection – opinion without argument. You seem annoyed by my polemics and that’s ok. But your retaliation is “stupid” in itself:

    some preliminary neo-fascit dogma…

    Well, as a German who hasn’t slept through all history lessons I must indeed say: Fuck you! But if you you open this can of worms, why not further my argument? X-Buddhism, through its blindness in regard of its own ideological structure, through its decision to frame its intelligence in a too narrow way, is prey to authoritarian structures. In fact, a lot of x-buddhist sanghas are structured around a central figure (Guru, Lama, Roshi etc., you name it) which lays out what is allowed to talk about and what not. Can you see where this leads? The interesting point is, that today, like in German and Italian fascism, these authoritarian structures are regarded from the people adhering to them as freedom. I have seen people argumenting that the Shoa must have been the fault of the Jews, because of Karma blabla etc. Even Buddhist teachers are ‘intelligent’ enough to say things like this. So, I say to you, x-buddhism, with it’s indifferent stance towards economy and politics, is supporting a dangerous trajectory in our world today. A trajectory towards a kind of consumer-fascism. Absolute “gleichschaltung” seems to be achieved already.

  72. Mat Witts (@mat_witts) Avatar

    Matthias #71 Sorry, but your admitting to being “German” is not a precise enough description of the mereology of the characteristics that make up your persona to enable me to retort on a personal basis which would indeed be preferable. All I have are the words you have punched out here on your keyboard – so I suggest we stick to the confines of that and not open any cans, OK? OK. Firstly I am fine about my thinking you are wrong – on the other hand I detect a certain agitation in your initial response which you may attribute to the wrongness in my head – either way we must be cautious about the chances of making any further progress here since you are have clearly already taken your complaints in many wrong directions. Just as one example – your anecdote of the educated physician and the claim you have met “lots” of intelligent x-buddhists (in a worldwide population of – what – 400 million buddhists?) opens you up to the charge of misplaced vividness – one of the more common fallacies in the discourse I have encountered. To be sure, everything I think on this page is “opinion and not argument” since there appears to be very little opportunity to present evidence that would meet a more rigorous analysis. I actually have no quibble with your attitudes towards x-buddhists in general – which I believe I am sympathetic towards – but I am sure that the reasons I have are different to yours – mine are based on highly subjective, instincts, desires and aversions – and I do not feel the need to embellish my own prejudices in pseudo-ism like you are doing here – that is all. Taking on your definition of x-buddhist as being a matter of choice, it seems as though you think that will somehow countenance an argument based on what would otherwise be bang bigotry – so you plump instead to provide an extremely hostile, lopsided judgement as to who we can “ethically” select to put into that group and build up a rationale that “all x-buddhists are stupid” – that is why I am waving a flag here – because to judge any individual based on your interpretation of a vague and arbitrary set of standards as what stupid is or what stupid does is as close as we might get to prejudice without actually naming it conventionally like that. In fact – if we take away your prejudiced opinions there doesn’t seem to be any substance to this piece at all.

  73. Matthias Steingass Avatar


    you are funny: the only thing you have are punched out words. Nothing else, really? Are you just a reading machine?

    What do you think you transmit with notions like “Mobro 4000” or “neo-fascist dogma”? If you don’t get more specific I have to guess because I am not a reading machine: you are pissed by my text – and that is perfectly ok. I am polemic and you don’t like it.

    So what now? There is a background to my polemics which you are obviously ignorant of. You say:

    Taking on your definition of x-buddhist as being a matter of choice, it seems as though you think that will somehow countenance an argument based on what would otherwise be bang bigotry.

    Obviously you don’t know that the term x-buddhism is a very well divined term. Please look it up and come back.


  74. Mat Witts (@mat_witts) Avatar

    Matthias, if only to offer an amusing comparison; to contrast #73 and to reinforce the now internationally held myth that Germans have no disernible sense of humour I would say it might be safe to guess then that you are not funny (or perhaps keeping closer to the nomenclature preferred here it is I who should be summarily lambasted by contributors for my unexamined, x-comedic traits)? – but I freely admit to it creating this kind of hazard for myself by way of a guess quite willfully – in good faith if you will – and do so for two reasons – firstly to try and stem your otherwise stunted english literary flow towards an extended Ad Hom exchange which I would prefer not to have since it would only serve to divert the reader away from the obvious shortcomings in this work; and secondly the Tourniquet may inhibit the tendency for conversational hemorrhaging in electronic forms of communication due to everything from outright vindictiveness and weakness in contributors personalities to sporadic and reckless abuse of an over-developed Theory of Mind into unreliable domains – too often found at the “bottom half of the internet” and from that very place we are now in fact having this less than elevated conversation which I suspect will be terminated soon enough because, from memory (and to borrow from that average curmudgeon Tom Pepper) whom I generally consider to be almost as foolish as myself for wasting time on such a tiresome set of ideas I can at least gain some succourance from my belief that “time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time” (MTC) and I have yet to escalate my commitment to such insipid heights of pseudo-ism – As I can recall you are not actually arguing for or against anything explicit – and your writing lacks so much precision, richness, depth and scope that I would not be well disposed to reading it again without some form of other incentive being offered which, for some I admit odd reason (let’s call it gut instinct) I doubt you are willing or able to provide since it is already such a decidedly uncomfortable and challenging piece to read – and for the wrong reasons. So, strictly in terms of your misinterpretation of the semiotics on your VDU I did not suggest that my response relied on the “Nothing but” or “just” which is governed by the standard laws of Nirvana Fallacy that you have yet to disabuse yourself of – so let’s be clear – you did that all by yourself and this is perhaps indicative of someone who may have been seduced by buddhistic debating forums that has led to you being a carrier of the x-buddhist+ virus – in that you might in fact be hostile in some way to more nuanced logic – of which there is a surfeit online and this in fact seem to be the case when you say,

    There is a background to my polemics which you are obviously ignorant of

    . Well, not quite, what I have is this piece which in fact builds on that background which is symptomatic of what your adversaries might categorize rather naively as falling into some “bad spiritual company” – and which I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate appears to be nothing more than (yes – here I will use it) bigotry and prejudice based on a ridiculously small sample of x-buddhists. As I said – I am broadly sympathetic to the x-buddhist thesis -and although it feels a little contrived that is no reason to reject the fecundity of useful ideas that can be adapted to new framings – and so I am more charitably disposed towards the SNB project than you might otherwise also imagine. My lack of knowledge of x-buddhism and it’s definition I don’t think is so obvious – and you might also want to review what that definition is yourself – and whether or not it is relevant to my main criticisms of this polemo. Senso stricto it is rather the x-buddhist that seems to be the target and the definition is being finessed in such tiny increments elsewhere in rambling snippets of better quality polemic he/she is (as the rather crabby Tom Pepper will probably want to have it) creeping closer to a normative, magical, mythical and metaphorical interlocutor created in the mind of what – non-x-buddhists like yourself and Glenn target as part of a broader and more interesting horizon and manifesto for a movement that in itself is only ever likely to be of interest to those of us that are already probably well ahead of this particularly weak and meandering collective course of intellectual curves. This is definitely my last post here and can assure you that I will not be returning to this post so this at least gives you the free reign of thought you clearly crave and (more importantly for weaker philosophers) I have found – that all important last word. So, go on – fill your boots Matthias or better still – get your mate Glenn block my access to this site – the irony for me of being blocked by both SNB and its adversaries like Ajahn Sujatos blog would indeed be a beautiful end to a wonderfully inchoate and inauspicious middle to my career as a perennial, frayed-open-yellowish-grey-collared nonconformist and shameless self-promoter at the bellend of Dharma.

  75. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Mat (#74).

    get your mate Glenn [to] block my access to this site

    Why would I do that? Unlike virtually every other Buddhist-oriented (and, on your end, yoga-oriented) site, this is not a mutual-admiration society. What you have been writing here is about all we can expect in such a forum. What is that? An exchange in dialogue. Of course, as your main interlocutor, Matthias, indicates, your contribution may require a good deal of back and forth to reach anything like completeness. You say you’re finished here; so that means your dialogue is incomplete. It’s like walking out on your friend in the midst of a heated discussion.

    One point that Matthias gets right, though, is that your texts so far do not show an understanding of the project here.

  76. Mat Witts (@mat_witts) Avatar

    Glenn (#75),

    You say you’re finished here; so that means your dialogue is incomplete

    No it doesn’t – it means I’m through talking Matthias through his unexamined bigotry, or perhaps even if such recklessness is purposeful and directed then I am not interested in it and just for the record neither am I interested in completeness, which I believe is antithetical to any authentic philosophical project. In my view, there must always be room for words other than final words (Nozak?) Your simile of walking out on a friend also fails, because it is more like (in the sense it is exactly like) walking out on a stupid and arrogant person who embellishes wrong-thinking with pseudo-istic and sanctimonious assaults on the various low hanging fruits of “Dharma” (scary quotes added to illustrate this is not the only post I have read here).

    One point that Matthias gets right, though, is that your texts so far do not show an understanding of the project here.

    Not quite, you have not thought your response reaction well enough. I do have an understanding of this project, and merely because it appears not to be coterminous with you and your mates inchoate manifesto from the outset does not in fact nullify it, and is rather perhaps an exercise in wishful thinking on your part. Please note, it is also subject to change without notice, although going by the lack of rigour of some of the posts and other development issues relating to the overall use of the site, I am as hopeful as you must be that my support for it is likely to be withdrawn sooner than anticipated.

  77. Robert Avatar

    Re 70, You know what, I partially agree with Mat’s critique, in particular that the picture being painted of x-buddhists here frequently misses its target, is so cartoonish that it becomes unconvincing. After all, Tom Pepper, Sometimes…, Glenn Wallis ca. 2009, all more or less fit the x-buddhist descriptor, but none would recognize themselves in the post in question, for instance. Reading additional non-buddhist postings on this site will not change this.

    Personally I think an even more prominent defect is the inability to articulate why all this matters. Why get so riled up about x-buddhists, when there are so many other things wrong in the world that at face value seem much more harmful? Criticizing western buddhism does not seem to be particularly fertile ground for the cultivation of new thoughts if we neglect to provide a broader context. Just more of the very boring same. Especially since – as I have often argued here – non-buddhism is unable to substantially differentiate itself from x-buddhism.

  78. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Re #77: I’m trying (seriously) but I just cannot see your point here, Robert. In exactly what sense do you mean that those of us posting on this blog “more or less fit the x-buddhist descriptor”? You assert this, but don’t give an argument for it, so I can’t see what you mean by it.

    My take on the non vs. X difference is simply that x-buddhists are producing ideologies without knowing it, and the ideologies they are producing tend to be reactionary and pro-capitalist. I take myself to be producing ideology quite intentionally, fully aware that this is what I am doing, and the ideology I am attempting to produce is absolutely NOT pro-capitalist. The issue is one of being aware of the ideology we are producing, admitting that it is an ideology, a belief-in-practice which shapes and enables our actions in the world, and facing up to the broader economic, social, political implications of this ideology which is NOT a timeless natural truth.

    As for all those other things–well, I don’t think any of us have ever said we shouldn’t also get riled up about them. We are simply trying to weaken or undermine one practice (there are many others) which many people (who consider themselves intelligent, liberal, and socially engaged) use to avoid thinking, politics, and the obligation of social action. There, I’ve articulated why this matters. I don’t think it anyone is trying to suggest it is the ONLY thing that matters.

    Non-buddhism is not a rejection of Buddhism, any more than non-philosophy is a rejection of philosophy. It is an attempt to call attention to the unexamined ideological decision which prevents engagement with reality.

    I participate in many x-buddhist activities, and have for years. I hardly think that the depiction of x-buddhism here is a “cartoonish” overstatement. If you know of x-buddhist groups in which it is common practice, or even acceptable, to point out the mystical nonsense, the absurd fascination with ancient eastern “wisdom,” and the constant confusion of new age spirituality of the deep true self with Buddhism, well, then you are luckier than me–where are they?

  79. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Mat (#76). I said that “your texts so far do not show an understanding of the project here.” Maybe somewhere in your brain such an understanding is swirling around. But I don’t have access to that particular swirl of your thought. Your texts in the comments are certainly shallow and vacuous. You paint your criticism of the project here with such a broad brush that it is impossible to respond.

    I assume from your website that you are a devout yogi of some sort. If that’s the case, a question: do you fit the description (described in the article on non-buddhist theory) as someone who is given to affective/cognitive decision?

    Robert (#77). I think Tom’s comment encapsulates the primary purpose for the non-buddhism critique. [Edited to de-stupify the original wording, which was wrongly and stupidly directed at Robert.] Two things. (1) I often get the impression that many of our readers see critical reflection and theory as ultimately tedious; and (2) most have little, if any, actual interaction with real, live x-buddhists. So, if I may make a general comment off of yours: [Done edit.]

    About (1), maybe some contrast will be useful. I am endlessly amused by Ted Meissner’s claim that Secular Buddhism is constructive, not critical. He likes to remind everyone that it’s easy to criticize but hard to create. Like him, many readers of this blog seem to think that these two activities are incompatible. Again, what Tom says about the non-buddhism project is helpful here. An important difference between the Secular Buddhists and non-buddhist projects is the former’s opaqueness and the latter’s transparency. As an anti-theorist, Meissner does not understand that the very creation of a purportedly new form of thought and practice (“secular” Buddhism) is inherently critical of everything else as that which does-not-quite-get-it-right. Conversely, the non-buddhist critique is inherently constructive. This site is packed with reflections on actionable ideas. Many of these ideas, I have heard and seen for myself, are being put to practice. I would like to disabuse readers of the naive and fundamentally dishonest distinction between creative and critical work.

    At their most useful, critical concepts are what allow us access to works of art [or x-buddhism], not what block them off from us. They are ways of getting a handle on them. Some of them may be more effective handles than others, but that distinction does not map on to the difference between theory and non-theory. A critical concept, even a useless or obfuscatory one, is not a screen which slams down between ourselves and the work of art. It is a way of trying to do things with it [i.e., the work of art], some of which work and some of which do not. At its best, it picks out certain features of the work so that we can situate it within a significant context. And different concepts will disclose different features. Theorists are pluralists in this respect: there could be no set of concepts which opened up the work for us in its entirety. The key difference is between those concepts which are so familiar to us that they have become as transparent as words like “bread,” and those which still retain that strangeness of words like “jujube.” It is the latter which are generally called theory, though jujubes are in fact no odder than bread. (Terry Eagleton, After Theory, pp. 94-95)

    About (2). As Tom indicated, the project on this blog takes ideological blindness as a treacherous, yet curable, human disease. And it sees x-buddhism qua x-buddhism as an insidious agent of that blindness. Unlike yours, my experience and continued observation of x-buddhism doesn’t allow me to say that “there are so many other things wrong in the world that at face value seem much more harmful.” I have seen plenty of damage done to people by x-buddhist ideology and community. The fact that people see Buddhism as inherently gentle, peaceful, and harmless only shows just how stealthily its ideology operates. To the causal observer, Secular Buddhism looks harmless, I agree. But what about, as Tom says, the current pro-capitalist conservatism? Is that harmful enough for you to appreciate critiques of it? If so, some of us here are trying to show you things such as: Secular Buddhism’s “harmlessness” is a rhetorical feature that serves to prop up yet hide its collusion with the economic-cultural status quo. (Similarly, its “inclusiveness” signals it to be a fop to vapid post-modernism.) Sweet, harmless Secular Buddhism, in other words, can, I think you’ll agree, be shown to graft perfectly on to much that you would say is worthy of critique.

  80. robertdevet Avatar

    Tom, the post in question is called ‘Are Buddhists Stupid?’, not ‘Are some specific buddhists stupid?’. Also, if you read Glenn’s post ‘Why x-buddhism’ you will note that there is no room for exceptions. At least, I don’t see it, do you? It is not a mistake that most of your posts are tagged with the ‘constructivist’ label, a constructivist in the non-buddhist schema is nothing but a particular kind of x-buddhist. Now I agree with you entirely that you do not fit that stereotype, far from it, but I cannot but conclude that the article to the extent it referred to x-buddhism was about you, which is exactly what caused me to call it cartoonish. About you, about Sometimes and Jonckher, about Glenn ca 2009, about David Loy, David Chapman, and myself, for that matter, a couple of years ago.

    More importantly, my argument about the relevance of arguing with western buddhism / x-buddhism altogether is different from what you understand it to be. My point is that any criticism implies that there is a better way, and that’s where the real work needs to occur, and that is how a critique of x-buddhism can actually have an impact, become convincing. It would be great if non-buddhism actually became the critique of ideology that you have so convincingly argued it should be. And not just a critique, for that matter, but a clear call to action, an invitation to get your hands dirty and actually engage in political activities at the ground level. To be even more precise, a call to action not as an add-on, a token statement that demonstrates that your heart is in the right place, but as an integral component of non-buddhist thinking. But as per my recent comments about boredom as the new non-buddhist bliss to chase, I am not so sure that will actually happen.

  81. robertdevet Avatar

    “But I can only assume that (1) you are one of those people (aka. “the vast majority”) who sees critical reflection and theory as ultimately tedious; and (2) you have little, if any, actual interaction with real, live x-buddhists.””

    That is so stupid, I stopped reading.

  82. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Robert (#81). You’re right. Directing that statement at you was stupid.

    Please see updated version of #79. My apologies to Robert.

  83. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Re #80 etc.: I’ve been a marxist for a long time, since about a decade before the end of the cold war, and I’ve heard the old argument about “mere pointless theorizing” instead of “actual engagement on the ground” enough times to have given it some serious thought. After all these years, it still just isn’t at all convincing. It depends on the problematic bourgeois notions that thought has no causal power, that, in Kant’s terms, we can “reason about anything we want, and as much as we want obey!” Balibar, in discussing Marx’s theory of ideology, explains that there is an “astonishing conversion of impotence into domination”: it is only once we are completely convinced that “mere thought” can’t do anything that it can finally come to thoroughly control our every action.

    If you have in mind a specific action which could make the world better, and which you can do on your own, by all means go and do it! And please do let us know what it is, so we can do it, too!

    The problem is that the really substantial changes take collective action, and it’s quite difficult in our postmodern culture to find more than two or three people in any given town who are not fully interpellated into capitalist ideology, who think the only action they can take that “means” anything is to change the channel on the television or to vote republican or democrat. In this culture, the critique of ideology IS doing something! Thought does have causal power (it causes people to accept unemployment, homelessness, hunger, without taking action), and changing thought would really change things.

    Now, I will admit there are “physical” things I participate in, because I am an old leftist and I guess I can’t help myself. I will also admit that if I was more effective than I am at critiquing ideology, I would be very happy, because this would have a greater effect than any “engagement on the ground” I can think of. Once people were free of their ideology-blindness, then perhaps we could get a big enough collective together to elect a socialist government or put a stop to the various drilling and mining practices destroying the world or change the way the big corporations produce, distribute and price our food.

    Clearly, I’m not good enough elucidator of my own ideas to make this clear even to someone who will bother to read what I write—and most people certainly won’t. But perhaps if I tell two friends, and they tell two friends, and so on, an so on … eventually we can reach critical mass and make a material change. In the mean time, don’t be drawn into the bourgeois myth that “mere thinking” doesn’t change anything. Reasons CAN be causes!

  84. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    One point of Mat’s made me thinking. It is the same accusation as from Jayarava: That I have no take about what I am writing, that the sample of x-buddhists I take my conclusions from is particularly smal.

    I thought about it a little bit. How many buddhists did I meet, to how many did I talk, with how many I had or have a relation- or even friendship?

    Another question is, is the form of my essay right? Not quite. It is useless to combine such a critique with some constructive thoughts like in the last third. Such a “passionate editorial” should be combined with specific examples what the critique is targeting. The contradictions must be made visible. One of these contradictions is that x-buddhism is about being part of an unconscious authoritarian structure – in contrast to its claims about being aware or awakening and the like.

    Regarding the first question it turns out that the sample of x-buddhism I draw on will be rather big. I think it will be good to write about this at one point. People who come to one buddhist order or group and stay there for the rest of their life might turn out as the ones who have a rather biased view on Buddhism as they never get the chance for a broad picture.

    As for Mat: I can not see that you have any understanding of this project. What is obvious is that I hit you with my piece and that it hurts. It is your right to try to hit back but I haven’t seen anything yet but an ad hominem. So what is your argument? Your picture of the

    low hanging fruits of “Dharma”

    makes it obvious: You know about the higher ones. You know the truth. Your argument is the hidden truth of the higher fruits of dharma. Well Mat, may the Lord bless you but remember, vocabulary isn’t the only sign of intelligence.

  85. Mat Witts (@mat_witts) Avatar

    Glenn (#79).

    I said that “your texts so far do not show an understanding of the project here.”

    I see, so I have made a mistake since your comment is actually far more ad hom. than I had first thought because rather than accepting in good faith that I have some sort of understanding and I have been able to reproduce it precisely in this forum but it is merely antagonistic to the superior understanding of yourself as protagonist-in-chief it implies not only the possibility of a significant deficiency in my intelligence but also in my communication skills.
    However when you say

    But I don’t have access to that particular swirl of your thought.

    you explicitly admit that you have absolutely no idea what to base your opinion on, which is of course speculative in the extreme and also denudes an attitude towards an almost perfect stranger that is suspicious, prejudicial and (as it turns out) wrong since I can report I do have an understanding of this project and I have articulated some aspects of my understanding using a level of intelligence that is within the top 4% of the standard distribution of IQ amongst our species and literary techniques that I have been developing since around the early 1970’s. You should perhaps be very worried then when you say that

    Your texts in the comments are certainly shallow and vacuous.

    since it would appear to have catalysed a flurry of interactions on a post that was rightly allowed to become moribund and has now been somewhat resuscitated from its sepulchral status, which in itself would appear to reinforce my “broad” criticisms which, although you found were “impossible to respond” nevertheless resulted in many responses.

    I assume from your website that you are a devout yogi of some sort.

    That is a useful, approximate description for most everyday purposes but I won’t allow you to make the same logical errors that you make in your critique of so called x-buddhists by pointing out my response to Matthias description of himself as a ‘German’ earlier as an excuse for shoddy thinking.

    In any case I don’t see how my answer to that question is related to the second one:-

    do you fit the description (described in the article on non-buddhist theory) as someone who is given to affective/cognitive decision?

    Nor how my answer here serves any purpose other than to escalate my commitment to a series of inchoate and contrived premises which on the face of it appear to make x-Buddhism an even more favourable philosophy than I had previously imagined, which again I am sure, given the projects predisposition towards bigotry, indifference and it’s fostering a weak but troublesome tyranny of ideation must be rather galling.

    Matthias (#84)

    I can not see that you have any understanding of this project.

    I refer you to the answerbI gave to Glenn (above)

    What is obvious is that I hit you with my piece and that it hurts.

    If you can’t be anymore specific about the precise location of the pain you are experiencing may I suggest therapy?

    I haven’t seen anything yet but an ad hominem.

    When faced with outright bigotry and yes, stupidity like this Ad Hom is one of the most effective and underrated forms of argument 

    You know about the higher ones. You know the truth.

    I find your tendency to rely to much on Theory of Mind in your arguments worse than infantilism, my categorisation of truth is spread fairly evenly across my hippocampus cells and therefore my level of conscious competence in this matter denies me my intuition which would be to degenerate into more autistic conceptions of that.

    Your argument is the hidden truth of the higher fruits of dharma.

    No, my argument is this is a piece of crap, so no psychological interpretation is necessary.

    may the Lord bless you but remember, vocabulary isn’t the only sign of intelligence.

    Indeed but there is good evidence that there is an 80% correlation which, as a Bayesian kinda guy, that is good enough odds for me to bet that you most likely find yourself out of your depth more often than me, which would explain why you reach for the panic button so much.


  86. saibhu Avatar

    Matt (#85),

    I started my very first conversation with Matthias by accussing him to be not precise enough. He criticised the role of gurus in Buddhism, which do not exist in my preferred form of Buddhism nor in my meditation group so maybe I can help you here.

    In some sense most of the criticism here is circular based on the specific definition of the term X-Buddhism (see more in Nascen Non-Buddhism). This means X-Buddhists behave in a certain way by definition. If you don’t have a guru then you’re probably not an X-Buddhist, if you’re not stupid then you’re probably not an X-Buddhist (you may consider yourself a Buddhist, however).

    Some time after I criticised Matthias for not being precise enough I realized that I was a X-Buddhist. I was stupid (still am) and I had a guru (without knowing it). I even realized that there are gurus in my meditation group (without them knowing it).

    In my opinion, that’s what criticism is for: detecting your own blindspots.

    Of course it’s possible that you or your friends don’t fit the description of X-Buddhists, but then what’s your point? Maybe I’m too stupid to get it – the same way I’m too stupid to get a full grasp of what this project here is about – but as I don’t seem to be the only one, maybe you have another try?

  87. Mat Witts (@mat_witts) Avatar


    Of course it’s possible that you or your friends don’t fit the description of X-Buddhists, but then what’s your point?

    In a nutshell my points are that the s n-b manifesto embellishes that which could (and I say should) be made more simple; it ignores some basic forms of logic in favour of shoehorning recondite French philosophy into a false and contrived edifice of an ingenious, novel and yet unsatisfactory s n-b paradigm based not on any compelling evidence but on anecdotal testimony and small minded bigotry and prejudice towards and ignorance of both the real world diversity and also it fails to acknowledge the problem of the obvious underdeterminability of the majority of Dharma pedegogical theories and methods. All of this is being carried forward by a handful of hard-bitten, idealistic, white, elitist, middle-class europeans. We have – in short been here many times before and I for one grow tired of it. In a sense – and for other reasons that I will make clearer on my Blog in the next few days I may well continue to acquaint myself with the work of one or two contributors here but only as standalone critiques of some aspect of “Dharma”, and not as others seem to want for it – which is to establish a larger body of opinion and rhetoric designed to unseat, disrupt and agitate those whose foundational understandings will necessarily want to be divergent and part of a vast, heterogeneous blend of traditional, progressive and other cultures. I do not worry that I must appear consistent in order to maintain my credibility as a social communicator. Authenticity rests absolutely on contradiction and the love of paradox. I will not be constrained by normative considerations and neither am I interested in any project that demands dissonance reduction or (worse) duty to the symbolic violence of an over ambitious and rudderless set of non-bodys. I do not believe that objective truth (should anyone here start to eventually gain an interest in that at some point instead of the relativistic solipsism of the s n-b premises) be used to impute intentionality to what would otherwise could be dismissed as contradictory statements or to my actions and any counternormative posts I choose to make should not be assumed to be harmful in nature without the proper context which too often is left out in electronic communications of this sort due to practical constrainsts and the poor facilities design. An optimal outcome can frequently be best achieved by blending various viewpoints but it is unlikely that this project will achieve anything other than becoming a self-serving organ of degeneracy and dare I say it? yes – ego without making some changes – some of which I have posted elsewhere in this forum. Thanks.

  88. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Mat (#85, 87).

    I am not saying that you have “a significant deficiency in…intelligence [and] communication skills.” I think just the opposite is true. My point is that I can only go by what you write here. Based on that, I think you need to dig in a bit more–do your homework, so to speak. What would be the point of accepting “on good faith” that you have an adequate understanding? “Mat” is, for me, a particular instance of textual rhetoric. I am happy that you are communicating with us here. Let’s go to your text:

    s n-b manifesto embellishes that which could (and I say should) be made more simple; it ignores some basic forms of logic in favour of shoehorning recondite French philosophy

    You’re simplifying. Different texts are written with different styles and forms of argumentation. It goes from schizoid-experimental to classic-expository. That’s part of the fun. I don’t know what you mean by “some basic forms of logic.” Could you be specific–you know, give an actual example?

    s n-b paradigm based not on any compelling evidence but on anecdotal testimony and small minded bigotry and prejudice towards and ignorance of both the real world diversity

    The critique is based on what amounts to, in my case, nearly forty years of living deep within the x-buddhist vallation. If I start giving my “credentials” for carrying out this critique, it will sound completely over the top. So I won’t. Others writing here could do the same. The point is that the critique is based on the exact opposite of what you say it is. Many of the posts refer to specific x-buddhist texts, language, concepts, doctrines, or practices. Some, like Matthias’s last essay, are more general in their critique. But anyone who has been paying attention to x-buddhism will recognize in that essay, for instance, a real phenomenon.

    and also it fails to acknowledge the problem of the obvious underdeterminability of the majority of Dharma pedegogical theories and methods.

    I have no idea what that means. Underdeterminability concerning what?

    All of this is being carried forward by a handful of hard-bitten, idealistic, white, elitist, middle-class europeans. We have – in short been here many times before and I for one grow tired of it.

    I thought you objected to ad hominem arguments. Even if what you say is true, how is that an argument against us? You wouldn’t expect soft, conservative, poor Sudanese or wealthy Canadians to contrive such a critique, would you? What is the “it” that you have grown tired of?

    I would like to hear more about your commitment to the yogic dharma. Would you say that my account of affective/cognitive decision applies to you?

  89. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    If Mat really has to say something constructive and specific, or if he is able to do a real critique of weak points of this project here

    on [his] blog in the next few days

    remains to be seen. I doubt it. So far he isn’t keeping his word. His announcement

    This is definitely my last post here and can assure you that I will not be returning to this post […]

    was followed by more insulting lamentation with nothing but general remarks.

    But Mat is right in being infuriated. He is the kind of Buddhist I mean.


    Apart from this there are two points:

    Robert asks what this project is all about? Saibhu mentions that the definition of “x-buddhist” is circular.

    Obviously there remains some work to be done to make this more obvious. On the other side it has been said quite clearly.

    Adam’s last post is an example of a reevaluation of Buddhist doctrine. Personally I would say this project is about a radicalisation of certain elements of Buddhist doctrine as we can understand it today. One example is anatman. As we can understand it today, it comes as a shock – and not as the silly no-self-no-problem-bullshit propagated by buddhist marketing strategists.

    Regarding the definition of an “x-buddhist”: The believe in a transcendental truth makes a Buddhist an x-buddhist. One consequence of this is that there are forbidden topics about which no discussion is allowed. The latter is the kind of stupidity I mean in the above text. Mat’s strategy of constructing long eloquent ramblings with only general objections, avoiding very specific points I mentioned in my text, is a variation of diverting attention from forbidden topics.

    In a way it is ridiculous that several centuries after Spinoza we still have to discuss the stupidity of transcendental truths. With this in mind I can understand Robert’s objection that it is not clear what we want here. A Buddhism with transcendental believes as a social phenomenon today looses all credibility and is no option any more. The feast of knowledge happens somewhere else. The consequence is that at some point one has nothing more to say about Buddhism.

  90. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Re #89: This is a very important point, so I’m really just repeating. The belief in a transcendent truth/world/soul/consciousness is generally the most problematic part of x-buddhism. The complete refusal to accept the fundamental concepts of Buddhist thought (which I take to be anatman and pratityasamutpada) is what leads x-buddhists to produce capitalist ideology and mistake it for timeless truths.

    Also, I just discovered that Mat Witts is, apparently, a Brit. I was quite shocked–I had assumed he was a non-native speaker, because of his complete ineptitude with the English language. He sounds quite a bit like someone with schizoid personality disorder–they have a tendency to rather extensive and often arcane vocabulary, but never use quite correctly. He aslo seems quite irrational. I don’t say this as an insult (that is, it is not a personal failing or something to be schizoid), but simply to say it might not be very productive to try to debate him in this venue.

    And on the topic of Stupid Buddhists–Tricycle sent out an unusual “daily dharma” that links to an essay called “Buying Wisdom” in the new issue. Very unusual essay for them, critiquing the mindfulness market, and it has even inspired some critical and intelligent comments!

  91. Tomek Avatar

    The belief in a transcendent truth/world/soul/consciousness is generally the most problematic part of x-buddhism. The complete refusal to accept the fundamental concepts of Buddhist thought (which I take to be anatman and pratityasamutpada) is what leads x-buddhists to produce capitalist ideology and mistake it for timeless truths.

    Tom, (# 90) some quick questions: would you please point to at least one single historical example when “Buddhist thought” had existed without the transcendental “x” of Buddhism? Do you really think that something as “Buddhist thought” has chances to make any longstanding impact being promoted in times when cognitive and social sciences offer approximately the same concepts without any “x” of transcendence? Don’t you think – I probably repeat here the line of thinking from our earlier exchanges – that “the most problematic part” in fact might be actually the perpetuation of precisely that what you call “fundamental concepts of Buddhist thought” (anatman and pratityasamutpada) in producing capitalist ideology? Why not to disposed of them all together? Why?

  92. Mat Witts (@mat_witts) Avatar

    #90 Tom, I am not sure if your psychological analysis of my personality is particularly reliable or accurate – but (apologies for the brief attempt at sarcasm) I would be happy to make an appointment to see you in your professional capacity as MD (Psych) since your obvious sympathy for those of us that (by your measure) are obviously just undiagnosed SPD folk could in no way be related to your clear need to appear more intelligent, skilled, knowledgeable and experienced than almost everyone else on all things Buddhism (bows) could it? However – and despite my best efforts I am unable to find your professional credentials or location or contact details so that I might satisfy my need to authenticate the veracity of your expertise in this field, or your diagnosis; or information about the link between SPD and the use of “arcane” vocabulary – nor can I find any examples of “arcane” vocab on my posts – nor in any case would a competent MD base such a complex diagnosis on just one indicator or put some much effort into remaining aloof and disengaged (ironically these are indicators of SPD so maybe you want to take a look at another popular psychological concept – projection) so I must assume that you are in fact not at all qualified to offer such a diagnosis and instead it fails. You are continuing with this habit you are developing which appears to be about over-familarizing yourself with a process of just making whatever shit up pops up in that brain of yours into another rant against…. wait for it… corporate sociopaths? no Rapists? no er… paedophiles? no – it’s about fucking with the Buddhists – with very little evidence or basis – and then extrapolating that shit out to domains where it is neither appropriate or relevant – which actually would explain the characterization of quite a significant part of what I have read so far from you. Well done TP – our world is truly a better place with you in it. So lets be clear – it is YOU and this forum that is wrong not me. This is what I have established and more is next.

    #89 Matthias – OK – so you are pissed at me – I get it – don’t worry about that – some greater emotional investment in what and how you write would be an immense improvement although you may be fearful of what that part of your brain may produce (certainly by what this post implies re bigotry and prejudice) – but clearly you already are struggling with a rather obsessive attention to trivia, which is being manipulated by people who are probably more intelligent than you – or maybe just more articulate – or maybe it is just they are more capable of copying other peoples ideas and then cloaking them in pseudo-ism and have allowed you to miss the bigger picture of what is actually going on here at the bottom half of this blog – which is not unlike what goes on at Sujato, Tricycle, and all the rest of them.

    #88 Glenn

    You’re simplifying. Different texts are written with different styles and forms…

    Look – I am allowed to simplify because I am writing in a tiny little fecking box on some blog site with a lame design – you have written a whole doc on a very weak and contrived fecking theory – and that is what I was referring to – to mimic your unexamined (or perhaps deliberate) condescending tone – after all you will have an incentive similar to those participating in any actor/network proposition – which is to appear superior – in this case based on seniority (which is often a fallacy outside the skills and knowledge driven sectors – and is especially wrong in terms of the politics of insight) it is YOU that “need to grow up” or “do more homework” or whatever other adolescent metaphor you want to push in the way. As to ad hom. you either didn’t read or have already forgotten #85 – so again – this reinforces some of the practical things you need to do to make this project more than just patronising condescension toward fellow human beings. S n-b fosters condescension and bigotry to alarming new heights and if you are fine with the dominance of european, middle-class liberal culture on cultures then you really need to speak to TP about that more often – because it is (in his words0 pro-capitalist – almost exclusively. But of course my central points have nothing to do with TP’s plumping for my being nothing but a person with some undiagnosed personality disorder or other – but anyway – I don’t think my wife, three kids, parents, friends or work associates would accept TP’s assessment of my emotional nature – and on reflection – neither do I. My criticisms are many – about the fecundity of the ideas found in the S n-b, its contradictions and the design flaws in the application and configuration of the blog software you are using, and also the obvious predilection people here have to bigotry and prejudice towards those deemed – in rather vague, empirically deficient and arbitrary (that’s partly what I mean by underdetermined) – to be x-buddhists – the ethics of which (if you are “into” ethics cuz i know its out of fashion in philosophy at the moment) is questionable as well. An apology may be due from me in terms of the offhand and impatient tone of my posts but I would like to reassure you that have not lost my temper, (as Laruelle might say if his anglo-saxon were better: “I’m just not that fucking interested in this”) and have always done my best to stick to the argument – which is more than might be said of other contributors it seems which combined with the other problems leads to frustration and confused arguments. So, at the end of a post that is (again) much longer than I would have liked – my basic objections remain despite TP’s and Matthias’ highly intemperate and possibly even vicious reactions which I probably deserve but do not accept. Idon’t expect you to grasp everything I say, or do I expect you to want to attempt to – I will leave that up to you – but as to my “commitment to the yogic dharma” I am reluctant to divulge anymore here since I seriously doubt that anyone should be really interested in that either – especially since I am fast losing the will to even check my spelling let alone semantics, syntax and context – which I would preempt is not my being wrong TP, and would refer you to the criticisms I made earlier in this post. Such is the internet – and such is the s n-b blog and the naivety of the chief s n-b protagonists as to basic ergonomics. Thanx

  93. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Mat (#92).

    as to my “commitment to the yogic dharma” I am reluctant to divulge anymore here since I seriously doubt that anyone should be really interested in that either

    Your commitment is all I am interested in. That’s the point of this whole thing. Your commitment is the alpha and omega of the non-buddhist/non-dharma critique. The critical work is the instrument for cutting through the layers of fat that protect the nerve of decision, of dharmic identification and commitment.

  94. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Re 91: Yes, Tomek, as I’ve said in previous discussions, I do think the particularly Buddhist concept of anatman/pratityasamutpada has something unique to offer that does not appear in Western thought. I certainly does not appear in cognitive and social sciences, which, quite absurdly, remain epistemologically positivist and are merely a production of capitalist ideology very poorly disguised as science.

    There are many places where important Buddhist concepts are demonstrated without any appeal to some form world-transcendence. Radical immanence is not the same thing as transcendence. Nagarjuna clearly does not mean to suggest that there is any kind of transcendent self OR any kind of transcendent truth.

    I’ve tried to explain why I think science, at least, the most common ideology of science, the spontaneous ideology of the scientists, if you will, does in fact implicitly assume, and explicitly seek, a world-transcendent entity to serve as a “final answer” and complete the reification of our descriptive metaphors. If you really think that somehow accepting the existence of a collectively produced symbolic/imaginary “consciousness,” the rejection of the naturalization of all ideologies, and the de-reification of concepts like exchange value and private property, can really “produce capitalist ideology,” then please, explain to me how. If the idea that capitalism is not natural, that we could change the social system if enough people want to, that it is not human nature to be competitive and selfish but is merely the effect of our symbolic/imaginary system, and that capitalism always and everywhere requires the overwhelming majority of people to suffer, if this can be turning into an ideology to promote the reproduction of capitalism, well, I can’t quite see how. But if it can be done, we’re all pretty much screwed, right?

  95. Mat Witts (@mat_witts) Avatar

    Er Glen, if you check I didn’t actually say I had a commitment to yogic Dharma, I think you did I that all by yourself, you invented the term, I said that I didn’t really want to talk about it, (which does not imply it exists since I do not want to talk about pink unicorns either) and you misinterpreted that through a habituated enframing in terms of your own theory which led to an assumption that it existed. This of course is the weakness of s n-b also, amongst many others. I can appreciate why you might want to continue to divert attention away from my criticisms of the sn-b proposition but I would only consent to providing more information about what and how I believe as part of a wider research project about individual Buddhist faith, but then I think by that stage the s n-b movement will have been discredited before the results were in, in truth some of the distinctions you want to make are so abstract and so wrong that it can only add to the white noise about x-Buddhism and will do nothing to amplify the signal of unaffected cognitive disinterest you crave. I think we’re done here?

  96. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Mat (#95).

    I thought “I am reluctant to divulge anymore here” implied that there is something more to be divulged. Is there?

    in truth some of the distinctions you want to make are so abstract and so wrong

    Giving an example would allow a fruitful exchange. So far your criticisms amount to unsubstantiated claims of prejudice and bigotry and bad blog layout. What about a concrete example of what you think is so wrong here so that we can actually talk about something? I think the critical tools being developed here, as well as some of the first attempts at applying them are holding up pretty well so far.

    One of the critical tools, for example, is called the Principle of Sufficient Buddhism. It is used to get at the fact that, contrary to its self-presentation as a form of knowledge-acquisition, x-buddhism relies on dogma, a dogma, moreover, grounded in a veiled yet all-encompassing transcendental operator–the Dharma. When I read on your website the following, I see something like this principle at work–let’s call it the Principle of Sufficient Yoga.

    You might also have come across it in passing in academic study at higher education levels, as part of a subject such as complimentary medicine, psychology, philosophy or religious studies.

    Others think yoga is a complimentary therapy, with professional standards whilst many Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs and other contemplative traditions have an interest as an integral part of their cultural and religious heritage – and finally some folk even take part in Olympic-style competitions for postures!

    However, the truth is that yoga contains all – but is not any one of these….

    On this basis, there can be no ultimate, authoritative body in yoga at all: yoga is simply too vast and any attempt to regulate it will inevitably deform it.

    Still less should any such body be afforded special treatment by any Higher Education, Health, Sport or Fitness authority – all of which are scarcely relevant to yoga. (Source)

    That’s a perfect expression of sufficiency. Your website is pervaded by the forms and practices that this site is aiming to critique. Our time would be more fruitfully spent discussing the concrete details of your yogic/dharmic beliefs and practices in relation to our critique.

  97. Tomek Avatar

    Tom (# 94), you come back to the Nagarjuna again. But as you may remember some time ago we agreed together with regard to one thing: “Nagarjuna” is most likely just a set of texts that arose in a particular historical context and which had been totally dependent on the buddhistic Dharma – transcendental operator as Glenn calls it. So I find your “Nagarjuna” example not really convincing as an answer to my question. Even if the Mahayanist rhetoric switches its main focus from explicitly transcendental goal of nirvana as presented in the Pali texts to the goal of seeing into the true nature of dependent origination, so called emptiness of all phenomena, that does not make any difference from the point of emotional/cognitive decision argument developed here around the SNB project. This rhetorical move was totally limited to The Dharma world and had not much to do with contemporary canons of knowledge, social, cognitive, whatever – it’s main goal was to replicate the sufficiency of The Dharma endlessly until the time of the cosmic Virocana, not the empty reality of science.

    So, no matter how creatively you employ the concepts/buddhemes such as anatman or pratityasamutpada they will always stay closely linked to the broad dharmic context and will continue to spontaneously recreate the fantasy of x-buddhistic transcendence. And in current era that will probably mean the passive collusion with the capitalist status quo.

  98. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    I really can’t completely understand your objections (still). I agree that “Nagarjuna” refers to a set of texts, but that doesn’t undermine the fact that those texts say something and we can understand what they say.

    The idea that these “concepts/ budhemes” must never be used again because some idiots will insist on misunderstanding them in absurd ways is not convincing to me! They are, I believe, true and useful concepts, and I will continue to use them. I’ve explained elsewhere what I take emptiness to mean, and why I do not think it is merely a rhetorical gesture meant to “replicate the sufficiency of The Dharma endlessly.” You seem overly concerned with the persistence of misunderstanding, but you never say anything to demonstrate that the concepts themselves are inherently in “collusion with the capitalist status quo.”

  99. Mat Witts (@mat_witts) Avatar

    Glenn, #96 – Thanks for taking an interest in what I have written in the past but the text you Cherry Picked has been adapted from the original which was by Peter Yates for a specific purpose which was related to my profession and not to convey my personal beliefs. Firstly simply substituting ‘Buddhism’ for ‘Reason’ in Sufficiency of Buddhism does not a philosophy make. You need to do a lot more work to convince me, and most Buddhists I would think, if indeed you do actually see this as an organ or persuasion, you may see it entirely differently. for the third and perhaps the final time I am in agreement with some areas of your conclusions, but the difference is that I am very sceptical of drawing conclusions at all, about anything. Now about your craving concreteness – I think my suggestion of reviewing the topic / comment template is kinda real world stuff, but very specifically, about yours and Matthias’ demands for substantive argument, this is especially self defeating for a project that is supposed to be neither about forms of thinking (dogma) nor substantive content (particular beliefs) but rather the HOW of how and the HOW of what we think, and in this regard it fails too. This movement exists only in the brains of I think about two bloggers who want to promote an agenda which borrows far too much from other philosophies to be worthy of much serious consideration. This blog is a particularly inappropriate medium for serious philosophical debate because of its inherent limitations in terms of its design and also its lack of organisation. I do not believe it is acceptable to expect me to continue to participate in this type of online forum Over the medium or long term unless significant changes are made. until then it will seek to exploit the easily led and only expose the wilful naivety of easily impressed and intellectually challenged individuals who are all too probably in need of respite from x-buddhism and not more contrarian ideology – however appealing it (s n-b) might be and however disgusting the alternatives might be (eg. Presumably some form of nihilism). The most basic task to my mind would be to intervene in such stupidity, not encourage it so I see no point in contributing much more since here especially since the only achievement thus far seems to be the development of an extended array of confusion and once again, I am surprised that I have to reiterate how Matthias has provided many concrete examples of prejudice and bigotry here, and many more examples are scattered throughout other posts and comments that I am surprised that someone with your analytical sensitivities don’t spot them, although it is understandable simply because of the level of confusion which is also apparent throughout. I will stick around here for a few days longer – not only to provide Matthias with an easier target than I would usually like to provide for his obvious need for amusement but also to demonstrate my willingness to bring this conversation to its natural completion. Thanks.

  100. Matthias Steingass Avatar


    I will stick around here for a few days longer – not only to provide Matthias with an easier target.

    Thanks. But I am not interested.


  101. Tomek Avatar

    You seem overly concerned with the persistence of misunderstanding, but you never say anything to demonstrate that the concepts themselves are inherently in “collusion with the capitalist status quo.”

    Tom (# 98), what I am actually concerned with is your tacit persistence in upholding the very possibility of a separation between the context, in this case the transcendental Dharma, and “the concepts themselves” such as anatman or pratityasamutpada. I claim that this kind of decontextualization creates just a kind of mirage that conceals the virulent tendency of the protean Dharma to weave its own insights into the countless contemporary ideas and realities and replicate endlessly. This is the very root of the collusion that I’ve been trying to demonstrate, namely, the modern decontextualization of the x-buddhistic syntax occurring without acknowledgment of the fact that the sheer usage of those selected buddhemes is nothing else than the intermixing of the x-buddhistic potion of hope into the various contemporary discourses, of which Capital is the most powerful and eagerly willing to cash The Dharma 2.0 in.

  102. Mat Witts (@mat_witts) Avatar

    #100 Matthias

    Thanks. But I am not interested.

    In my opinion this stands out as the single most insightful and most relevant contribution to this thread, and perhaps anywhere on the site – brilliant !

    …what makes the Laruellean heresy interesting is the way it provides a philosophically disinterested – which is to say non-normative – definition of the essence of philosophy. (Brassier)

    with best wishes to you

  103. Shadow Avatar

    Buddhism sucks. The end. Stop trying to ressurect the dead.

  104. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    Interesting little text relevant to this thread: Boredom, Flow and the Eggs of Experience

    “Benjamin makes the wonderful claim that boredom is the ‘dream bird that hatches the egg of experience.’”

    And don’t forget Adam’s Sitting, Full of Shit

    The question remains: Is there something about meditation beyond the polarity of infantile magic and stupid pathologization?

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