The Mirror of Practice

What concrete answers can you offer to the following question? It is a question that goes to the very heart of this blog:

“Can Buddhist practice be the one place where we are still allowed to open our eyes to the truths that shape our lives everyday? Can it teach us not to hide from the truth inside a cloud of incense, mindfully experiencing our bodily sensations?” (Tom Pepper, comment #28 on “Running from Zombie Buddhas“)

This blog is concerned with the human. Buddhism claims, too, to be concerned with the human. So, why does this blog not simply offer a straight-forward presentation of Buddhist thought and practice? The answer is: because of the human.

Non-buddhism is an exploration of the suspicion that, as it is, Buddhism ultimately fails the human. Many reasons for that failure have been offered here, and more are on the way. They include the failings of both traditional and contemporary, largely secular, forms of Buddhism (and crypto-buddhism); for example: ideological occlusion; facile moralism; emotional prescriptiveness; program subscription; shallow scientism; insistence on sufficiency; unacknowledged transcendentalism (in the religious sense);  hidden ascetic mores; collusion with late-capitalist consumerism, and much more.

Can x-buddhist postulates be employed in creating a place where we are still allowed to name and explore human truths and craft them toward correspondingly truthful ends?

In concrete terms, what would that practice look like? Imagine that you were to design an actual environment. What is required? What is too much? What is too little? Is there dialogue? What mode of language serves it? Which kinds of texts inform it? Do you employ buddhemes? Why? Why not? Which ones? What does the practice physically look like? Is there a protocol? What counts as the sine qua non of meditation? How do you guard against blind ideology? What would an ideologically-transparent practice look like? How do you fend against our tendency toward group-think? What kind of protocol reflects, embodies, and enacts liberation as opposed to program subscription? What about hierarchy? Is a goal or purpose articulated? Either way, what is lost and what is gained? What other questions must we ask? Remember: concrete!

Readers of this blog have already been exposed to many ideas about these matters already. These ideas are strewn throughout the blog. Matthias Steingass has written extensively on the issue in posts and comments. Tom Pepper’s posts and comments, too, are animated by such practical concerns. Other comment writers have asked pointed questions and made incisive statements about this issue: Robert, Eric, Jayarava, Luis Daniel , Saibhu, April, and many others.

Can we take a moment now to fashion some stones and fire some bricks on which to mount the mirror of practice?

{Updated after Robert’s comment #11} Or: In the spirit of Deleuze, fire some bricks to smash the mirror of “practice”?


109 responses to “The Mirror of Practice”

  1. sometimes Avatar

    “Can Buddhist practice be the one place where we are still allowed to open our eyes to the truths that shape our lives everyday? Can it teach us not to hide from the truth inside a cloud of incense, mindfully experiencing our bodily sensations?”

    I must admit that I get a tiny bit frustrated and tired by what occasionally appears to be a downplaying of “mindfully experiencing our own bodies,” on this blog. I would assert that the body can be a starting point towards the ultimate truth that you are asking about. Perhaps what Tom Pepper is saying is that we cannot simply stay there, in our bodies. I sort of agree but I would say, that much like your need to stay close to the human, I say that we cannot escape our human bodies. Because of THAT it is, for me, a perfect place to start the search for the truth. It seems to me that Americans, perhaps most people, spend much of their time trying to be distracted from their human bodies and the change that is never ending inside our bodies. We try to distract ourselves from the aging, boredom, pain, lack of control, where our bodies are concerned. P.S. ! THere is no way arounTHE MIND/BRAIN IS THE HUMAN BODY…PERIOD! Sometimes it seems that we forget this fact while trying to find the truth. I would just ask that we not disregard what can be learned there, and the learning of such can then be carried and translated to a broader context.

    Of course I realize that I have not fully answered your question, but simply bring up a point to be considered. For me a practice would actually begin there, with the human body. And I would try to remain vigilent that we have to be carefully not to stray so far away from it in our search for the “truth” that in denying the body, we actually deny our humanity. If meditation is concerned about the human, we must study what that being human means. It starts, for me, with the body and goes on from there. As far as language…yes I will use language. 😉 There is really no way around that either. I plan to use the language that I know, and see what works. When it doesn’t, then I must try something else.

    The truth that I have learned: I am human, I will die, there is no determining what happens after that, I want to really be HUMAN while I am here and not use any dogma to try to escape any of those truths. And, if I can help, or at least hold the hand of other humans while I am here…all the better of an experience.

  2. sometimes Avatar

    A clarification of crazy typing skills from my previous post:

    P.S. THE MIND/BRAIN IS THE HUMAN BODY…PERIOD! There is no way around THAT fact. It will rot and die surely as our bodies do.

  3. Tom Pepper Avatar

    Clearly, I disagree that the mind is in the brain, and that our bodies are what make us human. I have argued that the mind is not at all in the brain, and I would say that the toad and earwigs have bodies, too, and aren’t at all human. What makes us human is not having a physical body–that is what makes us animals. From my perspective, to really BE human is to live for a truth, not for a body.

    I will also say that I tend to get impatient rather quickly with the mindfulness/new-age obsession with “experiencing the body,” partly because I have chronic pain. When some shaved-head dimwit in a silly robe tells me to stop avoiding the pain, to really be with the pain, I can only accept that he has nothing to teach me at all–I am “with the pain” every minute of every day and I can say from experience that it is not at all enlightening, and if anything it tends to reduce one to pure animal instinct. I say this just to point out that, while I do think that x-buddhisms get carried away with their obsession with bodily bliss and pure unthinking sensations, with their idiotic delusion that they can have concept-free perceptions, etc., my impatience with the cult-of-the-body may be somewhat personally motivated as well. I am, I admit, always just a bit envious of anyone who can tie their shoes or put their kids in the carseat without pain. So, don’t take MY dismissal of the body too very seriously.

    That said, what exactly CAN “be learned there”? What exactly does it MEAN to “start with the body” and where exactly do we go from there? I know you said you didn’t answer the question, but that’s the whole point–what exactly should practice consist of and what can we learn from it? If the body is a “starting point toward the ultimate truth,” how? And what is that ultimate truth it will lead us to?

  4. Triskill Avatar

    ‘This blog is concerned with the human. Buddhism claims, too, to be concerned with the human. So, why does this blog not simply offer a straight-forward presentation of Buddhist thought and practice? The answer is: because of the human.’

    I’m curious about this statement – is speculative non-buddhism just another term for liberal humanism? Focus on ‘the human’ is all very good but by raising up our humanity as special I think we fail to see the interdependence between species and the further problems caused by seeing ourselves as something apart from the biosphere. John Gray the philosopher has written and spoken far more intelligently and eloquently than I ever could about this human-centric view point. He suggests…

    “Modern humanism is the faith that through science humankind can know the truth – and so be free. But if Darwin’s theory of natural selection is true this is impossible. The human mind serves evolutionary success, not truth. To think otherwise is to resurrect the pre-Darwinian error that humans are different from all other animals.”

    I’m not suggesting that Glenn meant this in the above blogpost but I often feel that the assumption that we somehow need to reach for our humanity to discover truth can lead us down a path that can be just as fraught with self delusion as some sort of enlightenment quest.

    The path of humanism is a linear one with a strongly held belief in the inevitability of progress – that somehow we are marching toward better and better things. As we blindly march on, infatuated with our own specialness, we make waste of the world. Gautama’s view of the cyclical turning of the wheel of samsara seems to me to be far closer to reality. Our humanity is exceptional but so is the honey bee or the communications of whales. Accepting birth and accepting death (and I mean truly doing so) is the goal, our ‘humanity’ is empty of real meaning, a deception self engendered to make us feel different.

  5. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Maybe we can begin by (1) collecting propositions and (2) turning them into axioms. From there, we can see what kind of assumptions are underlying our recommendations for practice. Finally, we can consider what it looks like in real-life, step-by-step terms.

    In the terms of this particular post, I am interested in hearing concrete recommendations for what, just to begin with, what April and Tom have just written. So, for instance, we will assume the human truth of the body. As a corollary, we accept, as April does, that an essential feature of practice is starting with the body, and then attending closely to bodily sensation. Can you, April, say what the truth is here? Is it the truth of bodily existence? Tom’s questions in his last paragraph are, it seems to me, important ones–the kinds of questions we need answers for if we are consciously to re-think practice. Would you recommend that the practitioner is trained to “know the body”? Is s/he reminded of that in the session? How, concretely, should it work? Is the person given values to accompany this recommendation? Are the values implicit? Are they universal? What if, like Tom and Molly and many others, chronic pain or (like a former student of mine) body dysmorphia is an issue? Elsewhere on this blog, Matthias and I had an exchange about the possible necessity of a purely localized conception of practice.

    And we will assume, as Tom does, the human truth of an intrinsically social-symbolic, non-atomistic collective mind. In its fuller form, we assume as axiomatic the following, from Tom Pepper: “consciousness exists in the symbolic/imaginary interaction between multiple individuals, that it is ‘outside’ of the individual, not ‘inside’ or arising from the brain.” How–in concrete terms–might that truth be clarified, enacted, and employed in practice? We see collective mind in effect all the time. Because its truth is, however, obscured by an ideology of radical individuality (enlightened mind, etc.), collective mind manifests as unconscious group think and blind subscription to ideology. How do we deal with this? We will assume that “the power of naming objects structures the perception itself;” so how will we choose which names to employ? Do we use dialogue?

    Two related rough bricks from the most recent comments:

    “The authoritarian structure of Sufficiency-Superiority-Exclusion forces us to remain controllable atoms.” (Matthias)

    To study the self is to forget the Self.
    To forget the Self is to study the temporary, constructed, dependently arisen self.
    To study the constructed self is to know our ideologies and change them… (Danny-not-Dogen)

    Because thought and action are so tightly entwined, it is easy to miss the practical implications of abstraction. I am going to use the suggestions that I get here in a real-life environment. So, eventually I will need to hear concrete instructions related to our axioms.

    Here is our first set of recommended truth axioms. (Please make corrections):

    1. Practice begins with the body
    2. Consciousness is social-symbolic/collective
    3. The authoritarian structure of Sufficiency-Superiority-Exclusion forces us to remain controllable atoms
    4. To study the constructed self is to know our ideologies and change them

  6. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Triskill (#4).

    Is speculative non-buddhism just another term for liberal humanism? Focus on ‘the human’ is all very good but by raising up our humanity as special I think we fail to see the interdependence between species and the further problems caused by seeing ourselves as something apart from the biosphere.

    For the first part, maybe you can say more about what you mean by “liberal humanism.” This project might have some features in common with it. But I’m not sure yet. “The human” here is first set in opposition to a hallucinated subject–the subject created by a particular ideology-as-naturalism. In this case, that means, of course, by x-buddhism.) “The human” names the result of the non-buddhist recalibration of this hallucinated subject as, in the first instance, the nothing. The axioms we are creating here–on this very post, for instance–constitute the “whats,” the “hows,” and the “somethings-that-we-is.” So, the project is concerned with reigning “the human” back in from a grandiose anti-human vision. But once we’ve done that, I think your comments are undeniably relevant.

    I wonder if we could say that you extend one of our working axioms–human consciousness as the collective, social-symbolic–to the wider, environmental sphere. That is, collective, social-symbolic consciousness is inextricable from what you call the “interdependence between species.”

    If you’ve read my post “Anicca as the Truth of Extinction,” you’ll know that I, too, hold that “our ‘humanity’ is empty of real meaning, a deception self engendered to make us feel different.”

    But what happens if, for the sake of the thought experiment, we present Tom Pepper’s proposition as an axiom: The human can be distinguished from the animal. It is: living for truth.

    That proposition seems merely to prop up the “faith” that John Gray warns us against:

    “Modern humanism is the faith that through science humankind can know the truth – and so be free. But if Darwin’s theory of natural selection is true this is impossible. The human mind serves evolutionary success, not truth. To think otherwise is to resurrect the pre-Darwinian error that humans are different from all other animals.”

    But, again, what if assume a different understanding of “truth”? I hadn’t used that term for–forever, really–until I saw, via Tom Pepper, how Badiou uses it. Badiou’s “truth” is not that of John Gray; so we need some clarification. maybe the term can be employed in our axioms to clarify something that is, well, true about us humans. Maybe John Gray is expressing a truth about human? In terms of practice, then what? Conversely, what if the very fact that we are having an exchange like this refutes the “just animals” thesis? What is that truth; and what does it mean for practice?

    By the way, do you know the work of Quentin Meillassoux?

    I need to run. Let’s keep it up. Thank you for your comment.

  7. Tom Pepper Avatar

    RE #4: This is the worst kind of ideology–a reductive anti-intellectualism that sounds so appealing because it is politically correct and claims to be based on science. Of course, it is absurd to think that Darwin’s theory of evolution in any way “proves” that we are not capable of knowing truth. It is ridiculous to insist that we NOT recognize how different we are from every other species that has ever lived–no other species has ever transformed the planet to the extent that we have. We have, by knowing the “truth” about the laws of nature, become free from our natural history to an extent that no other species has. We have even become free of the laws of natural selection and the natural evolutionary process, as Darwin himself says in “The Descent of Man.” The completely unique nature of our species is, of course, totally without meaning, except whatever meaning we choose to give it. At the moment, we seem bent on simply self-destruction, and I doubt anybody anymore believes in the inevitability of “progress.”

    I can’t speak for anyone else here, of course, but I am certainly neither a liberal nor a humanist. I am an anti-humanist marxist, which is about as far from liberal humanism as one can get.

    I’m really interested in what concrete ideas for practice we can come up with. I’ll post one myself tomorrow–but my idea of practice doesn’t involve much zazen!

  8. sometimes Avatar

    Wow! I go out for a BBQ and now there is so much to respond to. Like Tom, I will have to address it in the morning…too tired to think clearly enough at the moment.

    Although I think that I did answer already a little of what my truths are. Also, I do not think that the “humanism” that I am talking about lends itself necessarily to me thinking I am special. Far from it. It actually serves to remind me of the opposite. But being as this is the body, mind, brain, that I have to work with…I might as well start here don’t you think? Well regardless, it is where I must start.

    More in the morning…goodnight dear bloggers.

  9. Uri Sala Avatar
    Uri Sala

    Tom #3

    Still having trouble with your “mind is not in the brain” affirmations. So what is then in the brain? Why do you find it problematic, or undesireable, to call it mind? If the mind is the interaction with the collective symbollic system, where is this stored other than in my brain when I am sitting on the couch thinking totally alone?

    Thank you for your thoughts.


  10. Tom Pepper Avatar

    Uri, I’m going to reply to you question under the previous post (Zombie Buddhas) so as not to get too far off topic here.

  11. Robert Avatar

    If, as Glenn puts it in his intro, non-buddhism is an exploration of the suspicion that, as it is, Buddhism ultimately fails the human then practicing to be human, as in being a practicing lawyer, seems redundant and practicing to be human, as in practicing the piano, is just plain silly. We are human, what is there to practice? Non-buddhism should remove the notion of practice from its dictionary.

    Practice in x-buddhism consists of an engagement in rituals that confirm our belonging to a group, we are paying our membership dues so to speak, and we like doing so because of its implied promise of something better on the horizon, if only we practice harder. We claim this practice makes us better somehow, as if we could ever establish the truth of this assertion. We shrug our shoulders and smirk when a Christian tell us that going to church on Sundays somehow is helpful, but what makes similar claims by buddhists about their practice any more valid?

    Reading, thinking, talking, questioning, these activities can possibly make you live more fully (but not necessarily). To call those activities practices seems far fetched. Regardless, I wished I were better at it and I will continue to try harder.

  12. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Robert (#11) and Tom (#7).

    Now we are getting somewhere. Robert, your comment here has helped me (I think) finally understand what you’ve been saying about meditation in our many long exchanges. You say:

    Non-buddhism should remove the notion of practice from its dictionary…Practice in x-buddhism consists of an engagement in rituals that confirm our belonging to a group, we are paying our membership dues so to speak, and we like doing so because of its implied promise of something better on the horizon…Reading, thinking, talking, questioning, these activities can possibly make you live more fully (but not necessarily). To call those activities practices seems far fetched.

    And Tom:

    I’m really interested in what concrete ideas for practice we can come up with…[M]y idea of practice doesn’t involve much zazen!

    Some questions. Do you two think we can create environments where certain activities–such as reading, thinking, talking, questioning, and not doing zazen–are engaged in order to maximize, as Robert puts it, the possibility of living more fully (but not necessarily)? Are we then talking about education? Are we thinking about how to maximize educational environments? Are we talking about therapeutic environments? If we assume the value, for human being, of reading, thinking, talking, questioning, and not doing zazen, is it legitimate to want to figure out how to maximize their effectiveness by, for instances, forming communities around these activities? Or can we just say that we do these things for their own sake–forget maximizing anything. If we remove “practice” from our vocabulary, what term can we use to capture a concentrated, concerted (mutual) attempt to employ or actualize reading, thinking, talking, questioning, and not doing zazen as a social activity?

    ADDED: Finally, given that we are assuming–in this thread–the truth of social-symbolic-collective consciousness, is there a place for something like meditation–still, quite sitting–in this project of being human? In non-buddhist terms, it would, of course, be a disempowered non-meditation.

  13. sometimes Avatar

    RE: #5
    “Can you, April, say what the truth is here? Is it the truth of bodily existence?”

    Yes. For me one truth is that we cannot escape this human body. It seems so many religious/spiritual systems have a goal of transcending human existence somehow. I find it rather silly, because this is actually NOT possible. We are in these bodies, for better or worse. Instead of using religion, or meditation, to attempt escape…perhaps it is better served to use it to accept these changing and failing bodies. I thought the point of meditation was to see/experience impermanence and non-agency, etc… I find that is exactly what I notice when I practice. I notice that people place such a value judgment on spirit over body, and I think this is very dangerous! One place I choose to start is in accepting my human body rather than trying to escape it. For me, acceptance at the very least adds some value (not specialness) but value that encourages me to take better care. I have lived much of my life believing that this body, this female body, is shameful, sinful, not to be valued…and it was a severe detriment to me living my life. No more. I cannot escape it, I will live IN it…whatever that brings.

    “What if, like Tom and Molly and many others, chronic pain or (like a former student of mine) body dysmorphia is an issue?”

    I will start by answering your question this way…I do not believe that meditation is a CURE ALL. I believe it is a helpful tool. But, one of many. I would never ever suggest that meditation is all you need to recover from body dysmorphia (of which I have struggled.) Nor would I say that it is the ONLY or even the best way for dealing with chronic pain. For me it is simply a tool. As I set up an outline for a meditation program for adults dealing with childhood trauma (of which body dysmorphia is often an after effect) I suggested that concurrent or previous psychotherapy is a MUST. Speaking from experience, there are things that come up in meditation for survivors that a meditation instructor is simply not equipped to adequately deal with, nor should they be unless they are also psychotherapists, counselors, etc… I would probably suggest that people dealing with chronic conditions (pain, dysmorphia, and trauma) have other resources available to them in addition to meditation. Also, I find that there is GREAT value in sharing personal experiences of trauma and meditation. I would definitely hope that I was brave enough to share my own story, and I think that may be very helpful as well. For me, meditation is not an endpoint in some healing process; it is a tool to be used along with many others. I am not looking for enlightenment; I am trying to figure out how to live my life in the healthiest way possible. But then, I have used meditation as a behavioral health tool, not a religious one.

    I also think that a meditation instructor has to be very careful with the populations that you mention. It is very easy to slip into dissociation (and use meditation to do this.) For survivors, this is a very well developed skill that no longer serves them in a healthy way. It can be VERY dangerous, and when this is not paid attention to or simply ignored, it can be a set up for some very unhealthy coping, or worse. This dark side of meditation has to be paid attention to. (I think you addressed this in one of your previous blog posts.)

    “Would you recommend that the practitioner is trained to “know the body”? Is s/he reminded of that in the session? How, concretely, should it work? Is the person given values to accompany this recommendation? Are the values implicit? Are they universal?”

    I think that directing attention to the breath. Noticing bodily sensations. In fact, sitting for any length of time, it is almost impossible to NOT notice the body and your reaction to it. I have simply directed practitioners to notice bodily sensation, notice their reaction to it, and without judgment direct their attention back to their breath. I think that this repeated direction has worked well for me. It can be very scary to suddenly be “all alone” in your own body, paying attention to it in a way that perhaps you have avoided your entire life. It is also helpful to notice that you can direct your attention where you want it to be. There is a dual importance to noticing the lack of control of your body, but control of your attention, at the same time. For survivors, I think it is important to NOT have a value judgment placed on bodily sensations. You wade into dangerous territory when youstart doing that. For me, it is a matter of observation and directing attention. It is a slow and subtly process, but over time can be very powerful. So often, survivors feel that if they let themselves experience being in their own skin, that they will DIE. This process over time can show that in fact you will not DIE, but can live a more full and engaged life. Noticing, noticing, noticing…This is important for a population that has been trained by life circumstances to dissociate and ignore because at one point it perhaps saved their life, but now has become an unhealthy coping mechanism.

    But I am speaking of a very specific population here. This of course will not work for everyone, nor does everyone need this kind of process. But then again, I do not think that there is a cookie cutter model of meditation that is universal. Or maybe there is, maybe this could be useful for more people…I don’t know. I do not know everything, and I am not a guru/Buddhist monk, nor am I a highly trained intellectual. What I have to offer are life skills, and my own experience. That is it. Perhaps not grande, or transcendent, but perhaps helpful nonetheless.

    I hope I answered some of your questions. But, I am much better speaking about this stuff face to face than over a blog post, and yet I still try. Sigh…

  14. sometimes Avatar

    But then again, perhaps I only know what seems to have worked for me, and beyond that am full of crap and talking out of my ass. That too is a very valid possibility.

  15. Tom Pepper Avatar

    My approach to a Buddhist practice is informed by Shinran, and so involves little in the way of ritual, and not much emphasis on meditation. As many of us know, Shinran spent 20 years as a monk on Mt Hiei from 1181 to 1201, and then left the monastery, convinced it was only producing hypocrisy and nobody was becoming enlightened. His focused on teaching the commoners, and most of his teaching was done through talks and letters and writing—Shin has never emphasized meditation practice. As one of the leading Scholars on Shinran explains, “For Shinran truth might be characterized as a fundamental shift in stance, a transformative event in which the self is dislodged from an absolute standpoint and made aware of its conditionedness” ( Dennis Hirota: “Asura’s Harp,” p. 63). By his strategy in responding to questions, Shinran attempted to have his followers realize the social construction and conceptual limits of their thought, to open up the possibility of a greater understanding of Truth that exceeds present forms of knowledge.

    My idea of practice would involve a lot less following the breath, and a lot more thinking and discussion. I think that zazen has its uses, but for us today it nearly always becomes a way to avoid realization of truth, to sink down in the Heideggerian dasein and convince ourselves we have reached unconstructed truth, that our “gut feeling” and intuitions and emotions are not socially consctructed.

    On the other hand, we tend to fall too easily into the seductions of sophistry, and the ridiculous postmodern belief that all opinions are equally valid, and so “talking” really doesn’t get us anywhere unless we are willing to state positions and defend them, and to accept that some beliefs are better than others. To practice as I would want to, participants would have to abandon the annoying Tricycle-Buddhist notion of “right speech” and realize that “not holding to views” means ONLY recognizing that our ideologies are socially constructed and can be changed—NOT that all ideologies are equal. Some views really are better than others. There really IS an elephant.

    What exactly would take place would depend on where participants are in the process of letting go of attachment to ideology. I’ll give one possible practice example here (and no, Robert, I don’t think most x-buddhists would call this “practice” at all).

    We could ask all participants to come up with an example of an aesthetic object they are particularly fond of. This can be anything: the song or album you’ve listened to a thousand times; a tv show or movie you watch every time it’s on; a painting or sculpture; a favorite poems or novel. We could go through these one or two at a time, everyone studying someone’s particular example, and then thoroughly examining the ideological function of this work. In what way does it serve to reproduce your ideology, to strengthen a belief/practice that serves as your relation to your real conditions of existence, reproducing and strengthening those relations. Most aesthetician from Hegel to Heidegger have insisted that art addresses the “ineffable”, but what they are really saying is that art functions to obscure, to keep “ineffable,” real causes and effects of our particular ideological attachments—Heidegger is not different from Burke on this, both believe we cannot have an ideology and be aware that it is one—that consciousness of the social function and human construction of our beliefs saps them of their motivating power. Art, then, serves to cloud our minds and stir our passions.

    For this reason, the one work of art I like, the poem of movie I “love,” is the best indication of the ideology I am still blind to. Once this ideological function is exposed, we can then watch the movie or read the poem again: how has its effect “changed” for us? On the flip side, we can take a work of art whose ideological function seems to us to be laudable, but which just doesn’t give us that thrill: can we watch it, read it, listen to it over and over and develop a pleasure in it? Can we, pace Heidegger and Hume, become motivated by an ideology that we are aware IS an ideology?

    This post is getting long already, but I’ll give a fairly simple example. Consider the popular juvenile book “Harry Potter.” Many millions have read this, loved it, watched all the movies, joined fan clubs and dressed up as characters, and even wept when the final installment was published. What is the ideological power of this book/series? To briefly state the glaringly obvious, it is the fantasy of a union of absolute phallic power and imaginary plentitude. The book simply reinforces the structure of our empty, desiring, commodified subjectivity, both in its content and in its form. The character is, of course, an orphan, whose absent father is replaced by the head wizard and whose absent mother is replaced by the narrative point of view. He discovers his absolute, unique specialness and his potential to have complete power over the world magically—the wish of imaginary plenitude, a fantasized infantile state in which we are/have the phallus and our every desire is met with no expenditure of bodily effort. This is why the books don’t inspire someone to go out and do something in the world, but to yearn for the movie adaptation and the next fantasy-fulfilling book. They function to keep obscured the nature of our subjectivity as tools of late-capitalism, and that obscurity is art. Okay, so once you know this, really see that the pleasure in the book is in its production of a desiring, craving self, which can find satisfaction only in infantile imaginary plenitude and not in such old-fashioned goals as un-alienated labor, what is it like then to read the book, or watch the movies?

    This use of aesthetic objects is just one example—the same could be done with many of our most powerful ideologies: the idea of romantic love; the deep sense of personal failure when you lose your job, even though you know “rationally” that it’s the economy; the powerful craving for that new car/tv/iphone/pair of shoes.

    In any case, this kind of discussion would likely be upsetting to many people, because many people just LIKE the fog of ineffability, and don’t want their ideologies pulled out into the light of day. As Edmund Burke laments, with horror:

    “But now all is to be changed. All the pleasing illusions, which made power gentle and obedience liberal, which harmonized the different shades of life, and which, by a bland assimilation, incorporated into politics the sentiments which beautify and soften private society, are to be dissolved by this new conquering empire of light and reason. All the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off. All the superadded ideas, furnished from the wardrobe of a moral imagination, which the heart owns, and the understanding ratifies, as necessary to cover the defects of our naked, shivering nature, and to raise it to dignity in our own estimation, are to be exploded as a ridiculous, absurd, and antiquated fashion.”


  16. Robert Avatar

    Re 12

    If we remove “practice” from our vocabulary, what term can we use to capture a concentrated, concerted (mutual) attempt to employ or actualize reading, thinking, talking, questioning,…

    Why do we need a term? How better to actualize reading, thinking, talking, questioning than by just doing it, trying a little harder?

    Are we then talking about education? Are we thinking about how to maximize educational environments?

    And why not recognize that thinking new thoughts is fundamentally and per definition unpredictable, in the sense that we don’t know where our thoughts will take us, and that each problem we tackle is singular and how we think it through depends on what it is we think about, what it is we question. In other words, not the kind of thing that education typicallly addresses. If for instance the topic is political the thinking may well turn into some kind of testing and poking of the political powers that be.

    My fear is that any kind of non-buddhist practice will, as buddhist practice tends to do, become a substitute for engaging with the world directly. Rather than talk with just anybody we will end up talking to folks more or less like us. Rather than think about anything we will think about just those things we so like to think about, existential stuff like death, and how to really communicate, and how to be happy. Rather than do things we will talk about doing things.

    These of course are the thoughts of somebody who is no longer a buddhist and who isn’t a non-buddhist. Just no longer a buddhist. And who likes it.

  17. Shabe L Avatar
    Shabe L

    Tom, thanks for your post, #15. If there is one thing I have learned from your posts (those of them that I can grasp reasonably well) it is that we have been blind to ideology, and all our working assumptions are necessarily ideological. Somehow that reality, now blindingly obvious, had long escaped me. Bows again.
    I am intrigued by Shin; can you recommend one or two starting books?
    And for some odd reason, your posts came to mind as I have been reading ‘Deer hunting with Jesus’, a rollicking, funny, and scary book, all about ideological crises and clashes around us.

  18. jonckher Avatar


    By a strange coincidence, Maitreya came to me in a vision last night and said:

    “Practice to prepare,
    prepare to act,
    act to change.”

    As a capitalist x-buddhist, I can only assume that through various empowerments and meditation super-powers, I now have the personal charisma to raise funds in order to construct Buddhist statues and temples like the Maitreya project’s planned USD 195 million, 152 metre Maitreya statue in Kushinagar, UP, India (1).

    In Australia, we have a bit of a fetish for big things (big banana, big koala, you get the idea), so a Big Buddha would go down a treat. There’s even a wiki-page:'s_big_things.

    Have a look at the photos there. Pure awesome.

    (1) for some reason, stalled.

  19. Alan Avatar

    Robert, Glenn, April, Tom, Matthias,

    So much good stuff here. I have many thoughts and questions, but I’ll try to keep it concrete. I appreciate April’s grounding in personal experience. My experience is in the classroom. I have been a public high school English teacher for 25 years, and what I have been concentrating on is bringing reading, discussion, thinking to the classroom. The comments for this post actually articulate in many ways what I have been trying to do. So yes, Glenn, for me “practice” is, in part, about maximizing educational environments. Specifically, what I am trying to do is confront in the classroom Matthias’s point that “the authoritarian structure of Sufficiency-Superiority-Exclusion forces us to remain controllable atoms.” There is some protocol in place: desks are always in a circle to facilitate discussion, I sit in a student desk among the students with no special place, hand raising is not required, etc. All voices in the room, mine no more than others, are equally valued. I have found that this environment produces amazing results. This is an excerpt from a note a graduating senior gave me recently: “Many of the books this year caused me to think differently and confront prejudices and biases that I did not even know I had. I know that I gave you a difficult time sometimes with my comments and questions. …It was refreshing to have my opinion heard and you always allowed me to share my views fully.” (What the student perceived as “a difficult time” was for me gratifying.) All that said, of course I agree with Tom that not all opinions are valid; questions of validity are always addressed.

    This experience causes me to think a lot about the place of meditation in practice and why Tom does not emphasize it. I do find meditation personally valuable for several reasons (a sense of paring down or “uncluttering” experience to gain insight into what is important and what isn’t, etc.), but I do have questions about how or whether it is a collective activity even when taking place in a group. And, in the context of this blog, where collectivity, interaction, etc. are valued, what are the implications for meditation if it is not collective? Can a non-collective activity enhance other actions that are collective? April and Tom have addressed this question; I would be interested in hearing more about that.

  20. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Robert (#16).

    I agree with everything you say here. I have the same fear, too. You present a perspective that forces me to see with fresh eyes where my non-buddhism perspective lies on the Buddhism–non-Buddhism continuum.

    I am still working with the materials of different Buddhisms, of x-buddhism. In non-buddhism, as opposed to non-Buddhism, the “non” is not a negation of Buddhism. It is just a suspension of Buddhism’s network of postulation. When an x-buddhist material, say “practice” or “meditation,” is placed alongside the human, it is de-potentialized. It becomes something very simple. When we take, say, mantra recitation, out of its system of postulation, it just becomes repeating a phrase in a particular manner. We can then examine its use for us humans in its simplest terms. Performing the postulation-disempowering actions, however, it will no longer be recognizably “Buddhist.” It will just be human.

    For me, “the human” stands in contrast to x-buddhism’s subject in a significant way. X-buddhism both subsumes and aims to overcome the human. That is, it first determines what the human is, and then shows how to surpass that. (This is why I consider x-buddhism “anti-humanistic.”) It accomplishes both of these moves through various controlling categories. I am wondering about what happens if we remove these controls. What happens? In the terms given in Tom’s words here and elsewhere, first, we begin to open our eyes to the truths that actually shape our lives everyday; and second, we start creating a better ideology–better for ourselves and for our world.

    I guess one of the forces driving this project is the desire to construct a potent social vehicle. I don’t want to retreat permanently into the undisturbed bliss of social isolation any more than I do into the unthinking body. Once that desire is manifest, I feel I have no choice but to work with ideas, concepts, language, methods, techniques, forms of interaction, and so on. So, the question for me is: how? How do we do so without falling into the traps you mention?

  21. Tom Pepper Avatar

    First, I want to say that I can absolutely see the danger Robert mentions (#16). I take the position, though, that we need to produce, not just critique, ideologies, and ideologies which promote collective activities are preferable. “Just talking” about things we “like to think about” is pretty good start. American consumer culture makes it quite difficult for people to actually ENJOY talking about ideas, or even thinking, or doing anything collective unless there is some clear way someone is making big money out of it. Most people are eager to pay hundreds of dollars for a concert ticket, but would never go to hear music for free–if doesn’t cost anything, and doesn’t have a mass-media marketing campaign, it must not be good. Similarly, most Western Buddhists will pay big money for retreats, and travel to hear celebrity teachers, but won’t make the effort to meet regularly with a group of like-minded people to expand their mind(s)–if there’s not rich celebrity teacher endorsing the activity, it can’t be worthwhile, it has no appeal, no “charge.” Our culture here in America is to do everything in isolation, even if we are all watching the same stupid tv show, we do it in our own room alone. For this reason, I think any collective activity that doesn’t generate profits for anyone is a good thing–not the end, but a step in the right direction.

    The goal would be to avoid just comfortably talking about the things we like to think about–and I am optimistic enough to believe that if we have a group in which it is not only acceptable but desirable to tell the truth about things, we won’t get too “comfortable.” It may lead to action–to the “testing and poking” of the powers that be. “Education” does tend to mean, in the west, the training in how to be good capitalist subjects, but it doesn’t need to mean that. But then, I’m kind of a hopeless optimist. I still believe that most human beings would prefer to think, given the opportunity. I see the coming global depression, now just in its beginning stages, as an enormous opportunity. There is great chaos under heaven . . .

    Alan: I would agree that there is a place for meditation. I still do it every day, even do it once or twice a week in a group. I just don’t emphasize it–unlike Zen, where zazen=enlightenment, I think it is just a sort of mental training, a useful exercise, but should not be the only, or even the primary, practice.

    I love the idea of a class in which your students are asked to confront biases and prejudices they didn’t know they had. This is the best form of “education,” to my way of thinking. Unfortunately, my experience is that most English classes seek to install biases and prejudices, and resist examining them–Literature is often used to inculcate, not to examine, capitalist ideology.

  22. Matthias Avatar

    Some unorganized thoughts…..

    My answer to the question if Buddhist practice can be the place where we are still allowed to open our eyes, is a clear No!

    I think one has to realize that “Buddhist practice” signifies a fetish in the sense of the Žižek-text also to be found here on the blog: “The fetish is the embodiment of the Lie which enables us to sustain the unbearable truth.” It is necessary to express and to name differently what somebody practices in difference to fetish-buddhism.

    I have expressed this opinion in regards to the signifier “meditation” too. With it we can see what problems we here have with these fetish-signifiers. People think “meditation” is about not thinking. Regardless if they are pro or contra meditation. The buddhism-industries have kidnapped the signifier. They reshape the meaning along the lines of consumer-programming and put it back into the system. Now it’s a trojan horse. It’s a virus. It is a kind of a key-logger which make consumer-buddhists all the more predictable.

    The problem regarding practice is that this reshaping of meaning goes so far that we cannot speak about any kind of “practice” anymore without evoking the ugly zombie of some kind of “meditation”. We have here on the blog a clear dichotomy of good thinking versus bad “meditation”. If we use this dichotomy we are programmed too by consumer buddhism. We use the term too, in a negative way, that’s true, but we do not go beyond the dichotomy of thinking/meditation.

    The signifier “calming abiding” (shiné) for example is rendered useless because it comes from some “meditation” tradition. But the fine structured highly differentiated thought which exists about “meditation” in some Tibetan traditions is rendered useless by a) the Fetish-Buddhist industries and b) by a discussion which is fixated on certain kinds of right thinking in contrast to meditation.

    If we are not free to look at each and every practice without any pre-justice we are effectively neutralized by Fetish-Buddhism and consumer capitalism. We put ourselves into a corner.

    Therefore the first step, for me, with all this is to kick out all those foul signifiers. They bring with them all the associations, the connotations, that to a good part reside in the unconscious parts of our mind, nonetheless influencing what we think consciously. Not to throw away the foul signifiers is in the end to still risk being manipulated by Fetish-Buddhism to an unnecessary extent.

    To throw away the un-words means at the same time to become disenchanted in a certain way: Without these foul signifiers one looses the emblems of belonging. Most people judge other people by emblems. Kicking the foul signifiers overboard will lead people to think that there is nothing. They will astray away otherwise to find new pleasures in new pre-produced stale pseudo-thinking. Few will remain to engage in the experiment.

    I heard an interview with a german contrabass player some days ago. He does strange improvisations on his instrument. What he described what happens when he plays, how he prepares, how he feels afterwards is what I experience when I do a certain kinds of praxis. Does he do Buddhist practice? Does Alan do it in what he describes in #19? Do we do it? Certainly not! Is it Buddhist? Certainly not! It cannot be. “Buddhist practice” is the exact opposite: It sustains the Lie. What we practice is something entirely different. We practice skills which have to do with certain powerful situations in which free, creative expression and new thinking is enabled. The note from Alan’s former student is just about that.

    Many of the books this year caused me to think differently and confront prejudices and biases that I did not even know I had. (my emphasis)

    The second point, for me, is: See for yourself. This is an important principle. It is something like putting the whole experiment from its head on its feed. The contrabass player I mentioned said he feels how his “energy” is revived when he is playing and that he feels better, fresher, clearer after playing. Do we have to play contrabass to become capable of such an experience? Certainly not, but Buddhism tells us constantly that we have to play the ‘contrabass’.

    The experience the contrabass player relates is a sign for what I call relaxation. It is the mind active and at the same time being revived and not exhausted by its activity. It is very valuable to know how to deeply relax in this way, but there are thousand ways to do it. How about sex for example? Or pranayama? Understood rightly, what is the absolute exception, it can lead to profound experiences of this relaxation. Hatha yoga too. Some people are natural talents, they know how to trigger certain functions which lead them into a deeply relaxed and at the same time vividly conscious state.

    The important point is that many people already know this. They experience it in certain situations at least for short times. Fetish-Buddhism tells them that it is only the real thing when it is accomplished via the practices of Fetish-Buddhism (which of course forecloses it). The point is to bring people to experience what they (in a lot of cases) already know but thought that it is unimportant.

    See for yourself means, in other words: I cannot take somebody at the hand and simply tell him the truth. There has to be a kairos. Socrates had to die because he realized this and acted accordingly with his maieutics. I need to see for myself. In the christian mythology it is Thomas. He wanted to see for himself, to touch the wound with his own hand. It is a “decisive experience” – that’s an english rendering of a term from the dzogchen tradition. I translate this into my situation as an experience of becoming aware of the fact that I am a hodge podge of disparate content which emerges and vanishes constantly in my conscious thinking, which somehow is integrated through forces which are not (always) under my control and understanding, that I could be (what a shock) something totally different and that through becoming aware of this, something like a relative constant can be established from which it is possible to work on in a very different way.

    I suppose a certain kind of relaxation is a prerequisite for any decisive experience of the relativity of the self. It is needed because otherwise the reaction is panic, fear, repression of this thought through any means or any compulsive behavior we are used to to fend of the end of it all. Seen from this point of view relaxation becomes a means to break on through to the other side. It is a weapon.

    The shocking relativity of the self leads to the question of responsibility. That is the third point. What is this for? This game is dangerous. Thought has a certain force. How is this force-of-thought used? Fetish-Buddhism is itself only a reproductive site of a certain thought. In it relaxation, for example, is used to revive the reproductive mechanism which uses the force-of-thought for the few to feast on the many.

    The mahayana bodhisattva ideal and the ‘generating’ of bodhicitta, which is coupled with it, is, in the words of the late Herbert Guenther, one reaction to the insight that the self is not an entity uncoupled from its environment and that it is irresponsible to reach for nirvana without at the same time staying in touch. The bodhisattva-vow of Fetish-Buddhism in comparison is, of course, a narcissistic strategy of megalomania (I am saved, now let me be your savior – it’s easy to see how christian hubris creeps in here).

    I would throw overboard also these foul terms and use plain and simple “responsibility”. The third point would be about how to fill this signifier with significant meaning.

    Then there is “the group” (through overboard “sangha” too please). How does a group of people who (try to) realize that they have no fixed self interact? Again my second point would come in. Let’s see for ourselves.

    But there are rules and there is hierarchy. For example: Every apodictic expression is untrue per definition. That is a rule. And there is a hierarchy in which people are entitled to enforce this rule. The rule against apodiction is the rule against autocratic domination. Besides this hierarchy develops out the skills different people have. For example the mediator becomes the mediator because of his skills in mediation. S/he has to prove in praxis that s/he knows what a good mediation is. Perhaps mediation is a most important figure in the beginning of the group because s/he must remind people about the rules – which in themselves have to be developed by the group itself. One sees it is a complex process.

    But in regard of the rules it is not a beginning from zero. There are a lot of models how interaction can be fruitfuller then looking at the TV alone among others. People have knowledge. Alan in #19 has it and can bring it in. Ron Stillman has contributed something here in the thread “No More Meditation”.

    This means people coming together in a group should activate and develop their own knowledge.

    But the main point would be to depart from the point where the self is no longer regarded as a binding structure but as a potential. Potential means it is no longer a question if we are collective or atomistic. Potential means a situation in which it becomes clear that experience is intimately interwoven with the expression circulating in the group and that in this view there is no experience which is disconnected from the back and forth of expression – and this is just about the post, the next, the leaving behind of a finely delineated self. In such a group there would be responsibility of each to each other.

    My thinking is that the group develops into an autonomous entity inside the societies of control. It is about a commune…

  23. Robert Avatar

    Re 20, 21, 22. I agree with all that Tom is saying. But calling it a practice is unfortunate, not because it is a perfectly good concept that unfortunately is tainted, as I think Matthias argues, but because it is a concept that doesn’t add anything except a hint of the non-buddhist equivalent of a refuge vow and the suggestionof a predetermined outcome. In other words, it functions as a constraint. No mere human would ever think of calling activities such as thinking, talking, questioning a practice. It’s just what we do. So why do we think it is a good word at all?

    My thoughts on calling all this education tried to clarify what the limits of any such exercise would be. It will be very useful, and eye-opening, just as the existence of this very blog is eye-opening. But real thinking, thinking new thoughts, rarely happens like in such a situation. New political thinking occurs in a singular political context, thinking about a new direction in painting happens with a brush in hand, thinking new thoughts about communication doesn’t happen at the non-buddhist bookclub on Tuesday evening, but in the aftermath of an all-out quarrel with a partner. Let’s not get carried away by delusions of grandeur, another x-buddhist phenomenon also known as self-sufficiency.

    This isn’t just a plea to keep our language clear. I sometimes feel compelled to assume what I consider a strictly non-buddhist stance because of a tendency I see here to turn non-buddhism into another flavour of secular buddhism, just more radical and pure. If I am wrong, so much the better and no harm done, but I will continue to caution anyway, just to be on the safe side.

  24. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Robert (#23). I hope you’ll keep the promise of your last paragraph.

    How about the term “praxis”? I am suggesting this not just so that we can settle on a word and congratulate ourselves; but so that we have something to guide some more thinking and discussion.

    I just read something in Marx that reminded me that I used that term in a book I wrote on proto-tantric ritual. The idea there was really just the old notion that “praxis” names a way of being engaged in the world, with others, through action, and in communication. In my text, “practice” involved so much more than the term implies, so I used “praxis.” What it involves, in short, is creating a person and a world–or a World (in both Badiou’s and Laruelle’s senses). In the text I worked on (the Manjusrimulakalpa, ca. 8th century), the practitioner’s life was praxis, and praxis was his life. In Thesen über Feuerbach, Marx speaks of praxis as “revolutionary [or sweeping or cataclysmic–umwälzend: Matthias?], critical-practical activity.” The relationship between theory and practice seems to be a central issue throughout the history of the term, going back to Plato and Aristotle. Marx seems to want to come down hard on the side of the practical, yet as the practical is informed by the critical-theoretical. He says that since human activity is practical activity, praxis must prove the truth of thinking (theory). Theoretical critique in practice is potentially person-/world-changing. And as Tom has been saying in other terms, it is only through participating in society’s forms of praxis that one becomes a person. (So, what new or re-configured forms do we need to create different persons and different worlds?)

    So, maybe “praxis” is a term to work with for a while. It means: action informed by theory and critique, It can only be done with one’s whole life. It means a person acting creatively to transform the world around him (so it’s political).

    At some point, real world infrastructure has to be created. Who knows what form that will take? But I am glad we can count on you to remain “compelled to assume what [you] consider a strictly non-buddhist stance because of a tendency [you] see here to turn non-buddhism into another flavour of secular buddhism, just more radical and pure.”

    If you don’t keep this promise, you just might find two devout non-buddhists in suits and ties, with the Good Book of Non-Buddhism in hand, knocking on your door.

  25. saibhu Avatar

    The main force that drew me here (after the initial fascination I have for anything new) was the potential of SNB to make things explicit and becoming “aware” of things.

    Although I’m not yet sure what’s the point of this and whether it’s always a good thing I would argue that as soon as SNB looses this honesty it becomes just the next iteration of BBB (Buddhist Bullshit Bingo).

    So long,

  26. saibhu Avatar

    Sorry for the OT-post above, but as it relates to everything that was said and will be said I thought I’ll just drop my opinion here.

    I read the initial post again and it said concrete so maybe one concrete example:

    I don’t have any issues with hierarchy (I don’t even think we can avoid them, and they are already here), but I think we should make them explicit.

    I also think we would need some time for self-reflection, so part of this could be “why does he get to decide what texts we read?” etc.

    Now I’m too tired to think properly, hopefully I’ll come up with something more useful the next days.

  27. sometimes Avatar

    Along the lines of what Saibhu said (or perhaps the feeling I perceived from reading Saibhu’s posts)…sometimes I find myself wondering. I wonder whether the ideas floated around on this blog are ones that take on the tone of discovery, or the tone of someone attempting to “reveal” to me what the truth is. I find myself tending towards asking questions, learning new perspectives, attempting praxis with the through-line being discovery. But, if some of this rhetorhic is supposed to reveal some truth to me that I don’t yet have the capacity to know but might if I try hard enough…then this is not for me. I have spent my entire life, at every turn, being told that someone smarter, wiser, more experienced, better educated, with more authority has an ultimate truth if only I would believe it. I just can’t do that. Discovery and questioning and praxis on my own terms…that I can work hard to do. Belief just because I am told it is the truth…that I will not do. I must discover. It must be an active, not passive process for me. The only “A-ha” moments that I seem capable of having, are ones that I have gained through my own work…not through some revelation. Anyway, just some thoughts.

  28. Tom Pepper Avatar

    RE #17:

    Hi Shabe, good to hear from you. I heard that “Deer Hunting With Jesus” was good, but it sounds so depressing to me. In line with my version of practice, however, perhaps it would be a good idea to read a book that I will likely find uncomfortable or disturbing. Sometimes, making the effort to read something that is not “entertaining” is the best way to get outside my own ideology (I actually made it all the way through “Twilight” last summer–it was harder than any Zen retreat I’ve ever experienced!)

    On the question of introductions to Shin, I think the best is by Ueda and Hirota: “Shinran: an introduction to his thought.” Unfortunately, it’s out of print, but there is a pdf of most of the book here. Like many schools of Buddhism, Shin is quite divided. There’s a very conservative “official church” version that I’m not so fond of, which is very focused on Rennyo’s revision of Shin.

    RE #27: Sometimes: With the exception of some x-buddhist objectors, I don’t think anybody writing on this blog would accept that there is any such thing as “revealed” truth. There is no way that “rhetoric” can “reveal some truth” to anyone. Engaging in argument is simply a way to clarify thought, and avoid error. If we all only accept the discoveries we make ourselves from scratch, we would all be starting the world over and still struggling to learn to start a fire. Fortunately, there are those who are “smarter, wiser, more experienced, better educated” who have come before, and if we are willing to do a little work to understand them we don’t need to re-invent the conceptual wheel.

    My students express the same kind of anger you do, when I try to guide their reading of a poem. They impatiently invoke the rhetoric of intellectual oppression: what make YOUR interpretation better than MINE? Well, mine is better because I have a Ph.D. in this subject, and I’ve been teaching this for over twenty years, and you don’t even know what half the words in the poem mean–so maybe I can help you avoid wasting your time. There’s no revealing of divine truth–just help in explaining what, in your terms, “everyone has the capacity to know, if they try hard enough.”

  29. Robert Avatar

    Glenn, 24. If my two heroes, Marx and Tom, both think praxis is an ok term, than who am I to argue?

    At some point, real world infrastructure has to be created. Who knows what form that will take?

    Now that’s a scary notion! I am unlikely to stick around when that happens. I might as well shed my clothes and join the Naked Monk Club ™. What do you mean?

  30. DavidWebster Avatar

    Reblogged this on Dispirited and commented:
    From Speculative Non-Buddhists..

  31. sometimes Avatar

    Tom, There was/is no anger in my question. I have no problem with argument, or with learning from another’s perpective. I enjoy it in fact, and engage in it quite often. Those are just questions that occasionally come up as I read through this blog, that’s all. They were non-angry wonderings. Wonderings, not about the learning process, but about who we feel is capable of learning this truth, and how and who is capable of teaching it. You answered my question.

  32. Matthias Avatar

    Glenn, re #24, “revolutionary, critical-practical activity” & the German term “umwälzend”.

    It seems difficult to me to translate the term “umwälzend” from Thesen über Feuerbach with “cataclysmic” or “sweeping”. It see it is translated as “revolutionary” here. (1) This might be the best denotative translation. “Revolution” is “to turn” or “to rotate” like “wälzen”.

    As I read the text, “revolution” = “umwälzend” seems to have a very distinct meaning. In the third theses Marx criticizes Feuerbach’s view that society is divided into two parts of which one is superior to society. But in the sixth theses he says that

    “the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of the social relations.”

    From this follows that the seemingly superior part of society is such an ensemble too and it can be subject to change like the any other part. Therefore the last sentence in the third theses:

    The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice. (his emphasis)

    “Revolutionary” = “umwälzend”. If each single individual is the ensemble of the social relations than automatically every activity translates into either preservation or change. Therefore I think “umwälzend” is meant in the sense of an ongoing process which is triggered when one really wants change. In contrast “revolution” today is meant more like a cataclysmic or chaotic fluctuation after which a new equilibrium is developed. I therefore tend to think of “umwälzend” in this context as a movement which does not stop, which always puts into question itself and tries to identify new equilibrium-points which are the temptations to stop the movement once and for all. The latter is, I think, what Robert warns about.

    I think it also becomes clear from the Feuerbach theses that if each single individual is an “ensemble of the social relations” and this individual really wants change, than so called theoretical thinking automatically becomes praxis because sensuousness (sinnliche Anschauung) is in- or reformed through the critique and begins to see differently. Thus, through this seeing differently, together with the fact that there is no single individual unrelated to the social sphere, critical thinking feeds back automatically into the social relation and begins to trigger Umwälzung.

    It seems to me, in relation to our project here, but also generally spoken, the main question is if one really wants change. If this really is the case, every thought is practical and the second theses becomes reality.

    (1) I find this translation unsatisfactory. This is the German version.

  33. sometimes Avatar

    I should also clarify my wonderings (which calling them that should suggest perhaps not fully formed or set in stone.) I am very interested in this idea of self/personality that is co-created by the social systems around us. Also intrigued by the idea that this means we have some obligation to the social system around us, either to change it or leave it unchanged, but either way with a new awareness of what that system means for our personality ensemble. Along those lines, I should clarify that I do not think that the things I have discovered are at all “from scratch.” Are they ever for any of us? The above ideas about personality would suggest that none of us EVER learn anything in a vacuous bubble, and that we are all coming to “revelations” through the social systems around us, be they educational, religious, familial, etc… I agree with this idea mostly. Therefore I feel the need to clarify what I call “discoveries through my own hard work.” What I meant was that, after being informed by the social system around me, let’s say this blog, I then do the work of thinking and questioning and reading and meditating…and THEN can come to some discovery or change/evolution in the way that I think. What I objected to was the idea that one can simply be told that something is the truth, and then must believe because someone that is perceived as more knowledgeable has said so. That 1,2 step is hard for me. Which is perhaps why I have a hard time staying with any belief system for too long without asking too many questions and saying fuck it. But I digress. Perhaps most on this blog are indeed not suggesting that and are in fact providing multiple steps and multiple angles to explore these ideas. I see and appreciate that. I do however think that there is occasionally a danger of pushing people away from this exploration by making a value judgment about what kind of background and skill is required to be fully part of the process, or even be considered capable of engaging fully.

    Re #32 Thanks Matthias for your thoughts. I find them interesting and give me something to consider. One question, when we talk about someone wanting to change, as we often do on this blog, what are we interested in changing from and to? It seems that I am in a constant state of change and flux and incorporating new ideas and motivations. I wonder if there is some implied endpoint, or if in fact by change we mean engaged. Do we mean changing from “zombies” to engaged individuals? Or is there another kind of change that we are attemtpting to figure out or encourage? Perhaps this question has been answered over and over already…and still I ask.

  34. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Robert (#29). The second we step out of our isolation we are involved in real-world infrastructure. It’s typically a structure of someone else’s making. I am giving thought to what new kinds of structures are needed to create the kinds of changes that I am interested in seeing. One example of what I mean by a real-world structure is this blog. Another is the book that is coming out of it. Another is a sitting/discussion group that meets on Monday nights. Another is a seminar-style creativity-and-meditation group (that Sometimes/April initiated). Another is a master’s level meditation studies curriculum for professionals. That’s the sort of thing I mean. Again, the moment we step out of our isolated holes, we find ourselves in the midst of social structures. So, what new ones might do us all some good?


    Others: A lot of valuable comments. I look forward to putting in my two cents, as soon as I get some more time. Thanks!

  35. sometimes Avatar

    I think that forums like this, seminar style meditation groups that include non–Buddhist materials and discussions and give equal weight to people of all backgrounds, are a great place to start. I like the idea that creativity is fostered where there is a balance between chaos and structure. According to research that has been done, optimal creativity does not happen with either too much structure or too much chaos. There must be some effort to maintain chaos in the midst of structure. I think this is an important thing to remember when we are talking about praxis groups. And, by creativity I am not just talking about the arts, but the creative process that happens when we are trying to figure out new ways to engage in social action, and to change political systems.

  36. sometimes Avatar

    I also, tend to think that the exact language and direction that the group takes, are things that evolve naturally. Much like Buddha said to just try it and see for yourself, I think that praxis groups just have to try it, see what works, and evolve from there. There may be no exact script that works for every group, as each group will develop its own social system that will be slightly unique. I think you can have goals, and then periodically assess whether the group is meeting that goal, if not then adjust and see what happens. I am not sure if these are the “concrete” ideas that you were asking for…but maybe that terminology does not work where impermanence is a rule/truth.

  37. Shabe L Avatar
    Shabe L

    Thanks for the suggestion; I will follow through and try and learn a bit about Shin.

  38. Craig Avatar

    Anyone aware of or have thoughts on Ken McLeod. Website is below. His thing is practical Buddhism. Definitely x-Buddhist and maybe another category. His main point is that practice is cultivating a capacity of attention and using this to become aware of reactive patterns. Probably still too narrow for this project.

  39. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Hi Craig (#38). Thanks for the Ken McLeod link. I just perused his site. My quick response to what he is doing would be the same as my response to what the secular Buddhists are up to: traditional Buddhism through and through, but with some post-Enlightenment jimmies thrown on top. The site is permeated by language, values, prescriptions, allegiances, rhetoric, assumptions, and, most significantly, sufficiency. In short, the Pragmatic Buddhism site exemplifies what Matthias Steingass identifies as “The authoritarian structure of Sufficiency-Superiority-Exclusion [which] forces us to remain controllable [x-buddhist] atoms.”

    Does that make sense to you? In the terms of this blog’s projects, McLeod is a custodian of the sprawling network of x-buddhist postulation. Some of his site’s quotes are therefore very ironic, like this one from Abbie Hoffman: “Sacred cows make the best hamburger.” His Pragmatic Buddhist seems to me to be a veritable pasture of big fat sacred cows. This Orwellian double-speak is one of the defining features of the softy-liberal forms of contemporary western x-buddhism.

    Other saying on McLeod’s site are more transparent and honest, like this one by Emerson espousing authority: “Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” What would we expect from a modern “pragmatic Buddhist who can, without the slightest sense of embarrassment, write:

    The teacher-student relationship is based on a shared aim — your awakening to the mystery of being…You, as a student, have two responsibilities:

    To practice what is taught as it is given
    To apply the practice in your life

    If you do not trust that the teacher, in the role of teacher, is helping you to wake up, you will inevitably interpret the teacher’s actions through the lens of the reactive patterns that keep you from waking up.

    So, to my ears, McLeod’s is precisely the sort of x-buddhism that advocates of a mature, honest, effective, and thinking form of contemporary praxis must reject.

    What do you think?

  40. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    April, re #33, “change”

    That is an interesting question: What is change? What do I mean with change. I would say it has a lot to do with curiosity.

    Regarding the context here on this blog I would say it has to do, technically speaking, with trying to recognize one’s decisional structures. Practically speaking, in my case, this means for example seeing that my life long interest in Buddhism (which manifested two times in more specific ways) had to do, among other things, with a kind of romantic quest. Changing for me then means to realize this – that he romantic quest for the true self, for real fulfillment, for true realization is a narration with its roots in our culture and that this narration could easily be something totally different. But of course that does not mean that while I am on the quest for the holy grail, I already know that at some point I will realize that this is a fantasy. Changing means for me to recognize the aporias, the paradoxes, that appear underway, looking when something does not fit. The curiosity to look at it in this moment. That is much more easy to say in theory than to make happen in real life – it’s all to easy to walk by the aporia without noticing it because repression is such a subtle mechanism which hides what does not fit.

    I think another point which is crystalizing here is that we want to become more active in our environment in our situation – that is at least my feeling. The new thought wants to see consequences or better it begins to manifest more clearly. In my case again, I perhaps need to jump again. Change means sometimes, I am always only speaking about me, to risk a step which consequences I don’t know.

    Also, when you say that you seem to be in a constant state of change and flux and incorporating new ideas, that sounds to me very much like the process. Not going from A to B, from one entity to the next, but much more being the movement. I would exemplify this with conversation, for example. A moving conversation would mean hearing someone talking and being curious what s/he is meaning, what ideas come up, what interjections I can make and what reactions they would bring (and of course vice versa). …its difficult to explain… someone mentioned here in another thread that my thinking about conversation sounds a bit like a psychoanalytic group session. Maybe this is in part true in that the hearer must be able to follow the words and at the same time must be aware of his own reactions, associations, ideas etc. If somebody can establish such a mode, s/he is not longer acting under the pressure to re-act. It would say then talking becomes much more like a poetic movement, in which ideas pop up and one becomes really curious what else there might be. This would be the process and not a mechanic walk from stasis point A to stasis point B. I like your term “engaged” in this context. It is to bind something, in a certain way. It is also about becoming engaged with somebody in a way. Actually isn’t being in love the best example? I mean, one is ready for any change when one falls in love. Conversation with the beloved one is like wonder after wonder. One never stops marveling about what happens next. Excitement about an idea, maybe this is falling in love with an idea.

    Again, in the context of this blog, the question then is what ideas are the good ones? Where do we want to go? Curiosity sets in again, the story goes on. But there is no endpoint in my view.

  41. Craig Avatar

    Glenn (#39)-
    Thanks for your pespective on McLeod’s site and teaching. Coming from a place of suffering and yearning, but also proudly ciritical, one could easily see McLeod as ‘the answer’. However, once in the fold, the critical part vanishes as one is to do exactly what the teacher says! My reaction to every dharma center, teaching etc. has always been to call bull-shit. However, I just pushed that under the carpet as I wanted to be liberated from my reactive patterns. Alas, I still felt like a failure as I had/have the hardest time getting into a sitting practice. Anyway, I’ve always had this incling that some authentic criticism or liberation would have to involve getting out. No one wins, except maybe the teacher maintaining the institution.

    Ironically, (and this may blow away any credibility I have on this site 🙂 I find mantra yoga (for lack of a better term) helpful.

  42. sometimes Avatar

    Matthias, re #40,

    I really appreciate your thoughtful answer. It is reassuring to me. Much of what you described sounds similar to my own answer to the question about change, endpoint, and flux. Curiosity and awareness, I like both of these ideas. Being curious throughout a discussion, enough to attempt incorporating new ideas and see how they fit. Add to that the (attempted) awareness of my own biases, reactions, and efforts to hide things from myself. And I think that equals what I am trying to do here and in my life.

    As far as love goes, I can truly say that I am usually in a CONSTANT state of wonder when having discussions with my husband…but not in the romantic sense that I think you meant. 😉

    Anyway, I find your explanation comforting in that perhaps I am on somewhat of a useful track here. I was beginning to wonder. Thanks.

    Craig, re #41,

    I find myself in a similar situation in MANY social systems (not just Buddhist) in that after a very short while I want to call BULLSHIT as well. I think that the “feeling like a failure” is a huge chink in the “Buddhist Teaching” armor. Sometimes I wonder, whether conscious or not, if that becomes a way to keep a human being entrenched in a social system. Have them feeling like a failure and like they have no hope of doing this on their own…and they are hooked. I think the set up, by most organized religions, that escape from this human form is somehow possible…is a set up for failure and a set up for a guaranteed “flock.”

    What if a teacher said, “There is no escape from this human form?” What if they said, “I don’t know much more than you, and we are all in this thing together?” What if they said, “impermanence means that even this equanimity we think we will find will absolutely come and go…and that is okay?” What if our teachers admitted that even they react inappropriately, because they too are human and there is no escape from the flux that comes with impermanence?

    I think I read somewhere on this blog that hierarchy was okay because there is no getting around it. I don’t know that I buy that idea. Certainly there are people who know more about some things than me, but the opposite is also true. Certainly there are things that I have more experience with than others. I have done hierarchy before (church, military) I wonder if there is a different way in meditation praxis groups. Perhaps this is the “new infrastructure” that Glenn mentioned. Not sure, but certainly curious about it.

  43. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Hi Craig (#41).

    Ironically, (and this may blow away any credibility I have on this site) I find mantra yoga (for lack of a better term) helpful.

    This is a good opportunity to remind readers that the “non” in non-buddhism is not a negation of Buddhism. The project here requires Buddhism–on its side–to remain as it is. Only then can non-buddhism–on its side–do its work. Non-buddhism is interested in taking x-buddhist material, and doing things with it. Non-buddhism accepts as axiomatic x-buddhism’s claim that it is in possession of valuable materials for human beings. But when we consider x-buddhism’s treatment of its own materials, certain disturbing features become apparent. Many of these features have been discussed throughout this blog. In sum, these features add up to x-buddhism’s subsuming human thinking and acting under its specular authority. It entraps the practitioner in its vast and potent network of postulation. The animating desire of x-buddhism is the replication of x-buddhism. (Secular Buddhism desires further iterations of Secular Buddhism; Pragmatic Buddhism desires further iterations of Pragmatic Buddhism, and so on and on. The animating desire of non-buddhism is the recalibration of the human to para-zero. Given that desire and the kinds of operations it entails, x-buddhist materials become alien forms in the hands of non-buddhism. The irony here is that the forms, recalibrated to para-zero, become the mere human, and thus unrecognizable to x-buddhism.

    Take your interest in mantra yoga as an example. What is it about that practice that you find valuable? Whatever it is, the non-buddhism thesis holds, it can be reduced to its mere-human properties. That is, maybe you get certain effects from reciting a phrase repeatedly for a certain amount of time. What are the mechanisms of those effects? Wherein lay its force? What happens when you begin to strip away certain elements that are swirling around the particular forms of the practice–elements stemming from doctrines and beliefs rather than from the brute mechanisms; such as cosmology, ideas about supernatural force, moral notions of purity and merit, and so on? Does the brute form of ritually repeating a phrase maintain its value? Or are the (comforting?) beliefs part of what you value? If so, can that aspect of the practice be seen as a form of hallucination? Or is it a useful fiction that serves some purpose that you want to maintain is worth preserving?

    Speculative non-buddhism is not a doctrine. It’s not an improved version of x-buddhism. So, there is no a priori judgement about mantra practice of meditation or any other x-buddhist material. Non-buddhism is a critical method for doing the kind of work on x-buddhist materials that we discuss here. So, I would be interested in how you, for instance, might view mantra yoga in light of the non-buddhist operations.


  44. Craig Avatar

    #7-marxism has holes just like Buddhism has, if not more. Like the dharma, it’s a pipe dream. We can’t rely on anything…but I still have to get the kids to bed even though I’m tired. Buddhism can’t help and neither can Marx. Is ther any practice that can? Or is that not the point of practice?

  45. Tom Pepper Avatar

    RE #44: This is the kind of idiotic crap I have no patience for. Just spouting the old “marxism is a pipe dream” line is NOT an argument. Buddhism doesn’t help you get the kids to bed–well you’re an ass for thinking it would. I’m sure you know nothing about Marx you couldn’t hear on Fox New, but you are sure marxism is useless and wrong. If you think that all of Buddhist thought is a silly pipe-dream, that’s your loss-you’ve mistaken the mass-market fluff for Buddhism and are sure there can’t be anything more to it than you’ve read in Tricycle. So, starting out as an ignorant idiot, what practice can help you? Maybe start by reading a few books, and finding out just how very ignorant you are. Asserting that anything you don’t know a damn thing about MUST therefore be wrong and foolish is CERTAINLY not going to help with anything at all. If you want to learn something, do a little work, if you just want to assert your right to ignorance, shut the hell up.

  46. Craig Avatar


    My point was that every ‘ism’ can be looked at critically. i was surprised to see someone admit that they were a specific ‘ism’ in this context of changing our ideologies. So I’m seriously curious about non-fluff buddhism is? Mass market fluff buddhism could involve the notion of an unconditioned ultimate dharma (the pipe dream). Can Buddhism (as you describe above as being more than that read in Tricycle) or non-buddhism actually help us in our daily lives? Hence the ‘getting the kids to bed while tired’ example. Or maybe that isn’t the right question. Seems as though looking critically at x-buddhist practices from the non-buddhist perspective might shed some light (as i was invited to do above).

    Name calling is hardly dialog and unnecessary. I wasn’t attmepting to argue with you…you’re obviously unavailable for arguments although you are available to make lots of assumptions about me and take the time to respond to ‘this idotic crap’. One of the reasons we are here is to honestly and critially look at x-buddhist practices and see what’s left, or what might be useful.

  47. Tom Pepper Avatar

    RE #44: Craig: if your point is that every “ism” can be looked at critically, then do it! Dismissing something without any actual argument, simply claiming that any “ism” is automatically bad, is not an argument. I am alway “available for argument”, but I have no tolerance for cheap rhetoric that shuts down all argument. Saying that something is “full of holes” and a “pipe dream” is not likely to be taken to mean “we should critically examine it.”

  48. Tomek Avatar

    Tom #45

    If you think that all of Buddhist thought is a silly pipe-dream, that’s your loss-you’ve mistaken the mass-market fluff for Buddhism and are sure there can’t be anything more to it than you’ve read in Tricycle.

    Maybe not ‘silly’, maybe not a ‘pipe-dream’, but I clearly remember that it was explicitly called a dharmic dream many times on this blog. Not to mention “x-buddhistic hallucination”… Do you think Tom that, serious I assume, “Buddhist thought” can ultimately somehow avoid this designation? Do you really think that the decision – especially in it’s affective mode – that stands behind “Buddhist thought” and this what you call Tricycle “mass market fluff” is really any different? How about the cognitive split that goes hand in hand with that comforting effect of the presence of the fictional warrant? Do you really believe that serious Buddhist thought can somehow prevent the mass market production of the fluff without cutting it’s own throat?

  49. Craig Avatar


    Nothing like calling me an ‘idiot’ and an ‘ass’ to get the dialog going. You haven’t even paid attention to what I’ve written as you are blinded by your reactionary anger at three words taken out of context. Is this how you teach your dharma classes? Can you try and see past the comparison of Marxist Utopia and the Dharma as pipe-dreams comment. It was just a comparison to start a discussion. Not a barb, not cheap rhetoric and not a proclamation.

    My point (argument if you wish) is that everything can be criticized, Marxism, Buddhism, Maoism, Democratic Socialism, Endism. We agree on this. Given this, I would really like to know how you came to claim being a Liberal Marxist. Did you think it all through, come to the end of the critical project for yourself, or is it an ongoing project? Could that process be helful in this critical project focusing on buddhsim? For me, every political ideology and religious ideology has let me down because I can’t get past the holes criticism pokes in them. An example is the dharmic dream Tomek mentioned. To me enlightenment, buddhist utopia is a pipe-dream that I initially believed in then slowly became disenchanted with….and ended up here. You seem to have been able to concretley claim an ism for yourself. How’d you do it?

  50. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    April, re #40, “Love” and “poetic talk”

    My use of terms like this to describe change could easily be taken as naïve and or silly – maybe this is right to an extent. One has to be crazy, to a certain extent, to get somewhere. Anyway, what I want to say is, a conversation which makes change happen doesn’t have to be lovely, and by poetic I do not mean sweet, lyrical and rosy. It’s a struggle. I want to say, it does not have to be sweet. Poetic intercourse should be filled with blood, it should be risky, a tense presence. And one can be so fucking wrong. The emotional force of romantic love is an example how far one can go with it, how forceful one can be, but it implies also how strong a decision can become.

  51. sometimes Avatar

    Matthias, re #50,

    Agreed. I myself vacillate between the lyrical/rosy and bloody struggle all of the time…in my poetry, the living of my life, and in discussions. And, I am totally find with this, in fact am pretty sure that the vacillation is unavoidable. Chaos is necessary in the process of change/creativity, so is some level of structure. Also agree regarding making “decisions.” It seems too often that when I DECIDE something “once and for all,” I am usually reminded very quickly how silly that kind of thinking is for me. It seems that the more I try to make something concrete, the wider the flux that I begin to notice around me.

  52. Tom Pepper Avatar

    RE #48 & 49:

    I apologize for my overreaction. I detected the presence of the pervasive rhetoric of postmodernism, and started swinging. There is nothing more destructive today than the insistence that everything is relative, so all opinions are equally right and equally wrong, and anything we say is just another “ism” that must be wrong, unless we only mean it ironically. To borrow Badiou’s metaphor, postmodernism would attempt to suffocate the truth in the soft, comfortable pillow of tolerance and detachment.

    I do think there is much to be salvaged from Buddhist thought–for thousands of years, Buddhists have been serious and rigorous thinkers, some of the greatest philosophers of all humanity, and while we can expect much of it to be lackluster and reactionary, some of it is surely useful and brilliant. It is only in the last fifty years or so, in the West, that it has been decided that “real” Buddhism shuns thought and argument, and only tries to live blissfully in the moment. Surely this would come as a surprise to Buddha, Nagarjuna, Chadrakirti, Zhiyi, Rinzai–but then, as I have been strongly informed by Tricyle Buddhists, none of them were “real Buddhists.” (Yes, even the Buddha of the Pali canon is not a “real Buddhist,” just a propaganda tool, I’m told, and only American followers of Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama, who understand the great benefits of the natural way of capitalism and mindless contemplation/consumption, are “real Buddhists”).

    This delusion that we must never think, only seek bodily bliss, is the dharmic dream, the ridiculous hallucination. I take Laruelle’s “decision” to be the moment of sliding from thought about the mind-independent world into the realm of the ideological, and failing to notice it. Non-philosophy is not “anti-philosophy,” and non-buddhism is not anti-buddhism. The goal it to avoid mistaking your ideology for a transcendent truth. The Buddhist concept of anatman is a brilliant insight into the real nature of our subjectivity–when it gets transformed into belief in a world-transcendent consciousness that remains untouched by “empty phenomena,” then it has slipped into hallucination, delusion, and the dharmic dream. And I repeat, I am not a “liberal” in any sense of the word.

    I do think Buddhist thought, like marxism, CAN in fact escape the trap of reactionary ideology, because that is what it originally set out to do, and has done periodically throughout the centuries. There will always be a reactionary subject looking to contain the threat in the comforting pillow of non-thought, but that’s what we need to argue against.

    To begin, though, we need to learn to think dialectically. Just because something can be criticized (everything can, and should, be) doesn’t mean we should throw it out, and give up on thought all together. Our grasp on truth is infinitely corrigible.

  53. Tom Pepper Avatar

    And just one more note on how I teach dharma school: in my experience, children are never dismissive of things they know nothing about, but generally curious and willing to ask the hard questions. It isn’t until the high-school years that they become junior-pomos, anti-intellectuals who think they can google any “information” they need, and that any sustained thought is a stupid waste of time, because everything it just a matter of opinion anyway.

    Now as for how I teach my college classes–I have a big stick . . .

  54. Craig Avatar

    #53, 52:

    Yeah, the irony and sarcasm of my ‘pipe-dream’ comment got lost in the print. To me, it has been a breath of fresh air to see critique of buddhism without being dismissive, but seriouis and rigorous. Borktewicz finds Marx’s value theory inconsistent with the big picture, but he doesn’t blow off the entire project. There’s some serious stuff there, just like there’s serious stuff in buddhism (like you said). Relativism is a slippery slope so your notion of a dialectic totally makes sense to me. If we’re careful, relativism might be used in the critical process like Rentein suggests.

    I would really like to hear how you manage being a non-buddhist and a dharma teacher (practicing pureland buddhist?) Althought I didn’t have the termonology, I’ve been struggling with that for years. It has always been dismissed by teachers as just reactions that need to attended to, but not acted upon.

    Alsoc, X-buddhism’s mindless consumpton…what are they consuming? For starters, I’d say Time?

    I’m definitely in the ‘what’s my method’ stage of this project 🙂

  55. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel

    This is my recollection/perspective:



    On the project of being human, buddhism failing the human, and the mirror of practice.

    What is not human in the first place? Isn´t anything that looks as a non-human proposition also human?
    What (really) fails the human? Oppression, injustice, the “society of control”.
    Hard thinking and cognitive ease. Intuition. The real importance of failure.

    A practice of limits, the importance of not knowing.
    The Lie/Truth lie. Every apodictic expression is untrue by definition.

    The fetish/consumer buddhism and consumer capitalism.

    Skills in the group: the mediator/s
    each individual is an ensemble of social relations
    an unending process of construction
    the good ideas and the dangers of group self-validation

    An enquiry into what existence is, changes existence itself.
    The creation of a social vehicle for change.



    Self-criticize deeply
    Enrich the analysis of what is “the human”
    Do not postulate any axioms, just yet at least


    1. There seems to be an impulse here, rather than a drive, for the social, and for social change. The potential of unlocking individual transformative change seems to be the enchantment or attractiveness of a buddhist practice here for some. Whichever way it may be seen, I don’t see how any form of practice, praxis or non-buddhism could effectively surpass the (otherwise limited in any case) effectiveness of the psychoanalytical dispositive, which in itself remains expensive and privileged in many senses beyond the obvious. If any, it would be the facilitation of that psychoanalytical dispositive for the many or all what could bring about the unlocking of deep personal transformation and not any form of buddhism whatsoever.

    2. From a theoretical point of view, I think this practice, however it may be named, cannot even begin to pretend to surpass life-long formal (nobel prize winning and non-nobel prize wining) research in the field of the mind. The pretended authority that some ideas of one academic marxist professor with one or two followers is by no means a substitute, not even a complement, of the vast useful knowledge already existing in this field out there. If anything adhering to some of his ideas seems a mere justification for compensating the inherent limit of buddhism with a yet another form of rebranded idealism that states something like the following: buddhism is very valuable only that it should be rescued from itself…. which is why makes it end remarkably close to secular buddhism´s intent (hence the almost desperate need of differentiation from it). Failure, from my point of view, is not only implicit but already certain in that direction.

    3. Much less, however well intended it may be, can this intent realistically even pretend becoming a more effective tool of social change than politics itself, the strengthening and good use of actual public debate, the existence of the modern democratic State, the state of law and the power of economic relations.


    Overall I suggest that this practice be conceptualized as an unending process of personal/collective elucidation and construction that strengthens ethical adaptative success as opposed to reproductive success, where ethical adaptative success is the concrete praxis of a better life for all in each concrete situation.

    I see this more as study group, of what by the way I would call Critical Buddhism, than anything else, at least at this point, and I think that there is a long long way to go to get us all to agree on what this new practice can be.

    And there is where I think its most important contribution is, which is in helping each other, as a collective vehicle, in the process of co-creating a new vision of what an entirely new and much more effective practice can be.


    What, then, is the human and what is not the human?

    Why x-buddhism fails the human?

    Are these the best questions?

  56. Tomek Avatar

    Tom # 52

    This delusion that we must never think, only seek bodily bliss, is the dharmic dream, the ridiculous hallucination. I take Laruelle’s “decision” to be the moment of sliding from thought about the mind-independent world into the realm of the ideological, and failing to notice it. Non-philosophy is not “anti-philosophy,” and non-buddhism is not anti-buddhism. The goal it to avoid mistaking your ideology for a transcendent truth.

    I think that the whole point of Glenn’s application of non-philosophy to his project is in the first place to suspend the whole network of x-buddhistic thoughts/postulations. And it is done in order to unveil the radically immanent, empty reality laying separately beneath that hallucinatory network protected by the dharmic warrant. It is similar move to Laruelle’s suspension of philosophical conflation of reality ‘as such’ with the Real ‘itself’ and cancellation of dyadic reciprocity between thought and the Real, which constitute as Brassier reminds, this so called Principle of Sufficient Philosophy. “Not everything is philosophisable, that is my good news. The first two things which are not are man and science, which are one and the same.” writes Laruelle (taken from Brassiers Alien Theory) So basically I agree with you, the principle aim of non-philosophy seem to be to question the presupposed “identity-in-difference” of thinking and reality, philosophy and world which are synthesized by decision, thus making philosophy the World.

    But returning to your point of salvaging the serious Buddhist thought… It is to me, to say the least, a bit problematic when seen through the lenses of SNB. Why? Because the x-buddhistic thoughts/representations of reality as lets say, sunyata are very likely replaceable by other thinking tools which are not inevitably laden with dharmic charism or as Glenn says do not “pluck the heartstrings of souls vibrato”, that is, they are more resistant (as I hope scientific ideas are) to sliding from thought as thought vis a vis empty reality to the level of ideological conflation of thought/representation with empty reality. I have an impression that you seem to somehow fail to notice this compulsory identity of x-buddhistic grammar and The Dharma as transcendental warrant. Warrant that both secures potentially serious thought as well as mass-marketed fluff. Glenn’s good news for those in the phase of ancoric loss is as I see it that not everything has to be protected by The Dharma (philosophisable as says Laruelle), that the Norm with it’s grammar are in fact just a forms of hallucination of empty reality, which is as he says “not an issue for Buddhism; it is none of Buddhism’s business. Empty reality is nothing at all.”

  57. Tom Pepper Avatar

    RE #54: The reason I am interested in Shinran is that he was able to escape the dharmic dream, to simply admit that the monk on Mt. Hiei were hypocrites and nobody was really getting enlightened, that he himself was being a hypocrite. He refused to start his own school of Buddhism, and said he had not students, that he was just a fellow student of the truth. When I teach dharma school, I teach the kids the standard stories AS stories, the same way we would teach them any other work of fiction. The story of Buddha’s life as a prince in a palace who witnesses sickness and death and old age clearly did not happen, but it is a story we can get something out of, just like we can out of any work of fiction. I always tell the kids that this story is absolutely not true, could not have been literally true because of where Siddhartha supposedly came from, but that isn’t important. When we talk about the “pure land,” the kids understand that it doesn’t exist, that it is purely imaginary, a kind of visualization technique: what would the world be like if it were just like you wanted it to be. I read them the description in the pure land suttras, which is completely unappealing to them, then we talk about why someone might imagine this kind of world as a fantasy world, and what kind of world they imagine. (Their pure lands are usually much more focused on the body–there are not jewels and gold sands and perfectly flat land, but rolling hills and lots of lakes and streams and candy and waffles growing on trees).

    Even in our grown-up discussion group, we don’t take the pure-land literally. One member of the group suggested that she employs Coleridge’s “willing suspension of disbelief” when reading sutras, reading them as poems or works of fiction.

    What do Buddhists consume? Everything, but mindfully. I often come back to that horrid passage in Thich Nhat Hanh’s book “Answers from the Heart,” where he describes a man coming up to Plum Village in an expensive luxury car and asking advice about his job making weapons of mass destruction. TNH tells him it is fine to keep the job, because he will do it mindfully (apparently we wouldn’t want somebody making sloppy or ineffective weapons of mass destruction). So it is good to drive a Mercedes to the retreat, then go home to your mcmansion and sip your expensive wine in front of your hi-def 3d tv, just do it mindfully! Enjoy your luxury so “mindfully” that no thought of the suffering of those who produced those goods for starvation wages can ever enter your mind.

  58. Tom Pepper Avatar

    Tomek, re #56: I do see your point about the ideological power of certain Buddhist terms–Matthias has argued the same thing. However, I don’t think there are any terms ever that are completely free of the danger of being co-opted by obscurantism. My goal is to keep the concepts and strip away the “dharmic charism,” to drag the useful concept out of the cloud of ideological obfuscation. It is my position that no term more likely to pluck the heartstrings and obscure thought, to give an unearned “transcendental warrant” to any kind of nonsense, than the term “recent science proves.” Scientific terms are far more easily pressed into ideological service for MOST Americans today than are philosophical or Buddhist terms. We want to stop teaching our college students to think critically, and make college into a place to memorize information and get technical training, so “recent neuroscience proves” that the brain is not “mature” and cannot really think in abstract terms until the mid-twenties (or, now at least 32). We want to convince people to stop thinking and focus on the bodily bliss of inactivity, so “moder science proves” that mediation (defined as NOT thinking) makes one happier–when of course, it “proves” nothing of the kind, unless we are willing, as the neuroscientists did, to define “happiness” as the capacity to remain oblivious to what is going on around us, to be undistractable in our state of mental torpor.

    My position is that we always live in our ideology–we absolutely need to escape the illusion of “correspondence” or “correlationism,” our ideology does NOT “reflect” the mind-independent world at all. We can always only live in our ideology, but we can know that it is an ideology. To try to escape into purely “scientific” terms, with the illusion that then we are outside of ideology, free of it, is an common error, and just a new form of the “decision” Laruelle is trying to warn us not to make. So these Buddhst terms may have some ideological function, but that is not a bad thing, provided we know that they are ideological and don’t fool ourselves that they are ancient ineffable “wisdom” or timeless “truths.”

  59. Tom Pepper Avatar

    How about Disaster as a Buddhist practice?

    While thinking about useful forms of praxis which might promote social change, I came across an essay written in 1961 by Charles E. Fritz and entitled: “Disasters and Mental Health: Therapeutic Principles Drawn From Disaster Studies.” This essay is mentioned in the final chapter of Paul Mattick’s Book Business As Usual: The Economic Crisis and the Failure of Capitalism. The final chapter of Mattick’s book, entitled “The Future of Capitalism” offers an ominous prognosis:

    “If this way of looking at the economy is correct—and the whole earlier history of capitalism suggests it is—there can be no real solution to the difficulties so dramatically manifested since 2007 other than the deep depression whose avoidance has been the main goal of economic policy for the last forty years”

    However, the economy is only a part of the problem, because due to the dependence of industrial production on burning fossil fuels:

    “even if continuing stagnation should slow greenhouse gas-caused climate change, the damage already done is extremely serious . . . the rolling parade of disasters is, unfortunately, only getting started; it will accompany a stagnant economy and only be exacerbated by a return to true prosperity.
    What both of these ongoing social stresses promise is that the decline of the economy, however cyclically inflected, will simply be the lead-in to a crisis of the social system as such . . . This idea may seem unreal today to those of us who still live for the most part in what remains of the material prosperity wrought by postwar capitalism, much as the misery and terror of the inhabitants of war-torn Congo are hard to grasp for the inhabitants of New York or Buenos Aires. But this demonstrates only imagination’s weakness, not the unreality of the challenges in store for us . . .”

    Mattick then mentions Charles E. Fritz, who after decades of studying the effects of disasters ranging from the bombing of cities in WWII to floods and earthquakes, determines that catastrophic events have effects very similar to those often touted for x-buddhist practice. Some highlights from Fritz’s creepy but fascinating essay:

    ➢ Disaster provides a form of societal shock, which disrupts habitual, institutionalized patterns of behavior and renders people amenable to social and personal change. The essential effect of shock is to arrest habitual repetitive patterns of behavior and to cause a redefinition and restructuring of the situation in accordance with present realities. Shocking or traumatic events tend to demonstrate the inapplicability or insufficiency of previous modes of behavior and to render persons suggestible to changes that will permit ongoing action to be reinstituted. A shock, therefore, always contains the seeds of change, especially when accompanied by a change in the objective conditions of life involving a removal or obliteration of the stimulus support for old habits of action. (55)

    ➢ Disaster provides an unstructured social situation that enables persons and groups to perceive the possibility of introducing desired innovations into the social system. Although the perception that the “old” and “stable” form of life is gone or modified by the disaster initially tends to be disorganizing in nature, the breaking of the “cake of custom” is often perceived by many groups in the society as desirable once the immediate problems of rescue, medical care, and subsistence become solved. Changes and adjustments made during the emergency period give proof that the restructuring or changing of the social system is possible. People see the opportunity for realizing certain wishes that remained latent and unfulfilled under the old system. They see new roles that they can create for themselves. They see the possibility of wiping out old inequities and injustices. The opportunity for achieving these changes in the culture lends a positive aspect to disasters not normally present in other types of crisis. (56)

    ➢ Culturally derived discriminations and social distinctions tend to be eliminated in disaster . . . there is a temporary breakdown in social class, ethnic group, and other hierarchical status distinctions, and a general democratization of the social structure. The reference changes from “only I have suffered” to “all of us have suffered; we are all in it together. This is the basis for the widespread feeling of community and equality of suffering found in disasters.(58)

    ➢ The losses and destruction engendered by disaster automatically establish transcendent goals with which the individuals can identify and relate their own actions. The overriding goals of survival, rehabilitation, and reconstruction are inherent in the nature of the disaster situation. The common struggle to overcome the dangers and privations of disaster and to restabilize social life provides a sense of mission and direction to human activity that is not usually present in everyday life. (60)

    ➢ Pre-existing values, norms, and future goals are sloughed off and viewed as irrelevant; values and norms are emergent rather than preordained. In everyday life many human problems stem from people’s preoccupation with the past and the future, rather than the present. People worry about their past conflict relations with their associates or their past failures to meet social expectations. They develop anxieties about their future ability to meet their responsibilities or to achieve socially approved goals. Many of these worries about the past and anxieties about the future are unrealistic when judged from the perspective of present realities, but they play an important role in the social and psychological pathologies of everyday life. (61)

    Mattick suggests that if the economic an environmental disasters looming not far up ahead “do not provoke a major transformation in social life, then it’s hard to imagine what could.” If Fritz is right, then it seems disaster on a grand scale is our last best hope: surely it will motivate those meditative practices we are having trouble getting started.

    What should practice look like? It seems if we don’t figure something out, it will look a lot like “Mad Max” or “Soilent Green.”

    As Mao said, there is great chaos under heaven, the situation is excellent.

    (I highly recommend reading Mattick’s excellent little book. It’s depressing as hell, but we can handle the truth, right?)

  60. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel

    Hey Tom, here is a blossom of wisdom, a pearl of clarity and truth, from a man who lives for it, a truth which I am sure Mao and Stalin secretly practiced in private and would have approved for you. Inst it incredible that the chinese government is now befriending great master Hanh and the revival of Buddhism across the mother land ?

    I must warn you however that it only works if you listen deeply from the heart, in deep mindfulness and awareness:

    “According to the Buddha’s teachings, the most basic condition for happiness is freedom. Here we do not mean political freedom, but freedom from the mental formations of anger, despair, jealousy and delusion. These mental formations are described by the Buddha as poisons. As long as these poisons are still in our heart, happiness can not be possible.”

    Enjoy !!!!!


    By Thich Nhat Hanh

    Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us how to relax the bonds of anger, attachment and delusion through mindfulness and kindness toward ourselves.

    To be happy, to me, is to suffer less. If we were not capable of transforming the pain within ourselves, happiness would not be possible.

    Many people look for happiness outside themselves, but true happiness must come from inside of us. Our culture tells us that happiness comes from having a lot of money, a lot of power and a high position in society. But if you observe carefully, you will see that many rich and famous people are not happy. Many of them commit suicide.

    The Buddha and the monks and nuns of his time did not own anything except their three robes and one bowl. But they were very happy, because they had something extremely precious: freedom.

    According to the Buddha’s teachings, the most basic condition for happiness is freedom. Here we do not mean political freedom, but freedom from the mental formations of anger, despair, jealousy and delusion. These mental formations are described by the Buddha as poisons. As long as these poisons are still in our heart, happiness can not be possible.

    In order to be free from anger, we have to practice, whether we are Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or Jewish. We cannot ask the Buddha, Jesus, God or Mohammed to take anger out of our hearts for us. There are concrete instructions on how to transform the craving, anger and confusion within us. If we follow these instructions and learn to take good care of our suffering, we can help others do the same.

    The Knots of Anger

    In our consciousness there are blocks of pain, anger and frustration called internal formations. They are also called knots because they tie us up and obstruct our freedom.

    When someone insults us or does something unkind to us, an internal formation is created in our consciousness. If you don’t know how to undo the internal knot and transform it, the knot will stay there for a long time. And the next time someone says something or does something to you of the same nature, that internal formation will grow stronger. As knots or blocks of pain in us, our internal formations have the power to push us, to dictate our behavior.

    After a while, it becomes very difficult for us to transform, to undo the knots, and we cannot ease the constriction of this crystallized formation. The Sanskrit word for internal formation is samyojana. It means “to crystallize.” Every one of us has internal formations that we need to take care of. With the practice of meditation we can undo these knots and experience transformation and healing.

    Not all internal formations are unpleasant. There are also pleasant internal formations, but they can still make us suffer. When you taste, hear or see something pleasant, then that pleasure can become a strong internal knot. When the object of your pleasure disappears, you miss it and you begin searching for it. You spend a lot of time and energy trying to experience it again. If you smoke marijuana or drink alcohol and begin to like it, then it becomes an internal formation in your body and in your mind. You cannot get it off your mind. You will always look for more. The strength of the internal knot is pushing you and controlling you. So internal formations deprive us of our freedom.

    Falling in love is a big internal formation. Once you are in love, you only think of the other person. You are not free anymore. You cannot do anything; you cannot study, you cannot work, you cannot enjoy the sunshine or the beauty of nature around you. You can only think of the object of your love. That is why we speak about it as a kind of accident: “falling in love.” You fall down. You are not stable anymore because you have gotten into an accident. So love can also be an internal knot.

    Pleasant or unpleasant, both kinds of knots take away our liberty. That is why we should guard our body and our mind very carefully, to prevent these knots from taking root in us. Drugs, alcohol and tobacco can create internal formations in our body. And anger, craving, jealousy, despair can create internal formations in our mind.

    Training in Aggression

    Anger is an internal formation, and since it makes us suffer, we try our best to get rid of it. Psychologists like the expression, “getting it out of your system.” And they speak about venting anger, like ventilating a room filled with smoke. Some psychologists say that when the energy of anger arises in you, you should ventilate it by hitting a pillow, kicking something, or by going into the forest to yell and shout.

    As a kid you were not supposed to say certain swear words. Your parents may not have allowed you to say these words because they are harmful, they damage relationships. So you went into the woods or to an isolated place and shouted these words very clearly, very strongly, in order to relieve the feeling of oppression. This is also venting.

    People who use venting techniques like hitting a pillow or shouting are actually rehearsing anger. When someone is angry and vents their anger by hitting a pillow, they are learning a dangerous habit. They are training in aggression. Instead, our approach is to generate the energy of mindfulness and embrace anger every time it manifests.

    Treating Anger with Tenderness

    Mindfulness does not fight anger or despair. Mindfulness is there in order to recognize. To be mindful of something is to recognize that something is there in the present moment. Mindfulness is the capacity of being aware of what is going on in the present moment. “Breathing in, I know that anger has manifested in me; breathing out, I smile towards my anger.” This is not an act of suppression or of fighting. It is an act of recognizing. Once we recognize our anger, we embrace it with a lot of awareness, a lot of tenderness.

    When it is cold in your room, you turn on the heater, and the heater begins to send out waves of hot air. The cold air doesn’t have to leave the room for the room to become warm. The cold air is embraced by the hot air and becomes warm—there’s no fighting at all between them.

    We practice taking care of our anger in the same way. Mindfulness recognizes anger, is aware of its presence, accepts and allows it to be there. Mindfulness is like a big brother who does not suppress his younger brother’s suffering. He simply says, “Dear brother, I’m here for you.” You take your younger brother in your arms and you comfort him. This is exactly our practice.

    Imagine a mother getting angry with her baby and hitting him when he cries. That mother does not know that she and her baby are one. We are mothers of our anger and we have to help our baby, our anger, not fight and destroy it. Our anger is us and our compassion is also us. To meditate does not mean to fight. In Buddhism, the practice of meditation should be the practice of embracing and transforming, not of fighting.

    Using Anger, Using Suffering

    To grow the tree of enlightenment, we must make good use of our afflictions, our suffering. It is like growing lotus flowers; we cannot grow a lotus on marble. We cannot grow a lotus without mud.

    Practitioners of meditation do not discriminate against or reject their internal formations. We do not transform ourselves into a battle field, good fighting evil. We treat our afflictions, our anger, our jealousy with a lot of tenderness. When anger comes up in us, we should begin to practice mindful breathing right away: “Breathing in, I know that anger is in me. Breathing out, I am taking good care of my anger.” We behave exactly like a mother: “Breathing in, I know that my child is crying. Breathing out, I will take good care of my child.” This is the practice of compassion.

    If you don’t know how to treat yourself with compassion, how can you treat another person with compassion? When anger arises, continue to practice mindful breathing and mindful walking to generate the energy of mindfulness. Continue to embrace tenderly the energy of anger within you. Anger may continue to be there for sometime, but you are safe, because the Buddha is in you, helping you to take good care of your anger. The energy of mindfulness is the energy of the Buddha. When you practice mindful breathing and embrace your anger, you are under the protection of the Buddha. There is no doubt about it: the Buddha is embracing you and your anger with a lot of compassion.

    Giving and Receiving Mindfulness Energy

    When you are angry, when you feel despair, you practice mindful breathing, mindful walking, to generate the energy of mindfulness. This energy allows you to recognize and embrace your painful feelings. And if your mindfulness is not strong enough, you ask a brother or a sister in the practice to sit close to you, to breathe with you, to walk with you in order to support you with his or her mindfulness energy.

    Practicing mindfulness does not mean that you have to do everything on your own. You can practice with the support of your friends. They can generate enough mindfulness energy to help you take care of your strong emotions.

    We can also support others with our mindfulness when they are in difficulty. When our child is drowning in a strong emotion, we can hold his or her hand and say, “My dear one, breathe. Breathe in and out with mommy, with daddy.” We can also invite our child to do walking meditation with us, gently taking her hand and helping her calm down, with each step. When you give your child some of your mindfulness energy, she will be able to calm down very quickly and embrace her emotions.

    Recognizing, Embracing, Relieving the Suffering of Anger

    The first function of mindfulness is to recognize, not to fight. “Breathing in, I know that anger has manifested in me. Hello, my little anger.” And breathing out, “I will take good care of you.”

    Once we have recognized our anger, we embrace it. This is the second function of mindfulness and it is a very pleasant practice. Instead of fighting, we are taking good care of our emotion. If you know how to embrace your anger, something will change.

    It is like cooking potatoes. You cover the pot and then the water will begin to boil. You must keep the stove on for at least twenty minutes for the potatoes to cook. Your anger is a kind of potato and you cannot eat a raw potato.

    Mindfulness is like the fire cooking the potatoes of anger. The first few minutes of recognizing and embracing your anger with tenderness can bring results. You get some relief. Anger is still there, but you do not suffer so much anymore, because you know how to take care of your baby. So the third function of mindfulness is soothing, relieving. Anger is there, but it is being taken care of. The situation is no longer in chaos, with the crying baby left all alone. The mother is there to take care of the baby and the situation is under control.

    Keeping Mindfulness Alive

    And who is this mother? The mother is the living Buddha. The capacity of being mindful, the capacity of being understanding, loving and caring is the Buddha in us. Every time we are capable of generating mindfulness, it makes the Buddha in us a reality. With the Buddha in you, you have nothing to worry about anymore. Everything will be fine if you know how to keep the Buddha within you alive.

    It is important to recognize that we always have the Buddha in us. Even if we are angry, unkind or in despair, the Buddha is always within us. This means we always have the potential to be mindful, to be understanding, to be loving.

    We need to practice mindful breathing or walking in order to touch the Buddha within us. When you touch the seed of mindfulness that lies in your consciousness, the Buddha will manifest in your mind consciousness and embrace your anger. You don’t have to worry; just continue to practice breathing or walking to keep the Buddha alive. Then everything will be fine. The Buddha recognizes. The Buddha embraces. The Buddha relieves, and the Buddha looks deeply into the nature of anger. The Buddha understands. And this understanding will bring about transformation.

    The energy of mindfulness contains the energy of concentration, as well as the energy of insight. Concentration helps you to focus on just one thing. With concentration, the energy of looking becomes more powerful.

    Because of that it can make a breakthrough that is insight. Insight always has the power of liberating you. If mindfulness is there, and you know how to keep mindfulness alive, concentration will be there too. And if you know how to keep concentration alive, insight will also come. So mindfulness recognizes, embraces and relieves. Mindfulness helps us look deeply in order to gain insight. Insight is the liberating factor. It is what frees us and allows transformation to happen. This is the Buddhist practice of taking care of anger.

    Every time you give your internal formations a bath of mindfulness, the blocks of pain in you become lighter and less dangerous. So give your anger, your despair, your sorrow a bath of mindfulness every day—that is your practice. If mindfulness is not there, it is very unpleasant to have these seeds come up. But if you know how to generate the energy of mindfulness, it is very healing to invite them up every day and embrace them. And after several days or weeks of bringing them up daily and helping them go back down again, you create good circulation in your psyche, and the symptoms of mental illness will begin to disappear.

    Mindfulness does the work of massaging your internal formations, your blocks of suffering. You have to allow them to circulate, and this is possible only if you are not afraid of them. If you learn not to fear your knots of suffering, you can learn how to embrace them with the energy of mindfulness, and transform them.

    Reprinted from Anger, by Thich Nhat Hanh, with permission of Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2001 by Thich Nhat Hanh.

    Loosening the Knots of Anger, Thich Nhat Hanh, Shambhala Sun, November 2001.

  61. Tom Pepper Avatar

    RE #60: Well, isn’t that a load of idiotic drivel. Thanks for demonstrating my point about Thich Nhat Hanh!

  62. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel

    # 61

    You and Glenn say that what differentiates us from animals is committing to a truth. But what kind of truth?

    Mr. Hahn is no doubt committed a truth, and accordingly he has saved thousands of lives of immigrants and refugees.

    Let me now write another quote to contextualize what you said about Mao:

    “In Hungary”, he told his to echelon on 15 November 1956, “it´s true the standard of living did not improve much, but it wasn´t too bad. And yet … there were great troubles there …. The basic problem with some Eastern European countries is that they didn’t eliminate all those counter-revolutionaries … Now they are eating their own bitter fruit …. Eastern Europe just didn´t kill on a grand scale … We must kill. And we say it´s good to kill.” Page 416, you find the book.

    So when you qoute Mao saying “there is great chaos under heaven, the situation is excellent”, he clearly meant an opportunity to abuse his power and kill others. And the man did kill seventy million people all in all, he was no humanist of course, and he was definitely committed to a truth, and acted congruently with it. Now you will bounce back once again from your destructive priming. We have been through that already.

    Everyone else can judge TNH and Mao by their deeds.

    The point is what good is it being committed to a truth, if that truth is destructive.
    The next question is what truth is then constructive? And constructive for whom?
    And the next question is, can that it be defined a priori, before hand, of any concrete situation? The answer is no. Then what is the use of such a statement in the first place?

    We should also be asking ourselves why would anyone make such an statement – that committing to a truth is what makes as human? Doesn’t it fail the human in itself? Isnt it simply the expression of another human need, the need of making generalizations? Sadly, experience indicates that generalizations are so open and vague that end up being used just a guise to apply at the convenience of whoever is more powerful in a concrete situation.

    Even more pressing is then the question, how do we (not you and me of course) get to agree?
    We may then need a mediator, but what if this mediator is already biased?

    If this was just you and you, your personal experiment, well, who would care, but you say these things, and prime such negative impressions constantly, in a context where we are trying to engender something new and way more useful for everyone.

    Therefore clarifying this is important. Even more so because the Glenn the mediator constantly subscribes your aggressions and radicalism (the psychoanalytical device seems to have been quite inefffective in this case).

    There should be no room in a new practice for truths that kill people intendedly. And there should be room for people who actually help other people to live and live a better life.

    Or not?

  63. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Tom (#59).

    I am searching for a copy of Mattick’s book as we speak. Those passages by Fritz sound to me exactly like what practice should do. No x-buddhist text has said it better. My own trope of “ruin” is meant to express the need for cataclysmic change. I have no patience for recommendations for “change” that leave everything suspiciously the same. I hear it all the time, whether the subject is relationship, work, eating habits, x-buddhism, or the world: let’s create change, but without really changing.

    Imagine a practice that accomplishes what Fritz claims for disaster and shocking events:

    * disrupts habitual, institutionalized patterns of behavior
    * demonstrates the inapplicability or insufficiency of previous modes of behavior
    * contains the seeds of change, especially when accompanied by a change in the objective conditions of life involving a removal or obliteration of the stimulus support for old habits of action
    * temporarily breaks down social class, ethnic group, and other hierarchical status distinctions, and creates a general democratization of the social structure
    * wiping out old inequities and injustices
    * pre-existing values, norms, and future goals are sloughed off and viewed as irrelevant; values and norms are emergent rather than preordained
    * removal or obliteration of the stimulus support for old habits of action.

    What, indeed, should a practice/praxis look like that includes such results. Answering that question in the present context, we have to consider how to introduce disaster, shock, and trauma elements into practice. Using language like that–“trauma” in particular–is asking for trouble. But even though he knows that he is skirting danger, Fritz writes: “The opportunity for achieving these changes in the culture lends a positive aspect to disasters not normally present in other types of crisis.” Maybe the operative word for our thinking about this material can be “crises.” Praxix as crises. On the other hand, I do like giving terms like “disaster” and “trauma” new values. Imagine advertising a practice session as a disaster that will cause trauma and create a crises for all comers.

    I think this is a serious line of thought. I hear echoes of it in certain theories of art, literature, and theater. Didn’t Kafka say that you should not open a book if you are not prepared to be devastated? And there is Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty that aims to break the reverie of his audience and thrust them into real life, and Beckett’s stark nothing of human truths. Really absorbing the lesson–really accepting the offering–of these cultural forms is nothing less than a disaster for the taker.

    X-buddhism should ruin our lives.

  64. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel

    Disaster, cataclism, another leg of the elephant …. another turn of the caleidoscope. another try to reinvent the wheel.

    Contingency and complexity is the conceptual epicenter.

    The danger of all this rebranding is getting lost in translation in order to justify artificial problems (driven by shere impulse and sel-valudation) and block addressing complexity.

    So much for originality and creativity – or more boring artificial problems.

    Is it so hard

  65. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Luis Daniel (#64). Comments such as you #55 and #62 give me a lot to think about. They pose good questions–questions that have this project in view. I plan to respond to those questions. Thank you. Other comments, like #64, seem to be missing the point. In place of a volley of argumentation, I would find it very fruitful if you could take that Thich Nhat Hanh passage from #60 and view it through the organon of the non-buddhist heuristic. How does that critical apparatus affect what you see? For, my part, I see the presence of a rhetoric that hinders the very kinds of change that Thich Nhat Hanh is advocating. I see, for instance, specularity, sufficiency, autoritarianism, prescriptivness, pious false analogies, vacuous buddhemerisms, pseudo-psychology, generalizations bordering on the simple-minded, feel-goodism, and so on.

    What happens to Thich Nhat Hanh’s statement if you perform on it even just two or three of the critical operations from the heuristic? Really, what happens?

  66. Tom Pepper Avatar

    RE # 62: “There should be no room in a new practice for truths that kill people intendedly. And there should be room for people who actually help other people to live and live a better life.”

    AGREED!!! And that is why there should be no tolerance for capitalism, which inherently requires that the many suffer for the comfort of the few.

    If we don’t want Stalinism or a Maoist cultural revolution in the next twenty or thirty years, we need to start changing our social system now, particularly weakening the powerful attachment to capitalist ideology, the “naturalizing” of subject as atomistic, appetitive, competitive, aggressive, lazy, murderously violent, and incapable of real thought. If we keep thinking the platitudes served up by Thich Nhat Hanh et al are enough, we are never going to have real change. They serve only in the same way as the government strategies to ward off the next great depression–a kind of safety valve to relieve the pressure and sap the motivation for real change.

    The kind of reactionary-subject who keeps shouting “its all too complex, everything is unique and relative, you can’t use abstract concepts!” is just trying to put of disaster by ignoring it–easy enough to do here in CT, and apparently wherever Luis Daniel is, as long as one HAS food, housing, electricity, etc. We can just claim “more capitalism will make it better”–well, for the privileged it will, but time is running out. Pretty soon, government debts will become unsupportably large, the economy will collapse, and we’ll be stuck with the same old ideology in a disaster state. In the words of the song made famous by Tim Curry: “We’ll remove the cause, but not the symptoms.”

  67. Craig Avatar

    Glenn wrote:
    “Buddhism ultimately fails the human as a result of ideological occlusion; facile moralism; emotional prescriptiveness; program subscription; shallow scientism; insistence on sufficiency; unacknowledged transcendentalism (in the religious sense); hidden ascetic mores; collusion with late-capitalist consumerism, and much more.”

    I’m curious about the meanings of these failures. Specifically, emotional prescriptiveness. Is this basically ‘telling people how they should feel’? This does happen in x-buddhism, but in my experience, very subtly. Also, ascetic mores. What comes to mind is sitting lotus for 8 hours a day for 10 days. I’ve never really thought that was necessary for awakening. In fact, the folks i’ve interacted with who ‘do’ those retreats are not the most pleasant or mature people I’ve met. To illustrate a point i think i read here earlier, the most ‘awake’ folks i know come from psycholanalytic communities. awake being self-awareness, insight into one’s conditioning. i think what sets a psychodynamic outlook apart from x-buddhism is that there is a built in corrective in good therapy and good training. with zazen, your at the mercy of the stick, the master and your own ‘stuff’. incidently, the last retreat i was at ‘felt’ like an insane assylum. several folks were on the verge of psychotic breaks. add in the ‘beatings’ and it was a nightmare. i left wondering again, how can this stuff help?

    another thought i had goes along with this issue of language that has been discussed a lot here. when i’ve asked buddhist teachers to explain something to me it’s always full of buzzwords and insider jargon. even the secular/practical groups have this. it’s maddening. hence, breaking it all down and seeing what’s salvagable for me is exciting and liberating…but, a bit scary as these masters, teachers, groups ALL act like they have something i should want. capitalism at it’s best.

  68. sometimes Avatar

    I missed so much, not sure I can catch up, was dancing for 12 hours yesterday. Trying to live it as well as think about it. Remember to have some fun in the midst of all this! If we really only do this once, let’s have a little fun while also self/no-self actualizing and while making social change. I realize this post may be really out of place, but then again, what/who isn’t out of place sometimes. Glenn, I wonder if on a blog post someday we can address the “shoulds and shouldn’ts” of Buddhist Practice? You know, the Precepts etc…. It might be fun.

    P.S. Magenta: I ask for nothing! Frank: And you shall receive it, IN ABUNDANCE!

    That’s for Tom Pepper. I love Rocky Horror. Who knew we had that in common? 😉

  69. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel

    # 65

    Well Glenn, I can only read what you write not what you think.
    I am glad to know that those comments question you, however I expect a dialogue, a response, if and when that is the case. On the other hand I have seen how sometimes you incorporate some reflection things directly without having responded. And that is also encouraging for me.

    I am committed a 100% to creating a better practice. That is a strong personal vow.

    My point to Matthias about the importance of having practiced in a very committed way for years is precisely that it enhances the capacity to deconstruct and yet preserve any useful bit of the traditional practice.

    Along these lines the TNH text was mostly just a friendly joke for Tom.

    Of course I find TNH superficial and prescriptive. Mostly strongly repressed. I would trust him more if had ever expressed at least moderate anger to his many enemies.

    A couple of months ago I went back to read a translation I did a few years ago of Dogen´s Fukan Zazengi (introduction to zazen), for some his best piece, and found it quite prescriptive and dogmatic. I now think that his lecture on shit sticks is really probably his best.

    Now about #64. I just reread what you wrote in #63. I agree with you about your conclusions, I don’t see the need for calling it destructive at all. Back in the 1980s, when reengineering was all the rave, the first principle was to destroy all there is, start from scratch, from cero. So it is really nothing much new, except when explained in new terms, which actually account to an entirely different thing.

    In the context of this practice, I find that realizing contingency, being contingency, cracks all assumptions and fixations, ever in a more complete way. So what I meant with another leg of the elephant, I am sure you know the passage of the blind people describing an elephant, was that if you relate what Tom proposes to contingency, then it is simply from my point of view another consequence of it, and that if in place of stretching the interpretations of disaster one actualizes contingency in each situation, you get a very potent tool, far more so than just disaster. Witness the link between contingency and creativity. Because everything is contingent, with no substance, no essence, with no inside and outside, then there is an opportunity to create everything anew. For seeing this, meditation can help, dialogue can help, reflections can help, psychoanalysis can help, tragedy can help, pain can help, etc.

    One strong suggestion: let’s act.

    I propose that we organize and make a 5 days retreat at some point later this year. And I propose to make it a defining meeting along this process, a way of accelerating the whole process of instrumentalizing this new practice/praxis.

  70. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel

    Tom # 66.

    AGREED, too!

  71. Alan Avatar

    Tom (#59), Glenn (#63)

    I can see how disaster and catastrophe could lead to change, but what kind of disaster? What’s to prevent a return to “business as usual” when the disaster is over? (I can see, perhaps, no return to business as usual in the kind of future economic scenario you offer, but I’m not sure.) Tom, you indicate that Fritz includes natural disaster. What examples are there that any change resulting from them is lasting? What about Hurricane Katrina or the Japanese nuclear disaster (not, of course, a natural disaster per se)? And war. Did any changes from the Vietnam War last (I’m not asking rhetorically)? What other kinds of disasters?

    And how does all that translate into disaster as practice? I agree, Glenn, that art, literature, theater, and all other guests at the Feast of Knowledge are useful. How, specifically, would or could a practice that “will cause trauma and create a crisis” actually accomplish all the things you list (and why, by the way, “temporarily”)? I imagine that one assumption here is that the kind of personal trauma such a practice could create would have social implications (and I realize from lengthy discussions on this blog that “personal” and “social” is a false duality, so maybe the premise of the assumption I’m seeing is not valid). (I’m glad that you mentioned Beckett as an example. He is one writer that has caused trauma for me.)

    You say, Glenn, that no x-buddhist text has said it better. But they do say it. And that again raises the question, what kind of catastophe are we talking about? Here’s an example from D. T. Suzuki: “Without the attainment of satori no one can enter into the truth of Zen. Satori is the sudden flashing of consciousness of a new truth hitherto undreamed of. It is a sort of mental catastrophe taking place all at once, …” (An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, p. 65) But Suzuki is completely anti-intellectual. Many times he says things like this: “There is something, we must admit, in Zen that defies explanation and to which no master however ingenious can lead his disciples through intellectual analysis.” (Zen Buddhism, p. 95)

    Maybe the kind of catastrophe, whatever it is, we’re talking about leads to something like this:

    “Beckett was an artist possessed by a vision of life without consolation or dignity or promise of grace, in the face of which our only duty– inexplicable and futile, but a duty nonetheless– is not to lie to ourselves.” — J. M. Coetzee

  72. Tomek Avatar

    Tom #58

    I don’t think there are any terms ever that are completely free of the danger of being co-opted by obscurantism. My goal is to keep the concepts and strip away the “dharmic charism,” to drag the useful concept out of the cloud of ideological obfuscation. (…)
    My position is that we always live in our ideology–we absolutely need to escape the illusion of “correspondence” or “correlationism,” our ideology does NOT “reflect” the mind-independent world at all. We can always only live in our ideology, but we can know that it is an ideology. To try to escape into purely “scientific” terms, with the illusion that then we are outside of ideology, free of it, is an common error, and just a new form of the “decision” Laruelle is trying to warn us not to make. So these Buddhst terms may have some ideological function, but that is not a bad thing, provided we know that they are ideological and don’t fool ourselves that they are ancient ineffable “wisdom” or timeless “truths.”

    Tom, I agree, even such radical naturalistic approaches like eliminativism cannot avoid being entangled with the decision that eventually splits empty reality to some degree. But speaking about my hope that scientific ideas are less likely to pluck the heartstrings, I meant that serious scientific ideology is, at least in principle, built on totally different premises then buddhistic one. The former is always meant to be self-corrective perspective helping to map the mind-independent reality, the latter is built on transcendental dharmic grammar, that parade as an omnipotent mirror of that reality. The dharmic reflection is really not about understanding of the reality ‘as such’ but to replicate itself as a transcendental warrant that serves primary to shore up the anthropocentric sentiments. So it does not validate the truth about mind-independent reality but it is to help it’s proponents, as any other religion does, to feel more secure and more hopeful. So to me trying to “keep the concepts and strip away the ‘dharmic charism’” by dragging “the useful concepts out of the cloud of ideological obfuscation” does not really make much sense. Why? Because those very concepts, say as anatman, that you want to save are very likely just useless exotica outside the whole obfuscatory cloud of x-buddhistic postulations and perhaps easily replaceable by more ideologically sterile naturalistic tools, say as Metzinger’s PSM model or if you don’t trust his “atomism”, say, by some more explicitly enactivistic models.

  73. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Luis Daniel (#69). Thanks.

    I expect a dialogue, a response,

    I completely understand this expectation. That’s what I want, too. I think I have an over-developed need, and maybe capacity, for dialogue. It literally pains me not to respond to every single line of your comments. If you look around this blog, especially at the early stuff, you will see that I actually did so, in many cases. Sometimes the thought crosses my mind to send this blog on summer vacation–to the mountains, maybe, for some fresh air. (My main reason, I think, is that I have a writing project due in the fall; and I need to get the bulk of it finished this summer.) But then that thought gets pushed out by one that says, just listen to Henry James: I work in the dark. I do what I can. I give what I have.

    I am committed a 100% to creating a better practice. That is a strong personal vow. I propose that we organize and make a 5 days retreat at some point later this year…And I propose to make it a defining meeting along this process, a way of accelerating the whole process of instrumentalizing this new practice/praxis.

    I am all for this idea. In fact, I have an appointment this afternoon with someone who has expressed interest in giving financial support to such a gathering. I envision a combination conference/retreat. The mood will be experimentation, exploration. At the center of our activities will be talking and doing and making. So, more to come later on this topic.

    about #64….I don’t see the need for calling it destructive at all.

    I will respond to Alan’s #71 on this business of destruction.

    My point to Matthias about the importance of having practiced in a very committed way for years is precisely that it enhances the capacity to deconstruct and yet preserve any useful bit of the traditional practice.

    This is the very task. One reason the ideas of non-buddhism are shaping up the way they are is that when I do the “deconstructive” (I prefer to call it destructive–see reply to Alan) work, the “preservation” looks more like disintegration. In the book I am contributing to, I call this tense double process of (in your terms) deconstruction-preservation, decimation. It refers to the fact that the former term in the process–the first act in the process–has consequences that are no longer controlled by the Whole (Buddhism, tradition, the Dharma, Dogen) that stood prior to that act. Observing, as I have, that the preserved object appears increasingly alien, vis a vis the Whole, with each deconstructive turn, I hold that non-buddhism renders its object unrecognizable. Indeed, in non-buddhism’s presentation, x-buddhism is rendered uninterpretable to those who maintain its Whole.

    But, again, I see non-buddhism as an applicable theory. I ask people to take its ideas, run them through some x-buddhist material, and see what happens. I am trying to create a critical practice.

    About “realizing contingency, being contingency,” do you have in mind what Sometimes (#35) was naming as one of the necessary features of creative activity? She mentions there research on the interplay of chaos and structure. Is that what you are suggesting with “contingency?”

    I think my reply to Alan may speak, too, to your comment “in place of stretching the interpretations of disaster,” etc.

    Thank you!

  74. Tom Pepper Avatar

    Wow, so many interesting comments! Have most of the reactionary idiots given up and gone home? Perhaps now the productive discussion can start?

    Craig: I think the relationship between serious psychoanalytic thought and Buddhist thought is very interesting. Unfortunately, just as Buddhism often becomes a reactionary ideology, almost all psychoanalysts in the English speaking world have been converted to “ego-psychology,” to a positivist practice of producing good Bourgeois Humanist Subjects. A real psychoanalyst is as hard to find as a Buddhist “teacher” who isn’t a huckster-guru with dreams of being Chogyam Trungpa. There are probably some, but they don’t get much press. My position has always been that Freud’s ambition was to produce the “subject who knew too much,” who was sufficiently aware of the social construction of her subjectivity to be able to transform her world—and so is very similar to the goal of Buddhist practice. In America, psychoanalysis became a strategy to prevent exactly this.


    The Criminologist: I would like, if I may, to take you on a strange journey.

    Alan: I think what we want is to find a practice that can give us the benefits Fritz suggests WITHOUT having to have our home town saturation-bombed. There is always the tendency for the disaster area to “return to normal,” but perhaps a practice that produces these effects intentionally, not accidentally, could preserve the change. The whole question is, what kind of practice could do this? The aesthetic has a tendency, as everyone from Hegel to de Man points out, to offer us some ineffable pleasure exactly to prevent us from recognizing that the sign is arbitrary, ideology is not natural but humanly constructed, and we can change it: the beautiful work of art is the object that insist we CANNOT change our ideology, that it is eternal, mystical, deep and timelessly true—so for Suzuki, Zen is an aesthetic experience, meant to persuade us that the Japanese version of capitalist totalitarianism is really ancient eastern “wisdom.” Becket wants us to produce an aesthetic that rejects the mystifications of the Romantic Symbol—to see the truth, and choose a “duty” with no illusions that it is chosen for us. But how many of us can handle the truth Becket wants us to face up to? What kind of practice can make is possible for us to handle it?

    Tomek: This is a crucial point, and I want to respond more thoroughly. But, briefly, the important truth of Buddhism, as I see it, is that we must live in ideology, but that instead of endlessly reproducing our ideology we can choose to produce new and better ideologies, and conscious, intentional practice is the way to do this. I don’t want “ideologically sterile” tools—science (real science, not pseudo sciences like American psychology) does not produce ideology, but describes the mind-independent world. Metzinger is a pseudo-scientist, in that he produces an ideology but believes he is describing the mind-independent world. Ideology must take into account the scientific map of the mind-independent world, but it can never be scientific—it must be a choice, with not transcendent guarantee, which we can drop if it fails to enable human happiness.

  75. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Alan (#71).

    I can see how disaster and catastrophe could lead to change, but what kind of disaster?

    That’s an important question, isn’t it? In comment #69, Luis Daniel makes an astute remark about my “stretching the interpretations of disaster.” He suggests that instead of evoking such a drastic measure, we can simply work with what he calls “contingency” (indeterminacy? chaos? the unformed?), and probably produce the results we want.

    I am indeed “stretching the interpretations of disaster.” I like to employ tropes. I find them useful for thinking. Stick a trope in your brain, like a May pole, and let your thoughts spin around on it for a while–again, as I often say, just to see what happens. Given that we are experimenting with thought in so doing, I prefer powerful tropes. In the first instance, I want to spin out as far as possible on the pole of the trope–just to see what doing so allows me to see. Then, in the next instance, I want to work with a usage for a while. I hope no one will mind if I take a personal example. Reading Tom’s #59 brought all of this back to me.

    When I was young, I used “ruin” as fuel for creativity. My idea was to create music that had the capacity to “ruin” a person. That term is so rich, spanning the literal and the figurative, that I can’t possible explain here the full resonance of what it meant for us (my band) as musicians and people. But, the point that I want to make is that it–ruin–became a life-defining trope–we turned our lives around on it. In the Romantic idiom of our youth, we lived for it. The result was, well, here’s something I just found:

    “Ruin were incandescent. They were otherworldly–phantoms, ghosts, bewildered gods. White clothes, black light, darkness, candles”…”they are a nuclear bomb brought to a knife fight.” [I just found that quote, by the way, at a very cool website: Blogtrotter (scroll down to June 28th), by Fionnchú. Other astute and brilliant observations by this fellow musician and writer.]

    You’d have to imagine that scene as the mere backdrop to a sonic roar that, on more than one occasion, caused people to shit their pants or run home to they mamas. Why would we want to fuck with people in such a manner? Why ruin them? Well, have you read the news today? Have you read the analysis of John Roberts’s machinations (no to the commerce clause interpretation–trouble down the road)? Have you noticed, etc., etc. We felt that there was no purpose in making just more music if it didn’t call into question people’s very embrace of music. And that meant for us, partly the stuff swirling around the entertainment fix that music provided, and partly the pretensions of rock music or really, for us, “punk rock” as somehow rebelling against the industry (when it really just served to shore it up). In any case, we felt that there was no point in even getting involved with this mess unless we could invoke a response that mattered to us. It’s too much to go into, but the best way, we felt, to describe that response was “ruined”–ruined, for example, for the particular delusions that we all had woven into our brains from childhood. Music–or something like it, devastating non-music–could, perhaps, blow out some of the delusion, or open our eyes to some of the lies.

    Without the attainment of satori no one can enter into the truth of Zen. Satori is the sudden flashing of consciousness of a new truth hitherto undreamed of. It is a sort of mental catastrophe taking place all at once.

    That D.T. Suzuki statement is, to me, yet another instance of the x-buddhistic shell game. To say that “satori” is the “sudden flashing…a mental catastrophe,” etc., is to contain and thus ultimately to deny the catastrophe. “Satori,” as concept-brick, is a potent weapon in the x-buddhist arsenal. It has its barrel trained on the “the sudden flashing of consciousness of a new truth,” daring it to take a single step out of the x-buddhist refuge. “The sudden flashing of consciousness of a new truth” cannot be predetermined by “satori” and the interminable posse of postulates that guard it. “Satori” is irrevocably ruined by “the sudden flashing of consciousness of a new truth.”

    So, based on the last couple of comments, it turns out that Thich Nhat Hahn is looking pretty damn deluded and J. M. Coetzee and Samuel Beckett, pretty damn awake. What the hell is going on here?

  76. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    And for those of you who contacted me off-line:

    Yes, blurkers will be invited to the non-buddhist shindig. After all, I know who you are . . .

  77. Tomek Avatar

    Tom #74

    Please, tell me, do you really think that we need Buddhism in XXI century to remind us about this “important truth, that we must live in ideology”? Can’t we “produce new and better ideologies” without Buddhism which is a religious system so burdened by charism that it really begs the question if there is anything in it beyond the charism itself. You say with straight face that Buddhism can be a serious contributor in such an endeavor, but that make me think to what degree is your ideological suspicion compromised by participation and identity.

  78. Tom Pepper Avatar

    RE #77: Yes, Tomek, I really do. I don’t think Buddhist philosophical thought requires a “religious system”, and I do think there is much beyond the purely ideological. I don’t, of course, think Buddhist thought is sufficient, and should supersede all other thought. Because it has been distorted into a postmodern ideology does not mean we should abandon it. Quantum physics has been similarly distorted, but I’m not willing to abandon that yet. Literature has been, for a couple hundred years now, the primary form of ideological obfuscation in capitalism, but I’m not ready to say it cannot be used differently. Psychoanalysis has been so distorted that it has enormous clouds of ideological obscurity around it, but I am not willing to forget Freud’s insights.

    So please, suspect all you want that my ideas are “compromised,” and when you find where they are, point it out!!

    If you could point to another place where the concept of anatman, a complete acceptance and exploration of NOT HAVING A SELF/SOUL/CORE CONSCIOUSNESS occurs, please do so. I am always looking for any practice or discourse that really does explore this–this is why I was interested in reading Metzinger, for instance, to begin with, but he ultimately produces only a pseudo-scientific atomistic ideology of the subject, which is the very opposite of what I am interested in.

    I would also suggest that the concept of anatman has the “charism” it does only for a very small sub-group of x-buddhists, maybe a tenth of a percent of the population. Most x-buddhists I encounter have no knowledge whatsoever of this concept, and most westerners find it far from seductively pleasant, they find it horrifyingly atheistic and nihilist. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I think that there is a tendency to overestimate the reactionary-ideological power of Buddhism generally–most people in the West know nothing at all about it, except that there was this fat guy named Zen who did archery and sat still a lot. We can still put the philosophical insights to good use, I think, if we refuse to allow the buddhist-capitalist ideologues to coopt them.

  79. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    To me the citations of Mattick sound much too optimistic. Maybe reading his whole book produces a different image but to me this looks a bit naïve. If he means with “disaster” the breaking down of a whole nation then a lot of examples provide evidence that the outcome of disasters can be very different and are very dependent on the (external) forces which are involved. If he means a break down of our civilization, well, then we are reaching uncharted territory.

    Germany 1918 and 1945 provides two examples with very different outcomes. I think Yugoslavia 1992 is not something which would prove Mattick’s theses. The countries involved in the arab spring last year are all struggling with very oppressive forces. Tunisia, Libya and Egypt are everything but countries of free expression and experiment. In Syria we can watch real time how the different forces are struggling and positioning themselves.

    I think also the peak oil problem will not result in a sudden implosion of the worldwide economic system. It rather will be a slow adaption which is already underway. More of a problem could be the money-system. But here again we have since some years a lot of people forecasting the armageddon of our financial system. Regarding such forecasts as a practitioner in this area for some time I am rather cynic about their quality: It has yet to be proofed that any reliable forecast in the finical markets can be made. The reality is that a lot of people make a living with bad forecasts which never materialize. Another point is, although a lot of skeptics might not like this, financial markets since WW2 are, compared to other historical periods like the 19th century relatively stable.

    In addition I would say that in a lot of regions world-wide the disaster has already arrived. For example, one billion people on this planet has no access to clean drinking water. That is one out of seven. One could go on with examples about the disaster already happening. It is here, happening right now.

    Perhaps we should settle with the conclusion that we don’t know what will come. I don’t believe that disaster on a grand scale will trigger something good.

    Metzinger: This Metzinger thing here is a bit to undifferentiated for my taste. At least he provides me with a far more differentiated model to work with than, for example, the five skandas or whatever. I yet have to see another model here which shows me what part physical evolution plays in my being.

    Praxis. I would very much appreciate if we could settle with a term like praxis instead of meditation. I find it strange, not to say contradictory, if we constantly speak about the influence language has on our consciousness, in fact that language is consciousness, but at the same time we keep a term with a whole string of connotations which influence our consciousness in a certain way. Different words have different meanings. Keeping the term meditation means keeping x-buddhist connotations. Why should I keep them? I have come to Buddhism for totally different reasons than what I was getting to know with it, and I left Buddhism far the reason that it is not what I thought it is. Why should I keep the terminology of it?

    As an example. I say praxis is the following: First, praxis is the system learning how it functions. Second, praxis is the learning of the system what input helps it to optimize itself. Exchange “praxis” for “meditation” and ponder a bit about what happens. Indeed I would say, if non-buddhism’s presentation of meditation makes mediation unrecognizable for Buddhism why should I still call it meditation? I think a lot of the confusion about praxis here, in discussions I have been involved with, is due to the fact that we always have it to do with this rat’s tail of x-buddhist connotations about meditation. For example I cannot speak about sublingual experience without being accused of some atman-thing. That is not because I mean atman, it is because the x-buddhist connotation is about atman. (On saturday I spoke to an old friend about this project here and explained something about atman. Saying “atman” he was sighing, “ah, the higher self.” You see what I mean?)

  80. Tomek Avatar

    Tom (#78), for example, you seem to commit a common modernist fallacy of trying to separate “Buddhist philosophical thought” from “religious system” and as a result you end up in similar place as Batchelor with his third article of faith: Special Teachings. I can’t believe that you are not aware of how much questioned such an approach is among experts in the field of Buddhist studies – or do you think that all their conclusions are distorted by postmodern ideology as well? So no matter how much you try to persuade that Buddhist thought is not sufficient and has to be supplemented by other sources of knowledge, I remain skeptical and suspicious towards such statements, because that artificial division, implicitly manifesting in your writings here on this blog as there is Buddhism and there are all other x-Buddhisms, betrays that you’re far from disinterest and thus your judgments are compromised by affective decision. You believe that carefully and wisely sieving out the grammar will serve the right cause but at the same time you’re strangely disinterested by the arguments that no matter how scrupulously you select the right concepts, they will be not much different from the discarded bricks and will continue to create the vallation protecting the charismata. But I wouldn’t bet on it after that kind of trimming.

  81. Tom Pepper Avatar

    Tomek: I have to say, I would guess that Batchelor would find the suggestion that my position and his are the same a bid absurd. I wouldn’t say that the conclusions of ALL “experts in the field” are distorted by postmodern ideology, but certainly many are.

    I certainly accept the accusation that I am “far from disinterested.” That is my goal–to make EVERYONE “interested,” and AWARE of just how interested they really are!

    I can’t even guess what you mean by “carefully and wisely sieving out the grammar,” so I can’t respond to that. I will continue, however, to insist on the distinction between ideological concepts/beliefs, and concepts that describe the mind-independent external world. Because this distinction exists, there is no problem with the translation of a concept from one culture to another, from one context to another. I am not separating one ideology from another, but non-ideological concepts from ideology–which is something we can certainly do with any discourse, ancient or modern. If you do not believe that there are really existing ideological concepts that are true only to the extent that we believe them and engage in practices which give them real existence (eg, the American legal system), then clearly my approach will make no sense. Likewise, if you do not believe that there are mind-independent truths that exist and have causal powers whether or not we are aware of them.

    If your “suspicion” is that I will tend to adopt an ideological belief/practice and mistake it for a transcendent truth, well, that is always a risk for ideological animals–we like to reify. If you can find any such errors, I again invite you to point them out.

    As near as I can tell, though, the “modernist fallacy” you suggest is simply what I take as a given: there are ideologies, which have real causal powers only because of our social practices, and there are truths which have causal powers whether we are aware of them or not. The separation of these categories may seem a “fallacy” to postmodernists, but from my perspective this is not a “fallacy” but a fundamental premise of epistemology.

  82. Tomek Avatar

    Tom, you’re interested to make everyone aware just how interested they really are but far from admitting that being interested yourself even in the selective use of the dharmic grammar you still serve as the shape of the buddhistic thought-world and thus appear symptomatic of yearning for the thaumaturgical sangha.

    By the way, do you believe that buddhistic concepts describe the mind-independent external world?

  83. Tom Pepper Avatar

    Matthias: it may not be clear from my post, but the very optimistic sounding passages about disaster are from Fritz’s essay, not from Mattick. I think you may be interested in Mattick’s book–he devotes a chapter to exactly the point you make, that non-marxist economics is completely useless at forecasting the economy. He also explains WHY the markets have been relatively stable since WWII–and why the same government practices that maintain that stability are the cause of the recession. And, as you say, in much of the world, the long-predicted economic disaster has actually arrived.

    Tomek: I can’t figure out what this could possibly mean: “far from admitting that being interested yourself even in the selective use of the dharmic grammar you still serve as the shape of the buddhistic thought-world.” I just can’t sort out the syntax here. I do, though, find it puzzling that you think I have ever claimed disinterestedness. I certainly always intend to give the impression that I am very much interested in advancing very specific economic changes in the world, and in promoting an ideology. And yes, some ‘buddhistic concepts” do describe the mind-independent world, but only to the extent that they describe the nature of semiotics, and so of epistemology and human consciousness–the nature of these, but NOT the content, which is ideological and so not mind-independent.

  84. Craig Avatar


    I’m with you all the way here. In my training it was always so apparent that we had an insidious agenda in the guise of ‘multicultural practice’. Along with ego-psychology is the Positive Psychology movement that seems to have all but taken over every journal editor’s agenda in the helping professions. Interestingly, that kind of talk serves to ‘pluck the heart strings’ and get one back in the field much like TNH’s wisdom sends you back tot he coushin. As far as psychology as a whole goes, Critical Psychology seems to be going in the right direction.

    One thing I would personally keep from psychoanalysis is the idea of projection and how people behave in groups. Without some corrective, this stuff runs rampant in dharma communities. Nobody wants to talk about sex. 🙂

    A final point, in response to the article above, I’ve been reflecting on my meditation/mantra practices through the non-buddhism heuristic. At least as best I can. I’ve basically come to the conclusion that I find a concentration practice helpful in focusing on daily tasks with out ‘daydreaming’. I concentrate on repeated words I say. This has really opened things up for me in terms of doing the practice and my expectations. It’s like jogging.

  85. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel

    Glenn # 73

    “I work in the dark. I do what I can. I give what I have.”

    Matthias # 79

    “Praxis. I would very much appreciate if we could settle with a term like praxis instead of meditation. I find it strange, not to say contradictory, if we constantly speak about the influence language has on our consciousness, in fact that language is consciousness, but at the same time we keep a term with a whole string of connotations which influence our consciousness in a certain way. Different words have different meanings. Keeping the term meditation means keeping x-buddhist connotations. Why should I keep them? I have come to Buddhism for totally different reasons than what I was getting to know with it, and I left Buddhism far the reason that it is not what I thought it is. Why should I keep the terminology of it?

    As an example. I say praxis is the following: First, praxis is the system learning how it functions. Second, praxis is the learning of the system what input helps it to optimize itself. Exchange “praxis” for “meditation” and ponder a bit about what happens. Indeed I would say, if non-buddhism’s presentation of meditation makes mediation unrecognizable for Buddhism why should I still call it meditation? I think a lot of the confusion about praxis here, in discussions I have been involved with, is due to the fact that we always have it to do with this rat’s tail of x-buddhist connotations about meditation. For example I cannot speak about sublingual experience without being accused of some atman-thing. That is not because I mean atman, it is because the x-buddhist connotation is about atman. (On saturday I spoke to an old friend about this project here and explained something about atman. Saying “atman” he was sighing, “ah, the higher self.” You see what I mean?)”

    + Troping!

    I simply rejoice at meeting this kind of work ethics, clear thinking and serious exploration/experimentation. For it prompts more enthusiasm and pushes this whole effort forward. JUST GREAT!!!!

    About the gathering.

    The participants can pay for it. It is just a matter of selecting a place, organizing the meals, adding up the net cost and then split the balance among all (I assume some 25 to 30 people) who will attend seems simple and feasible enough.

    And again, I think the retreat/conference will be as valuable in itself as the process leading to it and after it, but the activity certainly provides gravity and concreteness to the process.

    Perhaps a certain date around December 8 could be useful to the occasion.

    In any case, just let´s do it.

  86. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    Tom, #83 … and some meandering thoughts

    Oh yes, I missed it, you write the passages are from Fritz. But I am still wondering if disaster is such a cure.

    I am thinking about “de-centering” and how modern insights in what we are, how we are and how we misjudge what and how we are could help in a de-centering of the whole persona. This de-centering would also be something like a catastrophe because it uproots everything what we think we are. But this de-centering would be something like a controlled crash which is only applicable for certain personalities (this may sound elitist and maybe it is).

    For the rest of us in the case of a total disintegration of our social system or our persona, what ensues may be just “the law of the strongest”. What happens in actuality in the breaking down of a social system seems to depend largely on what cultural norms people inherited and what forces come in from the outside. Yugoslavia 1992 is a horrible example what can happen if the regulating principle suddenly vanishes: the christian Serbs took revenche on the Bosnians for what happened allegedly hundreds of years before. One can think about the Iraq after Mr. (the water-boarding) Bush junior’s infamous intervention where Sunnies and Shiites are still bombing each other. Right now in Mali radical Islamists are destroying holy moslem sites because I don’t know why, but again it is human against human. Such events always seem to bring out the worst of the human. One could go on with examples like this. I am curious about how Fritz comes to his conclusions (I am waiting for the book).

    I am rather dystopian about every aspect of our future. On the one side a fossil fuel dependent economies might go into a long and hard transition period with no global injustice changing at all. Instead the powers which are equipped the best will be victorious.This means the most ‘pragmatic’ ones like China. The technologies for perfect control and guidance of the citizen in such a phase are all in place. Biochemicals, developing neurological, psychological and microtechnological techniques are all there to form and guide the perfectly happy citizen.

    On the other side what will happen if a real shock event takes place? Most people are not aware of how vulnerable our technological culture really is. Nassim Taleb has written a book called The Black Swan. It is about the systematic underestimation of the effects of low probability events in financial markets. It is about the problem that very low probability still means that it can happen in the next second but that people tend to think/hope that it will not. The Tsunami which led to the melting of the cores of Fukoshima is an example. Scientists which where looking in the effects of solar storms come to the lapidary conclusion that “we should not be surprised if/when the space weather effects of future events exceed any or all of the current known standards.” This means there could be bad space weather at any time that could wipe out all of our power grids. A disruption of electricity supply for more then a few days in large regions will have massive social effects. Maybe there will be communities which happen to experience what Fritz is suggesting. But what will happen in the big agglomerations, in our mega-cities, when the social/spatial separation, which is a technical and electricity dependent one, of the well-off and the fucked-up suddenly breaks down?

    I like the list Glenn puts together in #63 from what Fritz is describing. But I think that means a preparation at once and not a waiting for any disaster. I think that is what Glenn is meaning. Praxis as crisis. Now. But I am unsure if I agree with one point:

    values and norms are emergent rather than preordained<

    Where do the emergent norms come from?

    There is an important aspect to this. I just read the essay of Richard Payne, Individuation and Awakening. It has been mentioned here. It is about a narration which structures our thinking and which seems to be rooted in biblical times. The narration has the structure of creation-fall-redemption. In short, this narration is personalized in christian religious frames, it is naturalized in romantic frames and it is internalized in psychological frames. Payne makes the point that we still think to a large extent in terms of this narration. Therefore I suspect that it could be that when we talk about a crisis we are in, we might be caught off guard by a certain decision (in Laruelle’s sense). In terms of the narrative structure this would mean that we somehow think about ourselves to be fallen and that redemption could take place somehow – via meditation for example and also via certain political re(s/v)olutions. Payne goes on to compare with our narration that of the Bodhisattva path as exemplified in Shantideva’s Bodhicaryavatara. The first noble truth is easily be retold in our narrative structure as the effect of the fall but the structure of the paramitas shown in the Bodhicaryavatara could be seen as a narrative very different from ours. Suffering, injustice, the exploitation taking place on every level of our existence may be, to a certain extent, the effect of our narration but if we are really in a decision about this, if we are indeed deeply rooted in such a narration then, taking crisis as a means could mean that we are unconsciously searching for an originally pure state from which new “values and norms” could emerge as a redemption.

    To take a narration like the path of the Bodhisattva, for example, if we really can get a grip on this narration without polluting it with our own narration, could provide for a very different alternative way (not the only one I guess). In this narration there is no talk about a fall and consequently no redemption takes place. One might also think about the fact that in certain buddhist traditions there is explicit mentioning of the view that we are already complete and ready to act as enlightened beings – this is not after redemption, there hasn’t been any fall or original sin, it is an original starting point. I am tempted to think this in Laruelle’s terms as radical immanence – the problem is to not think this as an pre-fall original state.

    Perhaps we must rethink crisis for not to fall into the trap of the fall. For example, it could mean that crisis indeed is nothing bad at all. My dystopian outlook may be just a realistic view about a landscape in which constant change is taking place – all the more and faster since the human is mixing up the whole planetary system with his emerging consciousness. The real crisis is then the crisis of any decision. And the question is, are we already free of this one decision that we could be saved?

  87. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    I see I have made an error in #79 (it is also in the citation Luis makes in #85)

    I wrote atman instead of anatman (Freud is with me). The correct version of the short anecdote I wrote down is this:

    On saturday I spoke to an old friend about this project here and explained something about anatman. Saying “anatman” he was sighing, “ah, the higher self.” You see what I mean?

    It makes no sense with “atman”. The point is, I was trying to say something about no-self, non-self, that we are not what we think we are etc., then I said “anatman” which triggered his response about the “higher self”.

    I find this a nice little piece of evidence how a certain kind of translation and acculturation is forming western thought about Buddhist thinking. This is why I say it is of no use to use Buddhist terminology anymore.

  88. Tomek Avatar

    Tom (# 83), let me be clear, in the previous comment (# 80) I used “disinterest” in specific way, that is, as one of Glenn’s heuristics. Then you answered and I was not sure you were getting that nuance or not. Now I see that you rather did not take it into account. So I hope that the following will help you to sort out my syntax and will do the same with the puzzlement:

    Disinterest. An affective quality. The speculative non-buddhism investigator forfeits his commission if he serves as either the shape of the buddhistic thought-world or as a revolutionary storming the gates of the Buddhist vallation. Disinterest‘s physical corollary, when confronted with charismatic Buddhist omens, is the shrug of a shoulder, followed by a concerned glance toward the harbinger. For, to someone disinterested, interest appears symptomatic of yearning for the thaumaturgic sangha.

    The same happened when I used the term “ideological suspicion” which definition, by the way, begins with the following words: “Buddhism is nothing if not a vortex of participation and identity. It aims, both explicitly and implicitly, to form particular types of subjects, and to do so in its own image.”
    And what is the most important material that is used to built this image? I would say that the image materializes with the help of the concepts that create the whole dharmic grammar, and that is constantly replicated by “particular types of subjects”. That is how all these morphological configurations of x-buddhistic charism has been shaped throughout the history.

    Anyway I’m curious how you would response to the above statement about vortex of participation and identity? Are you interested or rather not?

  89. Tom Pepper Avatar

    When I posted those passages from Fritz’s essay, my intention was that we take them ironically. Fritz’s agenda is quite clear, so the kind of disasters he considers and the conclusions he draws from them are limited. The motivation of his work is to justify the production of “disasters” in enemy countries. The idea is that such disasters are not cruel, but therapeutic, liberating, and ultimately the greatest kindness the US can bestow on those oppressed by anti-capitalist ideology. Fritz assumes that what will “naturally” emerge in the aftermath of a saturation bombing, or as the result of a natural disaster if we refrain from sending aid, is the pure, natural state of capitalist ideology. He sees that disaster can break us free of our existing ideological assumptions, but he assumes that what will spontaneously fill the void will be the capitalist values, which, for Fritz, are not ideologies at all but timeless truths.

    As you point out, Matthias, we should not be confidant that the new ideologies that emerge to fill the void will be desirable. For this reason, my interest is in creating a “disaster”, metaphorically speaking—a kind of controlled disaster which can distantiate our ideologies and allow us to consciously choose new ones.

    We do need to break free of the idea of a fall-and-redemption narrative, if we are going to succeed. We need to abandon the notion of an original and “pure” state. Seeing clearly what our ideology is does not mean we can then enter into a “non-ideological” existence—there can be no such thing. Values and norms are humanly created, not transcendent or natural—they emerge only when we create them.

    We mustn’t think that a disaster will restore us to the pure and original state, only now with hard-earned higher wisdom. At best, it clears the ground a little for us to start making new social structures, and so to start making bran-new mistakes. There is no saving, and nothing to be saved from—there is only the opportunity to make a world with less suffering.

    So yes, Tomek, I am absolutely “interested.” We can be “disinterested” only as a temporary strategy, a means of gaining distance and getting clear on the causes and effects of a particular ideological “decision,” but we can’t stay there, and cannot act from there. The best map in the world is useless if we have nowhere to go.

  90. Tomek Avatar

    Tom #89

    Tom, if we stick to the meaning provided by Glenn in his heuristic, I believe that we certainly can become permanently “disinterested” in both, Buddhism and in x-Buddhism. In this context the discussion is not limited to some generic notion of ideology but to the contrary, the main target is the hallucinatory Dharma and its unlimited progeny.

  91. Tomek Avatar

    Tom, maybe my attitude in our current discussion can be seen as somehow orthodox – I mean my constant reiteration of Glenn’s concepts given in his article – but I am truly interested in his extravagant aim of “the ultimate transgression, the release of narcissistic humanity from itself, back into the blind infernal extravagance of the sun.” His prodding to “to settle alongside of empty reality with (…) whatever culturally minimal representation is required” is pretty vague, but I doubt that it can be realized by rehashing, no matter how creatively, all those old and emotionally charged buddhistic representations of this empty reality such as shunyata, no-self, “things as they are,” dependent origination, and so on. My impression is that you try to steer away from this simple constatation and you are downplaying my repeated argument that the very occlusion of the empty reality within the system of x-buddhistic postulation is created precisely by the very concepts that you would like to save and use them to reduce the suffering in the world. My point of view is certainly very limited but I cannot loose from sight the soundness of Glenn’s radical method. I sympathize with the project of rescuing whatever valuable thoughts from the previous generations of thinkers history bestowed on us but I am also well aware how those old concepts can be improperly used. I’m very interested in seeing those concepts and worldviews in the context of history of ideas (like for example Matthias’ recent discussion of the Richard Payne’s essay) but I’m very wary of granting them more status then antiquated x-buddhistic flotsam and jetsam, that today serves more to solidify identity and group coherence then increase epistemic progress.

  92. Craig Avatar

    Very practical question here…can one chant nembutsu and be ‘disinterested’ and make the praxis ‘unrecognizable’ to x-buddhism. This may not be far enough, but chanting as a praxis, concentration exercise rather than from ‘ultimate trust’ or ‘to be born in the pureland’. For the same reasons as Tom, I too like Shinran. Was he the first non-buddhist? 🙂 His notions were utterly unrecognizable to the established Tienti system, even though they may have had some terminology in common.

  93. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    Luis, re #85

    Hi Luis, what do you mean with “+ Troping!”?

  94. ray Avatar

    Luis re #85

    “About the gathering.

    The participants can pay for it. It is just a matter of selecting a place, organizing the meals, adding up the net cost and then split the balance among all (I assume some 25 to 30 people) who will attend seems simple and feasible enough. ”

    Sounds simple and feasible, that is, if you live in the right place and have adequate resources. This is exactly the sort of capitalist mindset that permeates x-buddhist gatherings. Is this a gathering for another group of middle class white american men? Maybe it is but be clear about what is being promoted here please…

    Also one of the problems with internet forums is that while they are online people from around the world can access them. Once they go offline then only those close by or with adequate resources can attend. Perhaps, at some point in the future, provision could be made for online streaming of the event so more of us could ‘attend’.

  95. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    Ray, I was thinking of this too – the problem of ressources and the difficulties to attend when one is further away. I think we should not abandon Luis’ idea at once. We don’t know yet what ideas we come up with how such a meeting can be structured. But what I see is, that we come into a phase where we should give more thought to localized praxis. How can people interested in what is discussed here, being in dialogue here, become nodal points in their own vicinity.

  96. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Craig (#84), Tom and Tomek (#72, 74, etc.)

    (Craig) A final point, in response to the article above, I’ve been reflecting on my meditation/mantra practices through the non-buddhism heuristic. At least as best I can. I’ve basically come to the conclusion that I find a concentration practice helpful in focusing on daily tasks with out ‘daydreaming’. I concentrate on repeated words I say. This has really opened things up for me in terms of doing the practice and my expectations. It’s like jogging.

    I think this is a great illustration of applying the heuristic. It bears, too, on the conversation that Tom and Tomek are having.

    In order to get a result like Craig describes, it is, I believe, necessary to experience or discover the presence of certain dispositions given in the heuristic (such as ancoric loss, disenchantment, aporetic dissonance, disinterest) and, predicated on that experience or discovery, to enact or perform certain others (ideological suspicion, inhibiting the network of postulation, destruction, postulate deflation, re-commission of postulates, etc.). An x-buddhist is a committed x-buddhist to the extent that s/he reflexively acts and thinks according to the dharmic decision. A person who is curled up snugly in the refuge has no reason to act or think differently. That person is incapable of, for instance, ideological suspicion, much less destruction. That’s why I think it’s possible to speak of non-buddhism as an experience: it names a jolt to our sense of subjectivity–in relation, of course, to our identity as x-buddhist. Once that experience occurs, I see three choices: (1) remain ensconced in the refuge, but as a zombified persona; (2) leave the collapsed house in shambles, and walk into the sunset; or (3) rummage through the debris to see what can be salvaged, but with the solar catastrophe as your horizon.

    Craig, you performed certain acts–cognitive, affective, and bodily in nature. You have a result to work with. In my experience, the results of postulate deflation and so on are always disappointing. After all, how can “it’s like jogging” compete with “it’s like heaven”? But at the same time, the results are always liberating. The process requires that nothing less than the thinking/acting subject reemerge from the dharmic machine.

  97. Craig Avatar

    Interestingly, having been reading this site and then looking at other ‘traditional dharma’ sites I am utterly astounded by the ‘dharma speak’. not only that, the ones who claim no dogma seem to be the most dogmatic…Zen, Secular Buddhism.

    Glenn, my results are disappointing with postulate deflation too. i still want that plucked heart strings hope that this technique will help. alas, doing a concentration practice is like any other practice, but maybe not x-buddhist. i don’t particularly like jogging, but i like the results.

  98. saibhu Avatar

    Returning to the topic of the original blog post:

    1. If my plans persist I’m going to start a meditation group in October. I’m not sure whether this group needs to have a “dialog-component”. I’d actually prefer that but it’ll be more difficult to establish a group then. The other option would be “meditation-only”, where that fact that there is nothing but meditation would have to cover the corresponding message.

    Any thoughts/experiences on that are welcome.

    2. If this project keeps on gaining momentum you’ll definitely need a different structure. Right now it seems like there is a constant conversation going on that moves from one thread to another. It’s really time consuming to follow all of this. But sometimes there are interesting thoughts/references. So a kind of summary/archive could be nice. However, this might change the communication process, so I’m not sure whether it’s a good idea at this point. Maybe the individual blog posts are sufficient for now.

  99. Matthias Steingass Avatar


    re your 1st point. Let’s talk a bit about groups if you like. The dialogue-component and everything. Maybe in German somewhere, just a relaxed dialogue about dialogue.

    2nd, there is already thinking going on how to preserve and how to make the content of the blog and the thread more accesible.

  100. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Saibhu (#98).

    1. I am curious about why you think your group may not need a dialog component, and that perhaps just sitting is enough. Things seem to be breaking down along a certain line on this blog. The division has to do with the explanatory power of two models of human being: the atmanistic/atomistic self model, and the social-symbolic para-self model. Following x-buddhist discourse here in the West, I see a reflexive adherence to the former model. Taking a meditation-only approach would seem to settle for that view. Incorporating dialogue would seem to attempt to affect the social-symbolic formations that give rise to your participants’ ideologies. Personally, I am still curious about the sitting-dialog-ideology-action nexus. Whatever you decide to do with your group, just be aware of the fact that specific values and presuppositions are operating therein. What do you think?

    2. Yes, we are going to work on this matter over the summer. We, too, want to find a way to organize the blog material so that it is more accessible. We welcome any suggestions.

  101. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Craig (#92).

    I meant to include this statement in my #96.

    Very practical question here…can one chant nembutsu and be ‘disinterested’ and make the praxis ‘unrecognizable’ to x-buddhism. This may not be far enough, but chanting as a praxis, concentration exercise rather than from ‘ultimate trust’ or ‘to be born in the pureland’.

    Tomek, of course, is asking some very hard questions (#56, for starters) about the degree and extent of the heuristic’s function. A continuum seems to be emerging. It runs from gradualist to radicalist, or maybe from preservationist to destructivist. I am at the radical extreme. That is a statement about practical discovery, not about reasoned decision. What I mean is that when I engage the non-buddhist heuristic, I find that so much x-buddhist material becomes superfluous that there is no turning back. If I discover that chanting coca-cola while staring at the wall or into space or toward a stone or a picture of a mountain is “effective,” then why preserve “nembutsu”? Maybe there are quite good reasons for one’s doing so. You could conclude that the mythological elements are in fact part of what makes it “effective.” This business of efficacy is, of course, woven into the very fiber of the postulates supporting chanting. So, part of “deflating” and then, as you are doing, “re-commissioning” that postulate involves awareness of the force of “nembutsu’s” claims over the mere (via cancellation of warrant) chanting. I think that Tomek is suggesting that decisions to preserve x-buddhist supports might belie the continued force of dharmic decision. But maybe things like stilling the vibrato and cancelling the warrant can be a matter of gradualism, I don’t. Becoming an exile is scary. Living with the solar catastrophe as your line of horizon is, I suppose, not for everyone. I don’t know. I prefer questions over answers. This is all one big experiment. So, please continue, and keep us informed.

  102. saibhu Avatar

    Matthias (#99),

    Let’s do that. I’ll send you a mail about it tomorrow.

    Glenn (#100),

    I was a bit sloppy with my language there. I don’t really think there is something like “only-meditation” and a atomistic self. Of course even a only-meditation group contains and transports a ideology. Still, in some sense, I think a meditation-group would be more “open” than a buddhist-meditation-group. But I’ll talk to Matthias about that and then see again.

    I was asking about the organisation of the material partially out of my interest for technology. Most concepts on the web are either based on communication or on gathering information. This is not the first project that suffers from that separation.

    Finally, Sorry if this again is one of my totally-offtopic-posts. What I read here often inspires me to think about things and the results are not always related to SNB.

  103. Tomek Avatar

    I think that Tomek is suggesting that decisions to preserve x-buddhist supports might belie the continued force of dharmic decision.

    Glenn (# 101), this is exactly what I have been trying to suggest.

    By the way, interesting is the argument made today by Matthias, namely when he said “that the nature of our subconscious cognitive mechanisms aren’t intentional.” I guess it’s tempting to apply this argument in the case of hope that lies at the bottom of the dharmic desire to escape. If hope is a common element of folk psychology involved in the intentional stance, then it is no-brainer why “non-buddhistic” neuroscience might be greeted with aversion when it threads its way through the cracks made in the x-buddhistic vallation by the destructive forces of your heuristics. In this case it’s not just the abstract horizon of the hopeless solar catastrophe that looms at the distance before the x-Buddhist being perplexed by aporetic dissonance, its the immediate foreboding that s/he might already be the living creature that is simply a kind of dead creature, and a very rare kind.

  104. Craig Avatar

    # 101:

    Yes, Nembutsu is LOADED in more ways than one, so destruction might be in order.

    Glenn says, ‘so much x-buddhist material becomes superfluous that there is no turning back’. I’m seeing that this is true. however, isn’t everything superfluous to some extent? I know that’s a general statement, but I was trying to explain non-buddhism to friend and this fairly intelligent person didn’t understand one bit. His response was, ‘well, everything can be de-constructed, etc. There’s still some good wisdom in buddhism. If it ‘works’ for you, then why stop?” I really had nothing more to say. It’s like two different languages and definitely unrecognizable to x-buddhism.

  105. Tom Pepper Avatar

    Re #104: To paraphrase Vincent Gardinia: Everything can be deconstructed; that don’t excuse nothin’.

    The point of deconstruction is to demonstrate the contingent, socially constructed nature of what we ordinarily take to be metaphysically guaranteed. Being contingent and socially constructed doesn’t make something any less powerful–try not paying your taxes, and the “deconstructing” the tax code!

    My response to your friend would be that we want to get beyond pragmatism, and not just say it “works for you.” instead, we want to question whether the kind of “you” it works to produce is the best kind we can come up with. If selling crack in the high school parking lot provides you a comfortable living, it isn’t enough to say it “works for me.”

  106. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Craig (#104).

    Your friend says: “If it ‘works’ for you, then why stop?” And you have nothing more to say.

    For me, that’s exactly where the real conversation begins. You friend has asked a great question, but he has done so in the form of a rhetorically hidden determination. Rather than my saying too much about it now, why don’t you continue your dialog with him or him by exploring, for instance:

    What constitutes “works”? Who decides? Where does our conclusion or speculation about what “works” involves put us in relation to x-buddhism? What if it displaces x-buddhist “good wisdom”? What is the “it” that “works,” anyway? Can that “it” be unplugged from the x-buddhist system of postulation? If so, what conclusions follow? What, finally, happens, to that conclusion disguised as a question: the why stop? Stop what–spinning around on the x-buddhist decision, or stop the de-decisioned non-practice?

    And so on. I think dialog is most fruitful when it is driven by questions. Thanks for you participation here.

  107. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Ray, Luis Daniel, Robert, and others.

    Even though we have moved on to a new post, I wanted to say that we are giving more thought to your ideas about what a gathering might look like. Others, too, your many thoughtful suggestions, comments, ideas, and questions about practice/praxis are stimulating further work on our part. For one thing, we want to collect and organize the material, and put it in an easily accessible, searchable format. In other words, your participation is producing material for furthering the work. Thanks.

    We can, of course, continue our discussion on this post . . .

  108. Craig Avatar

    Tom, Glenn-

    Thanks for those responses. I think i’m going to have to re-read them several times 🙂

  109. saibhu Avatar

    Maybe one more source of inspiration for the question on the name we might call this (so far ‘praxis’):

    I like the word “contemplative science” because both parts convey several important aspects. Contemplative covers various modes of thinking and introspection, e.g. meditation and critical thinking. Science would allow to abandon certain things, if there are enough reasons to do so. It could prevent the project from becoming wishy-washy as so many others did.

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