Comfort-Food Buddhism

Vague Platitudes to Avoid Life’s Hard Questions: Thich Nhat Hanh’s Comfort-Food Buddhism

by Tom Pepper

My first experience with the “mindfulness” craze was in psychology class.  Nobody seemed very clear on what mindfulness meant, but they were all sure it was a “Buddhist concept.”  It seemed harmless, if not at all helpful, so I ignored it.  Until they showed us the educational dvd on mindfulness, which I believe came from the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA.

In this video, a well-meaning psychologist spoke earnestly of how mindfully living “in the moment” would cure everything from ADHD to post-traumatic stress to addictions.  When she got to the description of how we should learn to ignore everything but our sensory experiences, I thought, well, she just doesn’t know much about the history of psychology, or she would be aware that such practices have been tried, and nobody can EVER do that.  Not even for a moment.  And she doesn’t know much about Buddhism, or she would know that such “bare awareness” is not at all what the Buddha meant by sati.  Then, she began to describe how one could mindfully walk to the guillotine to be executed, and I laughed so hard I had to leave the room.

I didn’t think much of the new fad of mindful-everything, and figured it was harmless, and irrelevant to Buddhism.  I didn’t think any Buddhists were so mistaken about the concept.

Then, I read Thich Nhat Hanh. I discovered that this concept really is coming from a Buddhist, and it became much more troubling to me.  I had never read Thich Nhat Hanh until about four years ago, when a study group in my sangha decided to read his Answers from the Heart.  I wasn’t much interested in the kind of night-stand Buddhism that is usually found in the books on the shelves at Barnes and Noble.  These books seemed mostly interested in making a quick buck off of the American middle-class readers who just want to feel better about themselves without too much effort, and like to think they are more open minded and spiritually advanced than average.  I pretty much dismissed Thich Nhat Hanh without reading him.

I sometimes wish I had left it at that.

Having now read nearly a dozen of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books, I have to say that I think his version of Buddhism is troublingly simplistic, not really helpful at all, and overall damaging to the possibility of  any real understanding of Buddhism spreading to the United States. His Tuesdays-With-Morrie-style empty platitudes make people think they’ve learned something profound, when they have actually only strengthened their attachments to the delusions that are the real source of misery in our culture.  I read Answers from the Heart with a knot in my stomach, wondering: don’t people realize this is just a bunch of banal clichés?  Isn’t it obvious he is oversimplifying every problem to the point of absurdity?

Nevertheless, I pressed on with the reading, trying to find something useful in the book, something to say when the study group met.  Then, I got to the “Children’s Questions” section, and, well, I lost hope.  Let me give a specific example of the problem.

In answer to a child’s question about what “we can do to become enlightened,”  Thich Nhat Hanh says:

When you drink your tea, and know that you’re drinking your tea, you’re concentrated, you see that drinking tea is something you like to do.  So drinking tea mindfully is a kind of enlightenment. (p. 147)

No, it really isn’t.  It may be a kind of contentment, and may be very useful in helping restore peace of mind, relieve stress, and help us go on with our day.  But it is NOT enlightenment.  Nowhere does the Buddha say that what he means by awakening is enjoying a good cup of tea–or anything even remotely like it.  Even if mindfulness was the same as concentration, which it isn’t, neither is it the same as enlightenment.  They are not even a beginning, or lower level of, enlightenment.  At  most, they are a preparation to train the mind, so that we will be able to begin working toward enlightenment.  Now, this is an answer to a question by a child, and we could say that this is just skillful means, that he is encouraging the child on toward that fantastic castle-city.  But my problem is that this is the same thing he says in all his books, repeatedly, not just to children, and he never gives any indication that he sees this as only a first step.  For Thich Nhat Hanh, drinking tea, chopping carrots, and looking at flowers simply is what the Buddha meant by enlightenment.

This may be comforting to the bookstore Buddhist who wants to believe her garden parties or his golf swing really is the end of the Buddhist path.  But it is very, very clear from everything that the Buddha says about his own awakening that he had something much more in mind.  And it may not always be so easy to accept.

Certainly what Thich Nhat Hanh says sounds, at first, like wonderfully “wise” answers—until we realize he hasn’t told us anything we couldn’t get out of a fortune cookie.  For instance, when he discusses “engaged Buddhism,” he tells us to encourage our leaders to  “understand the world situation” (103), and to “bring about awareness”(104), but he never says anything specific about what would help, or what exactly should be done.  Who doesn’t think that leaders who understand the problem would be a good thing?  There’s nothing Buddhist about that.  What about discussing a Buddhist position on the absurd naiveté of the voluntarist idea that leaders could change the world if they just wanted to?  What is the Buddhist position on the problem of structure and agency in social formations?  These are harder questions, clearly, and require more than fortune-cookie answers.

And they require thought, which Thich Nhat Hanh consistently discourages.  I began counting all the disparaging remarks about “philosophy” and “rationalism” and “intellectuals,” but really, there’s no point.  I think Thich Nhat Hanh’s anti-intellectualism is pretty obvious in all his books.  On his understanding of the dharma, the Buddha believed thinking was the source of our problems, and just sipping a cup of tea in the garden would clear everything right up.  Now, Americans hate thinking, so I can see why this is popular. To quote Heidegger, is there any greater anxiety today than the anxiety in the face of thinking?  But the Buddha doesn’t seem to have this terror of mental effort. The figure of the Buddha presented in the Pali canon clearly knew all the major philosophical trends of his time, and developed a fairly sophisticated one of his own.  It isn’t all that complex, but it is very difficult because it is thoroughly counter-intuitive, and requires not just thought, but also practice.  This is an important point.  We need to both practice, and to be able to think clearly about what we are practicing and why.  Samadhi, in fact, seems to originally have served as mental training to produce the powers of mind necessary for complex philosophical thought in a non-literate culture, where one couldn’t just take notes or “google” something.

Like many self-help Buddhists, Thich Nhat Hanh is adept at telling people what they want to hear, and making it sound profound.  When he tells the luxury-car-driving nuclear warhead designer to keep his job, because he will do it mindfully, I wanted to scream.  Really, go ahead and facilitate mass murder, just do it in a mindful fashion?  Would he have said the same to Himmler, when he was drawing up the plans for more efficient mobile gas chambers?  Weapons-dealing is one of the things the Buddha most explicitly says is NOT right livelihood.  So sure, go ahead and keep whatever job you have, and don’t worry about whether you are producing bad karma; but, you should realize that you will never become enlightened, are not practicing Buddhism, and will contribute to the dukkha of countless other people.  But, hey, as long as you are mindful while driving your Mercedes, right?

Answers from the Heart is full of evasions, vacuous platitudes, and empty clichés.  Consider some of the questions in the “spiritual practice” section.  When someone asks what “looking deeply” means, he defines it as “being deeply aware”(66).  Yeah, real helpful.  “What is the best way to nourish our bodhicitta?”  We should desire to ”help awaken other people, relieve their suffering, and bring them happiness”(68).  Okay, this is a (vague) definition of what bodhicitta is, but it doesn’t tell us how to acquire it, and tells us nothing about what will really bring people happiness.  All this feel-good empty advice is not just harmless, because it makes people think they are actually learning Buddhism, when they are learning nothing at all.  Thich Nhat Hanh merely helps people strengthen their existing tendency to avoid facing the hard questions and solving the hard problems, the tendency to be only as “engaged” as we can be while we watch reality television and surf the internet, drive our luxury cars and drink our tea. We only need to wish people well, not do anything about it that might actually put a crimp in our lifestyle. Instead of challenging people to face the truth, Thich Nhat Hanh produces the worst kind of capitalist post-modern ideology, and calls it Buddhism.

So, one final point, on the idea of anatman.  Thich Nhat Hanh absurdly conflates ideas of a “healthy sense of self,” self esteem, and a sense of superiority, and then suggests that what is really meant by “no-self” is simply not being a narcissist.  Having compassion is our “true nature of no-self”(75).  This ridiculously oxymoronic phrase is the worst explanation of anatman I have ever seen, and I’ve read some bad ones.  No-self means realizing that we have an essential true nature of compassion?  Yikes!  If he was going for the Zen paradox here (to realize no-self is to realize our essential self), that would be bad enough, but clearly this particular example is just a case of convoluted thinking.

I used to be indifferent to Thich Nhat Hanh, thinking he was a harmless popularizer; but the more I read of his books, the more I think he is one of the worst things to happen to Buddhism in America since Alan Watts.  People are just getting over the idea that Buddhism means dropping acid and having sex with your students.  Now they are likely to think it means sipping tea and looking at flowers, and general anti-intellectual American complacency.  Maybe that’s just a feature of the audience–the baby boomers are getting old. Thich Nhat Hanh, though, seems consistently better able to reinforce delusions than remove them.

But of course, this is what sells.  The bookstore Buddhist wants comfort, not challenge.  She wants to be reassured that the only test of the truth of anything is whether it corresponds to what she already believes (this is what the Kalama Sutta says, right?).  And that “the Buddha says” that “intellectualizing” is the source of suffering, and that we must accept everything in the world, including our own mind, and never make an effort at improvement.  The Buddha says these things, right?  It’s on that plaque I bought at T.J. Maxx, it must be true.  Thich Nhat Hanh has paved the way for a whole host new teachers who spout platitudes in soft voices at retreats and sell their books online.  Everyone’s afraid to ask them a question, because pointing out that what their saying is simplistic or just plain wrong is rude.  And, if you do it, they get irrationally angry, call you names, and start listing their “qualifications,” then condescendingly smirk at your ignorance.  After witnessing this once or twice, most people just won’t dare to ask a question.  They choke down the cloying comfort-food version of Buddhism, and when they can’t stomach any more move on to something else.

Enough with the mindfulness already.  There’s nothing wrong with thinking!  For millennia, even Buddhists did a lot of it.

A pdf file of this essay is available on the “Articles” page.

260 responses to “Comfort-Food Buddhism”

  1. Genju Avatar

    Well said. As a psychologist and Buddhist (yes, even ordained in Thich Nhat Hanh’s tradition), I have been happily run out of many a TNH sangha for sniffing the Kool-Aid before drinking it. Thich Nhat Hanh has a done good for many people who need that childlike reassurance that their ills can be taken away by the appropriate application of daisy-chain plasters. If only they were also told that it cannot stop there, that some level of personal responsibility is required, and that sounding like a leftover attendee of Woodstock is not going to cut it in this world of dire ethical dilemmas.

    Sadly, many of TNH’s early works on the sutras offer an entry level understanding of Buddhism; however with the advent of the Industry of TNH that aspiration to scholarship is gone. For that reason, I hesitate to place all the responsibility on TNH himself. I think that the confluence of “Vietnam guilt” and desire for a quick entry to Buddhism gave fuel to power up the “Industry”, cult following, and creation of “self-governing” teachers who wouldn’t know a boundary if it fell on them.

    I’ll shut up now.

  2. Rick Carter Avatar
    Rick Carter

    Glen…… really have far too much time on your hands. I have just read the most over analysed drivel in my life. Talk about trying to make a subject out of nothing. Life is what we make of it and shit happens……..simple. Get out and enjoy life instead of trying to analyse and over complicate everything and write about it.

  3. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Actually, Rick, it was me who wrote that. I’m encouraged that you think that Thich Nhat Hanh is “nothing” and doesn’t deserve much attention. I’d like to see the day when everyone shared that opinion. As for “Life is what we make of it . . ” did you get that from Mitch Albom? Deep.

  4. Rick Carter Avatar
    Rick Carter

    Tom, some people waste years trying to complicate (in meaning) what a great man simplified for us all to understand. His revelation occurred because he simplified the meaning of life, not complicating it by writing pages and pages and pages of essay on a particular subject. Just because someone writes a book on life and uses typical psycho jargon words and phrases, doesn’t mean he or she gets the point, quite the opposite. In relation to the confusion with the names, the same authors always pop up in these blogs and it is hard to distinguish who wrote it and who endorses it…..sorry.

  5. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Rick (#2).

    Have you learned how to transform your garbage into flowers? If not, you must enter into the palace of the child, where the body and mind are one. For, can nothing become something? Life and death are both notions. You must reconnect with the line of life. The Line of Life is meditation. You will become one cell in the Buddha body–Nirvana here and now!

    In other words: When you contemplate the big, full sunrise, the more mindful & concentrated you are, the more the beauty of the sunrise is revealed to you. Mindfulness as Electricity. Each human being is a multiplicity of miracles. We have to awaken ourselves to the truth that we are here, alive. We are here making steps on this beautiful planet. Your true home is in the here and the now. It is not limited by time, space, nationality, or race.

    (Compiled from the TNH Twit account–last few tweets! That medium is really quite flattering to Master Hahn, don’t you think, Rick?)

  6. Rick Carter Avatar
    Rick Carter

    Wow! I bet you dominate conversation at the dinner table. It really irks you guys to simplify things when you are used to going on and on and on in depth about something you could say quite literally in a few sentences.See if you can shorten your response (Tom will kick in with a response also, no doubt, sooner or later) to an even shorter number of sentences and convey the same meaning.

  7. Craig Avatar

    Who is this great man you speak of? And what did he simplify? I’m serious and am not being sarcastic.

    Incidentally, I found Tom’s piece quite validating as i’ve found meditation to be anything but smelling the flowers more attentively. The other thing that makes me nuts about TNH is that he refers to himself in the 3rd person. Ridiculous! And here I thought I was missing out because I couldn’t get through one of his many, many books.

  8. Rick Carter Avatar
    Rick Carter

    Who is this great man? Now you really have something to ponder and not all the psycho analytic crap being written in over interpreted long winded essays.If you don’t know who this great man is (probably because he never wrote a book) you now have a real mission to find out. Find out who he is and stop all this analysing other peoples books as if you know what the real purpose in life is. This blog is like a drop in centre for would be psychologists or qualified psychologists who have nothing better to do.

  9. Richard Blumberg Avatar
    Richard Blumberg

    Rick, there is nothing simple about the four facts that the Buddha authenticated in his awakening experience, nor in the eight-factored path he cultivated, nor in the middle way that he enunciated, nor in the notion of conditioned emergence that underlies all the others, although he did put that all together with astonishing brevity in the teaching that set the whole thing in motion (or somebody did; it might as well have been the Buddha).

    But he went on for forty-five years exploring the implications of those brief statements, in words that, as we have them, are sophisticated, subtle, skeptical, ironic, pragmatic, and lucid, without an ounce of soft-headedness or fuzziness. Quite the opposite of Brother Thay.

  10. Rick Carter Avatar
    Rick Carter

    Whilst ever you think there is nothing simple about everything and then set about continually trying to justify the need to over interpret everything, you will forever continue to change and refocus (go around in circles) your life. The problem is that every time some one thinks they have a revelation, they write a book and then all the would be psycho analytic experts spend the next several decades trying to analyse and interpret what is the intent of the author instead of getting on with their own lives. Having a “there is nothing simple about it” outlook will only perpetuate this time wasting.

  11. Craig Avatar


    What I’ve gleaned over the years, and this blog validates, is that the protagonist is not an easy character to pin down. He(s) can be part of the dialectic conversation along with psychology, psychoanalysis etc. However, in that conversation, it’s all fair game…even TNH. Anyway, I was really curious to hear your take on this man? Also, I don’t think anything can be over-interpreted. And as far as going around in circles in your life, why do you do so on this blog? Again, I’m being serious and not sarcastic.

  12. Rick Carter Avatar
    Rick Carter

    Because I find it quite amusing to see all the pseudo-intellectual types trying to over interpret what is really so simple to understand. How can you over interpret something so basic? I don’t care about TNH (whoever he is or any one else for that matter), Why keep trying to find some riddle or cryptic meaning to something unless you are either bored and find the only way to justify one’s clever existence is prove how mentally complex everything is or just simply take pleasure in trying to appear deep and meaningful to others. I am content in taking the piss out of the pseudo-intellectuals when they try to write a long winded thesis on someone else’s interpretation on the meaning of life. As if they know?

  13. richard Avatar

    It’s probably a good (and simple) idea to never respond directly to anyone online who opens a comment with “Whilst ever”. So, I’ve got better (more complicated, more difficult, more interesting, and more meaningful) things to do. Tom Pepper, I look forward to your next post.

    With regard,


  14. Craig Avatar

    Hey Rick,

    I think this blog is exactly what you said…taking the piss out of x-buddhism.

  15. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Rick Carter (#12). One way to stop going around in circles is to put belief, preferences, and opinions off to the side, and do some honest investigation. That’s one of the points of the post. The author had a knee-jerk opinion about the work of Thich Nhat Hahn. He put that opinion aside, and began reading his books. As he read, questions arose–questions, for instance, about the larger social implications of certain claims.

    So, why not take Brother Thay’s advice to investigate things carefully and apply it to his own words? My #5 is a string of TNH utterances. Take just one of them, and subject it to inquiry. What is it really saying? Are there ambiguities in its terminology? Are these easily resolvable? Or must a person belong to the community and subscribe to a particular understanding? What are some of the larger implications of the statement for the person and society?

    You speak about “simplicity” as if it were an obvious good. Why? In what cases is it not so? Why is a teaching about how to live best served by simplicity?

    Best question of all: why would you not want to scrutinize the teachings in such a manner?

  16. sometimes Avatar


    I like your suggested investigation.

    1) Why SHOULD we turn our “garbage” into “flowers?” Doesn’t life involve both? What if we sat in the middle of them and smelled them both deeply. What if we CAN’T change garbage into flowers? Garbage is garbage, flowers are flowers. Why the value judgment about garbage anyway? Sometimes life involves garbage…so what?

    2) Death is not a notion. It actually happens. Things die! People, animals, plants, ideas, planets, stars, etc… Why do we have to “romanticize” death into a notion? To make ourselves feel better? Why? And, I am alive. It is not a notion. I am sitting here typing, breathing alive. One day I won’t be, I will be dead. That they are notions is kind of silly. Perhaps there are many notions out there about HOW to live life…but I think not about being alive. I see life and death as rather concrete, once they become notions we are traveling dangerously close to religion and spirituality aren’t we? Maybe that is what some want to be doing, but not me…not today anyway.

    3) Reconnect to the line of life. WTF? Aren’t we in it already? What is this reconnecting business?

    4) Life is meditation. BS! I meditate, but many don’t. What an arrogant thing to suggest that those out there who are not practicing what we call a “formal” practice are not living life. Of course they are. There are many artists, philosophers, just normal people who are living life and not meditating and perhaps are doing fine. Anyway, life happens…meditation happens…life happens without meditation quite a bit. But I guess the reverse is not true is it? Meditation cannot happen without life. Maybe that is the real investigation.

    Or maybe all that is a bunch of BS, perhaps. Anyway, I liked your suggestion…so here is my feeble attempt. A bunch of questions that I don’t necessarily have the answers to. Isn’t that what an investigation is? (Damn…there is another question.)

    This is certainly NOT an exhaustive or comprehensive investigation by any means. Just what I was able to come up with while I have a small moment from my own garbage and flowers. (BTW…sometimes the flowers and their smell can be just as annoying and overwhelming as the garbage.)

    Sometimes April

  17. Shabe L Avatar
    Shabe L

    As someone who always appreciates Tom’s broadsides, even when I do not agree with them, let me put in my two bits. I do think we need intellectuals to comment on matters that are complex; simple approaches to life’s challenges seem to me the stuff of dogma and totalism. I appreciate the fact that these posts force me to think harder than I normally do.
    That being said, I often tend to disagree with Tom’s view that people like TNH, and the ‘mindfulness craze’, do more harm than good. I really have a hard time seeing that.

    It may be a matter of perspective: Compared to what? If against an ideal sociopoliticoreligisiospriritual leader, surely TNH and the Dalai Lama and all the other rock stars of Buddhism fail very badly. If one takes the view, however, that they offer a soft-edged welcome to the exotic room upstairs, where interesting ideas and projects are being explored, then maybe they encourage a lot of people who otherwise would be completely lost in the ideology of capitalistic exploitation and degradation of others to pause and have a second look.

    I do recognize and agree with Tom’s view that by soothing/smoothing over the sharp edges with inanities and Hallmark bromides, such leadership intentionally or inadvertently plays into the system it is supposed to challenge, if it was truly in the spirit of Buddhism. However, I just do not see the hard-edged perspectives of Tom, Glenn, and similar thinkers gaining any substantial traction in the world I know. Hence I am willing to accept, if not with much enthusiasm, that watered-down Buddhism (including ‘secular’, ‘therapeutic’, and ‘Hippie’ Buddhism) is better than none – in terms of reducing Dukkha, which as I understand was Gautama’s primary goal.

  18. Matthew O'Connell Avatar

    “People are just getting over the idea that Buddhism means dropping acid and having sex with your students. Now they are likely to think it means sipping tea and looking at flowers, and general anti-intellectual American complacency.”

    Fantastic and so poignant! I would love you to now take on the masochistic task of listening to Adyashanti talks and make the same sharp critique. I find his brand of wet Buddhist platitudes for the happy masses repulsive and he seems to intensify the level of narcissism by spending most of his talks, sharing his own story an dusin git as the basis for all of his ‘teaching’.
    I personally like some of Thich Nhat Hanh’s interpretations of the basic teachings of Buddhism such as the Eightfold Path, but they certainly do not stand alone as practice material for anyone with a half decent intellect.
    I remember a Ken McLeod talk in which he described an experience he had had at a Buddhist Teacher’s gathering in which Thich Nhat Hanh was leading the group for the day. He had the participants work in small groups and a psychotherapist and experienced meditation teacher in Ken’s group at one point, visibly annoyed, spoke up saying, ‘I feel extremely angry here. I feel like we’re constantly being spoken to as if we were children. I can’t stand this.’ I think this is probably at the heart of the issue with Thich Nhat Hanh’s approach to Buddhism, he plays the role of benevolent father, who wouldn’t harm a fly. His books often act as bed time reading to aid you in your slumber to feel warm and safe and protected from the world of harsh realities and strong feelings and emotions and thoughts.

  19. illuminationis Avatar

    I understand Tom’s frustation, but just like Shabe L (#17) said, maybe that comfort food is better than nothing at all. If TNH books are not sufficient anymore, then go ahead read some better stuff like Nagarjuna. The problem is though, how do the bookstore Buddhists come in contact with more serious texts if they are not available in the local bookstores?

  20. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Re 17: Shabe, good to hear from you. I am ever of the opinion that helping perpetuate delusions, even with soft words, is doing people harm, not good, just as giving a slave a lobotomy to prevent his rebelliousness is doing harm, not good. The lobotomized slave may even think he is happy, but suffering has been perpetuated. Maybe the “hard-edged” perspective is slow to catch on, maybe it doesn’t sell books and finance retreat centers, but that doesn’t justify abandoning it.

    Re 19: if it was a matter of frustration or boredom with simple introductory texts, I wouldn’t be bothered. There have to be introductory texts, and they have to be elementary, and that’s fine. The problem comes when what is being taught is that delusion and doing evil are good, and clear thinking and doing good are bad. Really, making weapons of mass destruction is perfectly fine, as long as one does it mindfully? That’s not elementary beginner Buddhism, that’s just dead wrong. He consistently tells us that “Buddha advises us not to study philosophy” and that thought and the intellect are the source of suffering, that the “”realm of non-perception is seen as the higher realm” because it is free of all thought, the place where only the “essential nature” abides which is “free of afflictions”, the “attainment of cessation,” and we can get his by “deeply contemplating a flower.” (This is from “Beyond the Self” and “Understanding the Mind”) We must always desire the state of mindless idiocy, with not thought of the world, staggering around chopping carrots and looking at flowers. The problem isn’t that this is beginner stuff, it’s that it starts beginners out in the wrong direction, like teaching a child that 2+2=5. Haven’t you ever told somebody you were a Buddhist and had them respond that they read a TNH book once, then start talking to you like you were simple-minded?

    As for getting the better texts, well, you can get anything online now.

    Re #18: I don’t think I would have the discipline for more than about ten minutes of Adyashanti. I can’t believe anybody could listen to him.

  21. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel


    I find some serious flaws in your article.

    COMFORT CHOOSING. You quote TNH out of context and never get to analyze any of his really buddhist writings. There are at least two problems with this: one it shows prejudice and a mediocre attitude on your behalf, two, and this is more serious, it lets standing the really grave delusions upon which TNH teachings are based, such as True Nature, Karmic actions, etc. TNH is a perfect example of very traditional Buddhism REBRANDED. The whole Western affair with Buddhism, of which your writings and deeds form part, can be summed up as an accommodation to the “author”´s needs, whoever assumes that position, as you do in this article. This is the case of Batchelor as well. But by choosing to do all this, you irresponsibly try to manipulate the readers by evoke the heuristics availability to form very biased judgment against TNH.

    How do you what the effect of TNH practice has been on people? How can you know? Aren’t you standing a bit too far on the side of arrogance?
    Even worse of course, how can you demonstrate that SN Buddhism is of any benefit at all? By oversimplifying your adversaries’ positions and evoking the common place of “we are thinking here”?
    Or perhaps I forgot, you don´t need to demonstrate anything, is that it?

    So far all it boils down to here is what you and a few others like and don’t like.

    THE SIMPLE THEM VERSUS THE COMPLEX WE. You seem to imply that TNH oversimplifies what for you is complex and, worst of all, what for you is obviously truth. When you give the example about enlightment, you proceed to say, as a very conventional zen teacher would do, what true enlighten really is for you (a counterintuitive method developed by the very Buddha which of course hasn’t been understood by TNH). And yet, we are still waiting for you to really deliver at least on what is enlightment for you.

    PEPPERIAN SOCIAL RESENTMENT AND THE MIRROR BEFORE YOU. Without providing the original quote and its context, you criticize the advice that supposedly TNH gave to a nuclear arms producer as quoted several times by Pepper. Then you go on critizicing that position, the insensitivity, the incongruence with Buddhist practice it entails.

    Is it really that easy, just to play the blaming game, and is that all you can give? Bob Kennedy in his diary was far more sensitive than you are about it, beginning by acknowledging his and his country´s responsibility in the nuclear arms race then. Why don’t you start by spending some honest time in the mirror and begin, for once, criticizing yourself? What about the taxes you pay everyday in your country that pay for war in this world -as your elders did for killing the TNHs in Vietnam in the sixties? What does your buddhist or non-buddhist principles say about that, how do you approach that complexity? How do you differ from TNH´s position regarding your responsibility for inequality in humanity?

  22. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel

    Pepper please dont bother responding. You are the confirmation of a flaw, not the origen of the problem. Though we tend to agree on critzing TNH´s traditionally dogmatic Buddhism.

  23. illuminationis Avatar

    Hey Tom,

    ok, I see your points (scrolling and reading your post more carefully). Now he sounds really bad, somehow similar to the outcry of Augustine, “keep yourself dumb, since critical thinking is bad for your faith.”

    As for the last part, I haven’t yet met anybody talking to my like I was a dumb ass when I told them I was a Buddhist, but I guess it’s because the first question they ask around here is not ‘What is your belief system?’ but ‘What do you do to earn a living?’

  24. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Re 21 & 22: Ah, Luis, it always reassures me when you get worked up about what I say. Thanks.

  25. Craig Avatar



    I used to think Ken McLeod was the shit…then I started to take seriously my reaction to him of feeling like a being spoken to like a child. I started to have a visceral angry reaction to his voice and just couldn’t get over how much he loved to hear himself talk. With him, and many other teachers, I have always buried my reactions of ‘this is bullshit’ because I thought I wanted to get what they had. I asked Glenn here about Ken McLeod and in one fell swoop he blew him out of the water. I still like his notions of cultivating attention, but it’s really just a convoluted way of developing concentration. As you said, there are nuggets of TNH’s teaching that you like, but I’m really beginning to think these dudes are quite dangerous and more insidious than the preachers on TV.

  26. Matthew O'Connell Avatar

    #20. Glad to see you have a healthy sense of your own limits.

    #25. I think your reflections are incredibly subjective and seem to exhibit some personal bias. How do you know he ‘loved to hear himself talk’ for example? I’d be happy if you pointed me to Glenn’s critique of Ken. Contrary to TNH, Ken has firm grasp on the context in which Buddhism has emerged and has done a rather fine job of translating Tibetan Buddhism, and in particular Mahamudra, into western language, especially with regards to removing the mystique surrounding Tibetan Buddhism, and the worship of Tibetan gurus.
    If these two are doing harm, for sure they are more ‘insidious’ than American preachers, but more dangerous, no way! Direct calls to do harm to gays and non-Christians, especially those dark skinned Muslims, is a daily affair on the hate mongering bullshit that comes out of the mouths of these warped and twisted TV preachers. TNH may indirectly encourage a Buddhist lobotomy, but it stops there.
    I also think McLeod’s ‘Wake up to your life’ is a great book and full of practices that are quite the opposite of TNH’s material. Feel free to set me right though 🙂

  27. Craig Avatar



    Yes, good points. i am totally biased. As a result of this non-buddhism project, I’ve kind of gone the other extreme and have had reactionary responses to some of the teachers i thought had it all together. Mcleod, Joko Beck. Glenn etc. seem to be able to see something I don’t see in the problems with X-buddhism. It’s complacency with capitalism, for example. As far as Mcleod goes, he is very much still caught up in teachers as gurus, me thinks. Some of the quotes he has on his site indicate this. He may be able to discern context, but the dude was saturated in Tibetan Buddhism. It’s his livlihood and he has to constantly make himself relevant. So, I don’t think he’s as ‘non-Tibetan-buddhast’ as you might think. The fact that he still attempts to ‘explain’ and make relevant the guru/teacher devotional stuff is a red flag. Also, I think he’s a bit condescending in his talks and it’s one of those situations where one has to keep coming back…and back…and back to get it. I guess this site is like this too. Finally, he’s got that coure set of devotees who are his progeny. They seem to be the only ones who go on his retreats and have their own teaching practice under his guidance…not like the regular folks who post on his ning board. That being said, your response has encouraged me to revisit some of his stuff and look for some more specific examples to critique. Thanks for that. I will say that it seems taboo to say anything positive about any x-buddhist teacher on this site.

    btw-i’ll also find the stuff glenn said in my question about ken on this site:)

  28. Craig Avatar


    Matthew, below is the response I got from Glenn over on the Mirror of Practice discussion…

    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?

  29. sometimes Avatar

    What if there are no answers? What if there is no enlightenment? What if there actually is no total escape from this human form and its reactions and ideologies (only changes to them…if even that?) What if this is it, and all of these teachers and theories and blogs and religions and groups, simply serve to make us feel better about our predicament…without providing any real hope of actually changing it. We buy the books, join the groups, search for some meaning or prescription and what if none of them do what we want them to do?

    What if the point of it all is to live and die and do what we can in between? What if there is no point and no relief?

    Perhaps some of this is designed to help us figure out what it is that we can actually do in between…but I think far less of them actually accomplish that than we would like. What if we actually are on our own trying to figure it out, and there isn’t ONE way (be it religious or academic.) There is only OUR way, each of us figuring out our own nuanced way…and then assuming we can apply it to others/to the masses.

    What if there actually is NO END to what we are calling dukkha/suffering? What then? What if Buddha was just a guy trying to figure it out…just like the rest of us. What if we live, we suffer, we try to help others, we have joy, we suffer, and we die.

    What then? What will we all do then? I guess we will do what we are doing…live and try. That’s what I do. Live and try, it seems to have worked so far, and I am fine with that.

    Just some thoughts. Not academic, and seemingly easily disregarded. But I don’t care.

  30. sometimes Avatar

    P.S. To save myself the “anti-intellectualism” criticism…I am not, and am very much interested in critical thinking and education and academic discovery. I just do better pursuing and discussing it in a face-to-face group setting. I enjoy the inspiration and learning that happens in person. That is just how I work. In fact, my semester will be starting soon and I know I will lose track of the dialouge here…because time is a limited thing and eating, and sleeping, and showering must occur with some regularity.

  31. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Shabe L (#17); Illuminationis (#19).

    On the idea that “maybe that comfort food is better than nothing at all.” Doesn’t the analogy suggest otherwise? A Carolina Red June apple is not comfort food. A candied apple is. If Bobby Sands had eaten candied apples every day rather than nothing, would he have lasted 65 days? One consequence of the analogue to x-buddhism might be that damage is being done in consuming platitudes that resemble profundity in form only. In religion/”spirituality” as in politics, people are easily taken in by the form itself, and so fail to adequately scrutinize the content.

    But I do see your point. That’s why I ask that those sincere truth-seekers still sampling Roshi’s sweets persist. See “fitting proximity” in the non-buddhist heuristic. Also see “Warning” page.

    However, I just do not see the hard-edged perspectives of Tom, Glenn, and similar thinkers gaining any substantial traction in the world I know. Hence I am willing to accept, if not with much enthusiasm, that watered-down Buddhism (including ‘secular’, ‘therapeutic’, and ‘Hippie’ Buddhism) is better than none – in terms of reducing Dukkha, which as I understand was Gautama’s primary goal.

    Can you say more about what you mean by gaining traction in the world you know? The way critical work gets traction is more often hidden than not. Many changes are introduced because of critical work. But no one likes to give credit to the critics. So, the influence of the critic usually remains hidden. I have seen not a few of the ideas and terms that have originated on this blog show up in x-buddhist venues. A critique has gained traction if it makes it more difficult for the Grand Masters of Wisdom to operate in stealth. Critique is an awareness-raising or a consciousness-raising activity. It’s about exposure, not protection. It “gains traction” each time an x-buddhist practitioner suddenly questions what had previously seemed so natural and self-evident in x-buddhism.

    Matthew (#18); Craig (#25).

    I would love you to now take on the masochistic task of listening to Adyashanti talks and make the same sharp critique. I find his brand of wet Buddhist platitudes for the happy masses repulsive and he seems to intensify the level of narcissism by spending most of his talks, sharing his own story an dusin git as the basis for all of his ‘teaching’.

    Maybe it’s time for you two to write up–in whatever form–some of your own analysis or perspectives on this stuff. You seem to have the courage and energy for doing so. It can be clarifying, even cathartic, if that’s needed. One of the greatest difficulties in performing our particular type of criticism, though, is this business of the “non.” As John Connolly put it, it “disenables decision.” It signals a radical deflation, but not a negation. That’s a point that many readers and outside commentators on this blog seem not to fully understand.

  32. jere14 Avatar

    Good analysis. My own take on Thich Nhat Hanh is that he is lost in his own confusion, as opposed to being some kind of scheming teacher who has control and ambition issues. Frankly, I think he is simple minded and stupid. I admit that I have so little patience with his writings that most of my exposure is from articles in Shambhala Sun or Buddhadharma, so maybe I am missing something.

  33. Matthew O'Connell Avatar

    #28. Hi Craig. Thanks for your thorough response and honesty.

    ‘The authoritarian structure of Sufficiency-Superiority-Exclusion’

    I guess this makes sense, although I am not sure where to go with such criticism. Considering much of what McLeod offers is excellent as far as personal practice is concerned, I don’t see the structure as Steingass defines it as a problem. Groups form allegiances and seem to exists within a framework of implicit and explicit rules, some hidden, some stated openly. As an outsider looking in, I am able to avoid assimilation into a group consensus on acceptable norms and unlike TNH, McLeod does provide some extremely useful insights into practice and isn’t immune to engaging his grey matter.
    As for ‘controllable atoms’ what does that mean? Who is controlling who? I don’t see the existence of hidden ideological systems as invalidating the existence of a structure within which such hidden elements abide. They simply indicate a limitation or failing in the system, or group, and probably in the individuals to question authority and speak up and participate more actively in the dynamic. That doesn’t mean that you can’t negotiate your relationship with the group; either personally (i.e. in how you present yourself in interactions and in how you modify, adjust and speak up and out, and self-censor, or not), or in relationship to the members of and the structure of the group by challenging what is perceived as a closed system, which is self-sustained in part by illusions and dysfunctional patterns.

    ‘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’

    These instruction do not explicitly deny the possibility of questioning, doubting and refusing. They frame a dynamic which allows for controlled experiment in practice to occur. That failure, disappointment, disagreement and refusal may be part of the dynamic is not cancelled out.
    Perhaps part of what is missing in most social circles (Buddhist included) is the courage to question, challenge the status-quo and the willingness to refuse to be in a subordinate position? From that stance, I don’t see how any engagement with x-Buddhist representatives couldn’t be stimulating and rewarding to some degree, even if it meant reaching an extremely clear disagreement. I would therefore say that rejecting McLeod is an easy way out. Challenge and question that man and see if he’s willing to to engage. I think it would benefit both. The problem is not whether these people are maintaining ideological group think and obedience to blind tradition, but whether, when recognising this, or having it very clearly pointed out, they refuse to acknowledge what is then made obvious and its consequences, whether because of a personal investment in a given tradition, a role or refusal to adapt to an evolved perspective.
    There is a difference between ‘drinking the cool-aid’ and stopping, examining the bottle and its ingredients and making a choice. Perhaps the drink will do as a temporary thirst quencher until you make it the cool spring a few miles down the road? TNH, it could easily be argued, may represent just that; a start, an inspiration to learn to sit and examine one’s experience. For those with genuine curiosity and depth of character, it may well lead onwards to richer practice. I am happy with the critique here. In fact I love it. But I am not willing to deny the possible benefit TNH has brought to many people’s lives. I would say that he is probably lacking a decent level of criticism and engagement from his contemporaries and students. This is a major theme in Buddhism. Role-neutral spaces in which sharper, clearer and more objective criticism and considerations can occur.
    I hope my thoughts may add something to the discussion.

  34. Matthew O'Connell Avatar

    #31. ‘It signals a radical deflation, but not a negation.’

    Very well said, and glad to hear it made explicit. This is grown up speak. Criticism is not a bad thing folks. I liked your comments about critical work too: spot on and I couldn’t agree more. Perhaps a pop up explaining this fact in clear abc language would help those less accustomed to challenging perceived norms?

  35. jere14 Avatar

    With respect to Adyashanti, he practiced Zen for years but his ultimate “enlightenment” came under the Advaita tradition. Advaita is perhaps a nihilistic form of esoteric spiritual practice, anything goes if it produces enlightenment and the less effort the better. I think it is not infrequent for narcissistic Zen practitioners who finally realize that they are getting nowhere to flee to Advaita or neo-Advaita, claim enlightenment, and set up shop as an “enlightened” teacher. If Thich Nhat Hanh can be labeled simple, Adyashanti can be labeled absurd and such absurdities demonstrate the fabrication of his “enlightenment”.

  36. Matthew O'Connell Avatar

    #31. Maybe it’s time for you two to write up–in whatever form–some of your own analysis or perspectives on this stuff. You seem to have the courage and energy for doing so.

    Are you suggesting one of use produce something for this blog? I probbaly lack the background to reach your lofty intellectual standards. That’s not to say I can’t hold my own, but that I am missing the jargon and references. Perhaps Craig is more up to speed? Craig, do you feel like having a measured blast at Adyashanti?

    #35. From my readings, it seems his Zen teacher actually ‘recognised’ him as awakened and told him to go out and teach.

  37. saibhu Avatar

    Shape L (17), Matthew (18,33),

    I see one problem with the just-a-first-step/better-than-nothing idea: Sometimes the path to the next step, to better stuff, is blocked.

    There are certain aspects in (certain forms of) Buddhism that actively prevent questioning. If you’ve been told that thinking causes all of your problems, or that your ego causes all of them and the goal is to overcome this ego, then this manipulates you in a way where you may see the need to move on but you convince yourself that this feeling is wrong. Hence, you precisely do not move on to the better stuff.

    Telling people how to calm down their thoughts as a first step, because that helps to do the actual work is totally different from telling people that calming their thoughts is the work. Teaching people that sometimes your ego gets in the way of solving problems is totally different from telling them that the ego creates all problems.

    As for teachers maybe not being aware of the fact that they built an authoritarian structure: What the fuck? If you teach people how to behave, feel and think and even then don’t actively encourage critical questioning you’re just being dangerously irresponsible.

  38. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Re #33: ” I am not willing to deny the possible benefit TNH has brought to many people’s live.”

    I AM willing to deny these benefits. If he “benefits” somebody by relieving his guilt about making nuclear weapons, the harm to others is much more important. If he comforts the consciences of a bunch of wealthy middle-class “liberals” who want to keep their country club memberships and vacation houses and not have to worry about economic oppression, the harm still outweighs the good. In the antebellum south, there were Christian leaders who “benefited” the slave owners by assuring them they were saving the immortal souls of the heathen savages–I would happily “deny” such benefits, and this is no different (it is just on a much larger scale).

    I am curious what is “excellent” in what McLeod teaches. I steer clear of Tibetans for many reasons–what does he have to offer that isn’t the same as Alan Wallace? Is there something worth seriously investigating?

    Re #27: Why would you think there are taboos here? If there is an x-buddhist teacher who can deal with the truth, by all means call attention to them. The problem is most of them ask us not to think too hard about what they say, or look to closely at the real world. I’ve never heard a teacher say, sure, I’m producing capitalist ideology, but those masses who suffer exploitation will have a better birth in the next life. How much of a following would they have if they came right out and said that? And if you can’t tell the truth, if your teaching requires that you deceive and dissemble, then you’re fair game for criticism.

    Re #29: I don’t think there is any escape, from human form or from ideology. All we can do is live and try–that’s the whole point, to use critical thought to live and try better. What’s the Becket line somebody quoted here? “Try, fail. Try again, fall again. Fail better.” We want to fail better next time.

  39. Matthew O'Connell Avatar

    #38. Ok. Fair enough. You’re right as far as the nuclear weapons chap is concerned. I was forgetting your example, which is certainly not to be dismissed. I’ve actually only read one of TNH’s books, ‘The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings’, and in it some of his perspectives on traditional Buddhist teachings such as the eightfold path and the four foundations of mindfulness were actually a stimulating change to previous interpretations that I’d come across, although I must admit that was several years ago.
    Perhaps he’s changed his tact since his days of producing the 14 Precepts of Socially Engaged Buddhism when he was nominated by Martin Luther King for the Nobel Peace Prize? Maybe he has left behind his previous striving for an impeccable ethical base in an attempt to please the middle class and convince them that harm never happens? I don’t know. I certainly felt no need to explore any of his other books because they were so light and obviously aimed at the mass market.
    Tibetan Buddhism is full of issues. The whole guru/disciple dynamic is deeply flawed. It’s where I’ve had the majority of my experience though. As for Ken. Hmm. I consider his prioritisation of developing a relationship with direct experience and the methods he teaches for arriving at that point to be excellent; clear and workable. As a meditation teacher he has pioneered the 1:1 teaching method providing individualised, daily feedback to aid people to make progress in practice. In working with direct experience the obsession with idealised forms of practice that individuals should squeeze themselves into is abandoned. Pragmatic in this context means attention is on your actual experience, not the experience of the teacher, the other students or some long dead holy figure. Rather than follow a vague instruction until you’ve reached an abstract goal which will happen some time in the distant future, or never, you can start where you are.He supplies all of his teaching material from retreats, talks etc for free.
    As for economic oppression. Yep. I grew up with a Marxist as a father and am very aware of the immense injustice caused by both our economic and political systems, in the US and Europe and elsewhere. I agree that this topic should be discussed and addressed openly amongst Buddhists genuinely dedicated to relieving suffering and as for TNH, I am very disappointed he should spout such ideological filth. Where in ‘Answers from the Heart’ does he say this? I’d be happy to write to him and confront him on this.

  40. Matthew O'Connell Avatar

    #37. Good points. Especially regarding blindness to progress. I don’t view students as victims in all this though. I started off my Buddhist adventures in the worst of Tibetan sectarian, cult like, group think bullshit in the form of the NKT. That experience was extremely formative in providing me with a very clear picture of what was wrong with Buddhism. I was not a victim in the dynamic of teacher/student. I lapped up their stuff for six months before feeling rather uncomfortable with events. I questioned and received Buddhist stock answers and found it all frustrating and also amusing before realising they were nuts and left.
    I think you’re right that an avoidance, or even unspoken ban on questioning is inherent in certain forms of Buddhism, but not all forms, and that this means Buddhism has the potential to lead people to the next level, but it requires them to choose to change, or leave, or challenge authority. This is one of the great facets of western Buddhism, we do live in a society where some degree of free thinking and criticism is allowed. It may be rare that such creativity enters the fray, but it is possible. This blog speaks to that.
    I agree that anti-intellectualism is a sort of virus in Buddhist circles, but it’s not just Buddhism it’s not even limited to the USA, simple answers and B&W reality are sought all over. It’s lazy thinking.

  41. sometimes Avatar


    Sorry I missed getting to meet you in July. I was actually looking forward to it, and not happy to miss it.

    Re: the Beckett quote, ““Try, fail. Try again, fall again. Fail better.” Agreed! To Fail better, or perhaps a little less bad than the last time…that seems to be as much as I am capable of doing. No matter what philosophy or ideolgy I have tried on. I always had high hopes, even when I found meditation. But I always end up back at the same place. Trying to fail a little better, or perhaps with fewer casualties around me. Maybe meditation helped me in that I see what I have been doing, searching for a belief system that is not there, or that does not afford the comfort I thought I needed…and that’s just fine. Strange isn’t it? To be comfortable with discomfort…or at least to be able to occasionally see when I am running from it, and what I am running towards.

    As far as changing the world. I think all I am capable of doing is reaching out to those around me. Perhaps much like all politics is local…perhaps all change is local as well. Failing better is local, for me anyway. The larger it gets, the more vulnerable and less likely it is, from my perspective. But perhaps I am less invested in the particulars of Buddhism, versus non-Buddhism. I have MUCH more personal experience with Christianity and non-Christianity. Although some of the points here, especially about critical thinking and questioning are very similar to arguments that I have had with my very Christian friends and family (while not particularly useful here.)

  42. Shabe L Avatar
    Shabe L

    Tom # 20; Glenn # 31,and Saibhu # 37; I will take the liberty of responding to your interconnected points together.

    It may be that analogies tend to try and encompass too much when in fact they capture only slices of experience for a sub-population of any group, in this case sincere seekers. For me, and many who I have come to know, the Socratic approach has always made the most sense for exploring difficult ideas and concepts, as an invitation to engage in non-competitive dialogue so that each participant is eventually brought to fully grasp the extent of their ignorance, rather than use debate to further entrench themselves in their opinions.

    When that philosophical sensibility left me stuck in existentialism, I was drawn to the realm of spirituality, but from a particular perspective that was best expressed by Einstein:

    ‘To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself to us as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in the most primitive forms – this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of all true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong to the ranks of devoutly religious men’.

    As I understand it (and my knowledge of Buddhism, although growing, is still very basic) the Buddha also endorsed the notion that you find the truth about yourself (and therefore much more) within yourself, not by accepting the opinions of others.

    So now take the popularization of pop-Buddhism that some of you rightly point out may lead people astray. Yes, but what about those who would have never ventured down the path if not struck by the holiness of his holiness, if not charmed by a smiling monk? These guys are intriguing counter-examples to the self-centered, snarling, shrieking, violence-arousing visages that surround us, hence their instant appeal. And then if one follows one’s curiosity and starts reading and meditating to still the mind and step outside oneself (‘ekstasis’), one has gained the option of pursuing more substantial goals.

    The ‘purist’ approach you gents promote may be far too demanding a task for people to commit to UP FRONT. Yes there is the risk of a lobotomy (a very harsh analogy, from my perspective; perhaps being ‘valiumized’ better captures the non-permanence of the experience), but it is a risk, not a given. It seems to me that the kind of radical insights and demanding intellectual work you promote may be accessible/possible (for all kinds of reasons) for only a relatively small segment of the world of sincere seekers UP FRONT. I, for one, am not unhappy that I spent a few years exploring the ideas that are endlessly regurgitated in the pop-Buddhist circuit. I think they helped prepare me to be open to other ideas and of deeper, more radical notions of freedom and sangha. Tom’s commentaries here and elsewhere would not have resonated if I had not earlier explored softer, muddled, pop-Buddhism.

    Anyhow thanks for keeping the ideas flowing. Discomfort is good. I have long been a fan of Chris Hedges work, and Tom’s bringing it directly into the realm of spiritual ‘practice’ has been an eye-opener.

  43. Rick Heller Avatar

    I participated in a walking meditation at Occupy Boston with monks from Thich Nhat Hanh’s Plum Village community. In case you’re interested, I made a YouTube out of it:

    Their heart is in the right place. However, the monks didn’t care for the rhetoric of the 99% vs the 1%. One said to me “We are the 100%!”

    Now, that fits with the notion of eliminating the sense of separateness between people, which I take to be an aspect of Enlightenment. But as a political slogan in an era of growing economic inequality, it doesnt quite work. It is sometimes necessary to draw distinctions in politics.

    I do think that Buddhism tends to make people politically quiescent. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the most prominent politically engaged Buddhists, I would estimated, are the TNH and the Dalai Lama, both political exiles (There are, of course, politically active monks in Burma whose names I don’t know). I think Buddhists are inclined to let things be, unless they are very bad indeed.

    That’s why I’m interested in integrating Buddhism and secular humanism. Humanism has the political advocacy down, but is too rationalistic, lacking in emotional insight. That is where it can learn from Buddhism.

  44. frank jude Avatar

    I think it needs to be pointed out that many (if not all) of what you criticize about TNH’s teachings are actually not uniquely TNH’s ‘watering down’ or ‘hallmark’ platitudes but come from his zen background!

    From the idea that “drinking tea mindfully is a kind of enlightenment” (and by the way, as there are so very many definitions of enlightenment – see “The New Buddhism” by David Brazier for his critique of 6 different ‘kinds’ of enlightenment taught within the various buddhist traditions) to the anti-intellectualism of “disparaging remarks about ‘philosophy’ and ‘rationalism’ and the talk of “true nature” or “essential nature,” zen is replete with this shite!

    For instance, just try reading “Living Buddha Zen” by Lex Hixon if you can stomach it. Or “Zen In Plain English” by Stephen Schumacher from which we get this nugget:

    “This book is a presentation of Chan or Zen from the perspective of Zen. It is not an account of facts and events which occurred in the distant past, a record that is merely meant to correct from the point of view of an academic understanding of history. A historical approach, helpful as it may be for an understanding of the development of the outward form, misses the very essence of Zen – and on should not forget that it is one of the characteristics of Zen to steer as directly as possible, towards the essential.”

    One of the tendencies of the Zen tradition is to reify enlightenment into something ahistorical and acontextual. Schumacher asks “Can (Zen) help me to find my solution?” and answers: “It can only do so if it is more than history, if is transmits a truth that is independent of historical circumstances. And indeed, what is transmitted by the Zen tradition is a truth of a different order than that of the historical truth of the scholars.”

    One can hardly get more transcendental than the idea of a “truth independent of historical circumstances!” I used this book as the platform for my own rant about zen here:

    My time spent with TNH was definitely helpful at a particularly dangerous and difficult time in my life. He also wasn’t as famous at that time, and the TNH “industry” was only in it’s infancy. While I was involved in the community, however, I saw the seeds of ‘cultism’ (particularly the cult of personality growing around Thay) and when I was greeted with vacuous smiles and platitudes when I questioned what I was seeing, even being told straight-faced by a dharma teacher in the “Order of Interbeing” that something I was questioning about was “off the table; that particular subject is not negotiable or questioned,” I left.

  45. Matthew O'Connell Avatar

    #44. I had similar experience with the NKT; Vacant smiles, smiling platitudes, excessive niceness, switching off of the lights when any criticism arises. The NKT is certainly closer a cult like structure and has been defined as such on the Rick Ross Cult watch site. The NKT is totally sectarian having nothing to do with any other form of Buddhism or any form of the western intellectual tradition. I always considered TNH to be Buddhism light, but not cultish in an way. I’d be interested to hear from others who have had direct experience with the man.

  46. Lee Avatar


    I appreciate your efforts here to encourage people to think more critically about teachings, teachers and practice. Certainly, in my eyes, anyone who espouses (or accepts) not-thinking as a solution for all of life’s problems is seriously misguided. Reflecting a little on my own experiences over time, I now think that ‘meditation’, in part, has been a tool that has actually enabled me to think more clearly over time. I believe that it’s important to distinguish between repetitive, habitual, neurotic thought patterns, which prevent people from engaging with present realities; and more constructive, discriminating thinking that is able to discern the structure and form of problems, formulate coherent responses to them and test them out to see if they work.

    Having in the past suffered / endured what is simplistically labelled ‘mental illness’, I think that there is an argument to say that ‘simplified’ versions of Buddhism may be necessary for some people at certain times / stages of development. Whilst ‘ill’ I would not have been able to process much of the ideas / information that you, Glenn and others are presenting on this site; habitual neurotic thinking would have interfered way too much. I needed a simpler presentation at the time, which, by learning to not get too involved with highly disordered thinking, paved the way for more functional and productive thinking. I suppose the danger is that once one has committed (decision?) to an oversimplified particular form, teacher or practice that one may never find the way out again. Fortunately, my few experiences with a local Shambhala group left me so uncomfortable with the cultish overtones that my limited practice has been largely solitary. I have never self-identified as a Buddhist, but may have/ still be a crypto-buddhist I guess.

    Interestingly, since ‘recovering’, and with concomitant changes in thinking patterns and capabilities, I have found that attention directed externally to the world seems to naturally find its way towards social concerns. I suppose once one’s own little psychodramas are shorn of their affective power to absorb time, energy and attention, then the surplus has to go somewhere.


  47. Tom Pepper Avatar

    Re 46: Lee, I don’t think everyone always needs to be thinking critically at every point–sometimes, we just can’t do it. It may be mental illness, it may be having a new infant to care for, or being too busy at work. And certainly, to begin with, there has to be some “introductory” version of Buddhism, some stick-figure sketch to get one oriented. We don’t start math with calculus or set theory, and we don’t start Literature with Joyce, right? I don’t intend to be critical of a “beginner” level text or teaching, but of those that either teach the beginner an incorrect version or tell them that this is all there is to it. I had a lot of very positivist-empiricist science teachers in high school and my first year of college, who presented physics and chemistry and biology in very concrete terms, as if all the questions had been answered that could be answered, and we were just meant to memorize–and I lost all interest in sciences for years, until I found out they were just idiots. If they had taught me the wrong formula’s to memorize, or taught me the Aristotelian 4-element theory, it would have been just as bad or worse. When you teach someone new to something, it is important to teach them correctly, and never to teach them a false version because “that’s all they can handle.” If you start with the 4-element theory, you can’t gradually work your way up to the theory of relativity, you have to go back and start all over again!

    Re 44 & 45: For this reason, those teachers who will not tolerate questions should always be avoided. Questions are how we clear up misunderstandings. Anybody who tries the bullshit “maintaining silence” in response to a question is an ass, and just doesn’t understand what she or he is teaching well enough to clarify it for your, or show you where you are misunderstanding them. Too damn many self-appointed “teachers” try this stupid stunt, with the patronizing grin, or the advice to just “sit some more.” My advice is, when you come across that, just walk away, that person has nothing to teach anybody.

    The problem for western Buddhism is, if you walk away from those teachers, who’s left?

  48. Lee Avatar

    Re 47: Tom, you make a good point. Is part of the problem that many / most beginners are unlikely to have any epistemologically sound way of evaluating the quality of the various teachers or teachings that they come into contact with? Claims to authenticity seem to reduce to historical nonsense and rely on appeals to authority that are analogous to those that you encountered from your early science teachers.

    ‘When you teach someone new to something, it is important to teach them correctly’

    In the context of creating an orientating stick figure sketch of Buddhism, what would be correct teaching and / or where would one go to find it?

  49. Craig Avatar


    This has always been my idea about meditation. A basic concentration practice that helps one think more clearly, critically and rationally. Another way I see it is that meditation is a way to sit with life as it is and respond skillfully…if that’s even possible. However, these days i just say meditation helps and it is definitely not about no-thinking. It’s like walking, sleeping, eating, showering etc. Non-buddhism.

  50. frank jude Avatar

    # 16: Sometimes said:
    2) Death is not a notion. It actually happens. Things die! People, animals, plants, ideas, planets, stars, etc… Why do we have to “romanticize” death into a notion? To make ourselves feel better? Why? And, I am alive. It is not a notion. I am sitting here typing, breathing alive. One day I won’t be, I will be dead. That they are notions is kind of silly. Perhaps there are many notions out there about HOW to live life…but I think not about being alive. I see life and death as rather concrete, once they become notions we are traveling dangerously close to religion and spirituality aren’t we? Maybe that is what some want to be doing, but not me…not today anyway.

    April, you may disagree with this understanding that death is a ‘notion,’ but this is actually NOT simply TNH’s teaching, but a fundamental teaching of traditional mahayana buddhism as formulated in the Heart Sutra:

    “All dharmas are marked with emptiness; they are neither produced nor destroyed…” Some translations have “no birth; no destruction.”

    Here’s Red Pine:
    “If all dharmas (phenomena) are empty of self-nature (anatta) they do not exist independently of other states and are only divisible on the basis of arbitrary distinctions… Thus things only exist in relationship with other things. In fact, there very thingness is simply a convenient label for our ignorance of their true nature which is emptiness. Actually, nothing is born, and nothing is destroyed…. According to Sarvastivadins, in the course of a single day we experience 6,400,099,998 births and deaths. But each birth and each death is illusory. For birth and death are devoid of anything real.”

    And Mu Soeng:
    “…the categories of arising and disappearing, pure and impure, increasing and decreasing, belong to the realm of affirmation and negation which are, in turn, produced by our conceptual thinking…”

    THIS is what THN means when he speaks of birth and death, increasing and decreasing, pure and impure as “notions.”

    Again, I’m not arguing that you should accept this mahayana understanding, simply pointing out that this is one case where TNH is perfectly in synch with the tradition. As a side note, generally, TNH will begin retreats with the ‘five remembrances’ one of which states: “I am of the nature to die; there is no way to avoid death” and then go on to the Heart Sutra’s teaching of “no-birth and no-death.” For mahayanists, both are true.

  51. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel

    Frank # 50

    I think there is a convenient confussion between anatman and emptiness. Anatman only refers to the fact that nothing has an essence and therefore nothing is fixated. This means contingency, dependent co-arising, that we are situational and concrete (pasture fire is not the same a cow manure fire, says Gotama as quoted by Stephen Batchelor). This also means no dogmas such a True Nature or History or God or Science as non-human third party voices. In that regard, emptiness is another way of reafirming contingency, no essence, nothing fixated. But when emptiness is taken as Emptiness, as a thing in itself that is our superior and ultimate True Nature then the whole thing becomes simply and solely other-wordly-anesthesics and the pursue of enlightment a never reaching endeavor which justifies absolute power for the Teacher in the context of the criptic notions such as the relative and the absolute, Karma and re-birth, altogether coming with a very unhealthy disregard of the importance of “this” wordly side of things, which for me is all there is. Having said that, contingency is NOT the exclusive realm of Buddhism. And it is, within Budhism and and outside of Buddhism, better informed by solidarity and democracy (for we can choose egoism and autocracy in the face of tragedy/contingency as well).

    The rest is dealing with our own dellusions, now better named and studied as heuristics, in itself an interesting path of daily practice in which meditation and mindfulness can be of some help.

  52. frank jude Avatar

    Luis # 51

    Oh, I totally agree that many mahayanists (especially in the zen and tibetan traditions) do indeed tend to reify “emptiness” into some kind of “absolute” similar to the vedanta understanding of brahman, as some kind of substrate. I didn’t include the rest of the quote from Mu Soeng which goes on to say:

    “Here, it would be wise to remind ourselves of Nagarjuna’s caution once again that as a concept sunyata too is empty.”

    As a naturalist, I reject all postulations of any transcendent realm or Absolute with a capital “A.” I share your understanding that “this is all there is.” However, “this” does indeed lack any essence. And as Richard Feynman once said, “The opposite of a superficial truth is a lie; the opposite of a profound truth is also true.” It is in this way that I understand (what to my mind is not at all ‘cryptic’ but kind of obvious) the “two truth” teaching. Both relative and absolute (neither with any capitals!).

  53. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Re 50 &52: Frank, I don’t agree that TNH is in agreement with the mahayana understanding of emptiness. I find throughout his works an suggestion of a subtle and world-transcending consciousness which remains undefiled by living in this world; his idea of the mind as something which is separate from its thoughts, for instance, betrays this notion. I think this is most clear in his book “Understanding Our MInd,” but it is pretty apparent in many of his works. That is, TNH seems to me to be exactly one of those mahayanists you mention in #52, who is teaching a kind of vedantic or even Jainist understanding of atman, and calling in anatman.

    I wouldn’t bother to argue with anyone who comes right out and says that they are teaching that there is a world-transcendent consciousness that will live on in eternal bliss once we can break our cycle of rebirth. I think that’s nonsense, but since this consciousness is simply “trapped” here and can neither influence nor be influenced by earthly concerns, there’s no point in arguing, and the best we can do is point out the negative consequences for us here on earth of believing such a thing. What I object to most strongly is those who insist that they are teaching “no-self” or “non-self” or whatever, but who are simply attempting to confuse and deceive their audience, and reassure them that they will go to eternal bliss when they die as long as they don’t think or become politically active.

  54. frank jude Avatar


    Did you see my earlier comment (#44) where I said that what you criticize in TNH (and I agree that in many places he evidences ‘creeping brahmanism) is not merely TNH’s ‘distortions’ but completely within the Zen tradition’s understanding — which again, as should be evident in my blog piece, I am also critical of. I was simply attempting to point out that this is not merely TNH’s “watering down” or “distortion” of buddhism but something he inherits from his zen training/indoctrination.

    You speak of “mahayana understanding” as if there is some monolithic view. While it seems apparent you and I agree it is a mis-understanding, Tibetan Buddhism and Zen (as two examples of mahayana) definitely show this reification of “emptiness” into something akin to a brahman-like substrate called “Original Mind” “True Nature” etc.

    In my response to April, I was directly addressing the comment she was criticizing about death being a “notion,” and THAT is again NOT merely a TNH teaching as I show in the quotes from Red Pine and Mu Soeng.

    I hope I make myself clear that I was not and am not arguing against your criticism of TNH and that in fact I agree with much that you say in your essay.

  55. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Re 54: I’m just trying to avoid a “monolithic view” that equates the versions of Zen and Tibetan Buddhism popular in the West with “mahayana.” In a couple of posts, you seem to use mahayana interchangeably with Zen, and I just wanted to emphasize what you say in 54, that there isn’t one clear “doctrine,” but a number of different concepts. Certainly, Soto Zen and all the English-language Tibetan writing I’ve ever read do accept the existence of an atman, but this completely rejects Nagarjuna. Perhaps I should have said Madhyamaka, instead of mahayana?

    My hope is that we can get people to think critically about Buddhist teachings, and realize that some are good and some are bad, and that it isn’t a matter of “everyone must always be right, so just follow the teacher who says what you want to hear.” That would be just as stupid as saying you can “follow” Kant or Hume or Hegel or Nietzsche or Rorty or Derrida, since they are all right about everything they say and “ultimately” they all agree.

  56. Craig Avatar

    the teacher i followed (online) for a while was ken mcleod. we discussed him at some point on here. anyway, his thing is practical buddhism. initially it seemed he had stripped all the tibetan stuff away and teach cultivation of attention. however, i listened closely, and as with most of these teachers, the show their true colors. mcleod started talking about ‘the nature of mind’ in one of his podcasts. WTF! he even said that Tolle had somehow discerned the true nature of mind. being part of this non-buddhism project i completely reject notions like ‘the nature of mind’. talk about deflating.

  57. Matthew O'Connell Avatar

    A teacher I work with explained the Buddha Nature teachings as being a real reflection of the experiential nature of awakening out of the illusion of a separate, self-sustained entity/thingy, rather than an ontological reality. That’s not to say Buddha Nature is the same as, or equal to the Madhyamaka view of emptiness, but a way of relating to the experience of emptiness whilst incarnate. Whether this is true or not for those who follow a specific tradition, I’ve no idea. But considering that the teaching features prominently in practice lineages and not only in opposition to the Mahdyamaka view, I don’t see why this persepctiv eon Buddha Nature might not have some truth at an experiential level.
    McLeod trained in the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism where Buddha Nature is prominent. What did you expect Craig? He’s a relatively reformed Buddhist, but in essence he is still a Kagyu Buddhism lineage trained teacher. You can take that or leave it. Referencing Tolle is in pretty poor taste though. I agree with you there. Tolle is another super-star non-dual proponent for the smiling middle-classes and seems to have his own chair at the Oprah studio. Biy has he made a lot of money out of spouting spiritual one-liners, but he’s got a cute dog, so that must add to the wow factor for overweight housewives sat on their sofas expecting enlightenment to drop out of the sky and dissolve all their issues.

    Monolithic view avoidance; ok. But would you agree that it is possible to hold multiple views, or at least inhabit them for a period? As is likely evident, I have not studied western philosophy, but I have read a fair bit on the most famous of the bunch and it seems to me from a light reading that each offers not just a philosophical system, but direct insight into particular aspects of the human condition. To hold those differing views together as a held position is not possible, but to be able to inhabit them in order to appreciate them is, right?
    The same is possible with Buddhism. There are many teachers who refer to the three vehicle system as a model of outlook. They are both positional and accumulative. I am sure you have indicated somewhere in this blog why what I’m saying is nonsense (feel free to point me there), but there is a difference between how things are and how we experience them and a teaching or view may relate to one but not the other and serve a purpose to that end.
    The limitation of thought is that it can only go round or through a thing, it cannot inhabit the experience. Having a teaching or philosophical view that enables one to access the experience of emptiness is perhaps simply a method. It should be taught effectively and placed in the wider context of knowledge available. In this I am also critical of Buddhist traditions who have so much investment in their own survival that they feel the need to assert what ever position/knowledge/practices that have been handed down to them like their granny’s old china set. If you’re for throwing the baby out with the bath water though, I’m not with you. I do believe it’s possible to pull teachings and some practices away from a tradition and explore their utility in a de-contextualised setting and see what remains when you leave behind the cultural and symbolic trappings. This is a fairly recent approach to serious Buddhist practice if I’m not mistaken, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Secular Buddhists and Mr McLeod haven’t lived up to the lofty standards in this blog. They do seem sincere though in their desire to mix things up.
    I’d like to see more engagement between the likes of yourself and these folks. Perhaps you could participate in the next Buddhist Geeks conference? It would be great to have you debate on stage with some intelligent but traditional leaning teachers on topics that could not only be critical but lead to some fresh thinking.

  58. Jure Avatar

    Frank, seeing emptiness as an absolute is not a distortion. Did you ever read the Mahayana Mahaparanirvana sutra? It’s a pretty core and widely read Mahyana sutra. It states, directly, that the Buddha-Self is Atman, Eternal, Pure, Radiant, etc. And that this is not an expedient, provisional teaching, but “the Buddha is now ready to speak the truth”. You have a Zen blog so you shouldn’t be too foreign to these things. Did you read the Zen classics? You have the “True Self” printed all over the pages! Or the One Mind, Mind with capital M. The permanent, indestructible. Of course one doesn’t have to wait for the Mahayana -there’s this in the Nikayas also. the Buddha in fact describes what he found in enlightenment (the immortal Nirvana) with the same terms.

  59. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Re 58: Jure, I think you’re missing the point of this blog. Certainly, there are many texts which assert the existence of a transcendent self. The point is that we don’t need to treat them any differently than we do texts in Western culture, we do not assume they are “revealed” truth, like Christians used to do with the Bible, and that any contradiction requires a hermeneutic strategy to resolve it away. Some texts are saying things that are true, and some are not. Some are producing oppressive ideology aimed at confusing and mesmerizing the ignorant, and some are attempting to produce philosophically useful concepts. The Mahaparinarvana sutra simply contradicts the teaching of anatman by asserting with no argument at all that the transcendent soul is a truth revealed by a divine Buddha; for that reason, it can’t really be argued with, but it doesn’t need to be considered except in a study of the history of ideology. Read around the blog a bit, and I think this point will become more clear. There is only a “distortion” to the extent that many Zen teachers claim to be teaching anatman while they are, as you point out, teaching that there is a transcendent Atman.

  60. jake Avatar

    During the Kamakura period, Shinkan studied Tendai six years and then studied Zen seven years; then he went to China and contemplated Zen for thirteen years more.

    When he returned to Japan many desired to interview him and asked obscure questions. But when Shinkan received visitors, which was infrequently, he seldom answered their questions.

    One day a fifty-year-old student of enlightenment said
    to Shinkan: “I have studied the Tendai school of thought since I was a little boy, but one thing in it I cannot understand. Tendai claims that even the grass and trees will become enlightened. To me this seems very strange.”

    “Of what use is it to discuss how grass and trees become enlightened?” asked Shinkan. “The question is how you yourself can become so. Did you even consider that?”

    “I never thought of it that way,” marveled the old man.

    “Then go home and think it over,” finished Shinkan.

  61. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Re #57: I don’t know McLeod at all. I’ve heard of him, but since he is a Tibetan teacher, I never paid him much attention. I would say, though, that with many Tibetan Buddhists, they do start out by claiming that they accept the teaching of anatman, and so they may mislead students into expecting that they actually mean what they say. It can be disappointing, then, when they finally reveal that “by anatman, of course, I mean a permanent and world-transcendent soul or consciousness,” since this is the opposite of the meaning of that term.

    Your terminology confuses me, so it is difficult to respond. Of course we may “experience” things differently than they “really are,” such perceptual and conceptual errors occur all the time, but I can’t see what his has to do with “three vehicles”; I just can’t figure out what you’re getting at here. I also can’t figure out what you mean by “thought” and “experience” when you claim that thought goes “round or through” a thing and is separate from “experience.” Are you suggesting that there is “thought-free” experience? I don’t see what that could possibly mean, except in the sense that a rock might “experience” an earthquake—but this is a kind of loose application of the term. Any perception is a thought, by definition. It might be an unclear or imprecise thought, but it is always a thought. Any sensation that does not give rise to a perception we won’t know about, so it isn’t “experienced” at all.

    Personally, I am not inclined to throw out the baby or the bathwater. I want to treat Buddhist discourses and practices in the same way we treat Western ones. There are many useful insights and concepts, and many more idiotic and harmful ones, and the goal is to examine them and attempt to arrive at the truth. Anytime someone says that something MUST be accepted because it is old, or popular, or in the Pali canon, they are refusing to think, flinching from truth, and attempting to perpetuate ignorance and delusion. Regardless of what any sutras say, my position is that thinking, working toward truth, and removing ignorance is always good, whether it is pleasant and profitable or not.

    I would be astounded if the Buddhist Geeks wanted anyone here at their conference. My impression is that they don’t want to “mix things up” any more than the SBA does—one hard question, and they’ll give you a vacuous grin and a metta and boot in the ass.

    Anyway, I do get the impression that your questions are somehow of interest here, but I can’t quite figure what you mean by the terms you put them in. If you can try to clarify them for me, I would

  62. Craig Avatar

    Matthew (#57)

    A teacher I work with explained the Buddha Nature teachings as being a real reflection of the experiential nature of awakening out of the illusion of a separate, self-sustained entity/thingy, rather than an ontological reality.

    I have no idea what this means and it’s exactly what I’m calling McLeod out on. What did I expect? Well, for a dude who espouses ‘practical buddhism’ I don’t expect him to talk about ‘Nature of Mind’. But he does and and that is one of the reasons I’m putting him squarely in the x-buddhist camp. I’m very curious about your need to defend. Is it because you think he still has something to offer non-buddhism? I’m not sure. I think I’m still caught up in the reactionary phase of non-buddhist awakening 😉

    BTW-What the hell does ‘awakening mean’??

  63. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Craig (#56), Matthew (#57).

    You can take that or leave it.

    As Craig is showing (“I listened closely, and . . .”), there is a third option as well: take it, leave it, or critique it.

    Jake (#60). If you leave it at that, you are presenting us not with an obvious point or truth, but with a symptom or really a set of symptoms. Look up, for instance: ventriloquism, buddheme, principle of sufficient Buddhism, x-buddhist detail fetish, and exemplificative braggadocio.

    Or you could also just say in your own words what you want to say.


  64. Matthew O'Connell Avatar

    Hi Craig. I am not apologising for Mr McLeod, merely indicating his background and therefore the high probability he would teach Buddha Nature. The third option of criticism is of course available, but presumably occurs in conjunction with one of the other two choices? For sure what he offers is within the realms of Buddhism. I’ve just always considered his teaching as a healthy move away from blind faith.

    I’m afraid I’m a little confused by the definition of thought you give. I have seen you maker similar statements in other posts and I didn’t really understand what you were getting at. Could you explain further? I understand thought as discursive mental activity, often defined as internal dialogue.
    Relating to experience, i.e. what is occurring within a given time and space, means being present within our senses, in conscious relationship to what is happening. Rather than being a detached observer, or actively conceptualising the experience by framing it in held beliefs and labelling experiences as good or bad, etc.

    I don’t really know in any absolute sense what awakening is. But I can relate to the experience of ‘awakening’ out of habitual patterns and the possibility of awakening out of enough habitual mental and emotional patterns to start to live with greater presence in experience and with less reactivity. I think it is also possible to awaken, or simply go beyond, certain deeply held psycho-emotional structures that have us associate with and identify with an independently, existing self. As you’re probably aware terms such as enlightenment and awakening are highly problematic and loaded with all sorts of contextual meaning. Perhaps ‘freedom from’ is a better term to use and then it needs to be contextualised?

    I appreciate your patience Tom. I agree totally about reliance on old texts and ‘have to’ statements. As you say at #47, what’s left if you walk away though? One of the points I was trying to make earlier is that I think it is possible to engage with some currently existing forms of Buddhism and enter into a critical discussion and participation that may lead to a stripping away of dogmatic, sectarian trappings. Perhaps this is more possible in 1:1 dynamics though. I mention Ken McLeod because he is someone actively questioning traditional perspectives on Buddhism and at least in my perspective offers the possibility of developing a meditation practice in which active questioning is not only possible, but encouraged.
    Figures such as John Peacock and Rita Gross have also been actively criticising long held beliefs and assumptions of Buddhist traditions from an academic and historical background and I think this is highly positive and in my case, informative. I would hope that as critical studies of texts and the actual history of Buddhism continues that an eventual sea of change will make available more individuals and groups willing to actively apply useful Buddhist concepts and practices in a fully western and non-religious framework. There has been insufficient progress so far in this, but in my experience it is better now than it was 10 years ago when books such as ‘The Making of Buddhist Modernism’ were simply not available and outspoken criticism was non-existent.
    You criticised Buddhist Geeks, but they are a step beyond traditions defining Buddhism or their own terms and at times their podcasts are stimulating and could be seen as attempting to challenge some traditionally held norms. Hokai Sobol, John Peacock and Rita Gross all made stimulating non traditional contributions to the ongoing conversation there. David Chapman has been writing useful criticism of what he defines as Consensus Buddhism and your blog for me, as a practising Buddhist, is stimulating. I found your Ghost Buddha post eye-opening. I want more of that. More deconstruction of commonly held beliefs and myths.

  65. Craig Avatar

    Matthew (64): Yeah, I see where you are coming from concerning McLeod. I guess ‘defense’ wasn’t the right word. I was just curious what you still saw in Mcleod that I am currently reacting too…questioning. As has been said on this blog a few times, McLeod plucks at my heart strings and what kept me coming back was that I was going to miss something. It’s this ‘addiction’ to his voice and teaching as The Way that I’m reacting against now. I really don’t think one can stop patterns. Awareness, maybe, but we’re all stuck in our conditioning

    Now, as far as awakening goes, I agree with your ideas. I think awakening is, in part, emotional intelligence and intellectual openness, dialectical thinking ect. Now I think the only thing that contributes to emotional intelligence (self awareness) is insight and this insight has to come from working in conjunction with some for of corrective…analytic therapist. I think a meditation practice can be an adjunct, but I seen enough dram at dharma centers to know that they are sorely lacking in self assessment, awareness of group dynamics and the need for a 3rd party consultant.

  66. Matthew O'Connell Avatar

    What you describe sounds very personal and I get the impression it would be difficult to have a rational exchange about the merits and weaknesses of McLeod’s approach. Some of what you describe sounds like the end of a romance, with all the delusion and disappointment that entails.
    As for stopping patterns. You can absolutely stop them, or rather remove the cause that drives them and their reactive tendency so that they fall apart. It takes discipline, motivation and courage, just as it does in a therapeutic setting along with the requisite insight.
    I wholeheartedly agree with the need for most folk to enter into a therapeutic relationship in order to resolve the manure of childhood and parental issues, etc, etc. I don’t agree it has to happen with an analyst necessarily.
    In some ways the practice of meditation as a radical approach to relating to ourselves and experience is for grown ups. There are not so many of those about. It’s usually the case that we bring all our neurosis, hang ups, limitations, emotional issues and inherited beliefs to practice often using meditation to then suppress aspects of ourselves or enhance other aspects at the cost of sane, down to earth humanity.
    Meditation pursued seriously is deeply disturbing at times, unnerving and full of disappointment. It does require intelligence, a reasonable degree of emotional balance and decent guidance. From this perspective many, if not most meditation teachers are seriously unprepared for anything more than teaching happy mindfulness.

  67. Craig Avatar


    yeah, it is personal and this site has given me a lot to think about concerning teachers etc. can we trust any x-buddhist teacher?

  68. Craig Avatar

    On second thought, I’m not gonna drink the cool-aid. Saying my reaction to McLeod is ‘personal’ is pushing the issue aside. I also reject your psychhological interpretation of romance lost. It’s not personal or romantic. In fact, most of my critique of him on this thread is totally in sync with the non-buddhism critical tools. This notion of ‘breaking reactive patterns’ to me is a buddheme and your explanation of how it is possible is x-buddhist ventrilaquism.

  69. Rick Carter Avatar
    Rick Carter

    Where do you get the idea that these guys are great teachers of the mind’s ways? All the drivel that has been going forth is nothing more than self justification of their own personal perceptive thoughts, anyone who thinks that they have a handle on the mind are just as plain delusional. It has just dawned on you that these guys are trying to pass themselves off as philosophy masters?

  70. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    Re #66, Matthew, you say

    Meditation pursued seriously is deeply disturbing at times, unnerving and full of disappointment.

    I only skimmed comments in this thread. Perhaps you already answered my question: What kind of meditation do you mean? Especially regarding “disturbing” results. What would “decent guidance” be? I know you talk about mahamudra. I think there are values in this tradition/praxis, but it is cluttered today with such a lot of hokuspokus that it is rendered nearly useless. Of course the so called nature of mind is the biggest obstacle today to get anything useful out of this tradition. Don’t you think a grown up person could all by itself look into, for example, the writings about mahamudra of the third or the eighth Karmapa, cut away all the shamanistic remains, reinterpret it in a modern way and get away with some useful insights into how-to-meditate-without-the-believe-in-an-afterlife?

  71. Matthew O'Connell Avatar

    My point rests in your reaction, but it is not my intent to offend you. When a person defines themselves as still reacting, there is evidently a personal element and a charge that makes exchange less rational. You didn’t like the metaphor, never mind. I’ve appreciated our exchanges. You didn’t reply to the other section of that comment. I’d be interested to hear you explain further why you believe it’s impossible to change conditioning, move out of it.

    Yes, I fully agree that this could be done. I don’t think it is rendered useless unless it’s being practised in a highly traditional setting. The problem with a modernised version of such practises is that they may turn out to be similar to the Neo-Advatists, who seem to think that stating what emptiness is will somehow magically transform you into an enlightened being.
    Disturbing meditation. I don’t have time to go into this in detail and I can only speak from personal experience having mixed with a lot of Buddhists and different traditions in my time. I believe Dr Willoughby Britton is carrying out research on the negative consequences of meditation, so she’d have something more intelligible to say than I do.
    Most forms of Buddhist meditation that lead to insight, or the breaking down of identification with the self that you know yourself as, lead at some point to shaking up the foundations that our identity rests on. This is potentially exhilarating and liberating, but also deeply disconcerting and may lead to depression. This leads at some point to having our investment in an imagined or desired future shaken apart and angst, potential depression about the meaningless of it all are more likely to accompany the dis-identification with our self than happy, smileyness promised by self-help books on mindfulness.
    In fact, one of the challenges one might face in going beyond beginning stages in meditation outside of the cosy confines of tradition is how to deal with such material. It seems to me that a lot of the traditional beliefs spouted in Buddhism are simply a means for trying to avoid the unpleasant consequences of exiting from the tunnel of identification with a permanent fixed self and the absolute meaningless of our personal existence. I could say more on this topic if you wish. Do you have any experience of the ‘darker’ side of meditation?
    Decent guidance would mean a person has made significant progress in a given practice, understands it from an experiential basis, i.e. they are not just reading from a book and saying ‘my teacher said…’ and they are able to go beyond the traditional limitations of wording and definitions in order to be able to express the technique, its goals and its potential hazards, stages, in a language that is not symbolically imprisoned in the language of tradition. Decent guidance would also mean they have some degree of training, expertise in teaching, or working in a 1:1 setting with individuals.

    Anyhow, I may be going off of the topic of this blog. My main interest is practice and the consequences of it on daily life, on which the failings of x-buddhism play a part, creating obstacles and ideological falsities. Bashing for bashing’s sake seem like a dead end to me personally. By the way, I am not with the x-buddhists, or with you guys for that matter. I didn’t come here to join the club, but learn.

  72. Tom Pepper Avatar

    Re #64: This idea that “thought” means “discursive mental activity” baffles me. I just can’t figure out what that would mean. Does it means something like “talking to yourself”? Thich Nhat Hanh uses similar phrases to define “thought,” which for him is what we must always avoid. On today’s Tricylce “daily dharma” email there was a similar idea–“thought” is somehow a thing that somebody else (the brain? who?) does, and “we” should just watch it go on and not try to guide it or respond to it. I can’t get a handle on this. Who is this “we” that “watches” the thoughts? Is this “watching” NOT thinking? Is problem solving not thinking? If thinking means ONLY useless internal dialogue about nothing important, well, that is thinking, but it is a particularly poor thinking. Why respond to it by never thinking again, instead of learning to think better? If the activities of the mind are NOT thought, what are they? I take the definition of thought to be whatever goes on in the mind; apparently,you’re suggesting that thought is only the bad or undesirable activity of the mind? Then what do you call the rest of the mind’s activities? Emotions and perceptions occur only in the mind, and so they are thoughts on my definition. They are typically unclear thoughts and not very useful because of that; is the goal to stay with unclear and useless “thoughts” so that we can’t do anything to change the world or our place in it? My argument is that this is TNH’s goal, and the goal of most Tricylce-type Buddhists.

  73. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Re 71: What would “bashing for the sake of bashing” be? Do you mean criticizing? If so, there is always a practical purpose to criticizing. If something can be criticized, if it is “bashable,” then that is because it is promoting error and delusion. Anything that promotes error and delusion should be attacked, if only to reduce its success at producing error and delusion. There’s no point, of course, in just “bashing” a theory which nobody any longer would have any chance of being mislead by. Writing an essay criticizing the belief in a geocentric universe would be a waste of time, I suppose. Attacking astrology would only be useful if your audience were those hundred-million or so Americans who still believe in horoscopes, but is a waste of time if all of your readers are well-educated, intelligent, and reasonable people. I guess one could “bash” ineffectively, but not for its own sake.

    I really have doubts that meditation can be all that dangerous. I can’t imagine it’s more likely to “shake the foundations of our identity” than a careful reading of Lacan or Freud would. I would suspect that except for perhaps “forced” or coerced meditative practice, we aren’t likely to shake our foundations more than we are prepared to handle–this is why Freud suggests that self-analysis isn’t likely to be dangerous.

    I also think that really understanding emptiness is absolutely all there is to enlightenment–but there’s nothing magical about it, and you won’t get supernatural powers. All you get is to be free of delusion. There’s no “dark side,” only a “bright side.” If you think that seeing reality correctly is “dark,” you are still attached to some kind of (usually ideological) obfuscation, and aren’t really seeing it yet. Who could possibly “train” somebody in teaching this? There’s no technique or set of instructions. You seem to be suggesting obliquely that some kind of psychology training would reduce the danger, but I can’t imagine that. Psychologists train to increase delusion, to interpellate clients into ideologies; it is particularly important that they be ignorant and deluded themselves, so that they can delude others with a certain degree of sincerity. That’s why there is a negative correlation between intelligence and finishing a graduate degree in psychology. (Incidentally, the same negative correlation obtains in my own field, Literature, where the goal is often to use the classroom to interpellate good capitalist subjects).

    Re 62, 65 ff: Craig, this does, in some sense, seem personal. You believed that someone could deliver on their promises, to teach you something you didn’t already know or understand, and feel angry that your were lied to. You were. My own position is to avoid teachers, and seek out “colleagues.” If you don’t understand what someone is saying, you should be able to ask questions and have them explain it–this includes explanations of what you are meant to get from a meditative practice. If they say “just do what I say, and you will become enlightened like me,” then they are full of crap and you should ignore them.

  74. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Tom (#72) and Matthew (#64).

    One of the central, load-bearing pillars of contemporary western x-buddhist discourse is “non-thinking.” For, in the words of the Grand Generic Zen Master: “Only without thinking can we return to our true self.” A second flimsy pillar of our x-buddhism is “non-judgementalism.” Those who want a life of complete fulfillment might try the advice of Papa Jon Kabat-Zinn: “Practice moment to moment non-judgemental awareness.” It’s packed closely to the non-thinking pillar since, of course, judgement is a variety of thought. A third pillar is “non-reactivity.” In the words of Shantideva:

    Whenever there is attachment in my mind
    and whenever there is the desire to be angry,
    I should not do anything nor say anything,
    But remain like a piece of wood.

    Remain like a mindless piece of wood, huh? It’s a fitting image, for x-buddhism’s pillars are made of saw dust. Any examination of the matter shows lack of thought, judgement, and reactivity to be utterly impossible, and any consideration of the matter shows the loss of those functions to be wholly undesirable. I would encourage anyone who employs such buddhemes to just do a little thought(!)-experiment where these ideals are attained, and then extrapolate them out to the social-cultural realm. How would things look? If, having done such a thought-experiment, the person who subscribes to this impossible and undesirable–to this outright inhuman–rhetoric wants to backtrack and offer more nuanced terminology, that would be a fruitful outcome. But he would also be in the difficult position of admitting that the very basis of the rhetoric was unsalvageable. We cannot escape our biology, physiology, or language.

    What a ridiculous irony that modern proponents of meditation operate with such unexamined premises. If meditation doesn’t yield a better understanding of the machinations of the mind (e.g., our thinking, judging, and reacting), who needs it? There are, of course, many additional pillars of contemporary western x-buddhism. But these three alone are doing well enough damage to the reputation x-buddhism among more discerning people.

    So yes:

    Think better
    Judge better
    React better

    Can a de-dharmicized x-buddhism offer us some aid?

  75. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Matthew (#70).

    Anyhow, I may be going off of the topic of this blog. My main interest is practice and the consequences of it on daily life, on which the failings of x-buddhism play a part, creating obstacles and ideological falsities. Bashing for bashing’s sake seem like a dead end to me personally. By the way, I am not with the x-buddhists, or with you guys for that matter. I didn’t come here to join the club, but learn.

    Everything in this para hangs together nicely to form a point I’d like to make explicit to you. First, of all, thanks for your participation here. It’s valuable because it’s thoughtful and responsive (none of it is “off topic”). There is no club to join, unless it’s the club of those who are interested in doing just what you say you’re interested in doing (your second sentence). Many readers of this blog fail to understand that many of us are, in fact, employing x-buddhist materials in our lives. We are also using our eyes, ears, and brains; so, we critique those materials. The two are not mutually exclusive. That seems to be difficult for many readers to grasp. In any case, I can’t add to what Tom Pepper says in #73 about “bashing for the sake of bashing.” I know that that is a common accusation of critics of the work unfolding on this blog. But what a colossal waste of time that would be. I hope you’ll share your own ever-sharpening critiques of the “ideological falsities” of x-buddhism. Given the violent insistence of x-buddhist subjugation, you just may need to employ nothing short of bashing (etymological senses: basting, thrashing, striking, breaking).

  76. frank jude Avatar

    Matthew Tom Glenn

    This topic of “thinking” requires more nuance than ‘x-buddhists’ and perhaps ‘non-buddhists’ responding to the x’s are bringing to it.

    As Tom points out, and it’s something a LOT of contemporary buddhist practitioners seem to miss, feelings, perceptions, emotions – these are ALL ‘mental formations’ (citta-samskara). In contemporary buddhist reductionism, ‘mental formations’ seems to have been reduced to the ‘useless internal dialogue’ Tom refers to as if that is indeed all thinking is! Yet, “mindfulness,” “concentration,” “rapture” and all four of the brahma viharas (to name just a few) are also ‘mental formations.’ This is something I never see emphasized in contemporary ‘x-buddhism.’

    I think learning the skill of non-reacting or judging such internal dialogue is actually a major benefit of practice. While Tom refers to this internal dialogue being about “nothing important,” in my experience with students, I find that much such ‘internal dialogue’ carries a lot of negative emotional energy. Many of these thoughts are very self-lacerating, cruel and hateful. I have been moved repeatedly when I hear of the immense suffering of students who believe, build identities out of, and react from such ‘thinking.’ As a practice, it is helpful for them to learn to non-reactively, non-judgmentally observe such ‘thinking.’ BUT, and here’s where many make a mistake, this non-reactive, non-judgmental attitude (which is itself a skillful mental formation in this situation) is only useful as a practice of one form of meditation; it shouldn’t be taken as advice for how we should undertake all meditation nor should it be accepted as advice on how to go about our LIVES!

    When I share meditation instructions, I speak of the practice right from the start as not the attempt to ‘go beyond thinking,’ or any such nonsense, but as learning new ways – more skillful ways – to relate to such ‘thinking.’ When that more skillful way of relating is developed, such “thinking” begins to lessen, but more importantly, even when it arises, no real energy is invested in it; we can and do learn to think better.

  77. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Frank (#76).

    BUT, and here’s where many make a mistake, this non-reactive, non-judgmental attitude (which is itself a skillful mental formation in this situation) is only useful as a practice of one form of meditation; it shouldn’t be taken as advice for how we should undertake all meditation nor should it be accepted as advice on how to go about our LIVES!

    We are in agreement except for the terminology. What you describe here as “non” this and that, I would call “better” this and that. It’s not that your students suddenly cease reacting to their self-loathing internal chatter; it’s that they react in a different way.

    I find William James hit or miss at best. But this “maxim” of his might be worth ruminating on.

    No reception without reaction, no impression without correlative expression—this is the great maxim which the teacher ought never to forget. (William James, “Talks to Teachers”)

    I don’t really know what James had in mind, but as it applies to our conversation, I understand it to suggest that as long as there is a sensory connection with some stimulus, there will be a reaction. That might be, in x-buddhist terms, vedana. And as soon as a perception (sañña?) of the sensation is formed (impression), some manner of expression follows. Again, this maxim holds that we can’t escape from physiology. So, why concoct spiritualized values that contradict and even deny human constraints? I vote for getting our language close to the bone of experience, and to expel from office the fat pasha-like buddhemes that no longer do any actual work. I’m not saying that you are keeping these enlightened tyrants in office, only that x-buddhism is.

    I don’t think this is a case of hair-splitting, either. Struggling to get our language right is a crucial feature in this business of creating for ourselves as much ideological transparency as possible.

  78. frank jude Avatar

    # 77:
    Glenn, really fair point! I use “non-reactive” because the experience of “containment” (which is how I translate nirodha) is experienced as so radically different from the “hot” reaction they usually have to their thinking. I also speak of this containment of their impulsive reactivity as a response to differentiate it from the habitual reactivity.

    And while I always contextualize what we are doing in this form of meditation AS the response to thought as containment, your comment moves me to be more clear about that.


  79. Craig Avatar

    #66: matthew,
    of course my ‘reaction’ is personal. isn’t all of this? and my responses to this personal reaction is rational dialog…hence my critique of your points using specific hermeneutics espoused on this site. the romanticism metaphor wasn’t helpful in this rational conversation. it was also patronizing and it seemed you were trying to do a little of your coaching. you’ve got a lot riding on being a buddhist helper, so i can see how critiquing and deflating mcleod could be offensive (?) .

    as far as conditioning and reactive patterns go, these are loaded terms. i like glenn’s notion of better reacting. i react, you react. if it’s fight or flight reaction i wanna run or fight…or, with the help of some corrective, experience and practice i can recognize this reaction and respond more skillfully. so, i don’t think i can ever ‘change’ my conditioning. i got what i got. insight helps, but only then i have the potential to respond differently. i’m never ever going to stop getting pissed off when some jack ass pulls in front of me…but i can make friends with it 🙂 it goes all the way to looking at our ideologies, as tom pepper points out. it’s damn hard work and most folks can’t do it. so can reactive patterns be broken? for the most part, no.

    i need to say this again, that reactions can fuel these rational conversations. the article above by tom indicates he had a quick reaction and then explored it rather than writing an article about how goofy TNH looks. i’m doing that with ken mcleod. my current issue with him, as with many teachers, is that he’s got the secret…he’s the one who’s broken and cut all his reactive patterns and dwells in pristine awareness and his ongoing taking and sending practice. this stuff is not helpful to me and finally this site has given me some tools to work with this reaction to his teachings.

  80. Craig Avatar

    Glenn (75)

    i’m glad to hear that folks here, including you, are using x-buddhist materials in their lives and using the non-buddhist hermeneutics. i don’t think i had figured that out yet.

  81. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    Matthew, re #71 and your question

    Do you have any experience of the ‘darker’ side of meditation?

    I think there are things one can do to make one visit the funny farm. I remember a line from a song from one of those british bands in the eighties which delved into the occult stuff which was so en vogue then: “they are coming to take you away he he, they come to take you away he he” – perhaps Current 93… I don’t know. In Tibetan meditation traditions there is certainly equal occult stuff which can make one a bit dérangé. But this is a question of personality, not of technique. To become dérangé a la Rimbaud, to board Le Bateau Ivre, one should have a healthy constitution.

    In the mahamudra traditions, as far as I know them, they have the same considerations. Prolonged single pointed concentration can one make ‘see’ funny things. Add to this sensoric deprivation, for example, and it becomes easy to produce strange results. The biografie of Jigme Linpa is a good example of how concentration, ritual, sensoric deprivation and malnutrition can lead to interesting results – even without the use of any psychoactive drugs.

    But I would say it is all about knowledge how to influnece ones psychophysical system, it’s not about ‘meditation’.

    In regard of this latter term I still wonder what you mean. There is such a rich terminology in mahamudra (and dzogchen – and probably in other traditions I don’t know). We talk about calmness (shiné), interrogation (lag-tong), single-piquancy (ro-cig) – translation Herbert Guenther, spontaneity (lundrup); we have gong-pa, the spectrum from ma-rigpa to rigpa (the latter already a trademark); we have tug-je which could be translated as social emotion or resonance; we have gom-pa, which could translate into creative imagination; then there is sam-tan, the pinacle in the system of Longchenpa, which stems from dhyana, but developed in meaning in a new way; and, of course, we have samadi; we have sati… we have in our own language loads of words to describe phenomenological appereances. At least in German I begin to realize that we are by far not as stupid and ignorant in regard of what all these terms may describe as X-Buddhism suggest. Especially “Weile” is such a term – a while, take your time, be patient, do not diverse, duration while neither sleeping nor doing, leaning back thinking about whatever comes to mind watching thoughts wondering about how creativity emerges from what

    But ‘meditation’. That’s one of those container metaphors which say nothing. So, I would say the darkest experience of meditation there could be is trying to meditate.

  82. Geoff Avatar


    Re #72

    It’s interesting that you say TNH’s goal is “we can’t do anything to change the world or our place in it”, when TNH is often referred to as the father of Engaged Buddhism (with capitals – as opposed to “Contemplate your Navel” Buddhism?) after his publicised opposition to the Vietnam War many years ago. I’m not quite sure what he has done more recently but he is certainly no Mahatma Gandhi.

    I don’t know if you guys have covered Engaged Buddhism but I’d be interested in how its stands up to your critique. From what I can gather it’s a catch-all phrase that applies to any x-buddhist who does more than meditate in a cave. Unlike say aspects of Catholicism, Buddhism doesn’t seem to have much of a history in charity work or social justice. You don’t hear about Engaged Catholicism…



  83. Rick Heller Avatar

    Glen (#74)

    When I first heard about “quieting the mind” I didn’t know what it meant. It was just words, because I didn’t have any experience of this phenomenon. I now find it extremely useful to be able to do this at times.

    Where some Buddhist teachers go wrong (I’m not goint to say “Buddhism” because that would be a generalization I’m not capable of sustaining) is making that the be all and end all. There is a time for thought and action too.

    But I think western thought goes wrong in not recognizing the value of quieting the mind. One only needs to watch a Woody Allen movie to realize how valuable it would be for some people to turn off the faucet.

    To me, I find useful the logic of the Serenity Prayer (which is really a theistic reformulation of Stoicism). Figure out what can be changed, and then endure suffering to make the changes. But for that which cannot be changed, accept without aversion.

    The first 3 of the Four Noble Truths are really about the latter part of the Serenity Prayer. The first part, the courage to change what can be changed, seems to be missing from most Buddhist formulations.

  84. Craig Avatar

    how does one quiet the mind? i think it’s as much a myth as….?

  85. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Craig (#84). By dying. In the meantime, lobotomy….or listening to a Romney speech.

    Rick (#83). Again, from my own observations and from sustained dialogue with “meditators” over nearly forty years, I think that for most people it’s a matter of thinking/reacting/judging, etc. better. I know of cases where sitting practice has contributed to a “quieting” of hyper-discursive manic obsessive thinking, but I would have to emphasize contributed to. In each case, some combination of medication and talk therapy, exercise and diet, and the many other activities of everyday life was employed as well. So, who knows? It seems reasonable to expect a practice of sitting in stillness and silence with attention hovering around the breathing body to have a quieting effect. But it can also arouse passions and violent emotions. So, who the fuck knows? I certainly don’t pretend to.

  86. Rick Heller Avatar

    Craig (#84) It’s certainly not a myth, and I first experienced the phenomenon after taking a meditation class at the YWCA that was not Buddhist at all. After meditating, my inner or subvocal speech becomes literally softer or even silent. Without inner speech, I become hyperaware of the visual space around me. I find it to be quite a pleasant phenomenon.

    Inner speech is not “subjective” by the way. It has been known for a long time, almost a century, that subvocal speech is accompanied by priming of the vocal cords, and this has been measured using external sensors. I’m not aware, however, of any study that has verified the quieting of inner speech through meditation.

    Glenn (#85)

    I actually think there is a resemblance between mindfulness and the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease–but in a good way, in that one can choose to go in to this mode, but also choose to get out of it, unlike the Alzheimer’s patient. I saved a quote somewhere, but I don’t have it at my fingertips, that in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, people are very “in the moment” because their memory is starting to go, but their ability to process sensory data is relatively intact.

  87. Craig Avatar

    Glenn (#85):

    The mind quiets at death. That’s what I thought. When I meditate, things do quiet down a bit…sometimes. I agree with your ‘better thinking’ idea. One of my issues with meditation has been nausea, so it’s not a pleasant phenomenon as Rick experiences. I’ve found hovering my attention around a mantra to relieve the nausea stuff. I also agree that exercise, diet, talk therapy, medication, social class can all play a role in wellness in addition to meditation. i jog because I feel better and seem to sleep better. Now, I don’t have any delusions that i’m going to become some marathon running machine. This has been the problem with buddhist meditation. It’s seen as this mythical gateway to enlightenment. So, just as I use the marathon training tool of jogging i also use the buddhist material of meditation.

    i think i’m starting to get this. If we replaced the word buddhism with marathon training in all the books out there now, it would be incredible. I think arguments on the dharma sites would be a lot less charged. Am I on to something? I know the running metaphor seems to be a simplification.

  88. saibhu Avatar

    Geoff (82),

    Unlike say aspects of Catholicism, Buddhism doesn’t seem to have much of a history in charity work or social justice. You don’t hear about Engaged Catholicism…

    That’s a very interesting observation. It’s one of the contradictions in contemporary Buddhism that I for myself have not been able to resolve so far: One the one hand there is this single-purpose/inner-journey Buddhism that does not interfere with the real-world at all. One the other hand Buddhism demands you to change your life to a certain degree and claims that the result of that “inner journey” not only changes how you relate to reality but also how you interact.

    It would be interesting to have a closer look at this contradiction. It seems like Buddhists are sometimes shifting from one meaning to the other as a rhetorical move.

  89. sometimes Avatar

    Frank Jude (#50)

    “April, you may disagree with this understanding that death is a ‘notion,’ but this is actually NOT simply TNH’s teaching, but a fundamental teaching of traditional mahayana buddhism as formulated in the Heart Sutra:’All dharmas are marked with emptiness; they are neither produced nor destroyed…” Some translations have “no birth; no destruction.’ ”

    You could have just as easily have said to me, “because the Bible says so” and it would would have sounded the same to me. I have heard that many times, and it never worked for me. These sentiments may work for you, and others, and that is totally fine.

    I know that birth happens. It is a bloody, painful, physical event. I have scars that this to be true. Right now I am alive, this I know to be true. My 3 year old Saint Bernard is dead and his ashes are in an urn upstairs, this I also know to be true. There is no notion here. Birth and death may very well be a process, there is evidence for this. Show me the evidence of no birth and no death. Where is it? What is it? Is it a feeling? Is it just a notion somebody claimed to be true? I can feel compassion towards other living beings, and I can have fond memories of those who have died. But, that does not make them more or less alive or dead. It just means that I am having a feeling/memory, and that does not make it less valuable. It is a real problem when we become so focused on before and after, that we devalue what happens here and now. Whow cares what may or may not happen before or after. We are here now…so what are we going to do about it? Spend that precious little time speculating about before and after?

    And yes, it is true, what you are saying is not an argument. It is just a restating of a belief system. I am glad you are not anticipating my acceptance of it, you may be waiting for awhile and may end up disappointed. But, then again, I am evolving everyday…who knows what I will “believe” or accept tomorrow.

    However, I do really appreciate your response. At least you read my post and invited me into a dialogue. I think I am just not very good at accepting a belief as valid evidence or argument. I am getting rather skeptical at this late hour, and in my old age.

    P.S. If I don’t respond for awhile it is just my busy life intruding into my personal speculation time, not necessarily a disregarding.

  90. Craig Avatar

    Sometimes #89:

    I’m reminded of this concept of the ‘deathless’. Could never get a teacher or priest to explain this in ‘layman’s’ terms.

    “It’s the deathless man, don’t you get it!?”

  91. frank jude Avatar

    April (89)

    You may have misunderstood my purpose in my comment; I have no investment in whether you accept the Heart Sutra/emptiness teaching (which is what is behind the understanding that there is no-birth and no-death) or not. The sole intent of my comment was to clarify that while your response to Glenn’s suggestion (as well as Glenn’s suggestion) makes it sound like the statement that death and birth are “notions” is unique to TNH, while in fact it is a fundamental understanding of the mahayana.

    As you bring it up, this understanding is not separate from the equally true understanding that you, me, and all living beings are of the nature to die and there is no way to avoid death. In fact, this is the third of the Five Remembrances. The mahayana understand both this and the “truth” of no-birth and no-death to be equally true.

  92. Geoff Avatar



    Re #88: ” there is this single-purpose/inner-journey Buddhism that does not interfere with the real-world at all.”

    I remember Stephen Batchelor made a decent point concerning rebirth. He said if you believed in rebirth and you did what was required for it to be favorable (eg attained the jhanic states and /or gave dhana to the local temple etc) then there is no reason why you should be concerned what happens to the world as your future is assured, if not in this world then in some other realm.

    You’re also less inclined to try to alleviate poverty or find a cure for cancer etc as you are more likely to accept this as the result of past karma.

    I don’t know how this sits with TNH’s supposed Engaged Buddhism (I read Peace is Every Step 15 years ago!) but from memory he didn’t seem to concern himself too much with going into these sorts of issues. He might dismiss it as Theravadin or something.

    I’m sure his publishers didn’t want him spending much time attempting to answer the sort of questions raised on this blog. Doesn’t make for good bedtime reading…..



  93. saibhu Avatar

    Geoff (92),

    thanks for the explanation about the origin of the inner-journey-Buddhism.

    However, what I meant was not the existence of two contradicting doctrines in two different forms of Buddhism but their existence in the same single Buddhism or even in the same person.

    I read/heard people who’re Mahayanan and don’t believe in rebirth to use the inner-journey argument. Something like: “We don’t meditate for our own benefit, but for the benefit of all beings”. This is derived from an understanding of dependent origination that we all are connected (TNH: interbeing) and that things that are for my benefit are for the benefit of others also.

    The mass murder example of TNH is another example of this: Somewhere else he suggests that doing things mindful, being peaceful and calm will make the world a better place. Which, as you explained, makes sense if you believe in rebirth. But then: why is he a piece *activist* in the first place? Wouldn’t getting enlightend from drinking tea be a better way to improve the world?

  94. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Re #92: This approach to Buddhist thought seems to me to be much more useful. Instead of asserting the truth of unprovable claims because “the sutras tell me so,” it is more useful to consider what effect this belief will have in the real world. If we believe in one particular version of “rebirth,” we are likely to become politically quietist, to ignore the suffering of others, and to accept our lot in life—this is very useful as propaganda for those whose lot in life is good, but won’t reduce suffering for the majority of us. On the other hand, there are other understandings of “rebirth” that don’t rely on atomistic world-transcendent souls, and could motivate us to do everything in our power to make this world a better place for everyone—we might ask why these versions of the understanding of rebirth are less popular in history and in the Western Buddhism of today.

    This seems to me to relate to the discussion between Frank and Sometimes. It really doesn’t matter if we can find canonical support for TNH’s teaching, because that isn’t the question. The issue is whether this teaching is true and useful. We can say it is the “fundamental understanding of the Mahayana,” but that doesn’t really matter. It is always possible for most people to believe in something that is not true or useful for a very long time.

    I can see, when I look back at my essay above, that there is a kind of implication that TNH is not teaching “true” Buddhism, and that is an error on my part. I should have made it clearer that the problem is that he is teaching a particular line of thought that is harmful to humanity, and that will lead to most people ignoring the useful ideas in Buddhist teaching because they don’t align with what TNH says, or with the dominant received opinion. And people like vague platitudes, for the same reason they like horoscopes: they can always convince themselves that someone with ultimate knowledge agree with what they want to believe. This is the reason I object so strongly to TNH—he makes Buddhism into a kind of new-age astrology, instead of an opportunity to engage hard questions.

    Let me offer and analogy. For about a thousand years, there was a received “correct” understanding of Aristotle, largely shaped by the Catholic church and particularly the commentaries of Aquinas. So, if we return, as some scholars of classical Greek are doing, to recovering Aristotle’s thought, the response is that this “recovery” is not what has been thought for centuries, and taught to millions of students, so it must be wrong. Do we need to ignore any insights we might get from Aristotle because it is not the “fundamental understanding of Philosophy”? Or can we ignore over a thousand years of putting Aristotle to use to produce oppressive ideology, and consider what is useful in his thought?

    The problem is that TNH wants to insist on fuzzy thinking and meaningless barnum statements, in order to avoid giving serious thought to important issues. Just like the “traditional” understanding of rebirth, this is an approach that increases human suffering in this world.

    Badiou says that there are no ontological arguments for our ultimate “decisions.” They are ideological, and the universe and ultimate “truth” is indifferent to whether we decide to reduce the suffering of human beings, or to move toward a world of miserable warring savages. There are not ontological reasons to choose one over the other, because there is not god and no world-transcendent “consciousness.” When it comes to matters of ideology, we make a choice because we prefer the consequences, not because we can prove it is necessary from first principles.

    I would argue that any ideology which requires us to ignore truths about mind-independent reality must be a bad one, but the reason it is bad is not because of some a priori law that delusion is wrong; it is bad because of the consequence, because insisting on delusion always seems to lead to suffering for somebody (if not always for the one who is deluded).

  95. frank jude Avatar

    Tom (94): Thank you for your clarification. Yes, I responded as I did to April’s comments because I thought the whole thread from your post on was singling out TNH as an aberration of some kind, and I was NOT justifying anything he says as because it is a fundamental principle of the mahayana, but rather pointing out the pervasiveness of what you are criticizing in your post about TNH.

    I’m curious as to YOUR better understanding of ‘rebirth’ (not requiring any transcendent realm/entity) that could be a positive motivator for action in the world and how this might (or might not) relate to TNH speaking of death as a ‘notion.’

  96. Craig Avatar


    There is on rebirth. All we have is this life and it seems, from Tom’s discussion above, that we need to either respond to ours and others suffering with truth or not. I prefer the former.

  97. frank jude Avatar

    Craig (#96):

    Are you speaking for Tom here? I don’t believe in rebirth either, but I am asking him to explain what HE meant by the following:

    “On the other hand, there are other understandings of “rebirth” that don’t rely on atomistic world-transcendent souls, and could motivate us to do everything in our power to make this world a better place for everyone—we might ask why these versions of the understanding of rebirth are less popular in history and in the Western Buddhism of today.”

  98. Geoff Avatar

    Saibhu (& Tom)
    Re # 93
    Do you mean: “We don’t meditate *only* for our own benefit, but for the benefit of all beings”? Then presumably there would be an “inner & outer journey”? I know that’s a Mahayanan belief but isn’t it disingenuous to say you are not seeking enlightenment for yourself but only for others?

    I’d have to read through TNH again but from memory the main thing I got was that “warm inner glow” that Tom refers to – that I was really taking in this distilled profundity from a Zen master. I didn’t really have to think. It was prepackaged for me.
    But then I realised it didn’t leave itself open to any serious questioning.

    In fact the feeling I got was you are discouraged from asking any hard questions that might disrupt the “warm inner glow.” That probably sums up over 90% of Buddhist books I’ve come across. The “warm inner glow” would be good if you could maintain it but it’s so fragile to any half decent questioning.

    What is specifically Buddhist about TNH’s interbeing? I would have thought the view that we are all interconnected is basic to all environmental philosophy – and economically I’m sure there are a number of philosophies that emphasise interconnection, such as Tom refers to. But these are not necessarily Buddhist influenced.

    I remember hearing the Dalai Lama say if you are nice to your neighbours, they are more likely to be nice back. I think my primary school teacher said the same thing. Obviously being peaceful and calm can make it more pleasant with your neigbhours – but what if they are totally unreasonable and require you to stand up to them? Do we allow ourselves to be walked over? In some cases that might encourage them. Was Tibet’s response to China the best course of action? Maybe but was that only because they had no defence department? If Tibet had more strategic value to the US, would the outcome have been different? Why did the UN get involved in Libya but no Tibet?

    TNH & DL don’t seem to go into too much of this. Maybe they would like to discuss it more but I’m sure the publishers would rather they kept to drinking tea….



  99. Geoff Avatar


    Re # 94

    As usual you make some astute points, such as: “it is bad because of the consequence”.

    Re your comment below:

    “….I should have made it clearer that the problem is that he (TNH) is teaching a particular line of thought that is harmful to humanity, and that will lead to most people ignoring the useful ideas in Buddhist teaching…..”

    You may have already covered this elsewhere but I’m interested to know what you think are the useful ideas in Buddhist teaching (that are specific to Buddhism)?

    Can we do without Buddhism at all?



  100. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    re #98

    I’m sure the publishers would rather they kept to drinking tea.

    I’m sure these guys (TNH, DL etc. pp.) have no clue what marketing does with them. Marketing today targets exclusively the instant fulfillment of desire. It is not different with marketing Buddhism.

  101. Craig Avatar

    #99: i would also be interested in that Tom…

    my story with TNH was that the books ‘plucked at my heart strings’. so i mustered up the courage to go to the local zendo. it was magical and scary inside. struck up a conversation with another newbie who also like TNH. instructions etc….then we sat. about 2 minutes in i wanted to do ANYTHING other than zazen! TNH lied! well, i stuffed that reaction (like a good zenist) and kept going back until one day i just left in the middle of zazen. incense, buddha statues, roshi’s be damned. 7 years later and many many other practice attempts i find non-buddhism. finally some truth!

  102. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    I would agree that there is a good chance that TNH is just a brand-name being handled by some savvy marketers–but that’s even worse than if he were just dumb. He has an ethical responsibility to aware of what people are giving him money to use his name for. I guess that’s what happens when you insist that mindful=myopic, though.

    Re 97 & 99: I do believe in rebirth, but not in anything like a soul that gets reborn. The collective mind, which exists in the socially created symbolic/imaginary network and not in the brain, continues beyond any individual body. What I do in this life creates a disposition in the symbolic/imaginary network for future subjects to be interpellated in a particular way, to be “born into” an ideology not of their making–but of course that body becomes part of the same collective mind I now inhabit. So, rebirth, but with no soul at all, not even an impermanent and changing one; the socially produced symbolic/imaginary system is explainable in perfectly natural terms, although not in reductive-materialist terms.

    I discuss this further in previous post called “Samsara as the Realm of Ideology,” where I also discuss what I think are the core useful concept in Buddhist thought.

    Can we do without Buddhism at all? Well, sure. We can simply take the ideas and put them to use. Personally, I like the ritual gathering, the lighting of incense and chanting, then the Dharma discussion (not “talk,” discussion); I see it as simply acknowledging that we are getting together to produce a kind of collective mind, to allow our collective mind to interact. But there’s no real reason it has to be incense and candles and the Juseige, it could be any ritual at all, and any topic of discussion, I would guess. In fact, too much attention to any particular rituals, as if the ritual were the point, would not be good.

  103. Craig Avatar


    i’m glad to hear that you ‘enjoy’ incense, chanting etc. i do too and was wondering if i ‘had’ to give that up as a non-buddhist. i’m also curious how you sit through dharma discussions that, i assume, use x-buddhst content. i always found it difficult to not get overwhelmed by all the x-buddhist talk and delusion. i guess this is a growing edge for the non-buddhist…do we participate in x-buddhist sanghas, but stand squarely in the non-buddhist camp? unfortunately, my experience has been that ritual and norms trump any type of rational conversation. i could pretty much predict which quote from Dogen I would get with the questions i asked at the zendo:-)

    also, thanks for your explanation of rebirth. makes a lot of sense to me. i need to revisit your ideology article.

  104. frank jude Avatar

    Tom, (#102): If that’s all you mean by rebirth, then I’m in! Of course, as there’s nothing personal/individual that continues after death, this is a broad stretching of the concept, I think. AND it is in this sense that I also see the reality of ‘no-birth/no-death.’

  105. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Re 104: It’s only a “broad stretching of the concept” if you assume that there is an individual “mind” to begin with, or assume that somehow socially produced structures are less “real” than souls or spirits would be. If you accept anatman, it doesn’t stretch the concept at all–it is exactly how rebirth is described in many ancient texts, only the description of the mechanism is in a modern idiom. People tend to say this when I explain my take on this concept–I mean, they tend to use the terms “stretch” a lot. I usually just tell them that it is a bit of a “stretch” to assume that what the ancients meant by anatman must have been something like a world-transcendent soul, just because we can’t conceive of consciousness as anything other than atomistic and eternal. There is an enormous Western (Cartesian) bias that what is real is physical matter and/or souls; I would suggest that Nagarjuna did not make this assumption, but that he considered consciousness to be collectively (conventionally) produced, and that he doesn’t assume there was anything personal/individual even before death.

  106. Geoff Avatar

    Tom re #102

    cheers I’ll check out your Samsara article again

  107. urisala Avatar

    Dear Tom,
    Could you recommend a (relatively easily accessible) book where Nagarjuna’s ideas you talk about are exposed?

  108. saibhu Avatar

    Geoff (98),

    what I’m talking about is a kind of egoism through the backdoor. I don’t have a more precise source, but the german wikipedia-page for TNH says “You will not be able to really help others before you made peace with yourself and stopped the war in your own heart and your own head”.

    Usually the notion that we’re connected to others (which is not unique to THN or Buddhism as you state correctly) leads to less egoism. In your example we treat our neighbours better because we realize that we will benefit from their well-being.

    Of course, this works also the other way round: If you’re a nurse and stressed you’re less capable of doing your job. So sitting in mindful (even thoughtless) bliss might improve his/her life and as a concequence the life of others.

    What bothers me about that in contemporary Buddhism is the order (see the WP-quote above): yourself first, everybody else second. When I have a rough look at contemporary Buddhism I don’t see a bunch of people reducing the suffering of all beings (hence your observation in comment 82), but more attempts to reduce one’s own suffering.

    Of course this is just common egoism and I don’t even claim to be less egoistic than they are. But that’s the point: “They” claim to be compassionate. My theory how they maintain to live with that contradiction is by switching the two meanings of Buddhism: isolated-inner-journey Buddhism and we-all-are-connected Buddhism.

  109. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Re 107: What do you mean by “easily accessible”? Easy to get hold of? Or easy to understand? Either way, I think Garfield’s translation of the Mulamadhyamakakarika is easy get a copy of and fairly clear. So is Jan Westerhoff’s book on Nagarjuna–maybe a little more tedious reading than Garfield, but he is trying to be as “clear” as possible.

    Either way, I’m don’t think my reading of Nagarjuna is quite the same as theirs. Garfield seems to me to limit Nagarjuna to an understanding of the consciousness as atomistic, as perhaps created by causes and conditions and impermanent but still an individual thing connected to an individual body. This seems to be why Garfield, and many scholars, see the last two chapters of the MMK as anticlimactic–because those chapters present consciousness as occurring in a collective mind, and never being individual at all. Consciousness is not produced in the individual brain by causes outside the brain, but is produced in a set of social and collective practices (including language) with the individual body as one of its causes and conditions. This reading is a little clearer if you consult Kalupahana’s translation of the last two chapters of the MMK from sanskrit–but that book is not so easy to get hold of.

    This relates, I think, to issue I’m puzzling over how to explain now, the one I mentioned in #105 above. Because for us today, considering something as “real” at all requires that it be a bodily thing or, in some cases, a ghostly soul–we tend to think that structures of behavior are not “real,” or not as real as a potato or a poodle. Thus, we tend to think that we are “free” agents, not effects of structures, and are frustrated by our inability to act just as we think we would like to. My use of the symbolic/imaginary network model of consciousness is an attempt to explain how consciousness works, how it endures, and how it interpellates different bodies, but it is just another metaphorical model–it is an attempt to explain the exact same thing that early Mahayana thinkers are suggesting, using our present idiom instead of the metaphors of fire or water we see in the early Buddhist texts. All explanations of causal mechanisms are metaphorical models–I am just hoping to use a more contemporary one to explain what I see Nagarjuna as trying to argue for in an ancient Indian idiom.

  110. Craig Avatar

    Tom (#109):

    so we need to somehow change the social and collective practices to ones that result in less suffering. the difficulty is the fact that we are not free agents, but we do have some influence as our bodies are part of causes and conditions. am i getting this? mindfulness, for example is not even a band-aid on the suffering…it’s actually perpetuating the suffering as it maintains the status quo structures. how the hell are we ever gonna change anything? i caught a few seconds of a right wing radio show today because i wanted to hear the weather. my heart sunk…social change seems hopeless to me, especially when we can’t dialog, are bumbarded every milisecond with marketing/misinformation, and utterly frustrated that we can’t act the way we want to.

  111. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    re 103

    TNH just a brand-name being handled by some savvy marketers – that’s even worse than if he were just dumb.

    I can not tell about TNH, I never read something from him, but I know about the Tibetans: they are a brand name and they don’t know it. There is a lot of evidence for this. Last year for example the Dalai Lama appeared on a famous cooking show in the midst of a tight schedule between to appointments. He flew over from a Kalchakra-initiation to New York to apear in the show, just to hurry on to Chicago for a metting with the Theosophic society there. This for me is so far the most glaring example how the this guy is used by marketing without knowing it. (cf. here)

    It would be very interesting to do a systematic critique of the interaction of marketing and (Tibetan) Buddhism in the West. It is easy to find lots of examples like the one mentioned. The smiling face of the DL stands for a gigantic denial. But that regards the portrait as used by marketing, not the person. This might be true also for TNH. The person DL is still narcotized by an age-old ideology of magical thinking and shamanistic super-power fantasies – what makes him unable to see how the world functions in which he was catapulted. To see this one can read two books parallel: Thomas Laird, The Story of Tibet – Conversations with the Dala Lama and Matthew Kapstein, The Tibetans.

  112. Geoff Avatar

    saibhu #108

    “Of course this is just common egoism and I don’t even claim to be less egoistic than they are. But that’s the point: They” claim to be compassionate. My theory how they maintain to live with that contradiction is by switching the two meanings of Buddhism: isolated-inner-journey Buddhism and we-all-are-connected Buddhism.”

    That sounds quite plausible to me. I’m often struck by how self-concerned the religious can be….

  113. dooyen Avatar

    The problem with TNH is that he is a fake from the beginning. Having been an ally of a militant Buddhist in Vietnam and close to the communists, he changed his biography or rather wrote his own hagiography to create his image as a peace activist. As there is no Zen in Vietnam anymore (see the book Zen in Medieval Vietnam) and TNH has only provided typewritten gathas as a proof of his acknowledgement as a teacher, one can hardly trust him. His Plum Village land is partly in the hand of Vietnamese that are close to him, and he is a shareholder of his EIAB institue in Germany, thus violating his own rules. Regarding his teachings: When he had a lecture in China a couple of years ago, a Chinese chan monk said: This is not chan (zen).That sums it up.

  114. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Re 113: My position is that it becomes pointless to debate who has proper “proof” that they are a teacher or who is teaching “true” Buddhism. I prefer to evaluate the particular teaching by the kind of ideology it produces, and my problem with TNH is that his teaching functions to enable wealthy westerners to feel better about themselves and ignore the oppression and destruction caused by their lifestyle. Drive your BMW mindfully, and you are enlightened! The billions of starving victims of global capitalism could be just as happy as you, if they could learn to starve mindfully in the present! I don’t much care about his credentials or even whether this is a “traditional” version of Buddhism, what concerns me is that it is a horrendous ideology.

  115. dooyen Avatar

    That is one of the signs of s.o. poor or middle class judging the riches, as recently found out by a researcher. And a reason why people who think like that often do not become rich themselves: The prejudice that wealth means destruction and oppression. I personally do not believe that TNH would teach as you say, your argument with the starving thus becomes rhetoric. For me it is more important to see if the lifestyle of a teacher is congruent with what he teaches and further with what I believe is the core of Buddhism, namely non-attachment. And because TNH is attached to his name, fame and possessions, he cannot be a good teacher, whatever he says. The good teacher provides a good example with his lifestyle. This is more important than words to me, because one may find monks who hold flawless speeches and write perfect books and are still crooks when we look at their way of living.

  116. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    [TNH] only provided typewritten gathas as a proof of his acknowledgement as a teacher, one can hardly trust him.

    I think this kind of proof is as much a search for an original identity as any attempt to find an original source of whatever. It is futile. One has to become responsible for ones own choices and one has to develop criteria to judge ones choices. The need of an external proof from a so called authentic lineage might have had meaning in the respective contexts where it dependently arose but today….

    What would the criteria for a trustworthy person be?

  117. saibhu Avatar


    That is one of the signs of s.o. poor or middle class judging the riches, as recently found out by a researcher.

    Could you please give me the original source of that research? I’m a bit of a science nerd and science gets misinterpreted so often that I have a hard time trusting any statement without the original study.

    P.S.: You do realise that this is an argumentum ad personam? Instead of arguing against his position (which, btw, is not that wealth always creates oppression but that wealth today creates oppression) you argue against him as a person (I have no clue in what respect it makes an argument less convincing if it is made by a person that is poor or middle class, btw…).

  118. Matthew Gioia Avatar

    Hi everyone. I am new around here (and I haven’t looked at any Buddhist blogs anywhere else either – this is my first!), and I have read a few posts / comment threads, and I feel ready to stick my neck out. As a disclaimer, I am not sure I do completely understand this project – some of the the more complex reasoning and phrasing strains me to capacity, and so I may need some “setting straight,” maybe dumbed down for a regular ignorant bonehead like myself?

    Before going on, I do want to say that I have been fairly riveted and impressed by this blog on the comment threads, except when they get nasty of course (being an Buddhist/x-buddhist? I generally find nastiness anathema to productive human relations).

    I have been a Buddhist for about six years. All of my experience is within various traditions of Zen. I believe I recognize x-buddhism in some of the sanghas I have participated in, but what I find ironic in this blog is that I was initially drawn to Buddhist practice by what I understand to be the very function of this blog: the dogged insistence on facing and clearing away delusions (“letting go of opinions”), day after day, again and again. I have never understood this to mean that I am to give up my previous opinions and adopt “Buddhist” ones, but that I am to remain as alert as I can in regard to my mental formations, my tendency to become attached to them and identify with them, and to hold opinion and thought lightly so that they may be replaced with new more developed opinion and thought.

    In response to the assertions that Buddhism insists that we “stop thinking,” in my experience this has been wholly untrue. Granted, in zazen practitioners do not pursue thought. However, we are not always sitting zazen, and I have otherwise been encouraged to think carefully. By “non-thinking” in zazen, practitioners (sometimes? maybe?) create a little room in their thinking which allows it to develop, sort of like thinning seedlings in a vegetable garden. Tom Pepper, you valiantly defend careful and hard thought, which I agree with. However, do you recommend thinking constantly? I think it is very helpful for a person to have periods when they are not pursuing thought – zazen does this in a formalized way.

    Last, I want to get in on the Are Buddhists Stupid debate, even though that article is elsewhere. Maybe I am missing the point, but I am under the impression that the problem/sickness/condition that Buddhism diagnoses in the first place is that people are stupid. Tom, I believe is a Shin Buddhist. Is it not a fundamental tenant of Shin Buddhism that we are all HOPELESSLY lost in delusion/bad thinking/deeply embedded “blind passions”? What then would be the point of calling Buddhists “stupid” under the banner of “non-buddhism”? Buddhists are stupid. It is supposed to be a strength of Buddhism that Buddhists see that they are stupid.

    I will end by acknowledging that my sample of white convert Buddhism is fairly small, and that I have learned a lot on this blog and will continue to read. It is always deeply refreshing to see an intelligent critique of ignorance.

  119. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Re #118: When you say you “have otherwise been encouraged to think carefully,” what exactly does this mean? My own Zen experience is limited to two centers, and I was told very specifically that the goal is to stop thinking. I have also read this in many Zen books. I have no doubt that there are some Zen teachers who do encourage serious thought–it seems that one version of the koan practice requires thought. On the other hand, other versions of Zen, the ones that tend to be quite popular in the West, say that Zen is not anti-intellectual, but that the goal is never to think; they generally don’t see not thinking as being the definition of anti-intellectual. In my own experience, the ideal was to sit Zazen as much as possible, and never to engage in “discursive thought,” because stopping all mental activity was understood to be enlightenment. This is the kind of Zen I object to, because it is nothing more than a reactionary ideological project. The claim that real truth is beyond words is the ultimate anti-intellectual claim, the mysticism of the reactionary ideologue. So, if you have a different experience, what was it? What kind of “careful” thinking were you instructed to do? I’d be interested to hear about it, because it does seem to me that the goal of Buddhism should be, as you suggest, to face and clear away delusions, not to sit and ignore them. I would assume there is some tradition of doing this in Zen, but it doesn’t seem to be very popular.

    As for thinking constantly, it isn’t really a matter of recommending it. We don’t have a choice. Whenever your mind is working, you are thinking–it’s just a question of whether you want to do it well, or do it poorly while pretending you’re not doing it at all. That said, I do think meditation can be useful in training the mind to think better.

    And no, it is not a tennet of Shin that we are hopelessly lost in delusion. That would be a terribly bleak practice. We are not capable of perfection, particularly not by our own effort, but that is not the same as being hopelessly deluded.

    My understanding of the cause of our suffering is ignorance, not stupidity. When we choose our ignorance and delusion over facing reality, we are being stupid, making a dumb choice. People decide to willfully ignore the world around them (say, by contemplating a flower), and then insist that it just doesn’t really exist; witness Dooyen’s comment above–he believes that simple denial of the poverty and destruction caused by our global economy can make it disappear. If all he sees is the flower in front of his face, he can insist that the poor are just a figment of my imagination, and the argument is over. Does your Zen training ask you to think carefully about all the causes and conditions of your lifestyle, whose labour make your comfort possible, what effects driving your car or using your cellphone will have? Does it ask you to consider why our affluence in the US requires poverty and suffering in most of the world (and many parts of our own country as well)? Or are you simply asked to think deeply about the impermanence of the moment?

    One way of understanding dependent arising is the demand that we try our best to discover all the causes and effects of our choices, and base our decisions to act on what we discover. Another way of understanding it is to say everything is connected to everything else–which amount to saying nothing at all; then we are just supposed to feel awed by the mystical complexity, but this vague version of this concept doesn’t attempt to explain exactly how this is connected to that, it just says that they are, somehow, beyond understanding–and then we have nothing to base our decisions on, so we just feel content in our profound wisdom. My own personal experience (beyond reading, real bodily experience) with Zen was always with the latter understanding of dependent arising–and that is the version I always find in popular books and magazines.

    If you’ve had a better experience, then by all means share it with us. Sometimes, the willful stupidity seems so ubiquitous, it would be nice to hear about something more positive.

  120. Craig Avatar



    where do the socially engaged buddhists fit into all of this. i was once a very socially engaged buddhist. lived in the ghetto, convened teach-ins against the war, was vegetarian, rode my bike, tried to eat local food, sent my kids to montessori school. i still do some of these things, but can we really change anything? i feel like i’m totally stuck. i had to go to target today to get some necessities for the kids. i just about lost my shit with all the marketing etc. i had to fight to make sure my kids didn’t get underwear that had people shooting on them. i guess i could do more. drawing from another discussion on here, depression sets in and the capacity to act is literally gone.

    just rambling, but i think i’ve discussed my experience with the social engagement aspect.

  121. frank jude Avatar

    #119: Tom,

    Does this count as an example re:

    “Does your Zen training ask you to think carefully about all the causes and conditions of your lifestyle, whose labour make your comfort possible, what effects driving your car or using your cellphone will have? Does it ask you to consider why our affluence in the US requires poverty and suffering in most of the world (and many parts of our own country as well)? Or are you simply asked to think deeply about the impermanence of the moment?”

    From Robert Aitken in “The Mind of Clover”

    “Stealing is a pervasive element of our lives, and is the nature of our economic system,” begins a passage from Robert Aitken. He gives an example of American corporations exploiting African workers in the Sahel near the Saharan Desert. Then he says:

    “We don’t notice similar examples nearer home because we are used to them, but our slums and skid rows are clear symptoms of an economy that is manipulated here and abroad to provide a base of unemployment so that competition for jobs will keep wages at a minimum, and stockholders will realize maximum profits.”

  122. Lee Avatar

    #119 “The claim that real truth is beyond words is the ultimate anti-intellectual claim, the mysticism of the reactionary ideologue.”

    I would say prior to words. There is ‘experience’ before there is language. Don’t see anything particularly mystical about it; the human body-mind system brings forth an experiential world through a continual ongoing constructive activity. I would not describe this activity as thought; however, Tom, you seem to have a different definition? This ongoing activity is ‘truth’ in the sense that it’s just ‘what is’ from a sensory perspective. Where it get’s interesting, and where I think there might be some overlap with some of your ideas about ideology, is that sensory experience isgenerally filtered through an interpretive framework, which is primarily unconscious.

    Bohm was quite interesting on thought; his view was that thought is a function of the whole, but the whole cannot be captured in thought. Hmmm, time for a cup of tea I think.

  123. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Re 121: Yes, I think that would count as an example. Until we become aware that we aren’t noticing the “stealing” that is a part of our lives, we can’t begin to consider why we are so violently attached to not thinking, to our ignorance, and to the social system that causes us and everyone else so much suffering. So there are some examples out there. Thanks for that one, Frank.

    Re 122: No, there is no “experience” outside of language for human beings. Even for animals, there is no “pure perception,” because perception is by definition what the mind does; animals may organize their perceptions instinctually and differently from us, but this shouldn’t be understood as a “filter.” It is better to think of our conceptual framework as a tool, without which we could never interact with the world at all. The “filter” metaphor, and the contradictory “brings forth a world” metaphor, are both ways to insist that we could see reality “purely” and without ideology–but this is a positivist dream. Your mind is in the symbolic/imaginary system, which includes language, so this system cannot “filter” reality before it reaches your experiencing mind. When I say this “beyond words” ideas is mysticism, I am suggesting that it assumes there is a mind that somehow remains beyond and outside of this world, always screened from it by “filters,” and containing the whole truth within itself. The very idea that there could be experience prior to language always ultimately requires, as Hume found to his dismay, that there must be some world-transcendent soul; we can shuffle this homunculus around with rhetorical cleverness or obscure it behind pseudoscience, but it remains as an underlying assumption. The reason Hume’s works were banned by the catholic church was that he had the clarity of thought to point out this source of delusion, even in his own work. Most of us remain unwilling, though, to really accept the non-existence of the atman.

  124. dooyen Avatar

    #117: There is a German summary of what poor people think about rich people here:

    #116: A trustworthy person to me is one with high ethical standards who does as he/she says/preaches.

    By the way, I just saw a report about a foreign sake master who learned from his Japanese master for many years. We have to accept that the master-disciple relationship is important in many fields of craftsmanship, sports and also in zen especially in Japan (but not only there), and it MAY be the right way for some to guarantee a certain quality of disciples. I was used to it in martial arts, and it worked there, too.

    Still, my argument was given for another reason. If you can detect a crook by finding out that his claims to be a certified teacher are wrong, it is much easier to be convinced that he planned his career from the beginning and is not just a victim of marketing and publishing. TNH is himself the man behind his business, I have no doubt here. Those roots explain already why later on he could for example bestow a title like “dharmacarya” on a former (and now deceased) German foreman of the Buddhist Union, a layman. This title, uncommon in zen but given to Burmese monks as kind of a doctorgrade only after they have passed exams, according to a zen abbot appeared after a donation of one million DM from the site of the rich layman …

  125. Lee Avatar

    “The “filter” metaphor, and the contradictory “brings forth a world” metaphor, are both ways to insist that we could see reality “purely” and without ideology–but this is a positivist dream”

    Nope. On the contrary, we literally have no idea what is before our eyes. Light hitting the retina is transformed into electrochemical signals, which undergo many further poorly understood transformations before even hitting the visual cortex. There is clearly no one-to-one mapping, and because no-one understands what the mapping transforms actually do, we are literally clueless as to what might actually be there. What I’m saying is human neurology structures ‘reality’ for us. Literally what we perceive is the activity of our own neurology, plus a little bit of whatever parts of the electromagnetic spectrum fall within the limited bandwidth of our senses. Maturana and Varela refer to this as ‘bringing forth a world’ to emphasise that our neurology is not just passively sitting there doing nothing waiting for information, it actively creates our worlds for us. So, this has nothing to do with ‘pure perception’ or ‘atman’; what I’m trying to say to you is that the activity of neurology creates our experiential world, and this is an ongoing activity that is not necessarily tied to language. Looking out the window right now and experiencing the blueness of the sky is not an activity of thought; and the word ‘blue’ is not the same as the experience, for which there is no word. By experience, what I am talking about is the activity of human neurology.

  126. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Re 125: Well, I can’t really argue with your insistence on a moronic reductive materialism. If you just want to refuse to understand anything and say “nope,” well, go ahead and stay stupid. I’ve argued against this kind of idiocy before, and many others have done it far better than I can do it here. I just haven’t the time to keep arguing with those who want to stay stupid and insist that everyone else must do so too–there is enough to do trying to engage with people who would prefer to think.

  127. Lee Avatar

    Your problem is you’re so wrapped in your narcissistic image as yourself as ideological liberator you just see exactly what you want to see. Yes, I’m sure Maturana and Varela’s work is moronic reductive materialism – this clearly certifies you as a grade A nimrod. You can’t tell your arse from a hole in the ground mate

  128. Lee Avatar

    #126. … but outside of that, how about you engage with the substantive point? You’re arguing that there’s no experience outside of language. I disagree, sensory perception is prior to language. If I punch you directly on the nose (which I’d like to do right now) you will have a direct sensory experience of pain – where does language or ideology come into that? Of course, if you’d just prefer to call me stupid, and avoid the question then I’ll leave others to draw their own conclusions about why that may be.

  129. matthewmgioia Avatar

    Re: 126, 127, 128: Gee, maybe I’m just a dumb x-buddhist (no sarcasm), but don’t you guys think that it would be more productive to refrain from ad hominem? In my experience, when people start in on the ad hominem, they only become further entrenched in their perspectives, essentially giving up hope of convincing anyone of their point or of moving ahead into more interesting possibilities.

    Re: 118: Tom, first, I have certainly witnessed the Zen practice you describe, particularly in branches of the White Plum lineage of Maezumi Roshi lineage, so I agree with you, but only to a point.

    There are actually special nasty names within the Zen tradition for people who retreat into some kind of quietistic state “beyond thinking” like “dog from hell” (name for someone who does that). Your description of Zen strikes me as a caricature; while it is true that practitioners are urged in some centers to “stop thinking,” I have never understood this to mean to stop thinking at all times (except during zazen over a period of several days), or even really to literally stop thinking. Indeed, as you point out, to do so would be impossible! This is widely acknowledged within Zen, even within “pop” or “nightstand” Zen. The idea is more like changing one’s relationship to their own thoughts (during zazen), which naturally arise and pass away; the practitioner refrains from engaging and building upon and identifying with the thought. And why might someone do that? Well, you speak of dependent arising. The idea is that in disengaging from thought for a time one may have the experience of self and other dependently arising, not merely feel awed by the idea that “everything is connected.” Your small sample (two centers, and I assume just a couple times) is not sufficient to understand what Zen is getting at.

    Secondly, to answer your question about how I have been encouraged to think carefully, my introduction to Zen was through the Peacemaker Order, founded by Bernie Glassman. This “order” encourages study of the causes and effects which you are interested in, and privileges social engagement above even sitting (of course this is admittedly not traditional in Zen). Not only that, but the social engagement that is encouraged requires careful thought, the idea being that if one simply jumps into the moral chaos of politics and activism one may end up doing more harm than good. The zazen of non-engagement with thought (this really is a more accurate term for zazen than “not-thinking) is a perfect companion for this engagement, refreshing the practitioner and (at its best) revealing more clearly dependent arising.

    By the way, do you have any good recommendations for how I may properly edify myself about Shin Buddhism?



  130. Shabe L Avatar
    Shabe L

    Tom#119: You say
    “Does your Zen training ask you to think carefully about all the causes and conditions of your lifestyle, whose labour make your comfort possible, what effects driving your car or using your cellphone will have? Does it ask you to consider why our affluence in the US requires poverty and suffering in most of the world (and many parts of our own country as well)?”

    What do you say to those of us who find ourselves paralyzed by hopelessness, helplessness, fear, and anger when we do ask ourselves those kinds of questions…if too often and too much? We may be Boddhisattva’s in training, but most of us are nowhere near there yet.

    Every time I return to India I see the horrors of humans exploiting humans. A ‘home’ reportedly costing somewhere between 1 and 2 billion dollars (Google it: ‘Antilla’) sits side by side with slums where people work for less than a buck a day. You step over children racked with disease on your way to a nice restaurant. The ‘middle class’ has cashed in on materialism, but 600 million or so remain in horrific poverty.

    I get your point (I think) that at some level we are all complicit. I also get your admonition that we should do what we can where and when we can to diminish ignorance and hence suffering; I accept that every little bit helps, even if only in one little corner of a painful world.

    I do fear though that if I keep staring hard at the horrors, and react as a sensitive being, and do not ‘stop to smell the roses’ regularly (Naturalism gives me strength and meaning) I will lapse into the despair that leaves so many hopeless and cynical. Anger can be mobilizing, but man the challenges are overwhelming, and we all need reprieve and sustenance.

  131. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Re 120, 129, 130: I don’t have any problem with using the word stupid; stupidity is something we choose to do, it is a determination to remain ignorant, and when someone is being stupid I don’t have any problem telling them they are. It’s not an ad hominem attack, but a response to an action–if you want to insist nobody has the right to know more than you, or understand something you don’t, then you are being stupid, and you can cut it out, or not, its up to you.

    I am interested in the despondence that Craig and Shabe express in relation to what Matthew describes as Zen. I have limited experience with Zen, because what I encountered was exactly what you describe, Matthew, and it misses what I take to be the most important insight of Buddhist thought. The idea that there is some self that can “disengage from thought for a time” and have some pure “experience” insists on the existence of a subtle atman, something that can step outside the world and be a witness to it, remain unaffected by it. This is the illusion we create when we thing we can “change our relationship to our own thoughts.” Who is this self that has the relationship to these thoughts? If there is no essential self, there can be only these thoughts–and we are just thinking about a subset of our thoughts, and remaining deluded that we aren’t thinking at all, that we are a core true atman that is separate from the world, so our “thoughts” arise dependently, but his self abides. This has always been my experience with Zen in person and in written form. I don’t doubt that somewhere there is a Zen teacher who really understands the concept of anatman, but what you described just is not it–it is the “buddhanature/subtle atman” form of Buddhism, which is very similar to most Tibetan schools as they are taught in the West. I am not looking to say this is “wrong Buddhism,” that it is not “authentic.” Clearly it follows a long tradition. My point is merely that it produces a dangerously oppressive reactionary ideology, which it doesn’t know is an ideology, and which requires the participants to remain deluded into thinking they can stop thinking, that they have a “consciousness” outside the world.

    So yes, my experience with Zen is limited, and it will stay that way. My experience with neo-nazism is limited, too, and for the same reason. It may be the case that I will come to believe in their delusions if I participate long enough, but I would prefer not to. I have never had the “experience” that Zen practitioners say I have no right to criticize, but I don’t care too, since it is an experience that I choose to avoid. I’m not doubting that they can have that experience, but I don’t doubt that hallucinogens seem to expand one’s mind, either–I’m sure one can “experience” it that way, but what it is actually doing is causing us to lose contact with reality and diminishing our capacity for logical thought (sometimes permanently).

    I think this idea of the transcendent self, even a subtle one, even one that we are told is “just semantics,” or “just a problem of language,” is the cause of the despair and disillusionment I see in many Zen practitioners. It seems to me that if one continues to have that hopeless feeling, it is the persistence of the subtle atman, the ideology of a core, stable, and transcendent subject. Once you really get beyond the attachment to an atman, you can persist happily in failure, and the respites in nature to recuperate seem less necessary–fun though they may be.

    I’m teaching Wordsworth this week (These forms of beauty . . . passing even into my purer mind/With tranquil restoration, etc–the Romantic ideology of the subject). So my description of Zen may strike you as a caricature, but you description of a more correct understanding of Zen strikes me as a caricature of Romanticism–and is exactly the anti-intellectual mysticism I am arguing against.

    Non-engagement could be a good strategy, but all too often it just turns out to be an excuse to do nothing, to enjoy our bodily pleasures and live like animals while feeling superior about it.

    As for Shin, I think the best introductory book is Yoshifumi Ueda and Dennis Hirota’s Shinran: and Introduction to His Thought. There is a pdf version of it here:

  132. Craig Avatar

    Tom (123)- (Lee)

    I had to re-read this a few times. At the risk of being reductionist, there is no a prior experience because there is not soul to experience it. There is a body…but to ‘say’ it experiences is language. The notion or idea of experience is part of the symbolic interaction mind.

  133. matthewmgioia Avatar

    Re 131: Tom, thanks for your thoughts on the presence of “atman” in Zen practice – very interesting. I’m not sure how to respond; I’ll think about it carefully for a while and get back to you. The first thing that did occur to me, though, was Dogen’s insistence that the word “kensho,” or “seeing into your own nature” was insidious and dualistic.

    In regards to what I called “ad hominem” attacks and your defense of using the word “stupid,” I am not attempting to chide you for being “mean” or something like that, nor am I saying that choosing delusion is not stupid. What I am saying (and I certainly stick by this) is that most people you call “stupid” will react by retrenching themselves within their own views, so if your goal is to have productive conversation and/or “convert” anyone to your insightful views, it would better to use more skillful language.

    thanks for the recommendation – I’m looking forward to reading…


  134. Tom Pepper Avatar

    Re 133: ” if your goal is to have productive conversation and/or “convert” anyone to your insightful views, it would better to use more skillful language.” I have no doubt you’re right about that, Matthew. This is something I am absolutely terrible at. I do work on it, but I’m getting old and not making fast progress.

  135. lee Avatar

    Matt whateveryournameis…

    Why dont you get your tongue out of Tom’s arse for a minute. Tom, my limited reading of Hume suggests that he thought ideas were ‘faded copies’ of sense impressions. How is this different than saying sensory experience precedes language.?

  136. Lee Avatar

    …and while I’m at it, ideology must itself be inculcated through experience, as we are not born with it, so clearly it’s incoherent to say that there is no experience that is free of ideology.Go figure Batman

  137. Tom Pepper Avatar

    Okay, briefly: a less limited reading of Hume would demonstrate that what he discovers is that if we assume that there is such a thing as a sensory experience that precedes, and gives rise to, ideas, then we wind up forced to accept the existence of a “secret connection” holding together our “self,” a subtle soul that exists outside the world. He demonstrates this quite cogently, to his own consternation because he rejected any possibility of a god or a soul. As a result, he had to question this empiricist assumption–which is why many textbooks today, assuming there is either empiricism or complete relativism, assume Hume must have been in the latter camp (he absolutely was not). There is no “sensory experience.” There are perceptions, which occur in the mind. And yes, there is not experience that is outside ideology–we are always already subjects, as Althusser explains-we have a place in an ideology before we are born, and our every experience is always ideological. You are still assuming the mind is in the brain, and atomistic. It is not; the mind is collective, and exists in the symbolic/imaginary system which is always socially produced because any symbolic system requires more than one participant.

    There, now I’ve done my level best to use more skillful language. But if you are just going to keep offering pig-headed specious arguments from a position of ignorance, I will probably take out my comment-stick again.

  138. Lee Avatar

    OK Pepper. Better. Good work. B+. Some useful references to follow up on – I can see that if you take the perspective of the brain necessarily having to learn the ideology into which it is born, then ideology is, in one sense. pre-determined. I assume that we agree that the brain is a necessary physical precondition for mind? Still some hallucination about my overall position – fair enough, you only have a couple of blog posts to go on. I don’t assume the mind is in the brain, although I do think it’s important to understand the contribution of neurology (as previously argued). I tend towards Gregory Bateson’s systemic / cybernetic views on mind.

    Bateson – “It is understandable that, in a civilization which separates mind from body, we should either try to forget death or to make mythologies about the survival of transcendent mind. But if mind is immanent not only in those pathways of information which are located inside the body but also in external pathways, then death takes on a different aspect. The individual nexus of pathways which I call “me” is no longer so precious because that nexus is only part of a larger mind. The ideas which seemed to be me can also become immanent in you. May they survive – if true.”

    Seems to me to bear some relation to your ideas about subjects and rebirth without resorting to transcendent metaphysics?

  139. Lee Avatar

    Tom – Can you direct me to any source(s) where I can read this particular aspect of Hume’s work?

  140. Tom Pepper Avatar

    Matthew: re 135: can you see now why I’m not so concerned to be polite when responding to some people?

    Lee: The Bateson quote is interesting–I only know of Bateson through systems theory as it is used in psychology, and this is particular passage is radically different from what I remember about systems seeking homeostasis or some crap. What he says here is what I am trying to argue for. The great trouble with being a narcissist who can’t tell my arse from a hole in the ground is that I can’t take credit for anything I say, no matter how much I’d like to. All my ideas come from someone else–especially this one about he collective mind, which I doubt I ever would have conceived on my own. At most, I can claim to sometimes bring together ideas from different fields that might not otherwise be put into conversation. As for Hume, this problem comes up for him in the Treatise, and he lays it out in the appendix to later editions. Then, he tries to reconsider the problem in the “Enquiry”, and still can’t figure a way out. Read the appendix to the Treatise, and you’ll see where he point out his intractable problem most clearly.

  141. Craig Avatar

    Tom (131)

    It seems to me that if one continues to have that hopeless feeling, it is the persistence of the subtle atman, the ideology of a core, stable, and transcendent subject. Once you really get beyond the attachment to an atman, you can persist happily in failure, and the respites in nature to recuperate seem less necessary–fun though they may be.

    This is very interesting to me. I’m wondering how one gets beyond this attachment to atman. I always think of that famous picture of the monk who set himself on fire. he seems to be detached. i thought long zazen did this? i do like the idea of persisting happily in failure. that sounds awesome!

    also, is my comment above (132) anywhere close to understanding Hume?


  142. dooyen Avatar

    Well, some here want to fight ideology with ideology – this in itself could be a zen riddle. Of course wealth TODAY does not automatically oppress. In Germany, I recently heard, about a third of the millionaires just inherited the money. There are artists and soccer stars who are well paid. You need a certain ideology to state that their wealth oppresses. So – are the posters here conscious of their own ideology?

    Anyway, some have a problem with “not thinking” and consider it impossible. Indeed we find a lot of reports about what is meant by nonthinking outside the Buddhist scene. I just read Sartre’s “Disgust” (German: Der Ekel) where he describes what could be called an awakening experience in Zen, with very similar words and metaphors. The point is that he never mentions Zen or sitting meditation, but he called it a state of nonthinking.

    One has to experience it to lose his doubts that this state exists. In those moments the row of thoughts, the building up of thoughts, one after the other, is not there. That is why it is called nonthinking. Of course afterwards one can make else of it than zen adepts, like Sartre did. His view on life had a more pessimistic tendency because even in a somehow satisfying present (as in sex) he could not stay in this present but had thoughts about “the future” and thus about the futile nature of our doings.

  143. Matthias Steingass Avatar


    We had this discusion befor (=> here for example).

    However you may call the experience you mean, it is thinking in the sense that it is an activity of being conscious. And it probably has to do with sub- and preconscious levels. Probably it has to do with neuronal activities (for sure, isn’t it). Personally I find it no big deal to find a state of, let’s say, a blank consciousness. It can be provocated via shock, for example. It is well documented in praxis-literture from the Tibetan culture. We have at least two theories how it has developed. One states that it is an feature of consciousness on the neuronal level and developed during biological evolution, the other states that it has to do with the cultural transition from orality to literacy. I would say it can be best provocated via concentrating on attention itself. One certainly can do funny things with oneself. The question is: for what use?

    Can you give an exacte reference for the Satre-awakening. I am very suspicious that ‘no thinking’ alone has something to do with awakening. I would rather say it is the oposite. The Tibetans for example confused it with some eternal thing which leaves the body – the nature of mind. The Zen-people where really good at it misusing it for their nationalist war campaigns. Zen at War, His Holiness Suzuki preaches killing mindfully.

    I really wonder what Satre makes of it? Can you give references in Zen-literature too where this experience is described. Preferably with some critical discussion how important terms are translated?

    One has to add too that this ‘no-thinking’ fad is probably based on a very christian-judean narrative structure in wich it was called ‘redemption’ in other times.

    Another problem is translation. The Tibetans differentiate between several forms of ‘thinking’, intensities and qualities of thinking and their respective absence. In the literature of Pop-Buddhism this is all lumped together thoughtless (what I would regard as true western non-thinking) into translations which in the end translate nothing but our old notions in new terms. I don’t know how this is in Zen but I doubt it is much different.

  144. dooyen Avatar

    #143: I don’t have the Sartre book with me now but will quote him in a couple of weeks in my own blog. In the meantime the Wiki article about him may suggest some parallels to the zen experience.

    The reference to Victoria – well, I will have a couple of words about him in a recently prepared entry, too, in my blog, but the topic is rather boring. His research was flawed and biased, as was shown in extent by an Antaiji abbot and some others.

    The same goes for him as I said earlier about nonthinking: If you refuse to experience the ability to kill without remorse, you will always deny it. “Mindful” here means without remorse, without second thoughts, without hatred and greed, the main reasons for suffering in Buddhism. Victoria denied one of the core teachings esp. of those zen schools related to martial arts. I personally think that is exactly what is wrong with his argument. He simply does not know what killing without remorse means, killing in a state of nonthinking. (Also in a way he may himself have done it a lot of times at least with mosquitoes but as he is thinking in terms of good and bad, black and white, he cannot apply …). He who can’t do it in such a way should refrain from it and not become a soldier, that is what the adaptation of nonthinking in war means. A nonthinking soldier is one who will (probably, ideally) not come back from war with traumata or die in sorrow.

    Nonthinking becomes a certain quality to act freely. If you ask “for what use” the answer lies here. Nonthinking is nothing in itself when not turned into action without attachment. Here I doubt that the two theories you mentioned will apply. What the soldier (a human) has to learn, obviously an animal can do already. So it is neither a question of literacy nor of evolution, rather it is going back to basic instincts. My view here is not representing the current stream of Western Buddhism, by the way, but you may find martial arts teachers rooted in Zen (like Omori Sogen) who point in the same direction. The ability to not think is the ability to not judge, to not get attached, to let go. It is the opposite of what motivated Victoria (although it is okay – and necessary – to be motivated by other states of mind).

    So we agree that nonthinking is possible. When you say “a blank consciousness”, you probably mean the thinking part of it, as it is possible to see, hear etc. without thinking (about it), to just experience through the senses who all together constitute our consciousness. I can only repeat that nonthinking is a term that does not refer to being braindead but to being unattached to the thoughts and being unlinked to the thought process, building up one thought on the other. This problem still exists when unconscious, therefore it should be possible to have an ego dissolving experience while sleeping and dreaming. But it does not exist when you get a gastroscopy under the influence of Dormicum, for example, where your mind becomes blank and unreflective without any conscious feeling of a dissolution of boundaries. Where this induced state of being unconscious may resemble death, the awakening process based on nonthinking has the function to bring back the adept to his instinctive lifeforce. I personally do not see a problem there. A couple of zen teachers have already written about the stimulation of certain parts of the brain through meditation. You just have to know what is meant by nonthinking and that it has to become an ehtical quality of deeds and doing.

    Therefore I argumented that the first look at a teacher should be on his lifestyle and actions and not his words, as it is rather easy to fool others with sophisticated speeches and essays, but almost as easy to check if someone can apply … well, whatever you may call it, nonthinking or using the brain and the body to act nonattached.

  145. dooyen Avatar

    And by the way, I believe I know where we differ, Matthias, having read your assumptions in the other thread, and I wrote the last entry more for the other readers. You seem to follow the philosopher Metzinger who once in a round table said that he was meditating but does not believe in a transcendent kind of awakening. For me, this is a pity, and I have a guess that it may become wishful thinking and Metzinger will never know what is possible. On the other hand, Buddhist teachers often state that faith is necessary to get there. So both sites have a kind of prejudice. I personally do not believe that faith (in any transcendent event) is necessary but it probably makes it easier to experience it. Lars Gustafsson, a Swedish philosopher and author, has written about his scepticism and three events that shook it in “Herr Gustafsson persoenlich”, and Paul Auster in “Die Musik des Zufalls”. The transcendent event may of course been explained convincingly in the future (and in most cases Buddhism itself relies it to the the interdependence of things) but that does not make it rational right now.

    We have a placebo effect but we also have those whom the placebo doesn’t help and who find treatment only in the ‘real thing’. They will not be satisfied with the placebo (in the case of Metzinger probably meditation close to the Theravada style).

  146. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    @Dooyen, #144

    Is it true that we met each other her and on the german blog already?

    However this might be what you write is… let’s put it like this: quite thoughtless.

    What Victoria describes is how well known zen-teachers – like His Holiness D.T. Suzuki – supported a perverted human sociality which ‘thought’ about itself that they where the forefront of evolution while in reality they where a bunch of warmongers who specialized in muss-murder. I wonder how many zen-solders killed unarmed civilians in Nanking – unattached, remorseless and in a zen-like state of non-thinking. Whow, what an achievement!!!

    What you describe is exactly the absolute perversion of Buddhism. ‘Meditation’ put to use to train detached killing.

    You know what? If you want to know how detached killing works read Täter, wie aus ganz normalen Menschen Massenmörder werden (Offenders, how the average human becomes a mass-murderer) by Harald Welzer. He reconstructs how average German soldiers where able to kill hundreds and thousands of civilians – face to face by shooting, women, children, elderly, stripped naked, at the edge of the hole in which they would fall on their half-dead neighbors – without becoming mad.

    I bet your detached zen-murderers are not the least bit different. Deluded beings with people like you supporting the most perverted thinking one can imagine.

    What else do you have? Non-thinking reckless driving, non-thinking exploitation, non-thinking boozing, non-thinking rape, non-thinking pederastisism, non-thinking cannibalism, non-thinking coprophagy?

    Your post is so full of wired non-sense, man, you are a hopeless case – and your ideology is dangerous. It is the most reactionary so far I come to see written by a commentator here and elsewhere. You should sit together with those German Tibetan Buddhists talking about the bad karma of the jews. You will love each other.

  147. Lee Avatar

    # re 137

    Tom – thanks for the pointer. I’ve had a look and yes, I get it; Hume finds no necessary connection behind sense impressions / perceptions on which he can impute an unchanging self – no transcendental perceiver of the perceptions. However, this is not what I intended to communicate when I said that sensory experience is prior to language. I was not referring to a transcendent reified and singular experience, and what I meant, I think, corresponds with more-or-less with what Hume means by sense impressions.

    I’m trying to understand and evaluate your proposition that there is no experience outside of language, so perhaps I can proceed by way of an example, and then you can critique it. Listening to music – if attention is directed into the sensory experience / perceptions / impression, it is a present, on-going, analogic experience, which (as far as I can tell) is unmediated by language. I assume this is what Hume would refer to as sensory impression. If I later recall the tune, this is a ‘faded copy’ of the original sensory impression; attention is in the recalled experience, and not (fully) to present sensory impressions in the auditory channel. If I engage my knowledge about music, say for example, ‘ah, that’s a riff on the A Dorian mode in the key of G’, then that would be my ideas about music, generated from various sensory experiences and perceptions. So, is it uncontroversial to say that it’s possible to attend to sensory impressions (have sensory experiences) that are unmediated by language, in this sense? If so, how does this square with no experiences outside of language?

    Hope the question is clearly put. I have more to say on some potential issues with Hume, but later

  148. Tom Pepper Avatar

    Re 141: Craig, I see getting beyond the attachment to an atman as a major goal of Buddhist practice–it doesn’t seem to be easy for anyone. Those who want to practice in a way that produces a stronger attachment to an atman will usually say theirs is the only right practice, and reject alternatives, but for many Buddhists throughout history there has been an understanding that there are a number of ways to achieve this. Dooyen is a perfect example of those attached to a kind of Zen which produces a powerful attachment to the transcendent self, in support of the most horrendous kind of fascist ideology; he would insist that one must never critique these experiences unless one has had them, but it is exactly because one can, through this kind of Zazen, learn to kill without a second thought, that this kind of experience should be avoided.

    As to the Hume problem, yes, the point for Hume is that he does want to understand there being pure sensory experiences as the origin of all thought, he wants to be able to begin from this assumption–but the problem is that if we begin from there we must in the end accept the existence of some unchanging self, what he calls the “secret connection”–who unites these experiences. Since he cannot find any evidence of this transcendental self, his premises are called into question, and he has to doubt the existence of the empiricist concept of sense impressions. Since he could not abandon the idea that each mind must be atomistic, he never found a solution to this problem, and turned to writing his histories.

    Lee: The problem is that music is already a part of the symbolic/imaginary system, not a “pure sensation.” If it weren’t, you would not be able to recall it, remember the key it is in, know what it is a “riff” on. You cannot attent to the sensation, only to the perception, which is already in the mind. It is true that Hume does assume the existence of pure sensations which are associated by the brain to produce ideas; the problem he finds is that beginning from this assumption leads to the necessity of a soul, a subtle transcendent self, which he points out that he is assuming in his work, and finds this to be an error. This is his real advance–because most people never can recognize the subtle atman they are implying, or simply want to insist it isn’t there, it is just a matter of language so not important, etc. There are experiences outside of language proper, but they are still structured by the imaginary register (in the Lacanian sense), which is a kind of visual or auditory or tactile “language” with which we interact with the world.

  149. Lee Avatar

    “You cannot attent to the sensation, only to the perception, which is already in the mind”

    So it sounds like you are saying the perception is sensation plus a contribution from something else, which, having no knowledge of Lacan, I am interpreting to mean pre-existing conceptual knowledge of music? Sensation is structured, or perhaps coloured by, previous knowledge and experience. Am I understanding you correctly? ‘Reality’ structured by expectations

  150. Tomek Avatar

    Well, I can’t really argue with your insistence on a moronic reductive materialism.

    Tom (#126), I am curious, would you say that Churchland’s neurocentric Eliminativism also belongs to what you call “moronic reductive materialism”? It is said, that the driving idea behind his system is that almost all of the brain’s cognitive capacities are learnt, and next to none of them are hard wired. However, as wrote Brassier, “Churchland’s is not a Humean ‘blank-slate’ epistemological empiricism, for he readily acknowledges the existence of certain high-level epistemic invariants or neurocomputational metastructures (‘ampliative coding layers’ as he calls them) conditioning the information processing function; metastructural invariants whose functioning could be characterised as a priori relative to the low-level input data they serve to structure and synthesize. Such high-level neurocomputational a prioris remain a prerequisite for sophisticated cognition.” Churchland’s term for this model of cognition is connectionism and it has not much to do with Humean empiricism. Churchland writes “According to Humean empiricism, we are forever tied to immediately given peripheral sensory simples. According to connectionism, by contrast, the whole point of a hierarchy of ampliative coding layers is precisely to transcend the limitations of our peripheral sensory coding. It is to try to ‘look past’ the teeming noise and perspectival idiosyncrasy of one’s peripheral sensory input representations to the more stable and more predictive ‘forms’ that lie beyond the mercurial sensory surface, stable forms that are always only partially and imperfectly reflected within that sensory surface, universal forms that might be differently but quite successfully reflected in a variety of alternative sensory manifolds(…)I agree with Plato that seeing past the ephemeral is the first goal of learning, and I agree further that it is precisely the ‘abstract forms’ that allow us to make any sense of the relentless flux of the ephemeral. The principal difference between me and Plato concerns the location of those forms (they are inside the head) and their genesis within us: they are gradually sculpted de novo, by a deeply sublinguistic process, in the course of extended interactions with the environment.” (P.M.Churchland, 1996, pp. 281-282)

  151. frank jude Avatar

    144; 146:

    Matthias, I couldn’t agree with you more! Dooyen, this talk is nonsense and a perversion, and no white-washing of those Japanese teachers who rationalized war-mongering, nationalism and racism through distorted understanding of buddhist teachings is gonna cut it.

    While some have argued with Victoria’s research, on the whole it is fairly strong and there can be no questioning of someone like Yasutani Roshi, for instance who received “transmission” and was legitimated by the lineage system of the Soto Zen School two months after publishing a book on Dogen which is full of militarist and anti-Semitic propaganda. The book uses the teachings of Dogen to support the war, deify the emperor, promote the superiority of Japan, foster anti-Semitism and encourage people to exterminate the enemy. Included in his commentary on the First Precept is the following passage: “Failing to kill an evil man who ought to be killed, or destroying an enemy army that ought to be destroyed, would be to betray compassion and filial obedience, to break the precept forbidding the taking of life. This is a special characteristic of the Mahayana precepts.”

    What bullshit!

  152. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Tomek: Yes, Churchland is one of the biggest of the idiots, and his pseudo-scientific program is one of the worst forms of the capitalist ideology of the subject; in fact, it is quite closely related to the fascist-zen that Dooyen promotes. Using Zen to desperately cling to the delusion of a world transcendent atman is just the inverse of the endless failure to find the mind in the brain, which simply leaves us with the absolute voluntarism of the scientist, unconditioned by those “deep processes,” who can simply freely choose how to condition the rest of us. The logical errors in Churchland’s system are exactly the same as those in Skinners, he just has more incoherent pseudo-science to obscure them than Skinner did. And Churchland is just absolutely mistaken about Hume, who argued that we are in fact not at all tied to the “sensory simples,” but that we must avoid the mistake of reifying our causal abstractions.

  153. matthewmgioia Avatar

    Tom: You acknowledge the difficulty of “getting over” clinging to some subtle concept of an atman. What is your prescription for this? Can we think through it? If your answer is yes, what about those of us with average intelligence, let alone below average? Are we screwed?

    I think we may be conceiving of “thought” differently? I mean discursive thought whereas your definition seems to be much broader…

    In the school of zen that I currently participate, no special state is sought out; in fact, such seeking is considered an obstacle to the goal, which perhaps can be said to “see” the truth of anatman. As you point out, there is an obvious contradiction in this language of “seeing anatman” but I’m not sure how else to think or talk about it. Sorry for the clunky language I am on my iPhone stuck in an airport.



  154. Lee Avatar

    #148 – “There are experiences outside of language proper, but they are still structured by the imaginary register (in the Lacanian sense), which is a kind of visual or auditory or tactile “language” with which we interact with the world.”

    Ok, so I’ve done a bit of reading around on Lacan and haven’t been able to find anything that helps me to better understand your statement above. Can you elucidate a bit more how specifically experiences outside of language are structured by the imaginary register? What are the characteristics of the ‘visual, auditory, tactile “language” with which we interact with the world?

  155. Craig Avatar



    i may be off, but this is what i’ve gathered from various blog posts and this thread in particular. Buddhist techniques and materials can be used to detach from atman. For example, meditation can be used to practice states of sociopathy in order to become a murder or it can be used in a framework of awareness of ideology. my hunch is that if one truly detaches from atman, then one wouldn’t conceive of murder. its a non issue. now, this idea of realizing anatman seems to me to be as much of a myth as realizing some transcendental buddha-body. however, i am starting to see the insidiousness of how these buddhist tools are unintentionally and intentionally used to perpetuate an ideological agenda. despite this, i have been able to use meditation as a tool for self awareness and ideological awareness and dialectical thinking. meditation helps me think more skillfully and respond more appropriately to my suffering and that of others.

    oh man, did i just fall into ventriloquism in that last sentence? :-/

  156. Tom Pepper Avatar

    Re 153: Matthew, this only remains a problem so long as you continue to think of the mind atomistically. The smartest individual, in the sense of the most efficient brain, can only be as smart as the collective mind. No individual can think something that is unthinkable in the collective symbolic system. Nobody could be “screwed” or left behind, because there is no individual mind to leave others behind. The point is that it is imperative to interact with those who are trying to really see beyond the delusions, to break out of the comfortable platitudes. You, as an individual, are then “seized” (to use Badiou’s term for it) by this collective mind, and become a participant in its effort toward truth.

    As for the rhetoric of not seeking a special state, well, that has always seemed to me to be just rhetoric. All the Zen Buddhists I know are absolutely seeking a special state, looking to guarantee their own spiritual superiority. The problem isn’t just a contradiction in language, it is a real contradiction in the practice of many Zen Buddhists. If they weren’t participating in competitive sitting, they could use different language. For instance, instead of seeing the truth of anatman, we could say that we are participating collectively in a truth procedure.

    I definitely think there is a problem with limiting the term “thought” to discursive thought. It tends to allow us to forget that our perceptions and emotions are also activities of the mind and are just as much ideological as a political debate is; then we wind up convincing ourselves were have “stopped” our thought and are in some ahistorical, transcendent and universally “real” state. Which my be possible for a rock, but not for a human mind. If we limit the term thought to language, we forget that our non-linguistic mental activity is also socially constructed and ideological.

    Re 154: Lee, It took me about six years of reading Lacan and Freud to really make sense of psychoanalysis–I’ve never found anything “on” Lacan that is really helpful if you haven’t already read Lacan. There may be something, but I haven’t come across it. To give a thumbnail sketch, I would say that the imaginary is always structured because our sense perceptions are organized by our culture in meaningful ways. For instance, the kinds of physical interaction we have with infants, and the kinds of sounds we learn to attribute meaning to, are culturally different from birth. We handle baby girls differently than boys, but different cultures also hold and dress and interact with infants differently, so the sense of touch is shaped as meaningful long before we have words. Think of a simple thing like the perception of phonemes. We can’t even hear certain meaningful differences in sounds in foreign languages, because we have learned what sounds and differences between sounds have significance in our own culture. We learn what music is and what it means, or we can’t appreciate it. For instance, my mother finds Bach and Beethoven indistinguishable, and they both are “relaxing” to her, undifferentiated and calming noise, like the white noise machines or wave sounds CDs people use to get to sleep. She cannot “hear” anything in the music but random notes. We learn what colors look attractive, what kinds of things taste good and smell good. None of these sensory experiences are “pure,” even from the moment of birth. They all have meaning to us, often meaning that could be conceptualized but usually isn’t. Just like a language, our perceptions have meaning, and also just like language there are things that get foreclosed, that we don’t perceive at all, that are simply unnoticed by our mind although they might be available to the senses. For Lacan, of course, the symbolic and the imaginary are never completely separate, they interact and reconstruct one another–and then there is the whole category of the Real. I don’t know if this brief and simplified explanation really clears anything up.

  157. Lee Avatar

    Yes, it certainly helps: thanks. From your thumbnail sketch, this appears to be similar to some of the work of Henri Bortoft, who was a student of Bohm for a time. Specifically, I’m thinking of some of the work that he wrote on the role of what he calls ‘the organising idea’ in perception. He describes the effect of the organising idea in perception thus: “not the meaning OF what is seen – the meaning which IS what is seen”. He thinks that empiricists routinely miss the role of the organising idea in perception, which is the invisible activity of the mind, and that all we ever see are ‘condensations of meaning’. From memory, he illustrates this via an example of Gallileo looking through his telescope at the moon and realising that what he was seeing was topography (mountains). The empiricist narrative is that he discovered this throughdirect sense perception, but Bortoft points out that the sensory data available to the eye never changed; what changed was the perceptual organisation of the data. He also notes that geography and cartography were nascent sciences at the time, and Gallileo was likely influenced by ideas from these areas, consciously or otherwise. Visual illusions, such as the famous duck / rabbit figure can also be seen as examples of the role of ideas in organising perception. From what I remember I’m not sure what he has to say about the source of these ideas, but I’m now thinking it might be worth a re-reading.

  158. Matthew O'Connell Avatar

    Hi all, I was away in Austria on holiday in the mountains with no internet. It may seem strange to some, but wifi is not everywhere just yet. This discussion has really come on. Some very interesting points have been added with some of them warranting a much richer discussion that would probably be best in person, or at least in a dedicated blog post.
    Anyway, to respond to some of the earlier points:



    Please don’t think of me as anti-thought 🙂 I have followed this blog since I came across the article ‘Buddhist Anti-Intellectualism’ last year, which I found stimulating, refreshing and reflecting many of my own considerations. I happen to love the intellect and thought, especially when it is driven by curiosity, inquisitiveness and a willingness to hold less tightly onto held beliefs and opinions. I consider the exercise of thought to be both rich, fulfilling and often highly pleasurable and I have a very strong repulsion towards mindless Buddhism and unthinking followers.
    There is of course a difference between mindfulness and mindlessness, at least in theory, and the former can provide much needed respite from self-obsession and an inability to build space between the often claustrophobic nature of self-obsessed/neurotic ‘internal dialogue.’ These terms are problematic and I consider Frank’s reference to mental formations a clearer category, at least in which to include thought, emotions and perceptions.
    I was referring to internal dialogue as the conversation that goes on with ourselves taking on the form of speech, not borrowed from TNH, but from my coaching background and no, I do not think thought should be silenced in favour of John Kabot Zinn’s wood metaphor. Cultivating a better dialogue with ourselves and others is essential for reducing suffering. It takes time though to sift through the borrowed voices that we unwittingly absorb from parents, family, friends, our class, social standing, country, etc, and to recognise them as such. Instead of finding a mindless state to zombie out in though, a greater independence of thought and a firmer autonomy from the domination of other’s ideas can be cultivated through various Buddhist practices if followed with an active, inquiring mind.


    Dangers of meditation. The watcher that Tom mentioned is related to dissociation. Some practitioners of concentration states are capable of cultivating an extreme level of concentration that can lead to a form of disassociation from emotions, feelings and from a sense of ethics or morality. Craig mentions this in the last post. The guy in Norway, Breivik, who shot many people last year claimed he meditated to control his emotions. Oddly enough I met an ex-sas solider in a Buddhist centre years back who used concentration states to shut off his emotions and repress memories of traumatic incidents he’d lived through. He later showed signs of begin a socio-path and was thrown out of the centre for lewd behaviour towards nuns. I also met a few individuals who meditated a lot and seemed entirely detached from reality. They seemed to believe they were becoming more enlightened! For one of these chaps, who was a good friend initially, he went on like this for years, lost his girlfriend, job and blew his money. Perhaps Matthias is right that such things only happen to people with personality disorders, but I don’t if you’ve all noticed that a lot of people are pretty unbalanced.


    Re: bashing. It’s another language issue. My background is very different from yours. Bashing often implies attack, whereas criticism usually implies a more measured approach, more objective perhaps. I am certainly not against criticism. I remind you of my comments against Adyashanti and please don’t get me started on Silvio Berlusconi, the Queen of England, or Scientology (I’m a Brit, living in Italy) as I despise all three with a passion. Bashing injustice, racism, corruption, the normalisation of stupidity, etc, is a duty for any sane and reasonably intelligent individual. When I consider TNH, I would prefer we bash what’s wrong with his presentation of Buddhism and not the person: not pointing at the guy and saying ‘you’re stupid, you’re stupid!’ but, ‘That idea of yours is really stupid and here’s why I think so.’ I think it’s best just to bash the folk you know, who can respond t you and add their own voice and engage in an exchange. At times the line between bashing what’s wrong with these chaps and the chaps themselves may be in danger of being crossed and I think that that can detract from the force of the many potent and poignant opinions here. Of course you guys can do as you please and it may be a matter of interpretation.

    Tom: Your views on psychology are fascinating.


    My experience has been with Mahamudra meditation for the last three years, so although I am familiar with some of the terms you use, I am not ofay with Tibetan or Sanskrit terminology and prefer to stick with western terms as best as possible although because of the overlap from other contexts, agreeing on terms and their intended meaning is problematic: for example formless practice, spacious awareness, non-conceptual perception, non-symbolic awareness. I apologise for being so vague through the use of the term meditation and your right that it says very little in a context like this. I am often challenged to work out what I am actually trying to say when translating into Italian when I teach ‘meditation’ or coach individuals.
    Because of the nature of Mahamudra, defining what is experienced can be challenging. As you are probably aware, Mahamudra leads to the cultivation of non-conceptual awareness and although there are many teachings on releasing ‘thought’, at least in my experience, such a state is inclusive and engaged and not at all detached or thoughtless. Embracing such an experience in formal sitting practice can be highly energising and lead to insight both on and off the cushion and much of my own intellectual enquiry has been heightened and fed by this practice culminating in an intensely felt intimacy with the world.


    I really appreciated this, thanks. Happy to bash ideology. I’m constantly attempting to express myself more honestly and clearly and shedding myself of ideological indoctrination is part of that process, which is why I’m still in on this conversation. I’ve been criticising Buddhism ever since I became interested in it 20 odd years back and had a hiatus from any engagement with Buddhists for many years for some of the reasons you express in this blog.


    Hi Craig. I love that you consider me a Buddhist Helper 🙂 Thanks. It’s difficult to get a picture of a man with out eye contact I guess though and your picture of me is inaccurate I’m afraid, but amusing. Please be aware I have a lot of respect for McLeod and many of his teachings have opened my understanding of the Mahamudra practice I follow. However, I do not follow him and certainly don’t hero worship him either, or see him as special for that matter. It would be great if he were in on the conversation for the reasons I expressed above.
    In fact returning to the idea of bashing, I despise special as a category. I think we need an intense levelling of power between teachers and students and it needs to include a drastic re-evaluation of the whole concept of guru and master, which are such odious terms.
    I do coach people, you’re right there, but Buddhism has a minority role in it. I teach meditation, but primarily the four foundations of mindfulness and in a secular framework in which I am still challenged to define what I am sharing when the Buddhist bells and whistles are drastically reduced. It’s difficult not to define myself as Buddhist though when the relationship with suffering is so often the starting point for engaging with the practice of mindfulness and the reason for my own initial engagement with it.

    Okay, I’ve said enough.

  159. Craig Avatar

    Matthew (158):

    I think we need an intense levelling of power between teachers and students and it needs to include a drastic re-evaluation of the whole concept of guru and master, which are such odious terms.

    with you all the way. i think mcleod has attempted this.

  160. dooyen Avatar

    #146: Well, Matthias, it seems that now I got to you … Your posting is full of rhetoric and rage, and there is a certain ideology behind it. Victoria had a similar one, too, and that’s why he once became a persona non grata in Japan – yes, long after the (second world) war. Much of the decisions of the Japanese in that respect stemmed from the hope of defending themselves against communism which has taken a lot of Asian countries by storm, as we know, but not Japan. Of course, there was hegemonism. It was two ideologies clashing, and I at least am happy that Japan today is different from China. The massacre in Nanking has nothing to do with Zen, neither the later war crimes, as it was the Shinto religion that mainly spurred the fascists. There were never enough Zen Buddhists to go to war, to put it simply. Zen is the religion of a minority, even in Japan.

    Obviously Christians, Muslims, Agnostics and people with an ideology (like here) could and can also become mass murderers. Nowhere did I say that a Zen Buddhist who is unattached has to decide to kill, I spoke of the ability and the freedom to do it. As we all know, a lot of soldiers just did it not to become imprisoned or killed themselves. There are courts to decide over war criminals. Detachment does not mean that one is above the law and that he hasn’t got his own set of ethics. It remains an individual decision, and that’s why there were other Zen Buddhists who rejected the idea of war. Who am I to judge? I care for the present and the living, not the past and the dead.

    Zen is about freedom of the mind, and in all the cases that you and I mention (Suzuki, Omori Sogen, I may add Sawaki etc.), those teachers were never convicted on war crimes or crimes in their civilian life, as far as I know. What you do, in my opinion, is unjustified and irrational.

    As I said, it is boring to speak about a misleading book. My posting was about else, mainly, which you obviously couldn’t understand then anymore. I met teachers of the martial arts rooted in zen, and they were kind, peaceful and neither left nor right. Still, I have no doubt that their (alleged) ability to kill is that enhanced their freedom, that they could become soldiers in a war – or not. And that is the difference. Obviously, you think it is better not to have a choice. I cannot disagree more. Freedom is also about choice, it is about enhancing abilities and thinking the unthinkable.

    # 151: I never liked the Sanbokyodan development but be aware: In a war today the Theravadins would just be shot and killed, and most of the Tibetan Buddhists, too, we have proof for that in the past, we saw it in Myanmar, in China etc. You should know that Zen adepts would be much more protective, and I – as most of the rational population, I suppose – consider that an advantage. If your religion or ideology makes you more likely to be killed, there is wrong with it. If the ideology of some posters here is rather leftwing or communist, they should acknowledge that communist rulers in the world tend to hold their power longer than the accused (Japanese) fascists and accumulated a lot of more deaths in the course of time. You will find enough data by googling. It doesn’t excuse fascism (which is as pitiful as communism) but says about the mindlessness of some posters.

  161. Matthias Steingass Avatar


    Sucker: Of course I use rhetorics. Of course I am angered . I am not detached.

    And of course it is an ideology behind it. Your use of the term shows that you have no clue how it is used here. That you don’t know it and that, at the same time, you want to tell us what is right and what is wrong simply shows your hubris.

    Add to this that you have nothing but an opinion, no argument. I ask for a Satre-citiation: nil. I ask for a citation regarding Zen and non-thinking: nil. Do you give a reference in regard of Victoria’s “misleading book”? nil. The differentiation between an argument and an opinion has already been made in antique Greece. For an x-buddhist… still today no way to understand it.


    The real question is about morality? What morality is the basis for any action – including so called non-thinking?

  162. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    At one point we will have to treat the topic of non-thinking in a more comprehensive manner. But this would require a look at at least at a certain sample of different traditions and how, if at all, they treat something like this. This would be also the point where a real-life discussion would become more necessary. I think what we talk about here are experiences which some people might have, others not, they might differ, they might be dependent on the respective tradition they are passed on in…



    Mahamudra leads to the cultivation of non-conceptual awareness and although there are many teachings on releasing ‘thought’, at least in my experience, such a state is inclusive and engaged and not at all detached or thoughtless.

    “non-conceptual awareness” is of course one of those problematic terms… I think that is one instance where only a fuller treatment of this topic can help. I know what you mean with “realeasing »thought«”. I think at least here we are since some time in this blog at the point where we accept that there are many different conscious activities and I would add, some of them can be released. Again it is the question how to describe this experience.

    And the question is, for what use? I mean this neutral. What do we get out of this? I, to give an example, would say “the release” is a kind of integration. It is true, the watcher of the content of consciousness is dissociated. But watching the release of content, the upcoming and vanishing of it, becomes, in my experience then more integrated. Watching and watched is in the beginning of the practice an artificial dichotomy but it becomes clearer with time that the thought of watching also is released – but consciousness stays. This then lead back to a basic awareness which is just awareness of which the only content is awareness. This might be called an autonoetic consciousness which simply might be one capacity of our system necessary to integrate stuff into a coherent whole.

    Again, what do I get out of it? Perhaps one point is that I learn to watch the act of integration. That it is a dependent integration for example. That the certain kind of integration I am used to is a product of chance, good or bad luck (socialization). That the ability to watch how my integration works (at least partly) leads to more insight into how my individuality is formed in the interaction I am in. Maybe it leads to more insight into the arbitrariness of individuality and one consequence is that I want to be less a product of the “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” But again and again, what are the guidelines to advance? What ethics? What morality?

    One general deficiencies in traditional mahamudra and dzogchen is that this traditions developed not what we today could call a political thought. They stayed within a given dependently arisen socio-political landscape without questioning it (at least mostly, there are exceptions. Gendün Chöpel is a prominent one and also the famous Patrul Rinpoche was much more radical than most dzogchen-fans today would like it). One can even go back to Ashoka and ask if at any time in history Buddhism was something beyond a pawn in the hand of the mighty overlords? Constantin in the 4th century a.d. adopted and integrated the then new christian religion. Maybe he or Ashoka were moved by some insights the new religion triggered, but like Ashoka he stayed a politician, a ruler who had to consolidate his empire…

  163. dooyen Avatar

    well, for some reason I cannot send a longer post anymore.

  164. dooyen Avatar

    anyway, i have prepared links and said you do not get it, in zen your moral stems from nonthinking which is the detachment from categories like good or bad. it is the other way round.

  165. dooyen Avatar

    As you can see, it is a bit difficult for me to post as I am traveling, not at home, and I have to face more technical problems like short circuits… So I have to write my last posting again, here is a shorter version.

    I am not interested to adapt your ideology or terms and I believe that some googling to understand my postings is required from the others and not too much to ask for.

    The Sarte posting (existentialism and zen) will appear in my own blog next month, one has to read it there.

    References to Victoria are on the Antaiji website (letters that the abbot and Victoria exchanged), for Omori Sogen and the moral behind martial arts see here:

  166. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    # 165

    moral stems from nonthinking

    That’s is exactly the mistake.

    I am not interested to adapt your ideology or terms

    And that proofs again that you don’t know what this here is about. Nobody ever will ask you to adopt ‘our’ ideology. Was ein Mist.

  167. dooyen Avatar

    If your thinking is attached and not detached, your moral will have the usual flaws. I said it before, nonthinking allows thinking, but without your common categories, differentation and judgement. That by the way is the reason why Sartre, contrary to most of the writers, or let us say his protagonist, in DER EKEL (Disgust) was the only one to console a gay man after he had tenderly stroked some pupils in a library and was heavily scolded by others. Sarte’s protagonist had simply enhanced the range of his doings after his awakening (and in spite of his basic feeling of disgust). This is a matter of freedom, and Buddhism should be about the freedom of mind.

  168. dooyen Avatar

    I know what this is about and I will try to send the rest of my longer posting. It is about a deconstruction process of words and habits. And this was done from the beginning of zen, it is the core of its teaching. That is why your efforts, as I hope, will reform the Buddhism most of you probably come from (Theravadin and Tibetan) and confirm what zen was about from the beginning. You have a lot of questions, and zen was created to answer them.

  169. dooyen Avatar

    well anyway, for nonthinking just google it, look esp. for huineng. the technical problems with this blog tell me to go somewhere else.

  170. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    This is where one can find the Muho-Victoria Exchange. It is about one point/person in Victorias book: Kodo Sawaki. It is in no way a general refutation of Victoria’s work.

  171. Lee Avatar

    “None of these sensory experiences are “pure,” even from the moment of birth. They all have meaning to us, often meaning that could be conceptualized but usually isn’t. Just like a language, our perceptions have meaning, and also just like language there are things that get foreclosed, that we don’t perceive at all, that are simply unnoticed by our mind although they might be available to the senses”

    This is interesting, and puts me in mind of Korzybski’s map / territory distinction. You seem to be saying, in slightly different terminology, that we learn a description / model of the world by virtue of being born into a pre-existing culture, because most (all?) of our transactions with the world are shaped by this culture. As natural makers of meaning, all perceptions are meaningful and we can’t not create / learn a model / ideology. This model / ideology will circumscribe the kinds of experiences we have, the things we do / don’t notice, value etc. How does new stuff get into the model? You have previously said that there is nothing outside of ideology, and I have potentially misunderstood what you mean by this. Here you indicate that there is indeed stuff outside of ideology, but I’m wondering if what you mean is that we are incapable of experiencing something unless / until it becomes part of our model / ideology; i.e. humans, in a sense, can never get outside their model? An example would be to give somebody an instruction to notice something that he had never noticed before; in order to do so, he would have to interrogate his categories of possible things I could notice (ideology / model), but he could not, by definition, notice something for which he does not yet have a category.

  172. Tom Pepper Avatar

    Lee, re 172: The difficulty is that you are still thinking in terms of an autonomous mind that is somehow “in” ideology, that “has” and ideology which filters the world from it. What I want to suggest is that the mind is a collective thing, that it is ideology, that ideology is, in a sense, the collective mind working to reproduce itself. There is always also the possibility for knowledge of the mind-independent world, but in Badiou’s idiom “truths always appear in Worlds.” We can know the mind-independent world, but it is the mind knowing it, for reasons and with intentions. This doesn’t make it less mind-independent, though. If I pick up a rock with the intention of using it as a weapon, it has an ideological being for me, but it is the same rock, and doesn’t turn into a sword or a gun because of my ideology. The real world limits the success of our ideology, and that is one was we can see what we don’t expect; however, we also have to keep in mind, as Althusser says, and as psychoanalysis demonstrates, that ideology isn’t a smoothly running program, that there are conflicts and gaps and errors in it, and there are multiple ideologies in existence that can clash, so there is always going to be the need and possibility for expansion and growth. Ideology doesn’t “circumscribe” our experiences, it is our experiences, and it is not some hermetically sealed program, but the way we interact with the world.

  173. Lee Avatar

    Ok, I’ll have a proper think on when I’ve got a bit more time and come back to you

  174. Lee Avatar

    Tom, leaving aside some of the more difficult references (Althusser, Lacan) and questions about the exact nature of the collective mind for the time being, I want to summarise where I think we have got to in the discussion so far, for the purpose of establishing whether I broadly understand what you are saying.

    There are no “pure” sensory experiences, only perceptions, which are the meanings that we make out of sensory data. Prior learning / knowledge, which is transmitted culturally, influences perceptions; knowledge actively structures perception, and knowledge is socially constructed.

    In the context of the ‘mindfulness’ discussion, then, I wonder if your expanded definition of thought is synonymous with the on-going activity of perceiving, which would still be structured by prior knowledge, learning and expectation? Misunderstanding the goal of meditation as simply being free of discursive thought would prevent someone from the possibility of seeing the pre-existing cultural / knowledge / social structures and formations that are actively shaping his / her on-going perceptions whilst ‘meditating’. To be able to become aware of some of these structures / formations and their influence, is not necessarily to do away with them, but to introduce some a degree of choice about whether to accept / act on them where previously there was none.

    Where am I understanding you more or less accurately, and where am I still not clearly getting what you are trying to say?

  175. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Lee, re 175: Yes, this is pretty much my point. When we think we are achieving “pure” perception, we are simply managing to exclude anything that might interrupt, contradict, or interfere with our ideology. We are reinforcing our ideology, closing the “correlationist circle” which assures us that our thoughts are in alignment with the unknowable “thing-in-itself.” The reason for the “more difficult reference” is that they help us figure out how to get out of this trap. Not all thought is ideological, the mind is not atomistic, there is a leftover of the real–these ideas help us to understand that we can know, non-ideologically, what our ideology is. We can’t stop having any ideology at all (well, perhaps we could, if we were Jainsists), but we can know our ideology is an ideology and take steps to ameliorate it.

    The fact that there are no “pure” experiences isn’t a problem, once we give up on the notion of an atman, and the idea that knowledge “reflects” reality in the pure mirror of the world-transcendent mind. Knowledge is a tool with which we interact with the one another and the world, not necessarily a reflection of anything outside of it.

  176. Lee Avatar

    In that case, my apologies, it would appear you do know your arse from a whole in the ground. However, this is, after all, the ‘punk’ buddhist blog, and a bit of slanging match is preferable, in my view, to the standard fake, passive aggressive ‘metta’. I appreciate the time you’ve taken to clarify your points and I feel that I understand much better what you are saying. The intellectual antecedents that you seem to draw a lot of your ideas from are very unfamiliar to me, and it requires time to work out similarities / differences to my current understandings and ideas / theories / models that I am more familiar with, but I’ve definitely found the process stimulating and I’ll continue to follow up on other aspects that are still unclear to me.

  177. matthewmgioia Avatar

    Re 176, 177: Lee, get your tongue out of Tom’s ass for a second.

    Tom, unfortunately I am still a bit lost here, although your previous comments to me have stirred my torpid mind and got me thinking, which I appreciate.

    The reason for the “more difficult reference” is that they help us figure out how to get out of this trap. Not all thought is ideological, the mind is not atomistic, there is a leftover of the real–these ideas help us to understand that we can know, non-ideologically, what our ideology is. We can’t stop having any ideology at all (well, perhaps we could, if we were Jainsists), but we can know our ideology is an ideology and take steps to ameliorate it.

    So the mind is not atomistic – I’m not arguing against this, and you have helped me to see how x-buddhism has a strong tendency to treat it as atomistic What confuses me is that if there is no “mind” or “atman,” what is it that can stand apart from ideology to “know” it? That sounds familiar…



  178. Lee Avatar

    Touche Matt, Touche. I was expecting that 🙂

  179. Craig Avatar

    Below is a quote from Ken Mcleod. It’s his most recent practice tip. He was trained in Tibetan, but refers to his teaching as pragmatic buddhism. On the surface, it looks pretty good. A closer look reveals insistence on Non-Thinking that has been a theme of this thread. Thinking is just reactive patterns according to McCleod. Other x-buddhist buzz words here are ‘Clarity’ and ‘Open’. The transcendent part is the promise that if you sit in the mess of thoughts and emotions with out resorting to reactive patterns you experience an unspeakable quality that leads you to the ‘right’ response. Thoughts?

    When you encounter difficult circumstances, sit in the mess of thoughts and feelings that arise. In really difficult situations, trying to figure out what to do usually doesn’t work. Why? You find the situation difficult because a lot of patterns in you are competing with each other. Each one is trying to impose its view and its solution on the situation. Turmoil is always internally generated, as patterns and identities struggle to maintain themselves. You can’t rely on your thoughts and feelings here, as they are all generated by patterns.

    Instead, keep sitting in the mess until you find a quality of open clarity in the mess. Open means you aren’t suppressing anything. Clarity means that you know that thoughts are thoughts and feelings are feelings. The intensity of your thoughts and feelings then lessens. You still feel everything but you no longer struggle against the mess. It’s tricky, because as soon as you are distracted even a little, they all start up again and grab your attention. Keep coming back to that open clarity and resting in the mess.

    As you rest there, you taste an unnameable quality, nothing you can put into words. There is a knowing in that quality, and, eventually, a knowing what to do. It doesn’t arise conceptually. It’s just there. You may be able to put it into words, even explain it to others, but that is after the fact and, in the end, beside the point. When you do act, you don’t feel brave, you don’t feel that you are being benevolent, or trusting, and you don’t feel that you are acting with integrity. You just know what to do, and you do it.

  180. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Re 178: There is a mind, just not an atman. The mind is conventionally real, the effect of capacities of the human animal for symbolic communication and of social formations–but it is still real. The atman which early Buddhists argued did not exist is the world-transcendent consciousness or what we usually call the soul–what Mcleod is assuming in the passage Craig quotes above (Alan Wallace calls it a “substrate consiousness”). The mind is real, but not permanent or atomistic. It is real in the same way that the United States is real–it exists as a human social creation, but then in turn has causal powers that constrain what we can do. We don’t have to “stand apart” to know we have ideology, any more than we need to step outside our bodies to “know” we feel tired. We can think about things outside our own ideology, about the mind-independent world, and in the same way we can think about the structure of the ideology in which we exist. This isn’t always easy, because often our ideology includes a denial that it is an ideology–but there is no necessity that ideology pretend to ontological status.

    Also, there are always multiple ideologies–in a sense, multiple collective minds–and we can usually more easily point out somebody else’s ideology, so the very fact that the mind is not atomistic, and that there is always a struggle between different ideologies, is part of the reason we aren’t necessarily stuck in the correlationist circle. Plus, our ideologies fail to help us interact with the world, or have gaps or contradictions in them–there are all kinds of reasons we can “see” them without ever being free of an ideology. It is perfectly possible to both understand that human equality and the right of all people to dignified work and a fair share of the world’s resources is an ideology–the universe doesn’t care if we believe in this, and in cosmological time we’ll be gone in a minute anyway–we can know this is an ideology, and still choose to believe in it because we think it is the best one we can come up with right now.

  181. Lee Avatar

    Not re anything in particular, but a bit of a synthesis of various discussion points so far, and thoughts / possible associations / questions that they have stimulated in me.


    Knowledge is active because ideas organise sense data into meaningful perceptions; it’s impossible to have a meaningless experience.

    On meditation:

    So, I’m meditating and I’m letting go of discursive thoughts as often as I become aware that I’ve become carried away in them. I begin to notice the arising and passing away of sounds, sensations, feelings, thoughts and images; and over time I learn to become less involved in any of those kinds of activities. But who is the seer of these activities of mind, and what is this seer’s relationship to these activities? Is (s)he not also an activity of the mind? An idea of a seer / self, organising sense data, creating an illusory perception of a transcendent seer, witnessing all the other activities of the mind?


    ‘Is this a knife I see before me?’ Lady Macbeth, when not trusting her sight, reaches out to touch the blade, seeking confirmation from another sense perception; a double description of an apparent phenomenon, which helps to better understand what kind of phenomena it is. Different descriptions / meanings of the same experience / sense data; not in order to figure out which one is most true, but to see better the effect that each has on us, to loosen the grip of any single one.

    In the same spirit, different possible descriptions of the phenomenon of ‘the seer’:

    • An illusory transcendent entity; an active idea in the mind, shaping sense data into perceptions of a persisting self

    • A different order of activity in the mind; thinking about thinking; meta-cognition, but with no meta-cognitive entity; an emergent
    phenomenon that is there when it is, and is not when it is not. Like trying to open the fridge door and catch it with the light off; it’s always on when you look, because you look

    • Emptiness. Space. Transcendent, but also immanent, because it’s also contiguous with the world. Emptiness cannot be subdivided, there is only one space. The groundless ground

    Any resonances for anyone?

  182. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Craig (#180). My thoughts? Here are a few.

    Ken “The Wizard of Oz” McLeod’s statement is pure mystagoguery, in both senses of that term: (1) In having already “rested there” in that “unnameable quality,” he is capable of initiating others into the “quality of open clarity;” (2) In the name of utter naturalness and self-evidence, he erects a mystical framework and packs it full of opaque power words.

    Ken McLeod is, in other words, full of shit. A non-buddhist dictum holds that an x-buddhist teacher is someone who doesn’t do what he says he does and doesn’t say what he actually does. His claims here concerning cognition and affect are demonstrably inoperable. Some of what he is claiming is simply known as “thinking clearly.” But he seems to assume that his readers are pretty stupid people who are incapable of good thinking and mature response to emotion. So, Teacher-Patriarch McCleod must explain things in terms an eight-year-old can grasp. Yet, he is in the end suspicious that good thinking can do the job; so, he coats the advice with mysticism.

    This statement is to me yet further proof that contemporary western x-buddhism is in the hands of facile fools. Facile, because they are content with offering shallow advice on even the most pressing and intractable human problems–advice as profound and considered as a Hallmark card. Fools, because they actually believe that they have real, substantive advice to offer anyone.

    With people like McLeod, Sharon Salzberg, Thich Nhat Hahn, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Lama Surya Das, Pema Chodron, the Dalai Lama, Robert Thurman, and so many others, I offer one last thought:

    X-buddhist teacher = a species of clown.

  183. Craig Avatar



    Thanks for the response. I really appreciate it. I’m still trying to get my head around the non-buddhist critique. I can definitely empathize with the affective reaction to x-buddhist teachers. I listen/read Ken McLeod and automatically suppress questions and thinking. In his talks, when someone does as a question he responds condescendingly and gives some advice that sounds ‘practical’ but is, like you say, coated in mysticism and deceit. Taking basic life skills and shrouding them in mystery and then selling them back to us as ancient buddhist wisdom. Luckily, I never really was able to practice as McLeod suggests. Rest in What?! I’m glad to move beyond some of the affective consequences and really critique this so-called transcendental wisdom with he non-buddhist heuristics.

    BTW-one thing that always irked me about listening to x-buddhist treaters is their insistence on ‘meditation instruction’ as some sort of mystical spell that must be given to the right person in the special ceremonial hall. Reading meditation instructing is not good enough.

    Also, I’m curious about folks non-buddhist thoughts on the Insight gurus…Salzberg etc. They ‘seem’ so down to earth, but are they. I’ll do some research myself.

    The Clown Has No Clothes!

  184. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    Generally it is my impression, reading this thread, if we take as a departure for any knowledge about what we are and what we are doing when thinking, when we try to improve thinking etc, if our point of departure are people like TNH, people like Dooyen, McLeod or any other ‘meditation-teacher’ we always frame our discussion in a certain way before we even start.

    In the case of people like Alan Wallace and Ken McLeod for example, certain aspects of human consciousness are regarded as very special and most holy. The nature of mind, substrate consciousness, open clarity, awareness and whatever differentiations they will make, there is this kind of consciousness which (1) will survive death and from which (2) all morality is derived. The second part is called enlightened intent, supermind or whatever.

    Both points are simply wrong and the second one is outright dangerous. The example given in #180 shows this. It is the same point Dooyen makes. All what is said is that there is this “unnamable quality” and that “there is a knowing in that quality, and, eventually, a knowing what to do.” This basic assumption ignores that there are a multitude of ‘sub-systems’ underlying our conscious activity which constantly are at work to produce what we finally regard as what we are. Think for example about grammatical rules or how to use fork and knife. Nobody thinks about them when speaking or eating. The same goes with this basic awareness. It is as far as we can know today a product of either social or biological evolution or a mixture of both. The point is that it is the most basic level we can experience but still there is a lot ‘below’ generating this most basic awareness. If we take it for granted that with this basic awareness comes automatically insight in how to act rightfully we make a grave mistake. If we simply ignore the un-, pre- or subconscious subsystems (both psychoanalytically and cognitively) then in the last instance we ignore that there can be motivations for our acting unknown to us. To ignore this possibility is acting amorally. Outright dangerously it gets if people acting like this come into situations where there is really something at stake.

    I think it is useless to go on in the discussion taking as a departure point such meditation advice.

    Regarding what Lee says in #182 “Like trying to open the fridge door and catch it with the light off.” That is basically the phenomenon of basic awareness as a part of our system which functions as a ‘space’ in which specific intra- and extracorporal phenomena are integrated. That it is often denominated in spatial metaphors in Buddhist traditions might have to do with the possibility that an unconscious cognitive subsystem which generates spatial orientation might be at work here too. The inability to catch the fridge with the lights off is an autoepistemic closure: regarding ourselves from within, phenomenologically, in first person experience, there are certain knowledge boundaries which we cannot pass and – that is the point – we cannot even recognize. That is the point where on the social side ideology comes into play and on the biological side cognitive psychology etc.

    What we see here too is that when we begin to use such a language everything holy at once vanishes. And that is of course the point where a lot of people loose interest.

    This all is not say that any praxis which uses concentration on the content of ones own individuality for example is useless. But we have to ask what we really gain. Better concentration for example. The ability to focus better. Or recognizing developing emotions earlier etc. pp. This all can have impact on social interaction. The above said for example can help in a dispute to better differentiate fact from emotion or argument from ad hominem. In this sense it can be useful – and it helps in this sense to develop morality.

    It is really a decision to stay with unnamable qualities or to say good by to x-buddhist fraud.

  185. Lee Avatar

    #185 – Matthias

    “…the phenomenon of basic awareness as a part of our system which functions as a ‘space’ in which specific intra- and extracorporal phenomena are integrated. That it is often denominated in spatial metaphors in Buddhist traditions might have to do with the possibility that an unconscious cognitive subsystem which generates spatial orientation might be at work here too. The inability to catch the fridge with the lights off is an autoepistemic closure: regarding ourselves from within, phenomenologically, in first person experience, there are certain knowledge boundaries which we cannot pass and – that is the point – we cannot even recognize”

    Am I correct in thinking that you are drawing on some of Thomas Metzinger’s work re auto-epistemic closure here?

  186. Matthew O'Connell Avatar

    173, 176.
    I think I am starting to get a grasp of what you’re getting at Tom. This is fascinating material that requires further exploration and consideration on my part. Again, it would be great to see these points discussed with the x-Buddhist elite themselves. I wonder how challenged they would feel by such ideas and such a challenge to their world-view. I really can’t see the value in holding onto a single perspective defined by blind obedience to a system of thought and meaning making, even if it’s Buddhism and promises deliverance in the form of enlightenment (whatever that is: see Dave Chapman’s recent post on this). If the ideological Buddhist frame within which they function is truly valid and able to deliver as promised, discussing and examining it from an outside perspective in which the ideas expressed and explored in this blog are presented should only bring greater clarity and perhaps an evolutionary step in addressing the weaknesses and failings created by insider blindness. Tom, or Glenn, have you considered writing a book on the topics here in this blog?

    I am particularly interested in the insider outsider dichotomy regarding meditational experience as I am a long-term practitioner of Buddhist meditation; primarily Mahamudra style. My question, which might seem absurd, is whether the ineffable is actually ineffable, or whether we lack the ability to define certain human experiences which are the result of practising meditation, in this case Mahamudra and Dzogchen, in a language that is not embedded in a Buddhist tradition and the language used there.
    Perhaps not? Perhaps reporting on meditational experience and results is too subjective and unable to be tested so that we’re left with the claims of teachers and use of metaphors and abstract language which lends itself to the sustaining of mystical and vague interpretations of experiences which are embedded in the context of a tradition? I can’t help but think that it must be possible though.
    Mahamudra and Dzogchen are traditions that have been around for hundreds of years.They are up to something. Experiences are seemingly being replicated and I would assume there is some continuity in shared experience in order to maintain the traditions and keep producing new books and texts that describe and disseminate the practices and their view of mind and the path and supposedly these experiences are replicable outside the tradition too. I’m not saying this justifies their views, but rather indicates that people are following these traditions and having experiences that may have value or meaning outside of the system itself. My curiosity regards what is really going on in the experience of these people and defining it within a non-Buddhist language when they say, for instance, I feel a sense of profound inner silence, deep connection, awakenedness, freedom from discursive thought, intimate non-separation from the world around me, spacious awareness, etc. Again, if what is claimed as possible by a tradition, or practice, holds up, the results they allude to should be definable and replicable outside of the tradition. Right?
    In sports coaching there is the concept of ‘being in the zone’. Athletes when reporting how they feel and experience activity at their optimal ability indicate very similar details. They report a state of merging fully with the activity itself. There is no watcher, reporting back, planning or conceptualising the next swing of the bat they are going to take. They act on instinct with heightened awareness of what is taking place. The usually report an absence of discursive thought. I am wondering whether ‘being in the zone’ is comparable to a non-dual experience, in a subjective sense?
    You’ve argued that supposed non-dual, open-awareness experiences are not what they seem, or at least they are not what upholders of tradition would have us believe. My second question then is what are they? Or better, how would you define them from the ideological stance taken by the three key contributors of this blog?

    By the way Matthias, I agree with the dodgy proposition of acting morally from a space of no-thought made by McLeod and Doogel..sorry, Dooyen.

  187. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    # 186, Lee.

    That is correct. We have had discussions here already about the pros and cons with Metzinger’s approach but I have no time now to locate them right now.

    I am drawing on Metzinger’s Précis: Being No One. (1) There he sketches his Selfmodel of Subjectivity etc. It contains a short paragraph about transparency which I find very important in regard of ‘meditation’ – when it is said that somewhere from a “clear and open space cometh forth the great wisdom oh my dear little children of earth.” Principally he says we are caught in a naïv realism if we rely soley on introspection.

    (1) I have here an english version from Psyche, June 2005. This is even shorter then the German version. Here is the relevant passage (bolds are Metzinger’s) :

    1.1.3. Transparency The third constraint for phenomenal consciousness is transparency. It is a phenomenological concept (and not an epistemological one) which, however, implies a lack of knowledge. Transparency is a special form of darkness. In particular, phenomenal transparency means that something particular is not accessible for subjective experience, namely the representational nature of the contents of conscious experience. What makes a phenomenal representation transparent is the attentional unavailability of earlier processing stages in the brain for introspection. The instruments of representation themselves cannot be represented as such, and hence the system making the experience, on this level and by conceptual necessity, is entangled in a naïve realism: In standard configurations, one’s phenomenal experience has an untranscendably realistic character.

    Naïve realism can also be accommodated on the epistemological level by introducing the concept of “autoepistemic closure”. It is an epistemological, and not (at least not primarily) a phenomenological concept. It refers to an ”inbuilt blind spot”, a structurally anchored deficit in the capacity to gain knowledge about oneself. Specifically, the autoepistemic closure consists in human beings in ordinary waking states not being able to realize the simple fact that the content of their subjective experiences inevitably has strong, self-constructed aspects, because it is representational content, and that it always is simulational, counterfactual content.

    I find this passage should by law be printed in every book about ‘meditation’.

  188. Lee Avatar

    Thanks Matthias, I have come across Metzinger and some elements of his work in brief before, but I have just ordered a copy of ‘Being No One’ now. I’ll look up other discussions here on the site that you refer to.

  189. Tomek Avatar

    I find this passage should by law be printed in every book about ‘meditation’.

    Matthias #188, what a remarkably different attitude you present toward a theory claiming the existence of sublinguistic deep processes, when comparing it to Tom’s angry reactions, I mean for example, his calling Churchland ‘one of the biggest of the idiots’ and agents of capitalist ideology as in #152. I really wonder, what is the difference between such concepts as Metzinger’s transparency or auto-epistemic closure and Churchland’s ‘ampliative coading layers’, high-level epistemic invariants or neurocomputational metastructures? They seem to stem exactly from the same naturalistic approach toward consciousness, wary of the cultish tendencies among the idealists looking for their true home in phenomenology of symbolic/imaginary systems. So maybe Metzinger also belongs to the same ‘moronic’, manipulative and acquisitive ilk of reductive materialists? What do you think?

  190. Matthew O'Connell Avatar
    Matthew O’Connell

    Metzinger looks fascinating. The passage you quote is eye-opening. I shall do some reading and perhaps return to the discussion a little wiser and more offay with the mor etechnical language beign used in the last few comments.

  191. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    Matthew #187, Tomek #190

    I am bit done for today, so I come back to this tomorrow.

    Regarding Metzinger and “autoepistemic closure” – just this part – I can say that my main point is, with this I get away with less ontological speculation, that is it’s Occam’s razor applied.

    Tom’s argument is, I think, that Metzinger is reproducing a homunculus, that he reproduces an atomistic, autonomous self somehow and that he is in a way reproducing an ideology of exploitation. I really don’t understand it at this point in time but I think this is interesting stuff we will have to discuss.

  192. Tomek Avatar

    Tom’s argument is, I think, that Metzinger is reproducing a homunculus, …

    Matthias, yes, I remember that bizarre argument well. It would be really interesting stuff if someone could technically explain how Metzinger is reproducing a homunculus in his theory? That would be truly an enlightening experience to me!

  193. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    Tomek, #190

    Your question makes me thinking about my general position.

    A position I hold must work with the least possible amount of ontological speculation. Example: In certain forms of Tibetan Buddhism are described experiences named nature of mind, sky-like awareness, space-like mind, pure awareness, vast expanse, unchanging realm of space, utter lucidity, timelessly free of elaboration, primordially pure awakened mind, timeless awareness or it’s simply called (=translated) awareness. This experience really isn’t so difficult to establish – at least to my knowledge – and I would say: it is nothing special. I think these are descriptions of phenomenological investigations of practitioners of certain techniques we call commonly ‘meditation’. As far as dzogchen is concerned this basic space of phenomena (another denomination) is the center of a theory of experience. From it energy radiates, forming thought, concept, habit etc. pp. It is quite an elaborate conception which goes far beyond these few words. I would say it is, indeed, for the time in which it developed (dzogchen high-time didn’t last much after the 13th century) not so bad. It only had one major flaw. It is thought as deathless. Looked at it from the standpoint of a naïve realism this makes sense because it really makes the impression that it is an unchanging entity.

    I leave a lot aside here. How is my experience formed through my environment, how do I know what ‘they’ experienced? The thought of transmigration has been in Tibet before the arrival of Buddhism and it was integrated into Tibetan Buddhism. There have been forms of dzogchen without such speculative elements or better said, which tried to get rid of them etc. pp. But finally the doctrine of the transmigration of this most subtle thing prevailed.

    Today we know it is not the most subtle thing. We know for sure that before we gain conscious experience of something there are a lot of cognitive steps of processing before we finally ‘see’ it. In short, this opens the possibility that there is something else I don’t know. Metzinger’s “transparency” just describes this situation. I won’t say it is the only possible position, it just makes much more sense than the Gelug-prasangika stuff of the Shangri-Lama.

    More important. With the basic space of phenomena is coupled a sublime knowing from which enlightened intent comes. Meaning basically you know what to do whatever happens. I think, if there is the possibility that there is something ‘below’ then the necessity arises to really make sure on what sublime knowing depends. In short, its the question of ethics and morality.

    My point is. This theory is obsolete not so much because somebody believes in reincarnation (although that’s bad enough) but because it can’t provide a sound reasoning for morality. Metzinger simply gives me input to widen my horizon. That’s all.

    On the other side I don’t see how any conscious experience x could by reduced to any physical state y. It makes no sense to me because an experience is no discrete countable element. This it would need to be to map it on an y. So there seems to be a categorical error if a mapping is intended. It is an hermeneutical argument I would say. An experience has a meaning, meaning con-text and – vive la différance – a fixed con-text is impossible. Thus meaning changes and experience as flux escapes the neurologist.

    In this way consciousness independent of body is impossible but it isn’t reducible to the body either. Perhaps our ontology is not the right one?

    As for Metzinger’s model and Churchland. I am in no position to discuss Churchland and only in a minor one to discuss Metzinger but I don’t see where the atomism comes in. His model has two components. The phenomenal self-model and the phenomenal model of intentional relation. Both together make up his full model of subjectivity, and the second part provides for the whole interactional part. Either I still don’t understand atomism or I don’t see the flaw in Metzinger’s model. At least I would say Metzinger provides us with a very detailed idea – much more elaborate then anything Tibetan. I read the argument that Metzinger says nothing new in regard of the hard problem of being somebody. But in my eyes that doesn’t change the fact that with his model and others – E. Tulving: memory systems, for example – we have a much more detailed language to describe meditation practices, personality and its structure.

    The important point Tom is making: To what end is it used? Its again about ethics. Seems the main question to me.

    Matthew, #187. These are some good questions. Stuff for a complete article. I come back to it.

  194. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Re Metzinger: I’m not sure I can make my the point about Metzinger any clearer than I made it in this post on “Meditation and Control”:

    I have trouble with the whole Metzinger “primitive and pre-reflective form of self-awareness” thing. It just doesn’t make sense to me: what could “awareness” mean if it is not “reflective”? Metzinger refers to “non-conceptual self-knowledge,” but what could knowledge be outside of concepts? He says this non-conceptual “knowledge . . . precedes any higher forms of cognitive self-consciousness,” but I think he ultimately fails to explain how we make that leap, from some presumed thought-free knowledge to “cognitive” knowledge. This all sounds too much like the sophistical maneuvers of the cognitive psychologists; he simply moves from the body as organic machine to the conscious self by a series of elisions and conflations of terms (cognition, thought, knowledge, awareness, concepts), that avoids explanation.

    As a result, when he makes statements like:
    “My claim is that – ontologically speaking – no such things as selves exist in the world. What actually exists is a special kind of self-models and their contents, and this content makes us believe that we actually do have, or are identical to, a self”
    there is more than just grammatical necessity in the terms “us” and “we.” Who is this “us” that has this belief? This is consistently glossed over by Metzinger and materialist-reductionist thinkers like the Churchlands—or else they claim it is just a necessity of our language. I would argue that the “we” is the locus of the sense of self—the symbolic order that the individual is interpellated into. The self may be an illusion, a misrecognition, in some sense, but it is not an illusion of the ever receding “we” that becomes just another homunculus problem. It is the construction of the symbolic/imaginary system, socially produced by multiple individuals.

    Metzinger seems to me still stuck in the atomist problem, that the consciousness must be inside the individual brain—and until we let that go, we are going to endlessly rehearse the same Cartesian problems. Even positive reviewers of Metzingers book in the philosophical journals have pointed this out—he says much that is interesting and useful, but he has ultimately only put the old Cartesian problem in new terms, pushed the homunculus down one more level.

    The point is there must be, in Metzinger’s model, a world-transcendent observer who is the “I” being deceived by the self-models and their contents. This is exactly the error Hume makes in the Treastise, although Hume realized it was disingenuous to simply call it a “problem of language” and admitted it was a flaw in his philosophical system, a problem he could not solve. Metzinger claims he has solved it by simply refusing to acknowledge it–that is, he just insists that we accept his poor logical, that we pay no attention to the “we” behind the curtain.

  195. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    My point is not so much about Metzinger’s model, I think this would need a more comprehensive treatment.

    My point is about introspection and introspective praxis. I think we can say for sure that there is a barrier for introspection ‘below’ which experience is impossible. The really important point in regard of certain forms of Buddhism are the implications for morality.

    Another point is about non-conceptual or sub-symbolic knowledge. What do we man here? If one differentiates memory-systems we can, for example, identify a “procedural memory”. How to ride a bicycle, how to play piano etc. This is a knowledge we learn via certain techniques but we cannot speak about it in semantic terms. If this would be the case I could learn playing the piano like I solve a logical problem. Or try to explain someone how to identify an octave…

    Maybe it is thinkable that we train, if we learn to introspect more precisely, some kind of procedural knowledge. Or to put it in another way: with what kind of our different cognitive abilities do we learn to steer our focus of attention?

    Another take. Perhaps if someone trains this strange ‘pure awareness’ he just learns how to empty his short term memory?

    For me it is not so much about the ontology of these phenomena but it is about describing them more systematically in their functionality and to see what implications follow. What if ‘pure awareness’ is just an empty short term memory? This would have dramatic consequences for people who postulate a sublim knowing coming from it when in reality it is like flushing the toilet.

    I through this in as speculation. What if?

  196. Lee Avatar

    “A position I hold must work with the least possible amount of ontological speculation. Example: In certain forms of Tibetan Buddhism are described experiences named nature of mind, sky-like awareness, space-like mind, pure awareness, vast expanse, unchanging realm of space, utter lucidity, timelessly free of elaboration, primordially pure awakened mind, timeless awareness or it’s simply called (=translated) awareness. This experience really isn’t so difficult to establish – at least to my knowledge – and I would say: it is nothing special. I think these are descriptions of phenomenological investigations of practitioners of certain techniques we call commonly ‘meditation’. As far as dzogchen is concerned this basic space of phenomena (another denomination) is the center of a theory of experience. From it energy radiates, forming thought, concept, habit etc. pp. It is quite an elaborate conception which goes far beyond these few words. I would say it is, indeed, for the time in which it developed (dzogchen high-time didn’t last much after the 13th century) not so bad. It only had one major flaw. It is thought as deathless. Looked at it from the standpoint of a naïve realism this makes sense because it really makes the impression that it is an unchanging entity.”

    # 194 Matthias, a thought provoking post. Before I start, I should make it clear that in what follows I am not claiming that ‘it is the case’, but rather ‘here are some speculative interpretations that I have considered’… otherwise, no doubt, another intellectual roasting from Tom will be in the pipeline.

    The first point relates to ontological speculation about this phenomenological ‘space’; if ontology is study of categories of existents, in what sense can emptiness be said to exist? Is this why it is sometimes referred to as deathless, i.e. because it has no corporeality in any sense, it’s merely ‘empty for’ corporeality / existents of all types. It certainly couldn’t be an unchanging entity, but I can see how it could easily become reified as such through language and cultural practices.

    The second point is more difficult to articulate, but it has to do with causality in some sense. We could postulate that this experience of space is a bottom up product of the material processes of the brain, as does Metzinger (as far as I can tell from the little I’ve read so far), i.e. a virtual space, which would be atomistic in the sense that it’s a product of an individual brain. Or, is it simply possible that this space simply IS the fundament; that everything comes from and has it’s being in nothing, in some sense? I’m not sure this would be a transcendent in the obvious sense; ‘it’ would be entirely contiguous with the physical universe.

    Apologies for the somewhat simplistic presentation of the ideas here, and if this territory has already been covered on the blog. Interested to know thoughts.

  197. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel


    1. What is the importance of cultivating sensibility ?
    2. Is sensibility important for moral development ?
    3. Is sensbility important for applying ethics ?
    4. Is sensibility important to bring the practice out of the zendo ?
    5. Is sensibility important for creativity ?
    6. How can one cultivate sensibility ?
    7. Is Buddhist practice a useful tool for cultivating sensibility ?
    8. In what especific forms ?
    9. Is vegetarianism a form of sensibility ?
    10. Is practising a mindful existence a form of cultivating sensibility ?
    11. What is the relantionship between suffering and sensibility ?
    12. And between sensbility and contingency ?
    13. And between sensibility and compassion / solidarity ?
    14. What is the rol of sensibility in beauty and art ?
    15. What is the rol of sensibility in creativity ?
    16. What is the rol of creativity in making a better world for all ?
    17. Why do people become insensible to their own pain and suffering ?
    18. Why do people become insensible to the suffering of other ?
    19. Why has Buddhism developed pain-avoiding mechanisms ?
    20. Is sensibility important for science, philosophy or academia ?
    21. What is the relationship between sensibility and power abuse ?
    22. How do sensibility and mass media violence interact ?
    23. What is the importance of sensibility in relationship ?
    24. Wha is the importance of sensibility in pleasure ?
    25. What is the relationship between sensibility and meditation ?
    26. What is the relationship between sensibility and depression ?
    27. What is the rol of sensibility in thinking and questioning ?

  198. Craig Avatar

    Here’s a site I recently stumbled upon. This guy is a former associate of self-proclaimed arhat Daniel Ingram. I read the site and I either get discouraged. The guy says he as the key to happiness. If you just do noting and concentration (among other things) then you will get to this place where your baseline is Happiness…primordial awareness. Of course, when you get into the meat of the site and it’s teachings, it’s its own set of buddhemes. Is this reality? Are these dudes really walking around happy all the time and responding to all things skillfully and compassionately? The insidious part is that on the first page, he says he has the map to happiness. On the ensuing pages is all this stuff about meditation(?) for years to reach the first jhana ect. So, the Way is out there, but no one can follow the Path of the Way.

  199. Uri Sala Avatar

    Re: Tom #195

    If our mind is the effect of outside structures, is this the same as being determinist? How can we have free will without individual conscience?


  200. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Uri: What do you mean by free will? The idea of “will” does assume an atomistic consciousness that somehow transcends this world so that when offered a “choice” of what to do in the world it can “freely” choose based on some criteria which are inaccessible to this world (eg, desire to go to heaven, God’s will, etc.). If we assume the non-existence of this world-transcending atman, the concept of will becomes nonsense, and functions only as a means of avoiding knowledge of our unconscious motivations, which are thoroughly socially constructed but which our hegemonic ideology needs to convince us are “our own true will.”

    This is separate from the question of determinism, which need not have anything to do with “will.” We could say we are determined to the degree that we, collectively, lack knowledge of the causal mechanisms of the universe and of our humanly created World. When we don’t know how diseases are caused, we are at the mercy of germs, but when we do know how diseases are caused we can be free of their effects. When we don’t know about what makes plants grow more abundantly, we are at the mercy of nature for our food, etc. Knowledge of causes and effects, not will, makes us free to interact with the world more extensively and effectively.

    Craig, re 199: It is easy to see that the people on the site your mention are mistaking mind-altering experiences and self-delusion for enlightenment. On their definition of enlightenment, it is easy enough to achieve, but will never give them any increased awareness of causes and effects, or any increase in our capacity to act in the world–it will just give them a buzz and the ability to smile condescendingly at those who want to act in the world; they have a bunch of those “guru-guarantees” on their site, proclaiming that if you aren’t buzzed yet you haven’t put in the hours doing their kind of meditation. If that’s the kind of enlightenment you want, there are drugs for that. It’s a shame that idiots like that are so common, proclaiming themselves teachers and taking money from people who are in a vulnerable state. Outside of Buddhist circles, that’s called grifting.

  201. […] Unfortunately, the scriptural explanations of enlightenment are mostly also supernatural. So, modern Buddhism invented various replacement interpretations. Apparently they work for some people; but mostly they seem unsatisfactory. They may be implausible, unworkably vague, or unimpressive. […]

  202. Sengchen Dra-tsal Avatar

    It might be helpful for you to realize that Buddhism contains more than the statements “the Buddha said”. There is in fact a body of wisdom that asserts that we are all beginninglessly enlightened beings, and that the ideas that we are not – duality itself – is constantly fabricated by our not recognizing this. That illusion however takes our continual conceptual efforts to fabricate, and all Thich Nhat Hanh points out is that if you let got of the process of fabricating duality, a nondual ground of experience emerges, which *is* enlightenment.

    Enlightenment is sorry to disappoint all of you that were hoping for a blinding light, a burning bush, the impetus and power to go establish world peace, and most of all, never suffering ever again. But the opportunity to drop all of that and experience our intrinsic nature – is – always there.

  203. Uri sala Avatar

    Tom #201

    Not sure I follow you, since for me determinism is the opposite of free choice. I don’t understand the separation between the two. And, if there is no free will individually, I don’t see how it can come about collectively…

  204. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Hi Sergio (#203). Thanks for joining our conversation. One of the concerns of this project is to unmask the ideological force of x-buddhist claims that present themselves as expressions of natural, self-evident states-of-affair. One contention that permeates the discussions on the blog is that if “liberation” is to mean anything, it must, perhaps at a minimum, involve the capacity to discern the machinations of our ideologies. Only then are we “free” to alter and improve them.

    So, with this point in mind, I’ll say a word about your comment. I understand you to be suggesting that “the Buddha said” codes “mere” ideology; and so we should be wary of such locutions. You then present the natural, self-evident fact “that we are all beginninglessly enlightened beings.” In order to make that point, you populate your comment with language borrowed from a prescriptive x-buddhist ideology. Informing that language are numerous premises and assumptions about the human being, consciousness, the cosmos, and so on. Not only are these premises unstated; they are unprovable (and mostly, I would claim, incoherent).

    So, I guess my point is that you have not presented us with knowledge-data, but with ideology-data. Does that make sense? Can you see the difference?


  205. Craig Avatar


    Sengchen said:
    “the impetus and power to go establish world peace, and most of all, never suffering ever again. But the opportunity to drop all of that and experience our intrinsic nature – is – always there.”

    So what’s the point? Why should I sit for an eternity doing what ever the ‘right’ meditation practice of the day is when it only ‘leads’ to an unending search for a myth of experiencing my intrinsic nature? I don’t have much problem with that on a daily basis…my intrinsic nature is to be tired, frustrated, hungry, happy (sometimes), getting dirty, getting clean and using the bathroom. During all that I’m trying to live a healthy, ecologically-minded, skillful life (whatever that means). Oh, and also be a perfect husband and parent 😉

    If x-buddhist practice can’t help me establish world peace, ‘help’ with my and others suffering ect. what’s the point?

    As Glenn indicates above, awareness of ideology and how insidiously it seems to be self-evident truth has to be part of this ‘enlightenment’. Jesus Christ! It was ideology all the way, but Hitler saw it as self-evident that the Jewish folk (among others) were a blithe on society and must be exterminated.


  206. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    Lee, #197

    The ontology of this phenomenological ‘space’ and emptiness.

    I think it is very tricky what we speak here about regarding this ‘space’. It is a special kind of quale. Every kind of experience as something which only the person in question experiences is a quale. The color red as a physical referent is one thing, how it is experienced in somebody is another. We can think about the language of wine degustations. If one does not know the terminology it often makes no sense at all what a certain denomination has to do with a certain taste. As one learns the terminology one is beginning to be able to understand what somebody is describing. Or at least we think so. A certain taste is mapped on a certain denominator. But still nobody knows what the other tastes. How is it to be someone who tastes something? Although this might not look like a problem, looked at it closer we can say we never talk about experience but always only about expression. This might have difficult consequences. For example, my inner experience, is this already an expression? Regarding ontology this makes a lot of difference. If it is already an expression then it exists in the »text« of a certain sociality. If not it might exists as a universal given (with the problem that it is not measurable). The former is changeable the latter not. However this might be, at least we have an outer, physical referent to talk about: wine.

    The inner phenomenological ‘space’ is very different. We have no outer, physical referent. If it is a human universal, we cannot compare it, i.e. we don’t know what we are talking about. The only referent we have is our expression but we cannot map it onto some experience – like tasting or running. If it exists because of a certain »text« then it is simply expression which creates a certain experience.

    In the first case it seems useless to talk about it because we really don’t know what it is we talk about. We never can be sure we talk about the same referent – if there is any. If we don’t know what we are talking about it simply doesn’t make sense to talk about it.

    In the second case it is expression which creates the experience. The ontological realm then is the sociality.

    In the first case we never know if Sengchen’s enlightenment (#203) exists.

    In the second case Sengchen’s enlightenment (#203) is a social construct.

    In both cases we have to look for the plausibility of the claim.

    In the first case we don’t know what we are talking about, we don’t know if our expression is comparable to somebody else’s experience, we have no neurological correlate of it (as far as I know), we only have a multitude of semantic correlates of something about what a lot of enlightened people state that one cannot talk about it. This all isn’t very plausible. I would say it is not so far fetched to say that the ontological realm of this entity is fantasy.

    I think it is much more plausible that it is a social construct; which might take advantage of older cognitive systems which developed earlier in evolution for different functions and which are ‘hijacked’ by newer social evolutionary developments (there will be a piece about this soon, the german version is here). The second case simply comes with less ontological speculation and with more insights about the construction of entities through »text«.

    Again, if the plausibility that it is a construct is really greater than for first case, the natural-enlightenment-case, then it would be a necessity for all gurus, lamas, TNHs, DLs and so forth to look into it. To not follow this logic would be in my eyes unethical. It would mean that these enlightened guys wouldn’t mind to follow a chimera. As we can see that a lot of them do just this, what then is the conclusion about them?

  207. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Re 204: Uri, my point is that there is no such thing as “free will” at all, either individually or collectively. Once we stop thinking of the mind as arising individually in the brain, we can get out of this need to posit a “self” which is somehow free from the world, even from any possibility of human thought or comprehension, which can “choose” between options that are in the world. Will is always only a term to convince us that our (thoroughly socially-constructed) desires are not socially constructed but are the true possession of our “soul.” There’s no “opposite” of free will, because it doesn’t exist–and so determinism, which is defined exactly as lack of free will, is a meaningless term as well.

    This is perhaps why it is so important to grasp the concept of anatman in its fullest implication, not just in the popular version which says that my body or thoughts or habits are not my “true self.” If we understand the self as completely constructed and existing as a social structure, we don’t need to sneak the “secret self” back in with subtle sophistry. Then we can see that “freedom” isn’t a matter of freedom from the world, but of capacity to act in the world. The human collective clearly has capacity to interact with and transform the world that no individual body possibly could–this is our freedom, not of choice, but of action. We are free to cure diseases and end hunger, not “free” to remain indifferent to them–which isn’t freedom at all.

  208. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Matthias: RE 207: Again, this whole solipsism problem is eliminated once we understand that there is no private, personal “language,” and all experience occurs in the symbolic/imaginary network. The physical stimulus can be described mathematically, scientifically (eg, the wavelength of light we call red) but the phenomenal experience only occurs in the symbolic/imaginary system, so it is not that we are speaking inaccurately in language of a pure experience, the linguistic discussion is the experience–the pure sensation is never experienced.

    When someone speaks about the experience that is beyond words, they are simply emphasizing the imaginary register, and trying to prevent any knowledge of the causes of this imaginary structure–that is, claims about the ineffable are always reactionary resistance to enlightenment (in the sense of the demystification of the world).

  209. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Craig (#199). Thanks for the Kenneth Folk link. Based on his site, I think that Folk is about as flamboyant and deluded an x-buddhist thaumaturge as they come. I really don’t know where to begin. Reading his site is like tripping through Alice’s Underground. At the end of his bombastic barrage of fully-formed truths and transcendent dharmic teachings, he has the nerve to say:

    I urge each of you to find out what makes the most sense for you and to pursue that. And I urge you not to spend a lot of time and energy trying to win people over to your view, which in any case is likely to change over time as you spiral ever deeper into an infinitely deep universe.

    Indeed, the spirit of Blavatsky lives on in x-buddhist teachers like Kenneth Folk. I will continue to work to expose these buddhist boobs for what they are.

  210. Uri Sala Avatar

    Re 208: Tom, I agree fully that free will is an illusion. the problem is I can’t get rid of “will” and keep the “free”. I cannot even begin to make sense of the sentence

    The human collective clearly has capacity to interact with and transform the world that no individual body possibly could–this is our freedom, not of choice, but of action.


    I am not sure what you mean. That we are free to act a certain way, but that this is not a choice? How is it then free? What you posit seems to me like complete social determinism…

    thanks for your time.

  211. Tom Pepper Avatar

    Uri: The problem seems to be the term freedom, which tends to have the connotation of what Andrew Collier calls “out of gear” freedom—the ability think and decide somehow while disconnected from the world. Instead, we might consider “in gear” freedom, the capacity to act in the world, our power to accomplish things. The idea of determinism is irrelevant—everything always has to follow the laws of the universe. However, just as a mountain lion acquires more capacity to kill, defend itself, and reproduce as it matures, we humans as a collective subject can acquire more capacity to interact effectively with the world as our capacities for thought increase. The difference is that because we humans are a collective subject and have the capacity to communicate symbolically, we are free from our natural history in ways no animals are. Our knowledge of the causal laws of the mind-independent world give us the capacity to transform the world to suit us, instead of adapting to it; hopefully, our capacity to explain the causal structures of human social formations can give us the capacity to transform them, too. We aren’t “free” of causal laws, but we can understand how to better work within them–so perhaps we need to substitute “choice” with “knowledge” or “understanding.”

    This is a difficult concept, and hard to explain, but it is what I have been working on trying to explain more effectively.

  212. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    Dooyen posted a response on his blog to the discussion above, beginning at #113, regarding the question of meditation (as thoughtlessness) and morality. I put in the link here. I think it is fair to look at his point of view because the question “Where does morality comes from?” is a very important point => Misunderstanding the eightfold path and the precepts (sila).

  213. Uri Sala Avatar

    Tom #212

    Still not getting it… Need more time.

    To go back to a previous thread, you once likened the brain to a radio that “tunes in” (to ideology I guess). But radios are passive receivers, they just transduce energy, there is no processing or saving. I think it’s curious you don’t even furnish the analogy with something like, say, a hard drive and processor. I remember you have been critical of the mind as computer analogy, I just don’t get how the radio analogy is better since it is obvious that the brain saves data (memories).

    Another thing. Isn’t saying that the mind is not i the brain but in social structures like saying digestion is not in the stomach but in the food industry?

    Thanks as usual

  214. Tom Pepper Avatar

    This is the problem with metaphors–and all language is metaphorical. I would say that computers are maybe a better metaphor for brains, but not for the mind–a computer is exactly as passive as a radio, right? To use your metaphor, saying that the mind is in the brain would be like saying that the stomach produces its own food, that it contains the entire productive industry controlling what kinds of things it can eat and digest. The brain, like the stomach, may be a point of interaction between a social system and a body, but it doesn’t “produce” thought; the mind isn’t “digesting” information, but producing the kind of thought that the brain can then store and “process.” This is largely the point of Lacan’s concept of the subject–it is an interaction between an individual body and a social network of symbolic meanings. On this definition, then, there could be a conscious individual with no “mind” at all–one who lives life as an animal, separate from any symbolic system, isolated from anything but the physical world.

    So, you could add the hard drive and processor into the analogy, but the trouble is then we start to make the same old error of thinking that the computer has a “mind,” when it is only ever a passive mechanism waiting for some “mind’ to make use of it.

  215. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel

    Hey Tom where do you get your ideas from?, were you educated with a book named The Earth and Its Resources? … language or words are not representations, but a tool to coordinate one´s behavior with that of others. What is the importance of Mind and no-mind, of ego and no-ego, theory and practice, made and found ? These are false distinctions, just words which served a purpose of pain avoidance and power of the establishments we need no longer to fulfill. We have other needs. We need hope and action for a better future for all. And here, well, you have the dubious honor of trying to devoid Buddhism of its distinctive current relevant contribution to a morality, one which by the way needs no principles: sensibility. This is something of course you seem unable to appreciate.

    With your writings and by exercising your profession as a traditional philosopher and academic you contribute directly and profusely to keep that establishment and concepts you yourself hate and yet live from (what is non-capitalistic about being a university professor in Boston?), and even worse, your wordplays keep nurturing the Cartesian Theatre which in itself is a factory of illusions and suffering.

    Computer and humans share “sentential attitudes”, that is the capability of affirming or denying certain sentences. Yet only humans are capable of tangling ourselves in words-as-representations contemplation games and distinctions. At the same time, with the help from buddhist sensibility practice and the pragmatist tradition, we are also very much able and in a position to rid ourselves forever of the Cartesian-Lockean picture (which effectively holds humanity captive) “of a mind seeking to get in touch with reality outside of itself.”

  216. Matthew Gioia Avatar
    Matthew Gioia

    Hi Luis. Would you mind providing a thorough definition of “sensibility” and “buddhist sensibility practice” as you are using it?


  217. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    Hi Luis (216), you speak about a

    distinctive current relevant contribution to a morality by Buddhism.

    The more I look into it the less I find it. I wonder if Buddhism at any time in history differed from other religions regarding the building/seeking/educating of morality? The relation between the king and the priest seems to be always ‘pragmatic’ in the sense that the latter often is quick to ‘interpret’ the precepts as needed. There are many examples. I wonder what you think what the distinctive relevant contribution to morality by Buddhism is?

  218. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel

    Hi Matthew,

    I am not sure exactly. I practiced traditional Zen Buddhism here in Costa Rica and in Vermont, for ten years. It is a committed group with over forty years of practice with a very committed teacher. After leaving the group three years ago, Buddhist sensibility has stayed with me in concrete forms. Walking with hands in the chest, putting palms together in silence before having a meal, remaining quite sensitive to suffering in humans and animals, knowing how to calm myself, breathing, sitting in zazen, knowing how to keep my kitchen and toilets clean, not using shoes in certain areas of the house, having experienced what it is to be under extreme conditions in a retreat – waking up at four in the morning, meditating for over 20 hours, serving others with care, the importance of a breeze, facing fear and sharing laughs with the master, stillness for several days. This couples with sensibility as an important practice outside of buddhism. I will extend myself on that in a moment. On the other hand, however, poetry and the cultivation of art and other forms of sensibility, even active compassion by other religions, seem not quite there when compared with to buddhist practice sensibility. I sympathize with the gigantic importance attributed to sensibility in morality by the pragmatist tradition (if your are interested in it I strongly recommend reading Ethics Without Principles by Richard Rorty). But it was Zen Buddhist practice through and through where I found more concrete ways of practicing it through the acute development of attention and perception, including the opening to gut level activity I hadn’t noticed before. It was also a lab for observing motivations and manipulations in action. An elegant theather.

    Sensibility and prudence are the cornerstones of non-dogmatic morality. Thinking and practice are both actions. Thinking with attention, organizing, touching and communicating with attention makes these activities better, more fine-tuned so to speak, ways of acting, and what is more important, sensibility makes them more EFFECTIVE tools, of adjusting our behavior better in a concrete situation, of being able of reaching agreement for action with others more effectively, also and therefore of being able to develop trust in each other better. It is also the best way to cut an onion. Or have sex. Or know when my anger comes from being hungry and not from a misunderstanding with the person in front of me. So when we are able to combine all of this and more, we enhance our concrete capacity to solve concrete problems. We have the potential to face suffering and pain in ourselves more squarely but also to address its complexity better, at least in the long term, for we are more sensitive to it, to its causes, to its compulsive compensations and consequences. Sensibility is more contact, and buddhist practice holds a treasure of it, once of course it is devoid of its lobotomizing content and structure – which is the reason I left it.

    But perhaps the best response I can give you is with a question, which is whta is the importance of sensibility for you ?

    And if you practice buddhism or intend to practice it, a helpful question could be how this practice enhances sensibility ?

    The list I posted in 198 intends to be a contribution in that direction.


  219. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel

    Matthias (218),

    As you can see, I am nof refering to buddhism as a historic religion, but as a practice, as the practice I experienced. The experience was effectively there and signified a great contribution to be more sensible in concrete situations.

    I dont see how we can exert morality, (or for that matter, live), without sensibility. If we agree on that, then enhancing sensibility is of great interest for a better practice of morality. More to the point regarding buddhism are the 27 questions I posted in 198. After responding to those, we may have a better idea of how buddhist practice can effectively contribute to enhancing sensibility and its gigantic role in morality and life.


  220. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    Hi Luis, thanks a lot for your personal account.

    My question was referring more to historical forms of Buddhism and what they could have been contributing to develop forms of societies?

    I wonder what the Buddhism you experienced contributed really to your “sensibility and prudence”. When you say these are the “cornerstones of non-dogmatic morality”, what is the contribution of Buddhism? I mean, what is Buddhism for you? And is it any different from what we would call in our times simply reason? In which way have you been changed through your experience in ten years of Buddhism?

    Buddhism has changed me too but, as you can see, not in a way many Buddhists would like. My question is, is this a question of personality? Or of character? Of education, upbringing, historical circumstances etc. pp.?

    For example, I read Hesse’s Siddhartha when I was fifteen years old. This was my fist contact to Buddhism. Practically parallel to it I read Eugen Kogon’s Der SS-Staat, the first study which came out after WWII about the system of concentration camps of the Nazis. Why these two books? Because my mother taught me to love books and reading? Because I sensed an uncanny hidden truth and looked for an answer? However this may be, when I came to Buddhism in earnest in 2004 I didn’t take too long to smell something hidden again – and here I am now: Der Unbuddhist!

    What I want to say is, there is obviously something very personal in our stories in the sense that our individuality comes into being more or less by accident (in the given perimeters of the respective form of sociality we live in) and that we develop certain capabilities rather by accident than by intention.

    I stopped trading in the future markets in 2006 because I thought it would be good to explore Buddhism and Philosophie a bit more (the link between the two being the late Herbert Guenther). When I explored Buddism I find out that it simply doesn’t hold what it promises. My exploration in Philosophie brought me to the point where I can not think of going back to the markets again. So you see Buddhism changed me a lot but not as a Buddhist would think.

    What role plays Buddhism?

  221. Tom Pepper Avatar

    The mention of sensibility, in the midst of Luis Daniel’s incoherent nonsense, is an interesting connection to the history of capitalist ideology. In the 18th century, as capitalism was becoming the dominant mode of production, and urbanization, homelessness, poverty and starvation were new problems in England, there was a “cult of sensibility” which sought to prevent any systematic response to these problems. The idea was that a gentleman, if he were a true gentleman, could perceive moral goodness directly, with a kind of extra-sensory power. (Of course, the morally worthy generally turned out to be attractive and sexually vulnerable young women). The goal was to focus on the immediate, the present, the person in front of you, to alleviate her suffering (but only if your sensibility detected she was morally worthy), and never think about the system that caused such suffering. Thinking was, of course, evil, and anyone who thought about the systematic causes of suffering showed a lack of the sensibility which proved their own worthiness to belong to the privileged class.

    It would be interesting to read Janet Todd’s book Sensibility: and introduction and perhaps some of the novels of “sentiment” from the eighteenth century alongside Thich Nhat Hanh. Of course, we are to examine our “motivations and manipulations,” as Luis says, but only so far as other “concrete” feelings within us–we must always stay “concrete,” positivist, immediate, in the “real world,” not notice the social structures that produce even those feelings we take to be “within” us.

    It is good to know, Luis, that I am so centrally responsible for keeping capitalism alive. I didn’t think I really had any influence at all, and now I know that next year when my job runs out the entire system will collapse. And really, words are tools we use? So we think outside of language and them pick up a word to manipulate another person with? You really are a moron.

  222. matthewmgioia Avatar

    Re: 219, 222: I’m still unclear about the use and meaning of “sensibility,” a word which I have not come across in Buddhist discourse or teaching. Tom, in the “cult of sensibility” you describe, it sounds like a kind of sensitivity/ability to sense the “true nature” or “deeper circumstances” or a situation – a capacity for insight. Luis, I understand that you disagree with Tom’s judgement of sensibility, but is this along the lines of what you mean by your use of the word?

    I feel as though there is something to gain from studying the ongoing conversation/argument taking place here mainly between Tom and Luis, but I’m not sure what it is yet; to be honest I’m not sure if I understand very well what the disagreement is really about.

    Tom: Your write, “Of course, we are to examine our “motivations and manipulations,” as Luis says, but only so far as other “concrete” feelings within us–we must always stay “concrete,” positivist, immediate, in the “real world,” not notice the social structures that produce even those feelings we take to be “within” us.”

    What is the argument (presumably made by those in the “cult of sensibility and/or TNH) against noticing / examining social structures? Is that argument being made? While I would stand with you in demanding that such an examination must be made, I would also stand with Luis in demanding that we also examine our own processes as well as we can.

    In 219 Luis writes “Thinking with attention, organizing, touching and communicating with attention makes these activities better, more fine-tuned so to speak, ways of acting, and what is more important, sensibility makes them more EFFECTIVE tools, of adjusting our behavior better in a concrete situation, of being able of reaching agreement for action with others more effectively, also and therefore of being able to develop trust in each other better. It is also the best way to cut an onion. Or have sex. Or know when my anger comes from being hungry and not from a misunderstanding with the person in front of me. So when we are able to combine all of this and more, we enhance our concrete capacity to solve concrete problems.”

    While Luis may not be addressing systematic issues here, I do not see an argument against such an address, and I do see the fairly standard and straightforward (and still compelling to me) argument that by a formalized effort to pay more attention to our own processes we can act more effectively in the world (something Tom also suggests – that “freedom” means the ability to act more effectively in the word(?)).

    thanks everyone

  223. Tom Pepper Avatar

    Matthew: Part of the argument between Luis and myself is an ongoing political difference. Luis believes that capitalism is the natural state of humanity, the end of history, and that the only reason there are poor and oppressed people in the world is because they haven’t yet become good capitalists; I believe that capitalism by its very nature requires the oppression and exploitation of the majority of the population for the benefit of the wealthy.

    The reason this connects to the idea of “sensibility” is that this has long been an ideology devoted to having us focus on the immediately apparent and ignore the systemic. That is: give charity to the beggar on the street, but never question why there must always be beggars on the street alongside those with wealth to give charitably. So this version of “examining our processes” stops at those we can empirically and directly experience, but refuses to examine how our “experience” itself is produced by a larger social system. So my anger can come from being hungry or tired, but not from a social system which produces alienated subjects designed to misdirect their rage at their oppression onto trivial things like politicians and traffic jams. We can, then, only solve those “concrete” problems like our sexual relationships or our bad habits, but not the “abstract” problems like capitalism or the structure of the subject.

    The difference is in how far we are willing to examine the causes and conditions of any given event. Sensibility would want to stop at our emotions, assuming that emotions are universals, and have universal (empirically observable, positivest) causes; I would insist that our emotions are themselves products of the social structure and their construction and function should be examined. Sensibility, then, avoids insight at all costs, insisting that the emotion is the deepest truth and is never open to explanation.

  224. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel

    Matthias – 221 (looks biblical ah!),


    You ask: Historical forms of Buddhism ? Develop forms of societies ? I reply to you: who writes history ? For whom is it useful? Hundreds of books are written every year with stories that accommodate whatever they call Buddhism to the needs of its authors and audiences which buy their books or attend their seminars or read their blogs.

    Zen Buddhism was an important experience for me. Mostly in providing a solid basis to negate it. And with it a solid basis for negating most of what you call historical Buddhism. When I say negate, it means more than the simple fact that it doesn’t fulfill my needs anymore. It provided me with firsthand experience of its errors and serious dead ends, of its machinations, avoidance mechanisms and power abuses, of the dryness of contemplative mediation and “being”, the rebranding of philosophical dualism, the need of western culture to run from itself, etc.

    Certainly my own sensibility and prudence grew with Zen Buddhist practice. But I can affirm with confidence now that buddhist practice sensibility is the ONLY, distinctive and important useful thing I can find in Buddhist practice and nowhere else with such richness. The philosophical treatment of all the other relevant subjects of Buddhism such as contingency, relationality and solidarity (i.e. dependent coarising and compassion) are dealt with in greater depth and length in pragmatism and other sources. Needless to say the importance of democracy and the State is not even addressed in Buddhism (no concentration camps will ever be compatible with in a democracy).

    Of course many people such as Stephen Batchelor or Glenn Wallis like the Buddhist House and would like to save it from itself. That commitment makes them go to great lengths to accommodate their views along their purpose. Wallis does a good try by using some type of criticism; Bathcelor does more seriously with existentialism. Both make the fatal mistake of trying to bring it into politics, of creating a Buddhist Worldview of All. That doesn’t mean I think public policy is part of what one should participate in. Just not as a Buddhist. These gentlemen simply insist in enriching Buddhism, in actualizing it, in making it secular. Well I hope they succeed. Having said that, I acknowledge that I benefit from their very skeptic and serious analysis of Buddhism; however I approach Buddhism with completely another mindset, need and purpose. In honor of the Buddhist tradition, I also very respectfully and with emotion recognize that it pioneered the role of contingency and solidarity 2,500 years ago, that it made an important contribution in that direction. The subject of Buddhist practice sensibility is no small thing. For me it is the ground, the odor, the air, the space, the best way to enact pragmatism, the best way to live contingency and solidarity. So at the end, I too am an enthusiast of Buddhism. That is why I remain a Buddhist.

    We could go endlessly in the direction of personal history, mothers included (yes my parents made an important cultural trip to Japan and India in the sixties, with a scholarship from UNESCO and I practiced judo and read Siddhartha as well, etc). On the other hand I not only agree with you but believe even more than you in the role of luck and accidents. In a way for me life is what we do with accidents. But I can’t find a direct useful relationship between all that and my current choices.

    Futures trading is a very risky and difficult way of trading. Most people lose money with it. You say you left it because of your studies in philosophy. With all due respect I would rephrase this account of yours and turn it into a question, which is what were you trying to solve by trading futures? Clearly your needs weren’t fulfilled or changed. You seem to imply that you made an ethical choice which is for me a way of saying that you changed the problem you were trying to solve. From my point of view moral choices have to do with solving concrete problems.

    Thus my question now for you is, given you change, what is the concrete problem you are trying to solve know, with non-buddhism or philosophie or anything else and how do intend to solve it?

  225. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel


    It is always a pleasure to respond directly to you.

    Just as moral choices respond to an important purpose, we also chose words for a specific purpose, which makes them tools with no inherent symbolic meaning outside of the needs of the subject that uses them, of her purpose. To say that a word has an inherent meaning is the same as saying that a hammer has an inherent predefined purpose. What is so hard to understand about that? Or is it perhaps just frightening too simple for you – the syndrome of vacancy and redundancy for conventional philosophers?

    But of course there are people with different discourse styles. Your discourse style, the words you use, is authoritarian and aggressive through and through. Dogmatic. Fixated. Close. Locked. Senseless. Dissociated. Disconnected. Repetitive. Irrelevant and self centered.

    What else I can say to you? mmm … ah well, and in the case of your opinions about Buddhism, it is also prejudiced and bookish. Simply useless. Except of course when turned around. I have to confess that the sheer pleasure of exposing your incompetence coupled with my own motivation to live a better life and help others, has made something useful out of your clumsy critique of TNH.

    Of course the parts where you downgrade yourself to the level of a stupid asshole are just a bonus you earn completely by yourself and thus deservingly belong entirely to you. But in general your positions and reactions are a sad spectacle that exposes the way a dogmatic marxist professor unsuccessfully deals publicly with his own sense of castration and lack of power to effectively change anything as his days pass by.

  226. Tom Pepper Avatar


    Your response is. as usual, so startlingly stupid it is hard to know how to respond. It is just beyond belief that anybody could think that a word has no meaning outside of the meaning the speaker wants to attribute to it, that there could be a person who seriously thinks that language is not a social system which puts constraints on the meaning we could produce. This is just as idiotic as the idea that a hammer could serve perfectly well as a drink of water, if that happens to be the use we want to put it to–of course a hammer has a predefined purpose, you idiot! It was made to do a particular thing. Can anyone really be so stupid? I suppose this is the level of stupidity required to continue in the delusion that capitalism is the best of all possible worlds.

    I’m relieved that I can’t effectively change anything, though. Just a few days ago, you claimed I was secretly responsible for the persistence of capitalist ideology. So if I have been effectively symbolically castrated, at least I can’t interpellate the masses very effectively.

  227. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel

    Matthew, 223

    Any clever teenager can solidly contradict Pepper´s nonsense about capitalism as natural destiny. The problem with Tom the marxist and philosopher is deeply locked in himself. He has devoted decades to blinding himself in defensive postures. He would say that helping the poor is fueling capitalism. He would say the freedom and choice are an illusion. That the law and individual rights, the right to write freely in this blog or teach freely in his university, are part of the capitalist ideology that generates all that suffering.

    He would say that ideology, something he can’t define concretely, is a sort of universal conditioning mechanism that one has to live with and blinds one. And that buddhist practice aim should be to see and cope with that ideology. Well, up to there the story is attractive. The thing is what is that ideology in the first place, or as I prefer to define the question, what is a personal belief system, anyway? Some great guys I read think that one of the greatest lies we live in is that there is a Truth detached from anything else, fixated, non-transient. Be it the Afterlife, God, Reason, Truth, Ideas, History, Philosophy, Science or Ideology. Pepper dissociates himself from reality in self-contained concepts. He believes in contingency but isn’t able to drop his own dogma. For me people like him fuel the delusions, the artificial problems which serve to keep things as they currently are. He has made a career with that. And that is ok, for him. But I don’t like it. I don’t like it when he negates all and builds nothing useful. I don’t like it when he does away with buddhist sensibility and tries to manipulate you by saying that I want is to keep injustice and make people not to think critically. That simply is not true. His lies are only necessary to him.

    I use to be a socialist democrat. Something radical anti-democratic marxists tend not to like. I am a pragmatist, something conventional essentialist platonic philophers like Tom don’t like either. In both cases, we have different set of competing needs.

    I think that liberal democracy is the greatest MORAL achievement of humanity. I think poverty is immoral. I devote my time to changing the management of public education in Costa Rica through the use of a free software tool I have developed. I have done so for 14 years. My only goal is to eliminate the consequences of poverty in public education one student at the time, so students can have a better life. Daily I deal and solve concrete problems that benefit over a million children in this country. I do so through a long-term public private partnership, a different way of solving public policy challenges, which by the way is the most successful one in its kind in Latin America. I don’t participate or support anyone in electoral politics as a matter of prudence. I like to be very effective in my goals. For this I created a non for profit organization which provides our services for free to the Ministry of Education. Costa Rica is the oldest democracy in Latin America. I hate the ugliness of capitalism, but contrary to Pepper, I think liberal democracy is something to build upon and not something to be discarded, I think French or US or Costa Rican democracies are not something to be discarded along with Nigerian cleptocracy just because all are capitalist.

    I am a liberal too. That means that for me public policy is central to the well being of all and that public debate is also central. Therefore I think that if someone develops a buddhist public policy perspective, for me is a waste of time and a weak favor to buddhism. We as humanity, have concrete problems, which require concrete solutions. This is why the gesturing and posturing of Pepper the marxist philosopher professor is a sort of sin. It is the sin of planting total despair based on putting forward artificial scholastic problems. In practice, the outdated ideas of a political economist from the nineteenth century have ran their course, but philosophical essentialism stands squarely between progressive hope and the current abusive state of poverty and oppression. It is sedative thinking in disguise. A self-defeating position which changes nothing. Just as much of an opium as buddhism or any other otherworldly religion. So in practice it is a way of keeping things as they are, of fueling the unbearable social injustice we witness every day.

    I studied law and economics and believe that the very existence of law is a social evolutionary miracle. Pepper thinks it is a conspiracy to keep things as they are. Contrary to what he says, I also use systems thinking, a tool created as recent as the 1950´s. I have also have used long term studies of the deteriorating terms of trade, an analysis that probes how rich countries systematically rob poor countries of their wealth, the same money that pays for wars and Pepper´s future retirement plan.

    All we see in a situation, all the information we have, is one of the most common forms of heuristics that misleads decision taking when not compensated with cold, more comprehensive, fact-based descriptions. The individual moral, the we, can and must extend to the well being of every single human being on earth, present and future. This is why a Buddhist Worldview of All (politics) would be a contradiction because the future is not Buddhism for all. But every time I solve something and my sensibility helps inform my decision and action, there is something of a buddhist practice in it.

  228. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel


    Just to clarify things. Freedom is freedom to chose words and say whatever we want and can say. Everyone surely can do that provided they have the right to do so.

    But let´s make a little public political execise. Willl you vote for Elizabeth Myers ? If not, why, if yes, why ?

  229. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel


    I mean Elizabeth Warren. Is she good enouhh for you ?

  230. Tom Pepper Avatar

    Re 229, 230 etc. Luis, first off, I don’t live in MA, so I don’t know much about the senate race there. However, the fact that you expect that my concern is with which bourgeois millionaire will get to oppress the masses next indicates how little you understand about my position. I’m actually kind of hoping Romney and Linda McMahon win. If they were able to carry out their economic plan, the resulting catastrophe would make it much easier to radicalize the middle and working classes.

    Your responses do raise an interesting problem, though. As you say, any half-wit sophomore thinks he can easily refute just about anything I say. They always give the same moronic response as you: I have absolute free will and consciously choose to do anything I want. They think this disproves Freud, Lacan, Derrida, Marx, and just about any other great thinker in history. With a little luck, those half-wit sophomores get a little more education, and realize their answers were naive and stupid, and that some of those great thinkers of history might have actually known more than a college sophomore with a fifth-grade vocabulary. With bad luck, they wind up idiot ideologues who can never learn anything and will never be able to think clearly. They say idiotic things like we have the “freedom to say whatever we want” and persistently refuse to understand simple concepts like ideology, or even to read the explanations offered to them, because they cannot imagine their naive ideas aren’t the absolute truth. Unfortunately, Luis, reactionary morons like you are the majority. This is one reason I have so little patience with trying to be “nice” to everyone. Niceness just encourages the reactionaries, and no matter how calmly you explain things to them,

    You insist I am misrepresenting you, and then proceed to claim that your real position is exactly the one I attributed to you: you try to make “concrete” changes one child at a time, and never try to change the system that leaves these children in need of such charity, desperate enough, apparently, to get some kind of “educational” assistance from a complete moron like you. I really doubt that could be doing them much good–they’d probably be better off if you left them alone.

    And this is exactly the kind of stupidity that leads so many people to say that Buddhism must have nothing to do with politics. The assumption that capitalism is natural and inevitable, and we must adjust our selves to it., and Buddhism is simply a way to do that, to learn endure and ignore the suffering in the world, to consume with mindless complacency, is exactly the ideology that underwrites all of Thich Nhat Hanh’s project, and what makes it so very popular with upper middle class Americans.

    Oh, and Luis, this is the first that I’m hearing about my retirement plan. Are you setting that up for me? Thanks. My employers for the last twenty years never have (as an itinerant lecturer, I don’t even have health insurance).

  231. Shabe L Avatar
    Shabe L

    Tom # 231
    You say: “This is one reason I have so little patience with trying to be “nice” to everyone. Niceness just encourages the reactionaries, and no matter how calmly you explain things to them,”
    Can you elaborate? because that goes against my experience (probably because I live in ‘nice’ Canada!) I’d say that while using strong language can grab attention, harsh language almost always puts people on the defensive. Is it not your experience that emotions, especially negative ones, interfere with listening to the message? That has certainly been mine, so I assume that by “encourages the reactionaries” you are addressing something other than the person ‘on the other side’ actually paying attention to the content of your comment. But for those of us who are trying to go beyond their assumptions and ideologies and want to grasp what you and others are actually saying, I think the ‘noise’ is distracting. If I am to stoke up angry energy and act, I’d like to do so after fully grasping the what and why’s of the issues.

  232. dooyen Avatar

    (a couple of last words to this, as internet seems to be stable again ..)
    # 213> my blog is in no way answering to this blog, a lot of entries were written mostly in advance, weeks or months before they appear. it mainly deals with the topics that raised most controversies in forums, with other Buddhists. my views are not mainstream Buddhism as I do not follow any popular teacher in the west.
    # 171> There was a longer article once on the publisher’s site of Angkor Verlag about Victoria’s misunderstanding of at least three zen teachers, this was written long before the Muho exchange with Victoria. Besides Sawaki it dealt with Soyen Shaku and Omori Sogen. I linked to a passage in Asso Blog about Sogen. Normally old articles are stored somewhere on the web so one who knows German may still find the longer essay, I do not have it with me. An old translator whom I know was present during some of Omori Sogen’s talks and desribed how impressed he was by this teacher. Victoria who once was a persona non grata in Japan (please google, he stated that in an interview himself) has probably never met him. Anyway, it would help to read Sogen’s and Shaku’s works to understand. You can contradict Victoria’s findings by extracting the ethic concept of those teachers, and/or, as in the case of Sawaki, you have to accept what we call remorse.

    Thus it is justified to call Victoria’s work flawed and him morally rather incompetent, as he has obviously based his academic career on his biased findings.

  233. dooyen Avatar

    … and not taken the ethical work of those teachers in account.

  234. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Shabe, re 232: Yes, harsh words do put people on the defensive, and that’s always a good thing these days. In the current age of the tyranny of opinion, when any idiot can simply assert some arrant nonsense and not feel the need to argue for, prove, or defend their position, upsetting people is often the best way to wake them up. If someone is actually trying to make an argument, then sure, harsh isn’t really necessary–one can always simply argue against them. But for those who fall back on the tired cliches, insisting that any thought is just “useless philosophizing” and we can only deal with the “concrete reality,” or some other moronic postmodernist gibberish, sometimes they just need a verbal smack in the head.

    My experience is that often those who get most angry and defensive then feel the need to actually begin to argue for their position. Those who already know their is no defense for their position will just walk away, with a smug remark about how those who take their beliefs seriously are naive and silly or acting out their psychological frustration or something.

  235. matthewmgioia Avatar

    Re: 224, 228, etc. Tom and Luis, thanks for taking the time to respond to my questions. Although like Shabe I think your ad hominem attacks are counterproductive and inelegant, I appreciate this debate, if that is what it is.

    I do still feel like there is either a basic misunderstanding here, or else I am confused and dumb, or maybe taking a third position.

    Tom, in 224 you write:

    “The reason this connects to the idea of “sensibility” is that this has long been an ideology devoted to having us focus on the immediately apparent and ignore the systemic. That is: give charity to the beggar on the street, but never question why there must always be beggars on the street alongside those with wealth to give charitably. So this version of “examining our processes” stops at those we can empirically and directly experience, but refuses to examine how our “experience” itself is produced by a larger social system.”

    Why are the two mutually exclusive? Examining the parts of processes that we can “empirically and directly experience” and also the systemic parts – the larger and therefore more hidden parts – are both of vital necessity, and I feel that Buddhism asks me to do both. There are internal processes we can learn important information from that we can observe but usually do not – do you not agree with this Tom? Using the legend of the Buddha as an example, it appears that he did gain insight into the social picture, and furthermore into the entire “wheel of life,” seeing that his experience was a part of something vastly more expansive than himself, but his own observable processes were a porthole into that vision.

    Luis, in 228 you write:

    “He would say that ideology, something he can’t define concretely, is a sort of universal conditioning mechanism that one has to live with and blinds one. And that buddhist practice aim should be to see and cope with that ideology.”

    Luis, saying that the aim of Buddhist practice should be to see one’s ideology and thus free one (to choose a better one) seems quite right to me – Buddhism is supposed to offer ways to see one’s situation clearly, and ideology is always a part of our situation; what is your objection here? It seems pretty clear to me that Tom understands he has an ideology – he acknowledges that, but he believes he has chosen the best one available to him. Do you not believe that you are operating within an ideology? And I am confused by your insistence that Buddhism be separated from politics. If Buddhist insight, particularly insight into anatman, leads one into engagement with others, with one’s community, and with politics, what is the problem with that? This is not the same as wishing (let alone forcing) Buddhism on anybody else. What sense does it make to separate insights garnered from one arena of your life from the other arenas of your life? Is the separation not constructed anyhow?

    thanks very much


  236. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Shabe L (#232). One reason subjugating systems like x-buddhism and capitalism are able to persist in their subjugation is that they come with a shiny, nearly impenetrable, gloss of niceness. For the capitalist to succeed, he has to make the person feel that he has the person’s best interests at heart. Open Happiness! (Coke), Your potential. Our passion! (Microsoft), The Power to be your best (Apple), Have it your way (Burger King), Think what we can do for you (Bank of America), Together we’ll go Far (Wells Fargo), etc., etc–all proclaimed with big-smiling toothy mugs.

    I contend that x-buddhism is no different. The fact that it’s nice while it performs its subjugation doesn’t make it better than most other forms. In fact, it makes it worse, because insidious. Behind x-buddhism’s “right speech” commandment lies utter disdain for the generic capabilities and intelligence of human beings. Another way of reading x-buddhist moral prescriptions is as a form of contemptuousness toward the person.

    X-buddhists claim for themselves such lofty dispositions and abilities as compassion, non-judgmentalism, non-reactivity, insight, open awareness, wisdom, etc., etc., and yet they can’t handle whatever another person presents to them in dialogue? Such an exalted group of humans needs the “right speech” rule to constrain them? Constrain them from what? When I see how “right speech” functions at the Secular Buddhist Association, for instance, it is clear that it serves the controlling status quo and not, in many cases, the questioning participant. By flattening affect, it disables the kinds of change that emerge out of genuine “sites of struggle.” .

    This Tricycle tripe just appeared in my in-box. It was titled: “Are you right? How about your speech?” How’s this for disdain disguised as compassion and wisdom? Those Tricycle people are really nice, aren’t they?

    October is that time of year when the mud flies fast and furious, and the blogosphere cries “wrong” and “foul” at every turn. Tsk. But how about that juicy piece of gossip floating around the office? Or that Facebook post, tweet, or email flameout you’d rather forget?

    If you are like me, there are bound to have been occasions when you used your words as weapons—and said or wrote something you wish you could take back. Then there are those tough situations where no word or sentence we could utter seems to fit. It’s a moments like these—when our sincere intention meets the truth of suffering, injustice, and loss—where the Buddha’s teachings on Right Speech become most useful.

    Our new volume in the Tricycle Teachings e-book series, Tricycle Teachings: Right Speech, offers compassionate advice for all of us who have found ourselves in that tough place where nothing we could say seems right, and describes the tools and methods used by skillful speakers to turn our thoughts and intentions into expressions of wisdom and peace. We’ve carefully selected nine articles by Buddhist practitioners of the art of Right Speech, including Zen priest Katy Butler on Marshall Rosenberg’s revolutionary Nonviolent Communications (NVC) method; Nancy Baker on “The Buddhist Guide to Gossip”; Roger Jackson with the Tibetan Buddhist take on right speech; and Susan Piver Browne on right speech in that most delicate of all human situations—marriage.

  237. Shabe L Avatar
    Shabe L

    Tom#235 and Glenn#237.
    I think I get your points. I am not sure I agree…yet. I have to chew on it a bit. Perhaps the difference in experience is that you two are addressing ‘systemic’ communications, whereas my experience is largely one-on-one. Maybe also we move in different intellectual circles.

    Tom you say: “My experience is that often those who get most angry and defensive then feel the need to actually begin to argue for their position”; I’d say they harden their position and walk away and dialogue shuts down.

    Glenn you say: “One reason subjugating systems like x-buddhism and capitalism are able to persist in their subjugation is that they come with a shiny, nearly impenetrable, gloss of niceness” and “I contend that x-buddhism is no different. The fact that it’s nice while it performs its subjugation doesn’t make it better than most other forms. In fact, it makes it worse, because insidious. Behind x-buddism’s “right speech” commandment lies utter disdain for the generic capabilities and intelligence of human beings. Another way of reading x-buddhist moral prescriptions is as a form of contemptuousness toward the person.” Well talk about thought-provoking!!Saying it, just like that, I think is very effective (for me anyway). It forces me to think about your points…comparing what you say with my experience, and questioning the received wisdom.
    I just do not see how adding ‘heat’ to the light that you are trying to shed is of any use.
    Maybe it is just a matter of style. I assume you both are born and bred American and are comfortable with an argumentative approach. I grew up in immediate post-colonial India, and the Brits were still very dominant in education. The style was to debate, not argue, which to me meant a kind of dry, cutting, but non-attacking and impersonal wit. Very effective. I am guessing though it’s a personal preference.
    The larger issue is effectiveness. For example, about a year or so ago I entered a discussion at Tricycle with Tom and others about mushing up buddhism and psychotherapy. I was blown away by some of the criticisms, having never encountered them before, and sent along the discussion to several people I work with. A few ‘stayed with’ the line of thought and we have had productive discussions on how we may be harming people by mindlessly applying mindfulness. Sad to say, a larger number just turned off; they could not handle the attacking language.

  238. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    Luis, #225

    Just a short note.

    Regarding history. I am not asking about this or that interpretation of Buddhism or any of its aspects. I am asking about historical thinking. I am also not asking about the writing of history, like on Asoka’s pillars or like the fifth Dalai Lama developing his framing of a bloody culmination of war which ended 200 years of civil war in Tibet in 1642.

    Historical thinking. What can we really know about the past? Can we know anything about Buddhism 2500 years ago? To give an example. When Johann Sebastian Bach lived the grand piano wasn’t yet invented. What Glenn Gould played was impossible for Bach. He had only a harpsichord. You know what I mean? Bach lived for sure, indeed. But do we play Bach today?

    I think the question can be extended to our personal lives too. We are inscribing pillars all the time. The drawback with our pillars is that they are not made of stone and we are (mostly) very opportunistic about our own personal (re)writing of history.

    Apart from this, perhaps the whole history thing is a bit over emphasized. And all the mentioning of Buddhism you do too. You seem to be enthusiastic about something. Why you need to frame it in semantics nobody really understands? What is Buddhism anyway? What is the inovation you experienced?

    Re your questions. First, futures trading is as risky and difficult as driving a car. Most people lose money with it because they dream fancy stuff – just like in Buddhism. What do I try to solve? I tried to convey this a bit in my last essay, in the last part. About bifurcations, crossroads etc. How is it that something happens? Something new I mean. But I is too boring this time. But it is sure something new feels uneasy. I was sitting in a piano-concert not so long ago. Pollini playing a piece by Stockhausen (Pollini at his best). I could hear the uneasiness of the audience. Then Beethoven (Pollini with his right foot asleep on the pedal). The audience was excited.

  239. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Re 236: Matthew, I don’t think that we should not examine those things we can experience, just that we should never stop there. This is the difficulty with the 18th-century cult of sensibility, and is the same difficulty we see in Thich Nhat Hanh: the goal is only to “fully” experience our emotions and reactions, and always to avoid thinking about them. For Thich Nhat Hanh, to try to explain the social structures with produce the particular emotional experience of the moment would be to weaken or diminish the experience–this is why he is so consistently opposed to thinking or doing philosophy. My point is that it is fine to weaken or diminish the strength of our emotional or bodily experiences, because that is the only way we can really see the ideology they are hypostasizing. So I am not opposed to examining our own emotions and sensations, I am just opposed to the delusion that they are somehow ultimately true and beyond examination in thought.

    Shabe, regarding “niceness,” I would have to say that in large part it probably is a cultural thing, even more complex than just being American or not. I can see, for instance, that people get put off by my exchanges with Luis, but for me they are always partly tongue-in-cheek. That is, I don’t get bothered by personal insults from Luis, and don’t usually expect others to take harsh language seriously either. I think it may come from the particular subculture I grew up in. I’m not exaggerating when I say that as a working class kid on Long Island, it was common for six or seven year olds to great one another on the playground with “what the fuck are you doing here, you asshole?” (That is, if mothers were out of earshot–it was okay to talk like that in front of fathers, though). So I generally think my own language is pretty tame–although it might not seem that way to a Canadian. Most of the Canadians I know are snide as hell, but they’ll never insult you directly–personally, I’d rather they just call me an asshole.

    And I don’t really believe that anybody was driven to ignore the discussions about Buddhism and therapy on Tricycle because of the confrontational language. I really believe that’s lame excuse, because they don’t want to deal with the truth. If someone were to tell you that the cookies you were handing out were giving kids an incurable virus, would you ignore the whole possibility because you they said it in a harsh tone of voice? Any therapist who claims they don’t have to consider this problem because they felt insulted by someones tone of voice should have his license revoked.

  240. matthewmgioia Avatar

    Re 237: Glen, you write:

    When I see how “right speech” functions at the Secular Buddhist Association, for instance, it is clear that it serves the controlling status quo and not, in many cases, the questioning participant. By flattening affect, it disables the kinds of change that emerge out of genuine “sites of struggle.”

    Your point here is well taken. I get that the kind of “right speech” you say is promoted at the SBA is a kind of censorship that only allows dialogue within the SBA framework.

    However, you lose me when you write “how’s that for disdain disguised as wisdom and compassion” about the blurb advertising Tricycles new whatever. Please help me by spelling that out a little bit. Where is the disdain? Disdain towards the blogosphere? Disdain towards anger? Disdain towards speaking in an angrily reactionary and ill conceived way? Most of that blurb seems to be about moments when one “doesn’t know what to say,” and I don’t see much disdain there…


    Matt the Sad x-buddhist

  241. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel

    Matthias, 229

    Perhaps you are right, both about the need of framing things, the mentioning of buddhism,
    That is why I am clear about using words as tools, as descriptions to coordinate action, as something useful, letting other people know what I will do or can do with them.

    And the child was happy to have a second meal during the day at his (public) school, because otherwise he would not have eaten anythin since there is no food at his home.

    But if this whole thing about buddhism isnt able to fucus on solving concrete problems well, I think its future wont be much more relevant than its present. Another dead end.
    You seem to imply that in your comment. I certainly think that.
    And I certainly prefer to help enrich core pragmatists with buddhist practice sensibility and thus it moral capability than to provide a sense of pragmatism to buddhist critics.
    Nobody is claiming here not to think, not to change the system, not to understand the complexity of things.
    Nothing on itself is really useful for nothing is non-relational and that applies to sensbility as well.

    Words as tools, is that too complex ?
    Asking what are we solving, in that too complex ?
    Certainly my emphasis is on how useful things are and not on describing what things are.
    And useful for whom, for achieving what ?

    By the way I think I have found a very concrete possible way to solve the energy problem. And that is thanks to you in part.
    I agree that trading is like driving a car. I normally say that to to other people. But that was not my question.

    Cold water kept coming out as nourishing fluid over my head, its coolness made the other water in the old pool feel warm.
    The green was greener. And these two days became elastic and better.

    Matthew, 236

    The division between private and public affairs is just a practical one. If you treassure democracy as I do, then the best thing is to emphazise public policy results regarless of personal “insights”.
    Public common problems should guide public debate, such as income distribution, or health, education, justice or enviromental sustainability, not interest problems can be bare better addressed

  242. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel


    1. What is the importance of cultivating sensibility ?
    It enhances every single action we undertake.

    2. Is sensibility important for moral development ?
    Absolutely. It informs any moral choice. It also increases the we in one. It is sensibility what can change the image we have of ourselves, so that what is dearest of one includes an ever more encompassing we, perhaps all of humanity and other sentient beings.

    3. Is sensbility important for applying ethics ?
    A moral choice is as good as its implementation and implementation is all about sensibility.

    4. Is sensibility important to bring the practice out of the zendo ?
    The real challenge is to be as senstive as possible everywhere.

    5. Is sensibility important for creativity ?

    6. How can one cultivate sensibility ?
    With more attention, with more meditation, with calmness.

    7. Is Buddhist practice a useful tool for cultivating sensibility ?

    8. In what especific forms ?
    Silence, being very careful about, intimate in every situation.

    9. Is vegetarianism a form of sensibility or its consequence ?
    Not necessarily. However being thankful of one eats is an important act of sensibility.

    10. Is practising a mindful existence a form of cultivating sensibility ?

    11. What is the relantionship between suffering and sensibility ?
    Gigantic. We shut down sensibility when we repress suffering, pain and anguish. Being indifferent to one´s pain makes it easier to be indiferent to another´s suffering. Becoming aware of pain and its causes is done through sensibility.

    12. And between sensbility and contingency ?
    The first a foremost contingency is that of existence, its discontinuity, and sensibility is the vehicle to become aware of what goes on and how.

    13. And between sensibility and compassion / solidarity ?
    Being able to perceive the pain and possibilities of a concrete situation, of a person, enhances the effectiveness of solidarity. (Marx´s daughter died while he was writing in the room next door).

    14. What is the rol of sensibility in beauty and art ?
    Able to be calm, more sensible, able to enjoy nature, art and beauty more.
    Poetry or any act of love without sensibility ? The sublime without sensibility ? Clean toilets without sensbility ? Cleaning one ass without sensibility ?

    15. What is the rol of sensibility in creativity ?
    Sensibility means more attention to the concrete, more opportunities to create.

    16. What is the rol of creativity in making a better world for all ?
    More creativity means different ways to solve old problems, the capacity to imagine a better future, and making it.

    17. Why do people become insensible to their own pain and suffering ?
    To try to avoid pain. We may begin a happier life once suffering and tragedy are really embraced, for compulsive reaction to compensate suffering are overcome and focus on a better course of action for all can be really done.

    18. Why do people become insensible to the suffering of others ?
    This question is the same as asking why are there egoists ?

    19. Why has Buddhism developed pain-avoiding mechanisms ?
    Because the false promise of no-suffering appeals to all those who are not brave enough to accept the full scope and reach of their sensbility.

    20. Is sensibility important for science, philosophy or academia ?

    21. What is the relationship between sensibility and power abuse ?
    Sensibility can be used by the powerful to enhance their abuse.

    22. How do sensibility and mass media violence interact ?
    Mass media makes violence familiar but hardly anyone is really indifferent to close violence at any time.

    23. What is the importance of sensibility in relationship ?
    Sensibility enriches interaction, verbal and non verbal.

    24. What is the importance of sensibility in pleasure ?
    It enhances it.

    25. What is the relationship between sensibility and meditation ?
    Meditation develops attention, and more attention is more sensibility.

    26. What is the relationship between sensibility and depression ?
    Sensibility provides a good sense of vulnerability. Sensibility can increase depression and also help lead the way out of it.

    27. What is the rol of sensibility in thinking and questioning ?
    It is sensibility though which I can become aware of my thinking and beliefs.

    28. Can sensibility be misguiding ?
    Yes. As much as intuition can be misguiding; as much it can lead one into believing that all one is sensible to is all there is.

  243. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Re 241: Matt: I’m not answering for Glenn, but my own sense is that the Tricycle version of “right speech” most typically masks a disdain for truth. Their site is littered with nasty personal insults toward many people, from Richard Gombrich to Mitt Romney, and that’s okay, those completely pointless personal attacks are “right speech.” However, disagreeing with someone on a point of fact or an interpretation is always considered “wrong speech” and will get shouted down with posts about “ego” and “clinging to views.” Perpetuating delusions is good, as long as it is done kindly, but challenging assumptions is always bad, no matter how gently it is done (I’m not speaking of myself here–I rarely do it gently, but there are those who try, and they are also labelled “trolls” and “ego-maniacs” and told to go sit on their cushions some more). Truth is the greatest fear on Tricycle. This is not different than the Thich Nhat Hanh book I mentioned above: it is better to tell someone kindly that he can be a good Buddhist while making weapons of mass destruction, but the height of “wrong speech” would be to frankly tell him that he should quit what he is doing because it is wrong livelihood–that would be a “view” and a sign of ego. Heidegger once said that there was not greater anxiety in the 20th century than the anxiety in the face of thought; I think the new great anxiety is the terror that there might be a “truth,” and the big pillow of niceness is meant to suffocate it.

    Sometimes, I would say most of the time these days, the best thing we can do for someone is not to offer them word of “wisdom and peace” but of truth and challenge. Wisdom is too often understood to mean vague platitudes of comfort, and being comfortable in an world full of horror and oppression isn’t always desirable.

  244. matthewmgioia Avatar

    Tom, thank you for this post. It’s funny that it came today, because just a couple hours ago I had exactly the experience you are talking about here in a conversation with Gary Weber, the self-proclaimed “nondual” master who has ceased to have self-referencial thought. Although this man is not officially associated with any Buddhist lineage, he commonly claims Zen as one of his main practices (his blog is I have exchanged a few emails with him questioning his claims, which ended today when he sent me the following message:

    Matthew, since you haven’t even read the links in the post, are you really interested in understanding? There is no point in an endless discussion on philosophical points, which is all that you seem to be interested in. There are lots of other blogs, and FB where you can do that. i would suggest you direct your efforts there. Most of the folk that read this blog are really interested in understanding and awakening, not just trying to demonstrate their intellectual prowess.

    I posted our whole exchange on this page:

    Another interesting thing about Weber’s blog is that there is no discussion there and Gary screens all comments.

  245. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper


    I just took a look at the discussion and some of Weber’s responses to other people. It seems to me he is not a very clear thinker, and mostly interested in trying to make himself out to be some kind of mystic. You ask him:

    I think the skeptical response to your experience and teaching would be something along these lines: you may have somehow managed to subdue / cut off conscious thinking, and now you are acting on unconscious thought patterns, emotions and impulses that are (also) socially constructed and that you take to be the “deepest Truth.” How can you know that you are not doing that?

    And he responds by stopping discussion–because of course this is exactly what he is doing, trying to reify an ideological position by refusing any thought that might challenge is. It seems that only by refusing to think at all, and insisting their students never think, can these mystics types get any kind of following. It seems that the wonderful happiness they promise, though, is always just one more donation away for the student, just one more retreat, or one more book to buy. It’s a shame he can delude some troubled people for a while, but eventually they’ll probably give up when they don’t get any results, right?

  246. Craig Avatar



    I gave up. I think most folks do, but have a hard time letting go. I don’t think anyone really is a super x-buddhist. There folks that act like it, but they are usually ones making money of marketing it…Tricycle, teachers etc.

    A question though, if there is no self, the what is there? There is no self that comes up with thoughts, but we need to learn to think clearly and harness awareness to ‘know’ our ideologies and biases. I’m missing how this happens if there is no self from which thoughts originate. My hunch is that somehow our conditioning allows for some awareness of awareness and so on.

  247. Tom Pepper Avatar

    Craig, re 247:

    This is the big question, right? Where do “my” thoughts come from?

    First, we have to remember that there is a “conventional self” with real causal powers. The fact that something arises from causes and conditions and is neither autonomous nor permanent does not mean it isn’t “real.” The Unites States is a humanly created thing, not “ultimately real,” and is, like the “self”, a bearer or structures which limit what it can do—many of them structures it refuses to acknowledge the very existence of. We would never think that therefore the U.S. is an “illusion” with no real power to control our lives or to influence the rest of the world.

    Second, we can learn to think and come to know our ideologies by interacting with others. I think of it as analogous to psychoanalysis—the analyst doesn’t “know” the truth of the analysand’s symptom, can’t look up the right interpretation in some secret symptom dictionary. Instead, the analyst acts in such a way to disrupt the analysand’s imaginary identifications, enabling him to perceive, question, and restructure them. Because there are multiple symbolic systems, and each individual inhabits a different position in the symbolic/imaginary system, we can see one another’s ideologies better than our own, and push one another out of our ideological prisons—out of the illusion that our ideology is a “natural truth.”

    Of course, as Christopher Norris puts it, we must recognize that much of “’thought…may occur and achieve various constructive, sometimes revelatory results in the absence or without the active participation of consciousness, let alone reflective or self-conscious awareness”(Re-thinking the Cogito, 124). Thought occurs in the symbolic order, which exceeds our conscious awareness. In part, it is the nature of “mind” as a collective symbolic/imaginary system, to think and expand its knowledge of the world.

    Our “conditioning,” then, may serve to support or hinder this conatus. As conventional selves, with real causal capacities, we can work with one another to increase awareness and support our conatus as human beings, or we can work to support the social structures which hinder this capacity. In a sense, though, we can’t really “choose” which side to be on. The analysand who sees the true meaning of his symptom can’t “choose” to un-see it—he can of course to deny it if it is offered as an interpretation by an overeager analyst, but once he sees it himself he can’t go back. We can’t really “choose” to support the structures that thwart our conatus and cause us suffering once we “see” them correctly—although we can resist understanding this truth. Those who understand these things correctly, though, must persevere in trying to force the deluded toward understanding.

    Of course this assumes that there are those who are so poorly interpellated into the existing symbolic/imaginary system to begin with that they are positioned to see some truths that others miss. Galileo, Newton, Freud, Darwin, Buddha, etc., were just “bad subjects,” in this sense. Fortunately, every symbolic system is contradictory and incomplete—otherwise we would still be living in caves.

  248. Craig Avatar



    Thank you so much for your explanation. There’s a lot there to chew on. I definitely see where you are coming from. Conventional or functional self is not a ‘real’ self, but is also not an illusion. The analysis example explains the part that I was missing. If I understand correctly, this functional self can know and think about ideology through the feedback from others. Thoughts seem to come out of nowhere but thinking really a collective process. Seeing this matrix is kind of a mixed blessing. There is no turning back, but now, as you say, I must persevere in helping the deluded understanding. All while realizing if I was deluded that much at one point, how much delusion do I still need to work through.

    Anyway, I think I see where you’re coming from. Thoughts are part of conditioned thinking and vice versa. Luckily there are those who are so sucked up into the system that can help us out.

    Thanks again.

  249. Lee Avatar


    “The analysand who sees the true meaning of his symptom can’t “choose” to un-see it—he can of course to deny it if it is offered as an interpretation by an overeager analyst, but once he sees it himself he can’t go back”

    I’m curious about the phrase ‘true meaning’. How would the analysand know the difference between the ‘true’ meaning and an alternate one, in an epistemological sense?

  250. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Lee, I’m not completely sure I understand your question. Are you asking if there is a guarantee that the interpretation is the correct one? From the outside, of course, there isn’t. The analyst can always be wrong. But for the analysand, the interpretation is correct when the symptom is no longer a problem. Asking how she knows the interpretation is correct is liking asking how she knows she is hungry–she’s the only one who could possibly know, and the correctness of the interpretation is in its effect. That is, if one mistakes boredom for hunger, eating won’t solve the problem, right? So the interpretation was wrong. The point is not to arrive at some original event as a “cause” of the symptom, but to understand what lack the symptom is covering in the present. Since the symptom is a substitution for a lack, or for a forbidden enjoyment, the correct interpretation doesn’t arrive at the “real desire” that is “repressed”, but at a new and better way to desire. Perhaps “true function of the symptom” would be a better way to put it?

  251. Lee Avatar


    Yes, I think ‘true function of the symptom’ expresses it much more clearly. The symptom serves an adaptive purpose for the person, which, when appropriately addressed, will no longer be required. I also like the idea implicit in finding ‘new and better’ ways to do things that nothing is necessarily lost in the process; better choices, interpretations and actions are simply added, which make the old structures redundant or unnecessary. A process of enriching ideology, then, possibly?

  252. Nalliah Thayabharan Avatar
    Nalliah Thayabharan

    Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha was passing through a village where the people of that village were against him, against his “philosophy”, so they gathered around him to insult him. They used ugly words, vulgar words. Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha listened. Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha’s disciple Ananda, who was with him, got very angry, but he couldn’t say anything because Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha was listening so silently, so patiently, rather as if he was enjoying the whole thing.

    Then even the crowd became a little frustrated because Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha was not getting irritated and it seemed he was enjoying. Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha said, ”Now, if you are finished, I should move – because I have to reach the other village soon. They must be waiting just as you were waiting for me. If you have not told me all the things that you thought to tell me, I will be coming back within a few days, then you can finish it.”

    Someone from the crowd said,
    “But we have been insulting you, we have insulted you. Won’t you react? Won’t you say something?”

    Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha said,
    “That is difficult. If you want reaction from me, then you are too late. You should have come at least 10 years ago, because then I used to react. But I am now no longer so foolish. I see that you are angry, that’s why you are insulting me. I see your anger, the fire burning in your mind. I feel compassion for you. This is my response – I feel compassion for you. Unnecessarily you are troubled.Even if I am wrong, why should you get so irritated? That is not your business. If I am wrong I am going to hell, you will not go with me. If I am wrong I will suffer for it, you will not suffer for it. But it seems you love me so much and you think about me and consider me so much that you are so angry, irritated. You have left your work in the fields and you have come just to say a few things to me. I am thankful.”

    Just when Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha was leaving he said,
    “One thing more I would like to say to you. In the other village I left behind, a great crowd just like you had come there and they had brought many sweets just as a present for me, a gift from the village. But I told them that I don’t take sweets. They took the sweets back. I ask you, what will they do with those sweets?”

    So somebody from the crowd said,
    “What will they do? It is easy, there is no need to answer. They will distribute them in the village and they will enjoy.”

    So Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha said,
    “Now what will you do? You have brought only insults and I say I don’t take them. What will you do? I feel so sorry for you. You can insult me, that is up to you. But I don’t take it, that is up to me – whether I take it or not. I don’t take unnecessary things, useless things. I don’t get unnecessarily burdened. I feel compassion for you.”

    This is response. If a person is angry and we are present there, not with our past, we will feel always compassion. Reaction becomes anger, response always is compassion. We will see through the person. It will become transparent that the person is angry, suffering, in misery, and ill. When someone is in fever we don’t start beating him and asking, ”Why are you having a fever? Why is your body hot? Why have you got a temperature?” We serve the person, we help the person to come out of it.

    And when somebody is angry the person also is having a temperature, the person is in a fever, the person is feverish. Why get so angry about it? The person is in a mental disease which is more dangerous than any bodily disease, more fatal. So if the spouse is angry the other spouse will feel compassion, will try in every way to help the angry spouse to be out of it. This is just mad – that the spouse is angry and the other spouse also gets angry. This is just mad, insane. We will look at the person, we will feel the misery the person is in , and we will help.

    But if the past comes in then everything goes wrong. And it can happen only if we go deep in meditation, otherwise it cannot happen. Just intellectual understanding won’t help. If we go deep in meditation our wounds will be thrown, a catharsis will happen. We become more and more clear inside, clarity is attained, we become like a mirror. We don’t have any wounds really, so no one can hit them. Then we can look at the person, then we can respond.

    Reactions are unconscious, there’s little or no real thinking involved. I used to assume that if something didn’t make any sense, then it must be the other person’s fault. Would I ever make a mistake?
    A reaction is often emotional, which may demonstrate that we have a belief. Beliefs are just adopted from someone else, without any critical thinking to see if they make sense. If we can defend something rationally, we usually do. If we can’t, then we react emotionally instead.
    A response shows thoughtfulness, we can change our life by using our intelligence to consider how best to respond. One secret of success is to think before we speak or write. Respond has the same root as responsibility. Without taking responsibility for our actions, we will battle to achieve any goal or intended result. Our thoughts, our words and our actions create results. And if we want a certain outcome, then we need to focus our thoughts, and our words and our actions on its achievement.
    Response is always very good but reaction is always very bad. Response is always very beautiful but reaction is always very ugly. Avoid reactions and allow responses. Reaction is from the past, response is here and now. Our lives are not lost by dying; Our lives are lost minute by minute, day by dragging day, in all the thousand small uncaring ways.

  253. Matthias Steingass Avatar

    Hi Nalliah, it is very nice that you try to add something here. Perhaps you should look around a bit on this site to see if what you say and cite really makes sense in this environment?

    If we go deep in meditation our wounds will be thrown, a catharsis will happen.

    There is a lot of discusion here about this topic. You will see that a simple “meditation brings catharsis” isn’t enough for us. Would you mind to describe in your own words what you mean?

  254. […] this article is extremely harsh towards the styles of Buddhism that have been brought to North America. I understand, to a point, that they are watered down versions of Buddhist orthodoxy, but the people who do pick up these books at indigos and Barnes & Nobles are not going to be particularly familiar with any Buddhist thoughts. They probably won’t feel encouraged by particularly difficult texts or unrelatable analogies, but being “present” and aware when washing the dishes is a completely attainable thing – which can help that person in the moment to stop fretting about their next task, or get caught up in their stories. […]

  255. Jonas Endres Avatar

    Dear Tom Pepper,
    I really enjoyed your article and I found it so true what you are saying. I am german, based in Paris/France and Thich Nhat Han is quiet big in Europe. But most of his crowd are just people who drop in once and you’ll never see them again, amazing to see how few dojos he has despite of the numbers of books he’s selling and the high number of people who come in summer to his temple “plumvillage” in southern France. And they are sooooo moral….
    Anyway, I would like to make some copies of your text, as well as translate it (in parts) into french and german, in order to distribute it on one of our next bigger sesshin here in Europe. Is that OK with you?

  256. Tom Pepper Avatar
    Tom Pepper

    Jonas: Feel free to translate the piece if you think it will help. It might be good to include a link to this blog, though, so people will know who to attack personally after they read it!

    I really do think that Thich Nhat Hanh is exactly what Zizek had in mind in his critique of Western Buddhism. It should be called “Buddhist tourism”; it seems that most people spend a summer immersed in TNH, and then forever after they can point to the Buddha-statue on the shelf and talk about how they once “did” the Buddhism thing.

  257. Jonas Endres Avatar

    Tom, for sure we will include the link, but so far the people to whom I gave the text (and with whom I practice), really liked it.
    “Buddhist tourism” – you really know how to put it into words. Deshimaru used to call people who shave their hair in summer and let it grow in winter “légumes de saison – season vegetables”.
    I have long hair too but a solid practice 🙂
    Another strong tendency in western zen, are clerical structures. I sometimes read speeches from western “zen masters” who are strongly affiliated to the shumucho in japan, they all talk the same, weather they are in sweden, the US or south america. it is all very convenient and well-behaved, but has rather a religious taste then a well-being taste (dogen said…). sometimes they claim their “raison d’être” in defending buddhism against the “tourists” who search personal development. but in the mean-time they install their old hierarchies, ceremonies and so on… it’s quiet painfull to watch. do you know if their are people in america, working on that subjet, critically?

  258. […] is just a snippet of another comment made by Pepper, that to me nicely encapsulates his whole activity on the SNB blog. Assuming that […]

  259. […] Unfortunately, the scriptural explanations of enlightenment are mostly also supernatural. So, modern Buddhism invented various replacement interpretations. Apparently they work for some people; but mostly they seem unsatisfactory. They may be implausible, unworkably vague, or unimpressive. […]

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