Thich Nhat Hanh’s Imaginary Soul

In the present essay, author Shyam Dodge makes a compelling argument that Thich Nhat Hanh engages in intellectual dishonesty. The beloved teacher employs “tricks of language,” for instance, to imbue an absence (no-self) with an exalted presence (the idealized x-buddhist subject). He craftily conjures a liberating “non-view” out of a demonstrably  ideologically-coercive (yet buddistically anathema) “view.” He masquerades subjugating prescriptions for behavior as self-evident conditions for personal and social emancipation.

Is it possible that Thich Nhat Hanh’s contradictions are yet another instance of a compassionate master’s koanic speech–“revelatory epiphany generators,” as Dodge calls it? Dodge’s conclusion: No. “It is simply sloppy thinking. It is self-dupery and intellectual dishonesty.”

I would ask readers to consider whether Dodge’s argument does not apply equally well to x-buddhist thinking and writing in general. As I read Shyam Dodge’s essay, it occurred to me that sloppy thinking and intellectual dishonesty have become a pervasive, and hence virtually invisible, feature of contemporary western x-buddhist discourse. The next time you visit, for instance, the Secular Buddhist site, Buddhist Geeks, Ken McLeod’s Unfettered Mind site, or read some primary text explication, consider whether  Dodge’s argument doesn’t help to reveal hidden features of their rhetorical practices.  Certainly, you will find that the three most influential western disseminators of what David Chapman calls “Consensus Buddhism”–Tricycle, Shambhala Sun, and Buddhadharma–are saturated with an “intellectual self-dupery [that] disables critical thinking, the small portion of autonomy one might have,” as Dodge says of Thich Nhat Hanh. (Links at bottom.)

As always, the ridiculous irony in all of this is that such practices make a mockery of x-buddhism’s stated laudable goal of human awakening.


Thich Nhat Hanh’s Imaginary Soul

By Shyam Dodge

1. Introduction

In this essay, I evaluate the intellectual veracity of Thich Nhat Hanh by focusing on a few key principles in his philosophy: 1. His peculiar claims regarding “realizing” non-self and how these claims construct an independent self (or soul); 2. His beliefs regarding the “unhappiness” of ideology and his own transcendent vision of Buddhism; 3. His conception of the ideal Buddhist and Buddhist community. Each of these assertions, or principles in his philosophy, proves to be self-contradictory and the product of poor reasoning. In the effort to investigate TNH’s honesty as a philosopher and teacher I also explore the implications his version of Buddhism has to questions of social and political freedom. I begin (in the following section) with an analysis of TNH’s rendering of anatta as independent of intellectual understanding, which leads to a discussion of his “view” of Buddhism that, he believes, not only transcends ideology but is a direct insight into the true nature of reality.

2. Will The Real Non-Self Please Stand Up?

Surveying the Buddhist landscape (on blogs, in magazines, the shelves of bookstores) we can blindly point in any direction and stumble upon casuistic gems like this one from TNH (interviewed in Shambhala Sun), “the goal of the practice [is] to realize non-self.” He goes further stating, “This is not just an idea or something you understand intellectually.” (McLeod 1) In response to this perplexing claim, I cannot help but ask: What else am I to do but understand non-self intellectually? How can non-self be realized outside of my thoughts, reasoning faculties and emotions? Is there some way to realize non-self outside of my own subjectivity? Unless TNH means exactly what his words indicate—that non-self is a kind of soul or atman independent of the mind, the body, thoughts and emotions. In this regard, TNH’s language asserts the opposite of non-self. He, in fact, is preaching the doctrine of atman: a separate self (distinct from thoughts, emotion and body) that can be realized independent of all other mental and emotional faculties.

TNH, of course, thinks he is claiming otherwise. He asserts, by all appearances, an atman and calls it a non-self. He then articulates a particular view and calls it a non-view. To this end, in the same interview in Shambhala Sun he states:

Non-self can be a view, impermanence might be a view, and if you are caught in a view, you are not really free. The ultimate has no view. That is why nirvana is the extinction of all views, because views can bring unhappiness—even the views of nirvana, impermanence, and no-self… (McLeod 3)

There is a trickiness in the language here. ‘Views’ or ideologies are being critiqued. According to TNH nirvana is the “extinction of all views” but then in the next instance nirvana can be an ideology—an ideology that “can bring unhappiness.” Rather than digressing into the tired discussion of ‘both/and’ versus ‘either/or’ paradigms there is a compelling question at stake here regarding TNH’s claims to what I call a self-transcending ideology—that somehow by articulating a particular “view” he is presenting a non-view. To this end TNH says, “non-self is not a theory, a doctrine, or an ideology, but a realization that can bring about a lot of happiness.” (McLeod 1) The contradictions are more than apparent. In one instance Buddhist doctrine is an ideology that can bring about unhappiness, and in another it transcends ideology and through revelation can ‘bring about a lot of happiness.” The contemporary x-buddhist tendency is to avoid careful examination of claims like these by relying on the standard postmodern judo-sidestep by speaking to the revelatory power of paradox to liberate the individual from the constraints of subjectivity and rational thought. But this assumes the inherent truth of TNH’s claims and their power to liberate the individual. It avoids the question of whether or not his version of Buddhism actually has the power to liberate,[1] and whether it itself is simply another ideology (possibly a useful one). It also speaks to TNH’s belief in a non-self (or really an atman) that is independent of the mind and can therefore be “realized” separate from the intellect thereby transcending all “views.”

In this regard, TNH claims that his version of Buddhism is not mere theory, but an insight into reality itself and is therefore capable of being “realized.” More importantly, he is implying that there are some “views” of non-self and nirvana that are ideological constructs while his “view” is a non-view—something that cannot be realized intellectually, something that transcends theory and ideology—and therefore is a direct experience of reality. TNH’s version of the dharma brings “happiness” whereas other versions (or misrepresentations) bring “unhappiness.”

In the effort to untangle his convoluted reasoning I see TNH making two perplexing and bold claims in this interview: 1. Non-self exists outside of interdependent constructs (How else could it be “realized” independent of intellectual understanding and reason?) and 2. His view of the dharma transcends all views. TNH’s version of non-self reminds me of Wittgenstein’s clever disparagement of Freud’s notion of the unconscious: “Imagine a language in which, instead of saying ‘I found nobody in the room’ one said, ‘I found Mr. Nobody in the room.’ Imagine the philosophical problems that would arise out of such a convention.” (69) The act of naming, even an absence, is capable of constructing the illusion of a substance, thereby reifying a nothing. Just as TNH reifies a non-self by giving a name and an address at which it can be found (or “realized”) via introspective contemplation.

In fact, if I were to follow TNH’s advice, I will forever be chasing down an experience that I am not at the center of, which is another kind (or order) of regress—the search not for a cause but a non-cause. More importantly, it is naïve: As if his version of the dharma does not itself construct distinctly Buddhist selves. Here we arrive at a central question: is TNH honest? I mean intellectually honest. We see a significant number of self-deluding moves in his language. First he claims that anatta is something to be realized independent of our understanding and reasoning faculties. Secondly, inextricably wedded to the former assertion, he claims that his atman-like vision of non-self is not a theory or an ideology but an insight into reality. His version of non-self is not only independent of mind, emotion and thought but also transcends “views.” Hence my term: self-transcending ideology.

According to TNH “views” or ideologies bring “unhappiness;” therefore, Buddhism’s role is to help us transcend views altogether. In order to pull this off he must have an insight that is independent of a “view,” which means that he has to offer us something that transcends our interdependent and carefully mediated knowledge. This is how he constructs a soul out of the teaching of non-self. Non-self, in order to transcend the “unhappiness” of views, must then be a revelation separate from our intellectual understanding, thoughts and emotions. It must be transcendent of our condition otherwise it would simply be another “view.” In his biography of the Buddha TNH describes subjective interiority as a “prison,” (160) a structure to be escaped not reconfigured.

TNH, from all appearances, desperately wants a way out of the ideological constructions Ernest Becker describes:

the reason man was so naturally cowardly was that he felt he had no authority; and the reason he had no authority was in the very nature of the way the human animal is shaped: all our meanings are built into us from the outside, from our dealings with others. That is what gives us a ‘self’ and a superego. Our whole world of right and wrong, good and bad, our name, precisely who we are, is grafted into us. (48)

But TNH’s failure is in his inability to recognize the value of ideology—that there are ways of remaking the world that both benefit us and relieve suffering. Furthermore, he fails to see how he is remaking the world—grafting his own versions of self, good and bad, and right and wrong.

3. Buddhist Poison

What exactly is a Buddhist self? According to Thich Nhat Hanh a Buddhist possesses “equanimity and nondiscrimination” and is full of “peace and calm.” Likewise a Buddhist is “free from anger… craving, jealousy, and despair.” (Hanh 1) In so many words TNH is describing the qualities of what he thinks makes a good Buddhist. In a Foucauldian analysis we might say that such ‘dharma imperatives’ serve as a kind of technology of the self that dictates healthy and unhealthy forms of development. If “nondiscrimination” and an overriding sense of “peace and calm” are condoned affective and emotional states then there are also inadmissible emotions. TNH goes further in dictating these unacceptable or ‘non-Buddhist’ emotions:

According to the Buddha’s teachings, the most basic condition for happiness is freedom. Here we do not mean political freedom, but freedom from the mental formations of anger, despair, jealousy and delusion. These mental formations are described by the Buddha as poisons. As long as these poisons are still in our heart, happiness cannot be possible. (Hanh 1)

For all intents and purposes, TNH’s version of the dharma makes one into a “good citizen.” His vision of “the Buddha’s teaching” produces socially non-reactive, non-discriminating subjects. A Buddhist, in this respect, does not seek political freedom but spiritual emancipation from “non-Buddhist” emotions such as anger and despair. The Buddha, in the mind of TNH, dreamed, as Foucault would say, of “the utopia of the perfectly governed city.” (198) A city populated by citizens who spend their time moderating their emotions and behavior (self-regulating). Social freedom is an afterthought. Of course this is not necessarily a bad thing. But it is also definitely an ideology that produces a particular type of Buddhist person with a particular set of Buddhist desires, habits, and behaviors (free of anger and jealousy while filled with peace and calm). All of which speaks to the fundamental dishonesty underpinning TNH’s claims to providing a version of Buddhism independent of a “view.”

4. The Way of Seniority

How does TNH get away with these obvious contradictions? One answer might be the structure of his Buddhist community. TNH speaks to this in the Shambhala interview:

Buddhist democracy is more grounded in the truth [in comparison to Western democracy], because if you are a teacher and you have much more experience and insight, your vote has more value than the vote of a novice who has not got much insight and experience. So in Buddhism, voting should combine the way of democracy with the way of seniority. That is possible. We have done that with a lot of success in our community, because the younger and less experienced people always have faith and respect toward the elder ones.  (McLeod 3)

A few things are happening here: 1. Seniority trumps dissenting voices, since “experience” is given higher value than equality and one cannot help but think possibly rationality as well (if there are revelations such as his version of non-self available to us beyond our understanding and intellect); 2. The novice is not encouraged to seek social freedom since “anger, despair [and] jealousy” are inadmissible emotions; 3. TNH is a senior member of his community and therefore can help his novices “realize non-self” not just intellectually but, one can only assume, metaphysically, and thereby free them from “delusion.” In other words TNH can draw the “poison” from their “hearts.” With this in mind a structure begins to form within one’s imagination of TNH’s version of the Buddhist self and the ideal Buddhist community.

This structure, not unlike Foucault’s vision of the Panopticon, seeks to automate the functioning of power within the subject.[2] TNH does this in a few simple ways: a. His version of the Buddha’s teaching dictates what are admissible emotions through a hierarchy of prioritized states and habits of mind (equanimity, nondiscrimination, peace and calm) which demands that the Buddhist monitor their thoughts, behaviors and emotions; b. TNH’s ideology produces an imperative to rid oneself of the emotions of dissent and social disquiet by relinquishing “jealousy” and “anger,” which c. curbs and undermines social revolution. In this regard, the Buddhist becomes a self-regulating function of society who does not require external discipline—they are already regulating their disquiet and despair within.

In the effort to draw these finer points into greater relief consider the following: If anger, jealousy and despair are not “Buddhist emotions” than a significant portion of one’s own inner life is not admissible, in some respects they might even be considered an enemy—an inner “blockade” or “poison” in TNH’s terminology (Hanh 1). In direct correlation to this TNH claims that non-self cannot be realized intellectually. In two deft moves the Buddhist (or at least the student of TNH) is taught that it is necessary to transcend their reasoning faculties and to distrust a meaningful portion of their emotional life in order to be “happy.” The Buddhist then must become a constant surveillant of his/her own inner life (which can, of course, often be a good thing),[3] monitoring and regulating their emotions while also attempting to subjugate his/her intellect in order to realize the truth of anatta. This makes the Buddhist, in the words of Foucault, an “object of information.” (200) In this regard, the Buddhist must be transfigured into an object that can be analyzed, examined, probed and deconstructed, as if such self-analysis is capable of freeing them from their own native subjectivity (if non-self is something to be realized independent of intellect and emotion), rather than it being simply another function of subjectivity. Metaphysical circularity, like this, blinds the Buddhist to the truth of their condition with the promise of a revelation that can free them from the “prison” of their own minds—a freedom that is self-transcending. In other words this revelation is atman, an independent self that transcends anger, jealousy, and the intellect.

5. The Implications of TNH’s Non-View Ideology

Thich Nhat Hanh has made a transcendent self out of a non-self and a non-view out of a view. He has constructed an ideology that dictates social norms and behavioral development as well as metaphysical truths. But he claims to have done no such thing. Instead, he asserts that he is revealing the true nature of reality. These complications (or rather contradictions) in his reasoning are not koans—they are not revelatory epiphany generators. It is simply sloppy thinking. It is self-dupery and intellectual dishonesty. If TNH were to admit that his ideology is itself a view and that his concept of anatta is in fact atman then his arguments would have more substance. I’m fairly certain that many of his teachings are therapeutic for many people, which speaks to the value of ideology and the capacity of ideological constructions to remake the world in positive ways. I’m also quite certain that TNH deeply cares about social emancipation. But this does not change the fact that TNH is practicing, at least intellectually, a profound form of dishonesty.

Such intellectual self-dupery disables critical thinking, the small portion of autonomy one might have. It makes one a self-deceiver, a psychological masochist forever frustrated in the effort to attain an illusion (a transcendent self that does not exist). It makes one a prisoner of metaphysical circularity. These qualities seem counter-productive to TNH’s larger aims. From all of his talks, books and articles TNH appears to be intent upon providing therapeutic tools to alleviate suffering and to bring about greater human freedom yet the intellectual dishonesty undergirding his philosophy undermines his ostensible “larger mission.”

But there are other, more subtle ways in which TNH’s atman-infused metaphysics actually avoids suffering. His main priority is concerned with poisonous “mental formations” not political or social freedom. In many ways his weird version of non-self is intent upon transcendence (through dissociation from suffering). TNH is not seeking to apply therapy to suffering but to anesthetize the Buddhist to external suffering via freedom from “mental formations,” which is eerily similar to his claim that non-self is to be realized independent of intellectual understanding. TNH’s so-called “freedom from mental formations” combined with his version of non-self reveal the cornerstone of his philosophy: he is seeking a spiritual liberation from the suffering of the world. One that is independent of “mental formations,” of the intellect and “poisonous” emotions. TNH is seeking a transcendent soul. Therefore, his philosophy is concerned with dissociating from the intellect, from the emotions, from the real world conditions of suffering in order to touch a greater truth.

TNH’s ideology constructs a particular type of citizen: one more concerned with their internal reality than an external one. The Buddhist, in this sense, self-regulates, self-medicates (or meditates) in order to alleviate their psychic suffering regardless of the social reality they live in. This vision of the dharma prefers anesthesia over social change, the numbing of pain over addressing the real conditions of suffering. TNH’s version of Buddhism seeks to make the subject into a non-reactive, non-discriminating, non-jealous, metta-inspired citizen: A Buddhist who abdicates their passion in favor of an ascetic non-participatory attitude, without actually leaving society. A kind of Buddhist zombie. It makes the Buddhist into a ‘good citizen,’ subservient to authority (or in TNH’s language “seniority”).


Becker, Ernest. The Denial of Death. (New York: Free Press, 1997).

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Trans. A. Sheridan.

(New York: Vintage Books, 1977).

Hanh, Thich Nhat. “Loosening the Knots of Anger.” Shambhala Sun. Nova Scotia,

Canada: Shambhala Sun Foundation, Nov. 2001. Web. Sept. 18 2012.

—. Old Path White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha.  (Berkley, CA:

Parallax Press, 1991).

McLeod, Melvin. “This is the Buddha’s Love: Interview with Thich Nhat Hanh.”

Shambhala Sun. Nova Scotia, Canada: Shambhala Sun Foundation, Mar. 2006. Web. Sept. 18 2012.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. The Blue and Brown Books,

(New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1965).

[1] I don’t mean social or psychological liberation but the kind of liberation THN is talking about when he claims we can “realize” annata independent of thoughts and emotions.

[2] The following critique could very well apply to almost any community held together by a common ideology. I only go through the trouble of drawing out the implications of TNH’s philosophy and community in order to defend my assertion that TNH’s claim to be in possession of a non-view is fallacious.

[3] Self-regulation as well awareness of one’s psychological inner workings can often be healthy practices. But they are, of course, born out of ideological constructions and are therefore not non-views and/or transcendent of ideology and theory.



Shyam Dodge is a Harvard educated former monk. Raised in an ashram, he has been practicing and teaching meditation, Asian philosophy, and yoga for over 20 years. His books include a memoir, a collection of teaching stories, and a forthcoming war narrative of Hawaii. Shyam is an active critic and contributor to the understanding of contemporary Buddhism and yoga in North America. In addition to his work as a scholar and critic, he is a fiction writer, satirist, and pop culture essayist. Shyam’s blog is here. He co-founded and writes at Yoga Brains. You can also learn more in this interview.

Top Image

William Blake (1757-1827), “The Soul Hovering over the Body Reluctantly Parting with Life.”


Secular Buddhist Association
Buddhist Geeks
Ken McLeod’s Unfettered Mind site
David Chapman’s Consensus Buddhism
Tricycle Magazine
Buddhadharma Magazine
Shambhala Sun Magazine

205 thoughts on “Thich Nhat Hanh’s Imaginary Soul

  1. It seems to me that often in discussions such as TNH’s, no effort is made to define terms. As a result sloppy thinking and obfuscation is inevitable. Mix in a generous serving of bromides, and there you have basically every article ever published in SS.

  2. A lot of great points in there. I am a little confused as to how the TNH philosophy of non-self, which here seems to be interchangeable with the buddha’s philosophy of co-dependent arising, and really also, the Buddha’s very definition of the term Sunyata is never mentioned. Or at least the relationship of the
    3 as they relate to each other. I also like your critique of the use of words and names in the story, but need to refer back to Nagarjuna’s critique of the Buddhist philosophy in regards to Name and Form, as my memory escapes me as though it were truly a separate part of myself and seems unwilling to submit to my sensical desires. Like any Shyam writing I have been left with a great deal to think about! I have a feeling you have given TNH quite a bit to think about as well! Will he respond? Damn! Now I have to read the Diamond Sutra all over again!

  3. Regarding deference to seniority in Buddhism: This is strictly a matter of Vinaya. Those who have the longest career in robes, as fully ordained monks, sit in front. And this makes sense, because they have recited the rules and penalties twice per lunar month for the longest time, and presumably know them best. How else could one determine precedence–by spiritual attainment? Some sort of pop quiz?

    There is a story about Kalu Rinpoche in the early days of Tibetan Buddhism in the West. He was giving an initiation in his room on a hillside down from Darjeeling. Present were five young Western men, newly ordained by Karmapa XVI. Rinpoche had them sit close to him in front. Tibetan monks complained at the violation of seniority rules. Rinpoche replied, “They [the Westerners] will not receive the initiation because they don’t understand the language. You [Tibetan-speakers] will not obtain it because you have no faith in the lama. So you are all equal.”

  4. Dear Shyam. So good and sharp and what a service to mindfulness culture in general. Especially the deconstruction of the “good citizen” meme.

    But I was wondering throughout whether or not the intellectual dishonesty you describe with regard to calling a clear view a non-view is simply an educational void. I believe he and others who make this distinction really feel the difference between these two, and our rather sloppy spiritual language is filled with this distinction — between the “head” and the “heart”, between “understanding” and “knowing”. Semantically, TNH has constructed an atman through his references to non-view. But what is the sensation-of-being he is trying to convey? I believe it is the right-brain-centric, paleo-mammilian, pre-linguistic state buried in our psychoneurology, and triggered by memories of pre-cognitive childhood moments.

    On my harsher days I’ll refer to such yearnings as infantile-regressive. But it’s more complex than that. The appeal to the “happy non-view” is an attempt to allow the pre-linguistic to re-assert control over the linguistic, the pre-philosophic to overwhelm the philosophic with the endorphins of presence. The inconsistencies of “view” and “non-view” may be more the by-product of this hazy dialogue between the layers of our psychoneurologic phylogeny than a simple failure of reason.
    Back to the educational void: could it be that TNH and his generation of students (and really — most meditators up to this point) have simply not been exposed to enough evo-psych and psychoneurology to be clear about the fact that they are not dealing in philosophy at all, but in a controlled suppression or diversion of the philosophic faculty in the hope of allowing something more child-like to reassert itself?

    Of course things get ugly as the social power aggregates around the paradoxical “realized child-like-ness” of the elders. I have in the past focused on the authoritarian aspects of this structure, but recently, as I see the layers interplay in a developmental context, I’m thinking this authoritarianism is very strange. Because at the top of the pile is a child: someone who rejects the intellect, is allowed to self-contradict, appeals to our memories of simplicity, loves plums, wants to live in a plum village, and even looks like an actual baby, bald and swaddled and presexual. It seems that in our despair over the exhausting work of philosophy and social justice, we worship babyhood, invoking Freud’s “King Baby”, remembered in ourselves, embodied in our spiritual leaders. When i take even a brief inventory of the popular spiritual leaders I know, it’s a parade of babyfaces and milquetoasts.

    Buddha is said to have said: gate gate paragate etc. “Gone beyond, gone beyond”, i.e., all thoughts, views, concepts of self. I have no idea what he meant by it, but I’m proposing that what we really want it to mean is “Gone before, gone before”, i.e., to the place before we were burdened with the terrible challenges of adulthood and postmodern self-reflexive consciousness.

  5. Another thought:

    The social progressivism of TNH and PV is clear and much-needed, and we all know that “engaged buddhism” has done far more than yoga culture (or perhaps any spiritual culture other than the now-defunct liberation theologians of 1970s/80s Catholicism) has to integrate internal regulation and external ideals. So I wonder if the regression I’m proposing is a kind of survival strategy? I know many mindfulness types who are tireless activists. Splitting into internal baby and external ninja is probably a good way of sustaining their energy: non-mindfulness activists seem to have a terrible burnout rate.

  6. Thank you for this analysis. One of the correlations that I’ve been wondering about is between the strong emphasis on internal, personal transformation, as against socio-political transformation–a theme noted in this essay and elsewhere in this blog. This emphasis seems to accord with the individualistic strains of American culture, and perhaps therefore helps to explain the popularity of the message of internal, personal transformation. The high irony here is, of course, that it is that very individualism, which makes the notion of internal, personal transformation appealing, that comes under such criticism at other points in the x-Buddhist rhetoric.

  7. This is a thought-provoking and stimulating piece and should generate excellent conversation. I’m stumbling over the Foucaultian analogy, however, and I’m on the fence about the charge of dishonesty. It may be the case that the promise in Buddhism of freedom from anger and other afflictive emotions IN PRACTICE produces a community of self-regulating citizens, because in fact none of these citizens is awakened, but that’s a misunderstanding of dharma, not a failure of it. The teachings–at least as I have encountered them–discourage us from “moderating our emotions” because only by feeling them–the road through passion not around it–can we actually take the first step to loosening our grip on them, and theirs on us. Freedom from them may, then, not be the same as not having them, or moderating them. It may mean having them, but in a different way. The fact that most practitioners (including TNH’s students) still try to be “good citizens” just means they haven’t given up the striving that probably brought them to the dharma in the first place. I don’t know TNH’s work all that well, but in the passages cited here he doesn’t seem to be advocating moderating the emotions. The problem may simply be that he’s good (ok only so so) at describing the desired outcome and not as good at telling his students how to get there. There is, as in so many places in western buddhism, a deep underestimation of the difficulty–as others have said–of capturing the subtlety of the teachings in widely understandable language.

    This thing about the good citizen may seem a minor point, but at times it feels like you’re not reading TNH as carefully as one might want, in order to be able to launch a charge such as dishonesty. Maybe it’s hard to read him carefully because he’s not all that precise a writer–“sloppy thinking” all over the place here, as you say–but I actually WANT this critique of what it means to awaken to gain traction, and it won’t if it hits him athwart.

    Where I think the critique may not get much traction, however, is here: the charge that his view is “more concerned with [an] internal reality than an external one.” Can you find me a buddhism that isn’t?

  8. Mark Tatz (#3). I was hoping you might say more about how your comment relates to Dodge’s essay. Saying, as you do, that seniority in Buddhism is based on the Vinaya or on faith in the lama, is, in the language of this blog, just an instance of “exemplificative braggadocio” or “example fetish.” That is, the only matter that you have settled is that which is given in the example; namely, that Buddhists do such and such. The problem, or issue, of human hierarchization (seniority, in the present terms)–how it is justified, who/what is served by a particular justification, whether the hierarchy is creatively liberating for the person or subjugating–remains.

    Appeal to x-buddhist organizational logic tells us only what we already knew: the nature of x-buddhist organizational logic.

  9. Another wonderful piece of writing and analysis from Shyam Dodge! As someone who studied and practiced with Thich Nhat Hanh, I’d like to add that at least some of these points do deserve a bit more nuance. For instance, my experience of the “Plum VIllage Culture” is indeed that everyone wanted to be like “Thay.” This even to the degree that many of them would talk in a much quieter voice than their normal voice, because that’s how Thay talks. Me, with my loud brooklyn/long island speech that I could not — and never wanted to — moderate into a whisper, made me feel a bit like an elephant in a china-shop! I felt that many in the ‘sangha’ simply plastered a smile on their face even while they were screaming inside.

    However, that is never what I heard TNH to say we should do! Re: Jody TNH was the first teacher I had ever practiced with that encouraged me to feel what I was feeling. To not be too quick to get past my grief or anger, but to really feel and investigate it. For instance, having successfully learned to repress my emotions, it was while practicing with TNH that I finally connected with the grief of my sister’s death 17 years after the fact! I think many of his students attempt to bypass this ‘work’ and get to what they THINK is the goal of some Stepford Wives/Pod People equanimity. That or — interestingly, they wallow in their victimization. But when he responds to Oprah Winfrey who says to him: “You seem so peaceful. Just sitting here with you I feel peaceful just being in your presence; but what happens when you are late for meeting or you have to catch an airplane?” and TNH answers, “To respond in peace and happiness is possible in every event, in every situation. This is my training. This is my practice,” I get WHY they act this way! He sends mixed messages all the time! Hearing this, it seems there is no room for feeling impatience or anger!

    And then again, the renunciate background of buddhism does indeed posit anger, craving, grieving, jealousy etc. as “poisons” and the practice as eradicating them FOREVER! This may indeed be the earliest description of nibbana in the Pali Suttas. That the fact Mara continues to visit the buddha seems to me to be an example of ‘leakage’ of the more realistic thinking that such eradication is not possible. How one responds to these ‘visitors’ is much more the issue, I think. And yet again, a recent collection of essays on buddhist ethics is actually titled “Destroying Mara Forever” !!!!!

    Regarding your point about the community, hierarchy and authority: I can only say that when I was told there were something not open to question or discussion, I bolted! To express any disagreement with “Thay” was simply beyond the pale of “correctness” among the “sangha.” The deference to the man is creepy.

    Finally, lest this all seem to be about TNH, I think it clear that what you are describing is indeed pandemic in contemporary (and much traditional) buddhist culture. I think at least part of it is that while the Vedic tradition (and most other religious and much philosophical traditions) have asked questions like “What exists?” the buddha thought this a “wrong” question. I don’t think he was much interested in ontology, but more in “how” things work. His followers could barely settle for that, though. The ambiguity in the suttas led to the formation of the realist perspective of abhidhamma as well as the idealism of vijnanavada.

    By the time buddhism entered into China, the more mystical notion that the buddha’s teachings were “beyond rationality” and inexpressible in language (the ole “ineffable” gambit) began to flourish, especially in the ch’an/zen traditions. Thus my essay on “What I Hate About Zen.” TNH is a product of the mahayana/zen mystification and obfuscation.

    I agree generally with Gombrich when he writes:

    “I agree that the buddha held the goal of the religious life to be an experience which language has no power to express, I strongly disagree with interpretations of his teachings, which are of course expressed in language, as being mystical in the vulgar sense of defying normal logic.”

    If the buddha really thought that about language, however, I think it is overstated. I’d say language is limited in expressing the experience — not completely powerless. By that I do not want to imply that liberation is a special case of this limitation of language. It is equally true of language’s limitations in expressing the taste of chocolate, or a plum.

  10. I love this. Very thought provoking and insightful. I have to admit I chuckled a bit when you compared the social constructions of TNH to Foccault’s panopticon. I was trying to envision a book or public lecture by TNH having the same effect (automating power within the subject) as an asylum or military barracks would in the 1940’s?

    It does seem that TNH’s ‘non view’ is actually an extremely fixed and developed view and that the interviewer didn’t ask for further clarification in regards to this obvious problem.

    I also felt you point at the end, that irregardless of the inconsistencies in TNH’s basic structure of self/non self, he is overall trying to make the world a better place, attempting to disseminate a non violent philosophy to alleviate suffering and bring awareness into a host of social problems.

  11. A brief postscript, on the use of “postmodernism” as a term of derogation. The vast majority of what passes under that heading is as confused as the vast majority of what passes under the name of Buddhist philosophy. I’m not sure we can draw approvingly from Foucault–or Derrida–and then write off postmodernism as shallow infantile thinking. Just because almost no one who writes about Buddhist philosophy actually understands what the Dogens and Nagarjunas were trying to teach us doesn’t mean they didn’t have a lot to teach us. This, I would agree with others here, is where the constant claim that it’s very hard to convey Buddhist insight in language should be a call to think and write and work harder, not one to give up the task. For me, as someone who’s both lived as a Buddhist monk and taught poststructuralist philosophy for a couple of decades, and continues to want to write and think and talk about all of the above–in the right company–is where the fun starts.

  12. In my introduction to Shyam Dodge’s essay, I asked for readers to keep an eye out for instances of what Shyam is calling “intellectual dishonesty.” I will report an instance that I just encountered. I commented on the Secular Buddhist site’s review of Donald Lopez’s book, The Scientific Buddha. The review is by Doug Smith. I normally don’t comment there. But I thought Smith’s review contained many instances of the very thing Shyam is talking about in his essay. So, I wrote the comment below. I am re-posting here because someone over there removed it and worse–it got me banned from the SBA site! I assume it was Ted Meissner’s doing, but I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that we continue to expose the hypocrisy and dishonesty of x-buddhist figures. Maybe x-buddhist materials have real value for human awakening. We won’t know until people with courage, compassion, and creativity work with them in ways that are not beholden to x-buddhism’s (The Dharma’s) value system.

    Here’s my site-banning comment to Doug Smith. Shyam Dodge’s thesis: 1, x-buddhism 0.


    You write:

    If we’re going to cast that [i.e., our ability to discern the Buddha’s teachings] into doubt, because the texts were written down and compiled centuries after the Buddha’s death, then all we end up with is agnosticism about what the Buddha believed. And I don’t think that’s the right way to go; for one thing, reading the texts one does get the sense of a single authorial voice.

    If you are suggesting that we can somehow devise strategies to avoid perpetual “agnosticism” concerning “the Buddha’s” view on X or Y, I agree. What we can’t avoid, however, is absolute, complete, unadulterated ignorance.

    I am curious about whether you realize the faith-based stance of your statement above–and indeed of much of your review of Lopez’s book. Imagine a scientist saying, as you do above, “yea, the evidence could very well support that conclusion; but I don’t think that’s the right way to go.” And if you really find that “reading the texts one does get the sense of a single authorial voice,” I just don’t know what to say or where to begin.

    Shyam Dodge wrote an essay on our site claiming that a certain x-buddhist teacher engages in intellectual dishonesty. I understand “intellectual dishonesty” to describe a case of an obviously intelligent person refusing, for whatever reasons, to avoid certain trajectories of his/her own thought. I see that happening here, too.

  13. Hi Glenn, I’m curious if you can elighten me a little bit? Is TNH an x-Buddhist, as in someone who has left the Buddhist tradition, sect, or Cannon? I am a little confused as the first time I personally have heard the term x-buddhist was in Shyams’ essay. Namaste. J.

  14. #13:


    X-Buddhist is a term encompassing all or buddhism’s guises as it is today. X is the variable, buddhism, the constant. X can mean Tibetan, Zen, Nichiren, Pureland, etc. Check out all the different links on this site, especially this:

    Reading about this project will definitely give you more of a foundation for understanding the articles and comments. It definitely helped me.


  15. Thanks Craig! I think I’m out of my league. I definately need to add a new category or two, like “the sloppy thinker,” or “exhausted one,” or perhaps my personal favorite from the philosophy of Jeet Kune Do, “feel, don’t think!” by the Master of the Void himself, Bruce Lee.

  16. Re #10, Brian, I don’t think the idea is to suggest that Thich Nhat Hanh has evil intentions. Judging from his writing (I have never met him in person), he does seem to believe his “mindfulness” will make the world a better place. The issue is that despite whatever his intention might be, his project makes the world a worse place, strengthening attachment to a “deep, true self” and insisting that we must never employ thought to figure out how to change the world for the better.

    Re #9: Frank: I find this account of the Thich Naht Hanh community fascinating. I think it would be interesting to consider this further in connection with Matthias’s essay on “The Thaumaturge.” Charisma, it seems to me, generally works due to a kind of transference neurosis, projecting onto some individual (usually one with some power or fame) the quality of the “subject presumed to know,” and the “subject presumed to desire”(ie, to have all their desires in perfect control), even without or against evidence of their actual wisdom or equanimity. This is a troubling kind of infantilizing of the follower, and one would hope any teacher with real wisdom would recognize it and work to prevent, not encourage, it–the way a good analyst should work to subvert this kind of transference and push the analysand to get beyond such dependence. It is interesting that the meek, soft-spoken Asian figure can be a source of this kind of projection for so many people interested in Buddhism.

    Re #11: Jody, I’m not completely sure what you mean by postmodern. On my definition of that term, Derrida at least would definitely NOT be postmodern, although he is poststructuralist. I would define “postmodern” as Jameson did, as the ideology of late capitalism–so specifically what tries to avoid the kind of thought that Foucault, Derrida, Althusser, Macherey, and many other poststructuralists are engaged in. As for a Buddhism “more engaged with an internal than external reality,” I would insist that the goal of early Buddhism and definitely of Nagarjuna would be to dissolve that division, so that we realize there is no hope of changing our “internal reality” without changing the external as well.

  17. RKPayne (#6). Yes, I agree, Richard. What you are describing is, in the terms of our project here, a valuable point of fissure. It’s precisely where things start coming apart that we, as critics, want to set up shop. X-buddhism, of course, tries to reconcile the contradiction between its valorization of a robust atomistic self and that of no-self with slippery philosophical-poetic gestures, but it remains a contradiction. Contemporary x-buddhism vapidly proclaims the saving grace of “no-self” while it hawks its Dale-Carnegian banalities in the teeming marketplace of middle-class self-help.

    Several of Tom Pepper’s essays and comments on this site deal with the “atomistic mind” problem.

    Maybe you’ll explore the issue–let’s call it x-buddhism’s Imperial Contradiction–on Critical Reflection on Buddhism. Or maybe you’d like to write something for us on it.

  18. I’d like to report something that maybe is less of an intellectual dishonesty, but more of a rhetorical dishonesty. The tool/mindset-contradiction.

    I recently read a comment where someone argued for Non-violent communication (NVC) and it felt like talking to the mindfulnistas.

    The wikipedia-page for NVC has the following quote:

    “I think it is important that people see that spirituality is at the base of Nonviolent Communication, and that they learn the mechanics of the process with that in mind. It’s really a spiritual practice that I am trying to show as a way of life. Even though we don’t mention this, people get seduced by the practice. Even if they practice this as a mechanical technique, they start to experience things between themselves and other people they weren’t able to experience before. So eventually they come to the spirituality of the process. They begin to see that it’s more than a communication process and realize it’s really an attempt to manifest a certain spirituality.”

    Isn’t that exactly the defence-technique of the mindfulness-crowd? On the one hand everybody can use mindfulness because it is not a religion (unlike Buddhism), but just a technique to deal with pain. But then, if they are critized for abandoning compassion they argue it’s also a way of approaching your life.

    Does this make sense, or am I getting paranoid?

  19. Glenn,

    So, the Secular Buddhists have finally banned you? What you said seems fairly mild, unfortunately it is also true, which is probably what got it banned. There is no real response, there is clearly an assertion of faith in the incontrovertible truth of the original words of Buddha. This obsession with pure authority seems to be at odds with the purportedly “scientific” goal of Secular Buddhism, but they seem unable to see this–proof or rational argument cannot make a dent in their position, because they will simply quote the scripture against it, and argument from scripture is of no use because they believe they can simply pick those scriptures which they “know” are the real words of Buddha–always those which fit with this year’s pseudo-science.

    When I looked back over my own banning from their site, it seemed clear that it was mostly a matter of embarrassment. Ted had directed some childish nasty insults at me, and when I called attention to it he revoked my access. Of course, he claimed he had to do it to protect Dana from my vicious attacks on her essay, but Dana seemed not to be bothered by what I said, and continued to write comments to me for another week after I could no longer respond.

    I read Lopez’s book, and as I was reading it I was thinking that it would have to be quite troubling to the Secular Buddhists. His argument is quite powerful, particularly if you take this latest book (which originated as a series of lectures) together with his previous book Buddhism and Science: A Guide for the Perplexed. I should have expected they would simply take the approach that Smith does in his review: simply refuse to understand the book, completely misrepresent its argument, and then dismiss it. The secular Buddhists are completely determined never to consider serious thought from any quarter, and never to hear the truth about anything. Blissful delusion is the new enlightenment.

  20. Tom, thank you for the clarification. It wasn’t until I’d trolled around a bit yesterday that I realized it was the Jamesonian version of the term that was being used. And that a distinction such as poststructuralist (also my preferred term) vs postmodern might be not only operative but also taken for granted here. Once again, it’s taking me a while to realize what particular rabbit hole I’ve just fallen through–happily.

  21. 17:


    putting non buddhist critique in the framework of ‘where buddhism falls apart’ with out trying to reconcile makes so much sense to me. as a seminary student in a former life, i remember being awed by the great theologians, but utterly dismayed at the lack of some common sense. take GOD out of the picture and lots, if not all, theological problems cease to exist. x-buddhism seems to be the ultimate antithesis of what ‘buddhism’ was attempting in the first place…it should’ve liberated it’s self from it’s self. hence, non-buddhism….? 🙂

    incidentally, it became very hard for me to stomach anything by TNH after i heard him refer to himself in 3rd person.

  22. Tom / Glenn

    To quote Tom #19:

    “This obsession with pure authority seems to be at odds with the purportedly “scientific” goal of Secular Buddhism, but they seem unable to see this–proof or rational argument cannot make a dent in their position, because they will simply quote the scripture against it, and argument from scripture is of no use because they believe they can simply pick those scriptures which they “know” are the real words of Buddha–always those which fit with this year’s pseudo-science.”
    It’s interesting that the Secular Buddhist approach doesn’t appear much different to traditional monks such as Sujato. He also likes to use the terminology of modern science and philosophy by claiming to be rational and empirical. In fact he goes a step further and claims to use current “text critical” research methods on original Pali and Chinese suttas to determine what the Buddha was actually saying (and not “simply pick those scriptures which (he) “knows” are the real words of Buddha”).

    A recent quote from Sujato on his blog, as an example:

    “Such magical use (or misuse) of pseudo-Buddhist techniques is of course profoundly antithetic to modernist Buddhism, which in all its forms exalts rationalism.”

    “In other contexts, notably the Burmese vipassana movement, the Thai forest tradition, and various Zen/Chan movements, the modernists proposed a “back to the roots” form of meditation, which dispensed with the magical and superstitious elements and reconstructed meditation as a rational system of reflection for spiritual development.”

    Its interesting both like to claim their scientific / rational / empirical credentials.

    Glenn, do you see this as another x-buddhist strategy?



  23. Re #4: Matthew, so good to have you commenting here! Regarding your observation, “whether or not [TNH’s] intellectual dishonesty… is simply an educational void” you also say (at the end of your comment) we have the desire to go back “to the place before we were burdened with the terrible challenges of adulthood and postmodern self-reflexive consciousness,” which appears to indicate that even with a great deal of education we can be under the influence of an “infantile-regressive” yearning that might very well produce a kind of intellectual dishonesty. I would gesture to Glenn’s (#12) statement “I understand “intellectual dishonesty” to describe a case of an obviously intelligent person refusing, for whatever reasons, to avoid certain trajectories of his/her own thought,” which could very well be the product of various psychological mechanisms. I don’t think TNH intends to be dishonest or is even aware of his own self-deluding language games–hence the terms “self-dupery” and “self-deception.” But I also think that TNH is not a total idiot, hence the intellectual dishonesty. Saying someone is intellectually dishonest does not preclude the possibility that such self-deception is underpinned by profound psychological realities within the person and culture (it in fact implies it). But such revelations do not negate the fact that certain linguistic moves and leaps in reason (or failures to draw out the inevitable conclusions of certain ideas) are forms of intellectual dishonesty.

    On another note, describing TNH as “someone who rejects the intellect, is allowed to self-contradict, appeals to our memories of simplicity, loves plums, wants to live in a plum village, and even looks like an actual baby, bald and swaddled and presexual…” was such a delight to read, if only because it is so deliciously subversive. I once took a lesson in mindfulness from TNH, many years ago, and he taught me a “children’s meditation” and I must say he was very child-like in that encounter (I almost expected us to next be encouraged to blubber and talk like infants!). We should hold a contest for the cutest Buddhist.

    Re #9: Frank Jude, good to have you here too! I’ve noticed in other guru-communities, I was involved with as a teenager, this same tendency of students of the master to mimic the speech-style, mannerisms, and even gait of the ‘revered one.’ This desire to be like the master extends to trying to mimic “peace and happiness… in every situation.” It becomes an endless pursuit of a destructive fantasy, one that neither the student nor the ‘master’ can ever realize.

    Re #12: Glenn, I’m just tickled that I was implicated in your being banned from the Secular Buddhists!

  24. Geoff (#22).

    Its interesting both [Ted Meissner/the Secular Buddhists and Sujato] like to claim their scientific/rational/empirical credentials.

    Glenn, do you see this as another x-buddhist strategy?

    Yes, I do. I see it as an instance of their broader collusion with contemporary middle-class-capitalist ideology. The strategy you’re referring to blindly assumes and accepts the value system that accords science such status. Ted Meissner and Sujato reflexively accept the hierarchy of local knowledges in which science holds pride of place. Of course, their aim is to have x-buddhism displace science as the true master. Part of the strategy is to show that x-buddhism matches science and then exceeds it.

    It would be a valuable contribution if someone would gather evidence of this strategy and craft a critique. God knows there is a massive amount of in their writings–from the books of Alan Wallace and even Stephen Batchelor to the Secular Buddhist Association site, Sujato’s site, and far beyond.

  25. Shyam Dodge #23

    This desire to be like the master extends to trying to mimic “peace and happiness… in every situation.” It becomes an endless pursuit of a destructive fantasy, one that neither the student nor the ‘master’ can ever realize.

    Wild speculations from me:

    What comes to my mind reading your comment is; both the master and the student puts on a display of something that does not exist (anymore) at the individual level. The peace and happiness only exist in between the master and the student as an image of peace and happiness – both being like mirrors mirroring this image back and forth through body language. Happiness as expressed here becomes a social construct and individuals are eager to “hold the image in the air” without necessarily feeling these qualities.

    I have for long suspected buddhist social settings to favor the development of such a display. The social setting requires you to actually drop the development of your personal qualities, and instead develop a display hiding your true character. Why? Because in a buddhist social setting it becomes essential to mirror whatever is socially constructed. I can not, at the moment, point out the mechanisms in buddhism encouraging this behaviour, and why it would be specific to buddhist social settings.

    I can also see how the master becomes addicted to getting the image reflected back. What happens if the student refuses to reflect the image back? The master looses the own image of him/herself as the peaceful/happy person, and has to actually create that feeling within – as a true personal quality – and it will fail if the master is not only a master “on the paper”, but the master may as well put on more display and maybe that is what TNH can be seen doing.

  26. #25 — Willy Wild: that’s bang-on in my experience. Simulated/performed peace is a kind of currency and tax within the social-control group. Performance skill determines social placement with respect to the guru.

    I’d love to hear about your direct experiences that have led you to this insight.

  27. Response to Matthew Remski #26:

    I have only read a lot but I actually have never been in a buddhist social setting. I have never had any interest because I simply think I can look within myself without having someone telling me how to do it. AND if enlightenment is to be seen and experienced by one self I need no one to tell me what it looks like at beforehand. And maybe I avoid participating because I do not like the master/student relationship, and I am very prone myself to mimic anyone who asymmetrically has more power. I have been in other similar groups. In a martial arts group (participating for years) I very much experienced how my way of speaking, moving and thinking became more like the teachers way (it happened suddenly when I eagerly decided to advance to the serious levels within the group), and that was creepy because it was like I really became someone else (a better person in that context) but the change did only exist within the group – outside the group I would start to doubt it all. I felt the higher rank you got the more you where required to adopt the macho-style held by the group.

    The following is not an attempt to be intellectually challenging. It is speculations and my creative fantasy. Regard it more like a comic stripe in the newspaper:

    For the fun of it, I would go as far as to render the nature of the enlightenment differently, and actually degrade it and the Buddha. He had a high standard and did not settle for anything less then true enlightenment. Exhausted he finally gave up and did surrender to the idea that he now was enlightened. “I am enlightened” he thought. The thought was simple but the way to just start to believe in it was hard. He found his imaginary enlightenment through his imaginary struggle. It must have felt good to release all that tension built up through struggle. It is not enough, however, to believe in the imaginary enlightenment because it will fade. Mara will come back and prove his human nature. For this reason he need something to reinforce his fantasy. So he put enlightenment outside himself by creating a social group that would also believe in the fantasy of his enlightenment. Now he had outside references for his enlightenment and could safely ignore any internal signals opposing the fantasy. To maintain his group – the outside reference to his enlightenment – he needed to continue display his enlightenment by ways of talking and moving. He acted noble not because of enlightenment, but because the group required it in order to uphold his fantasy of enlightenment as a reality.

    This is what TNH has done. He has surrendered to the idea he is happy and peaceful slightly beyond normal measure, and therefore he adopt the body language. He does not experience it always, but he always believe in it because the community mimic him.

    In MN 95 (Bhikkhu Bodhi translation) I read about what is most conductive to realizing the final truth. I will use it and discuss the mirroring in regard to it:

    The final arrival at the truth…
    But what, Master Gotama, is most helpful for the final arrival at truth?
    But what, Master Gotama, is most helpful for striving?
    Scrutiny [is most helpful for striving]
    Application of the will
    A reflective acceptance of the teaching
    Examination of the meaning
    Memorizing the teaching
    Hearing the Dhamma
    Giving ear
    Paying respect
    Visiting [a teacher]
    Faith [in a teacher]

    Notice how faith and paying respect comes before examining the meaning and memorizing the teaching. I would here argue that the buddhist-group demand members to pay respect, and one way to pay respect is to reflect back whatever bodily and verbal expressions the master is displaying. If the masters excellence is just a self imposed fantasy, then the master is dependent on the student in upholding this fantasy as real – without it being mirrored back the master will face disturbing reality. The master being dependent on the student will encourage the student to put on a display.

    The mirroring will continue in the rest of the practice – that is what practice actually is. In “Examination of the meaning”, “Scrutiny” and “A reflective acceptance of the teaching”. The student does not only reflect the body language but will also mirror mental activity in the examination, scrutiny and reflective acceptance.

  28. Glenn,

    As you say in the intro to another excellent piece:

    “I would ask readers to consider whether Dodge’s argument does not apply equally well to x-buddhist thinking and writing in general. As I read Shyam Dodge’s essay, it occurred to me that sloppy thinking and intellectual dishonesty have become a pervasive, and hence virtually invisible, feature of contemporary western x-buddhist discourse.”

    Glenn, thanks for your feedback – which leads me to you & Tom (not Ted – unfortunate slip in my previous comment!) getting barred from Ted’s site, my experience on an x-buddhist site & your above quote.

    I haven’t been officially barred from Sujato (although previously I have been disallowed with an accompanying note that sounded like it was lifted from one of my old school reports) but the tactic there is simply to be treated as persona non grata. I was merely responding to one or two of Sujato’s remarks that you could drive a truck through but after being ignored following a couple of postings I posted this:

    I heard recently that in Buddhist cultures the primary form of ostracism is not overt but is usually conducted by shunning the individual who is seen as not in keeping with the accepted norms of the group. None of this is clearly defined or explained.
    Is this true? Would you consider this compassionate behaviour?
    Could you please clarify?

    Needless to say I didn’t get a response to that either…

    It’s interesting – this site is the complete opposite: the more argumentative you are the more responses you get. Very refreshing.

    Rock on


  29. I was a skeptic before I was a Buddhist. Years ago it was difficult to impossible to find articles like this, putting Buddhism under the microscope. Thank you for this enjoyable read.

  30. Hi guys,

    I’m for sure not a friend of TNH and find his talks much too softy and unspecific and somehow too “nice”. And for sure he’s not a good writer or philosopher and he’s definitely not providing intellectual integrity…so most of that essay is right.

    But at the same time, I’m sorry to say that “This is not just an idea or something you understand intellectually.” also somehow has to be respected. I know you’ve heard it probably hundreds of times already but if he’s talking about what I think he is then it’s really something that simply cannot be put in any way adequately into words. It’s like living in a world with people who have no eyes and try to describe to them what you see looks like. You’ll fail because the people who don’t see just have to chance to get what you’re talking about.

    Same thing (well not exactly…but close to it) when the “self” drops away. I personally have been on exactly the same side as most here and used pretty much the same arguments. And well they’re perfectly “correct” and right. You couldn’t say this better and it’s not wrong.

    Still when this “no-self-thing” happens you’re just left with wonder and your brain has no chance to grasp and explain this. Not at all. Whatever words come up right away fail and this is a strange thing. I got no clue why this is so, and a year ago I’d have smashed the very text I’m just writing now…


  31. Daniel, I would say that whenever you claim that something is beyond words, you are simply blind to your own ideology. If you think you have arrived at the “true experience” of non-self, and it is ineffable, then you are always still deluded. If you are still thinking that “intellectually” refers to an action in a brain, you are still completely misunderstanding what non-self is. Of course, this is on my understanding of non-self. As TNH and Alan Wallace and many others define non-self, it is exactly an ideology of the self, one in which the actual construction of the self must never be examined, at the risk of becoming aware that it is exactly a conventional self, and so an ideology. Analogies with sensory experience are another clear indication that one is misunderstanding non-self: sensory experiences refer to a mind-independent reality, and so we can fail to have experiences of some things (of probably most of the universe), but the self is a humanly created thing, and so cannot exist beyond our experience.

    The distinction I would rather make is one between being able to conceptual “understand” the idea that we only have a conventional self, and being able to “think” within this framework. The first step in really thinking from the framework of non-self is to stop assuming that thought is an (atomistic) action of the brain, and begin to grasp “intellect” as occurring in a symbolic/imaginary system. Another useful step would be to stop being drawn in by the tempting ideology of the “ineffable experience.” And, of course, to stop assuming we can think the conventional self as in any way analogous to mind-independent reality. We need to avoid being “just left with wonder.”

  32. The way I understand it, or thus I have heard, with my own limited understanding of Buddhist philosophy, and what I believe Daniel was trying to say, is this; Some things can indeed be beyond words. I commented earlier on Nagarjunas’ commentary on the orgin of words and forms and I think this applies here, however I think that merits another discussion altogether.
    All good dharma teachers are simply trying to impart a direct personal experience to their students. One can see an orange, but one cannot “taste” an orange through someone else’s description of that taste. It simply must be experienced by one”s self. This is why some of the enlightened masters of the past say that enlightenment is beyond words and can only be experienced, primarily through mediation, but their are other techniques to arrive at this experience as well. In Zazen this is a Koan, or a Guru simply holding up a finger without saying a word, until his student “gets it.” The Buddha simply handed Kasho a flower, and upon his smiling acknowledged it was a special teaching outside of scripture. All students are different, and therefore techniques for reaching the state of englightenment can be as varied as the sentient beings in the universe.
    When the Buddha talks in terms of the non-self, which is emptiness (Sunyata in Sanskrit) he is refering to the nature of both self and non-self, which are both sunya. He goes on to say that the nature of sunya is sunya, or the nature of emptiness is emptiness. Now that being said, the “self” exists, but only because of the nature of co-dependent arising. The self exists because the non-self exists, or this exists because that exists, but the ultimate nature of bothis emptiness, which is also empty. This is why the Buddha says not to “cling” to the self, the non-self, or any dharma. All are empty of emptiness, and such is the nature of the universe.
    An “idealology” of the self is a dharma, which shares the same nature as everything else in the universe, sunyata, and I believe it is this belief that is at the core of what TNH means by a non-self.
    A mind cannot exist independent of reality, because the nature of both mind and reality is emptiness and both are suject to co-dependent arising. One cannot exist without the other.
    Sensory experiences derive from the six senses of sight, taste, touch, hearing, feeling and mind. Mind is one of the six senses and does not exist independently from any of them, as none of them exists independently of the others.
    I do see some contradictions in these relationships of the senses and sensory experience, and I believe these questions are answered satisfatorily by the Buddha, but they escape me right now. However if these things are “true,” which I suppose ultimately comes down to what you choose to believe, or in another word “faith,” then we are indeed left in a state of wonder.
    I would like to add however that everything I have ever read of the Buddha’s teaching, and in every lesson he taught seemed to me to be trying to convey a message of not “clinging” to anything, and to not believe anything unless it makes perfect sense to you personally. He simply tries to point the way. In fact there seem to be a great deal of things he would not discuss.
    I do not think there is any intellectual dishonesty occuring in TNH’s discourses, because that would imply an intent to decieve. I simply feel his understanding of the universe, dharma, and language as it applies to the Buddha’s teaching falls a little short of the Buddha’s own understanding of the subject matter and that he is not as gifted in his expression of these dharmas as the Buddha and perhaps some of the great enlightened masters who have continued unbroken in the lineage of Buddhist teachings since the time of the “Awakened One.” Sloppy thinking however, I believe is a fair criticism.
    I also believe that all of the things that that I have mentioned are the most basic of Buddhist teachings, and that my understanding of them is also at a very basic level, as I am not a monk or Buddhist scholar, but just a casual observer interested in the teachings of the Buddha and philosophy in general. I also sometimes struggle to grasp some of the concepts being discussed, as my vocabulary skills are lacking, and I find the discourse on this site at an extremely high academic level. Also, if I am failing to grasp the core issues of what is being discussed I apologize in advance and look forward to more learning.
    On that note I will part with this:

    If you understand “it,” all things are One.
    If you do not, all things are different and seperate.
    If you do not understand “it” all things are One.
    If you do, all things are different and seperate.

  33. Justin: I don’t think your are misunderstanding what you consider “all good dharma teachers.” I am simply saying that this is the reactionary side of Buddhist philosophy, which has always sought to privilege body over thought, experience over understanding, in order exactly to avoid pushing beyond the “limits of of language.” There is another side of Buddhist philosophy which seeks to demonstrate that our Worlds are always limiting, and the aporia are not an ephemeral truth beyond words, but a lack or limitation of our World/ideology. The goal, then, becomes not to stop at the “pure experience” and so reify our ideology, but to produce concepts to explain what our ideology is trying to leave “beyond words.” Such ideas of the ineffable are an attempts to prevent real change in the world, by giving those who might attempt it a kind of “bodily high,” a mindless pleasant “buzz” that is today called “mindfulness.”

    I don’t claim Thich Nhat Hanh is being dishonest. Based only on his writing, he seems to sincerely believe in a world-transcendent “true self” that will reach a state of pure bliss, that is, an atman or soul. I do not believe in any such thing, and take is as a fundamental teaching of Buddhism that there is no such thing, and that the idea that “all is one” is a Brahamanical teaching which is simply false. So, if one understands “non-self” to mean that the only “true self” is something beyond words, concepts, or this world, a soul we can only “feel” in moments of mindless, thoughtless bliss, then what Thich Nhat Hanh teaches in in line with that strain of Buddhist philosophy.

    On the other hand, if you understand “non-self” or “anatman” to mean that we have no such soul, that we have only a conventional self constructed by causes and conditions, then what Thich Nhat Hanh is teaching is pointless at best, and reinforcing delusion and causing suffering at the worst. On this understanding, it is an enormous error to say, as you do, that there is no reality without mind. It is true that there is no mind without reality, that mind depends on the mind-independent physical universe, but the reverse is not the case. When sentient beings are gone, the universe will go on without us, and our absence will make almost no difference at all.

    Essentially, I can’t really argue against the “anatman means an ineffable true consciousness” school of Buddhism. By definition, nobody can, because it is beyond intellect, words, or even the experience of those who disagree with the position. If you believe in this, the best I can do is to point to how the supposedly “ineffable” is perfectly explainable, has real causes, and is simply an ideological screen (a “fetish” in the proper sense of the term) to avoid a truth that is particularly troubling. But for one who believes in the “substrate consciousness,” such an argument is unlikely to be convincing anyway.

  34. Tom you wrote # 34: “There is another side of Buddhist philosophy which seeks to demonstrate that our Worlds are always limiting, and the aporia are not an ephemeral truth beyond words, but a lack or limitation of our World/ideology.”

    Would you show some concrete example(s) of this “other side”. But please, don’t just refer me to your favorite example of vague “Nagarjuna”, but show exactly what passage(s) do you mean in this particular context. Would you try?

  35. OK Tom, I’m in complete agreement with your myth busting, ideology busting, “true-self” busting view of things. Much of what I read and hear about Buddhist practice is, indeed, a crock of Polyanna ideological bs.
    But I wonder this: what about those experiences so many attest to that are not, in fact, a bodily high, and certainly not a mindless pleasant buzz. More like, a sharpening. That’s all I can really say about them. Those moments of crystalline awareness–what are they, in your view? There are plenty of folks out there who can drop into dhyana states–and at times I wish I was one of them (cheaper vacations, y’know?). But if “the aporia are not an ephemeral truth beyond words, but a lack or limitation of our World/ideology,” how would we begin to unlimit our world/ideology in such a way that those experiences would no longer have to function as aporetic, as happy elsewheres, or as elsewheres at all?
    I think someone just asked you for textual evidence from this “other tradition” of Buddhism you speak of, and that would be fun and cool, but I think I’m asking, instead, for you to parse your own sentence, not someone else’s. Do we–and if we do, how do we–go about tarrying with that lack, instead of reinscribing it with the maddening chant, “I can’t tell you about it. You have to go out and experience it yourself and then you’ll KNOW.”

  36. #25: Willy, I think your “wild speculations” are true to some extent, but is complicated by examples of gurus/masters who rationalize inconsistent behavior through the lens of their particular ideology (in Buddhism, it can take the form of so-called “crazy-wisdom,” in Hinduism “lila”), specifically behavior that is not allowed for disciples of that guru/master. As if the master has some other worldly insight that transcends the behavioral and ethical codes he/she teaches and makes him/her beyond the confines of the rules his/her students have to follow. In this respect, the teacher is so fantastically idealized (purportedly in possession of an intensely fetishized state of consciousness) that all behavior is perceived (or rationalized) as beyond criticism, and is actually performed by the master to the benefit of the student no matter how radical or traumatic. This might be community specific, where in some instances a community relies upon mirroring and display to maintain the group ‘reality’ and in others the master is not to be imitated but revered and obeyed.

    But, in both instances, your observation, “The social setting requires you to actually drop the development of your personal qualities, and instead develop a display hiding your true character,” is to a great degree pretty darn accurate. Whether that display is in imitation of the master’s modeling of serene “enlightenment” or if it be the behavioral and moral codes the master instructs his/her students to follow. More to the point, the student internalizes the reality the master is presenting, which, in the Foucaultian sense, serves to “automate the functioning of power within the subject,” as I discuss in the above essay.

  37. Tomek: I’m not sure what you mean by “concrete,” but I can give a couple of particular examples of this kind of thought in Mahayana Buddhism. In Chapter 7 of the Vimalakirti Sutra, when Sariputra tries the old trick of remaining silent to express what the highest enlightenment is, the “Goddess” chastises him, and says “do not point to liberation by abandoning speech!” In the last chapter of Nagarjuna’s MMK (really, read Nagarjuna Tomek, it’s worth the time), he demolishes the illusion of the “appropriator,” the core self which has experiences. He insists that such a self is both logically impossible and is never experienced, and then goes on to explain that this is not a problem, because once we see this we can understand that “it is not true that it (the self) does not exist” because it does exist as a dependently arisen thing, and we can examine the practices which produce it, as a conventionally existing and impermanent yet real thing. I won’t take you line by line through this short chapter in a comment, but is this “concrete” enough? The goal in both cases is to avoid the attachment to some “ineffable” thing that must exist beyond thought, words, or comprehension, so that we can see exactly what does cause our present state of existence.

    Jody: Those “crystalline moments of awareness”, that “Clariton clear” feeling, is certainly not uncommon. It is commonly understood in Western thought as an aesthetic experience, specifically the aesthetics of the beautiful, when we have an absolute (Kantian) certainty of the correspondence of our thought and sensation only when we have an unanalyzable experience, a moment of experience beyond explanation. Of course, what gives it that intense power is exactly the non-correspondence the aesthetic experience is called upon to obscure, screen, or repress. Our jouissance, if you will, always depends upon a successful repression.

    Shyam: I’m not completely sure that changing one’s behavior in a group always involves a suppression of some “true character.” I don’t think we necessarily have a “true self” outside of whatever collective(s) we belong to. The question to ask isn’t so much whether the “true self” is being suffocated, but what kind of conventional self we are creating, and whether it is the kind of self that can both stop suffering and live in a way that not only doesn’t cause suffering in others, but helps reduce the suffering of others. Too often, the passive mirroring of a central figure, or event he worshipping of the crazy guru whom one cannot mirror, serves to reduce one’s suffering but only at the expense of a lifestyle dependent on the suffering of others.

  38. There definately seems to be tricks of language happening here. The first is when TNH says that a view is a non-view, and another happens when Shyam makes a leap and says that TNH is saying that a non-self has a soul (atman,) when in fact he only says that non-self can be a view. I agree that this is sloppy thinking and a trick of language, but I do not believe the intent of TNH was to say that the non-self has a soul (atman.) TNH asserts that a non-self can be a view, but Shyam takes this one step furter andasserts that THN’s belief in a non-self is really a belief in an atman and not an anatman, while Tom asserts that we have a choice to believe there is either an self (atman) or non-self (anatman,) and depending on the choice it is either in line with Buddhist doctrine or not, which I do not agree with, but back to that in a moment. I stated that Shyam made a leap when he said that THN was implying a non-self which had a soul or atman, but it seems to me that exactly the opposite applies here. The self (atman) implies that there is a non-self (anatman,) and the non-self (anatman) implies there is a self (atman,) how could it be otherwise? I do not believe that either believing in or not believing in an atman or anatman is in anyway connected to the Budhha’s teachings. I believe the Buddha would say something like;

    No self, no other
    No self, no other

    Without self, no other –
    Without other, no self –

    There is self and there is other,
    There is no self and there is no other:

    When two buddhas meet
    They smile at their deceit.


    Also I believe it is a mistake to say that there is no mind without reality. I would argue there is no reality without mind. This cannot be proven as everything you know is due to the perceptions of your mind. Quantum physics seems to bear this out in the double slit experiment as well as the observer affects the results of the experiment. Be the wave and the particle at once.
    Additionally, Tom says the reactionary side of Buddhist philosophy values body (physical) or mind (thought,) and that this way of thinking is to avoid the limitations of current thought and language, but Buddhist philosophy dictates that words are concepts and concepts are dharmas, and they are therefore devoid of substance, only existing in the phenomenal world and not the noumenal world. The whole point of the Buddha”s teachings is to get us to arrive at a state of mind where we can recognize this phenomenal world as being an illusion and devoid of substance and to be able to recognize the neoumenal world, which according to the Buddha is also devoid of substance. Only when we stop clinging to all dharmas or views and see them as non-views, or when we stop clinging to non-views and see them as views, and see both views and non-views as being neither a view or a non-view, and see both neither views or non-views as being either a view or a non-view, will we be able to reach the state of Nirvana that TNH sincerely wants us all to achieve.
    Again I’m sure all you guys will be able to point out flaws in my viewpoint and truly look forward to this part, as it will be a pleasure to read something instead of write something.
    I have to ask though, where are all the girls?
    There should be binders full of them in here right?

  39. “I do not believe that either believing in or not believing in an atman or anatman is in anyway connected to the Budhha’s teachings.”

    Well, since this is commonly accepted as one of the core teachings of Buddhism, I just have no response here.

    As for all that crap about quantum physics proving we create the world with our minds, well, it’s just silly popular-science nonsense, with no truth in it at all. You clearly do believe there is a world-transcendent “mind,” that creates reality. Fine. I’m not claiming that this is “not Buddhist doctrine.” There is plenty of Buddhist doctrine that teaches just this. But you need to understand that “atman” has a specific meaning in early Buddhism, Buddha often says it does not exist, and it refers to something like a soul or consciousness that transcends this world (it has nothing whatever to do with “ego,” despite what you’ll read in Tricycle and many other popular Buddhist books).

    There are many different schools of Buddhist thought, and they are not all in agreement. One cannot simply assert that “Buddhist philosophy dictates” something, because there is always some Buddhist philosopher who will disagree. On this blog, you will just have to have the nerve to assert your own position, and argue for it with reasons, not simply with scriptural warrant or assertion that “Buddhism says so.” The old “form is emptiness, emptiness is form” stuff doesn’t get much traction here either–you’ll just have to stop restating silly phrases like “see both neither views or non-views as being either fa view or a non-view” and actually say something, or people will lose interest in arguing with you.

    By the way, Thich Nhat Hanh’s books do, quite often, call upon the “true self”, the core consciousness that is beyond our “thoughts” or even (sometimes) beyond our mindless experience. His version of non-self is absolutely one that sees our conventional self as illusion, and our true self as “pure” and beyond being affected by this world. I touched on this in my essay “Comfort Food Buddhism.”

  40. #38: Tom, I’d agree with you for the most part. When I spoke of “true qualities” it was an instance of me getting sloppy in my own language. What I mean by that is more along the lines of the neurobiological reality that underpins much of what we “feel” about the world and situations, which has nothing to do with an essential self (it in fact, in many ways, undermines such a notion). While, for example, TNH might have us be completely free of anger, anger is in fact an emotion that is rooted in our biology, and has various culturally (ideologically) mediated forms of expression (display rules)–but anger is still a biological reality to be dealt with. That is not to say that biology is my “true self” as there is no essential self to be found there (a self is constructed out of the “collective(s) we belong to,” as you say). How one expresses, negotiates, and understands one’s own anger is dependent upon the ideology one subscribes to. What I see in most guru-type communities are relationships to emotion that attempt to transcend “poisons” like anger (or familial attachment), just as many of these transcendentally-focused ideologies attempt to transcend biology in the effort to realize a “true self.” One of the ways I see the construction of a conventional self that does more in the way of changing the conditions of suffering in the world is by creating ideologies that have more nuanced perspectives and relationships to emotional realities that are components of our own biology. You might disagree with me (I don’t know) that many of our emotions, initially, have their root in biology, which are then mediated and understood through various cultural and ideological constructions. There are many people who say that emotions are cultural constructions, nothing more nothing less. This just happens to be my position on it.

  41. @ #32, Tom Pepper:

    “whenever you claim that something is beyond words, you are simply blind to your own ideology.”

    Most of the time this is true. It’s a popular thing in Zen and some traditions. Still words when it comes to “no self” fail. The closest you can get with words I think is to say what it’s all not. To negate everything but then…still you’d have said nothing. Even negating somehow would be wrong. The best text about this “no-self” from a intellectual point of view is from a guy called Metzinger a german philosopher. He wrote a book about the “ego tunnel” where he explains quite well that there is no one. But that’s very different from the energetic change happening from self to no-self. Sounds stupid but basically you die. Or better said what before you thought you are dies. What’s left? No clue what it is, it’s bascially nothing.

    “If you think you have arrived at the “true experience” of non-self, and it is ineffable, then you are always still deluded.”

    There is no such thing as experience of non-self. Not a true one or a not true one. Experience needs a self and there is none. Also there’s no one who could be deluded, never was, never will be.

    “The distinction I would rather make is one between being able to conceptual “understand” the idea that we only have a conventional self, and being able to “think” within this framework. The first step in really thinking from the framework of non-self is to stop assuming that thought is an (atomistic) action of the brain, and begin to grasp “intellect” as occurring in a symbolic/imaginary system. Another useful step would be to stop being drawn in by the tempting ideology of the “ineffable experience.” And, of course, to stop assuming we can think the conventional self as in any way analogous to mind-independent reality. We need to avoid being “just left with wonder.”

    To be honest I don’t think that crasping this conceptional/intellectual will make any real difference for your life. There will still be suffering as usual if there’s the experience for you of being a seperate, real entity. Once it collapses this happens on a energetic level, which sounds stupid and I don’t know it energetic is the right word here. Might sound esoteric or like yoga/tai-chi energy work stuff. I don’t mean that. It’s just like there is someone there who thinks he’s in control like of writing this text. And then bang there’s no one here anymore, just writing happens like it does now. That difference sounds trivial but changes everything, even though actually everything is the same as before. Simply something drops away and it’s not just a change in the way you think or a new understanding.

  42. Okay Tom I am not interested in arguing with you, and as I stated earlier Buddhism in general is new to me, and I have not done very much reading on the subject, with all of my limited knowlege on the subject coming from having read once The Diamond Sutra, by Red Pine, and a book called Nagarjuna’s philosopy. Anything else I have absorbed from doing yoga and reading Yoga Journal. I have also a acouple of smaller picture books with the Buddha’s sayings in them, and I recently finished White Clouds, Old Path. I was going to read the Heart Sutra next. I do not personally recall the Buddha talking about the atman, but thanks for informing me, I will continue to read more of the Buddha’s teachings and rejoin the conversation at a later date. I could feel this coming. Before I go, though, I would like to say that I am disappointed that you feel Quantum physics is all just a bunch of “silly, Popular Science nonsense,” as I feel it offers the best explination for the things you are looking for. Again, my knowlege on the subject is even more limited, than my knowlege of the Buddha, with all of it coming from a few Discovery channel shows and a video entitled “What the bleep do we know anyway.” Once again I thank everyone for enteraining me, but as I do feel over my head here, I am going to respectfully bow out, and become an observer before I feel the wrath of Shyam’s custom made, forged in the fire of mindstuff, intellectual, ego killing torture weapons!

  43. RE #41: Daniel, I understand what you’re saying, but I will still insist that you position is just another attempt to reify an ideology, to avoid examining what the conventional self really is by saying “words fail.” We perfectly well can explain what the self is, concretely, and in language–that is the point of the chapter from Nagarjuna I mentioned before. The reason you can’t come up with anything that doesn’t sound silly (energy, chi, some kind of new age nonsense) is that your understanding of non-self, exactly like Metzingers (I”ve had the Metzinger discussion a dozen times already) simply insists on an unexamined self that it refuses to acknowledge. The point of anatman, what the term means, is that there is no permanent world-transcending consciousness or soul. There is a self, and it is constructed, and we can perfectly well experience exactly what it is. We cannot of course, experience “atman” because it does not exist, but we can absolutely experience and understand, in language, what the conventional self is. The only thing we have to grasp, but the most difficult thing for many people, is that the self is nothing but this conventional thing produced by the symbolic/imaginary system and a bodily organism.

    What you describe is, surely, a change in the way you think, but a change for the worse. You would suggest that we should accept that “writing happens” and abandon all examination of the causes, the social structures, which enable and limit such practices. This is the worst kind of quietism, and assumes a kind of faith in exactly that world-transcendent consciousness I refuse to believe exists. Experience needs a self, and there is on–a constructed self which has experiences and causal powers because of how it is constructed.

    We’ve been over these questions dozens of times over the last year or so. Try reading some of the essays that appear on the blog or in the journal. Take a look at my essay “Samsara as the Realm of Ideology.”

  44. Justin: take a look at Christopher Norris’s book Quantum Theory and the Flight from Reality. He explains why Quantum theory doesn’t really mean what you are suggesting it means–that the conclusions in the dozens of popular press books about a few physics experiments are just completely missing the point, and there is no “proof” in physics that the observer affects the results of the experiment. True, there are some physicists who like to make a buck by saying these things, but these ideas are simply not supported by the evidence.

    I’m not rejecting Quantum physics, I find it quite interesting, and I’m a big fan of David Bohm. But like Bohm (who wrote the first textbook on Quantum theory), I think it is bad science to make silly unsupported claims in order to prevent further scientific research. I just reject the popular misrepresentation of science to delude people into accepting oppressive ideologies. “What the Bleep do we know” is one of the worst version of this strategy–pure psuedoscience an science fiction presented as truth, and so many poorly educated American bought that crap.

    If you don’t want to engage in discussions and find out more about Buddhist thought, you don’t need to. I didn’t mean to argue with you–well, yes, I did, but in a way I think is productive. Real thought requires debate and taking things seriously, which is one way x-buddhist groups prevent real thought. When you make pronouncements like claiming Buddhism has nothing to do with the concept of anatman, well, that will usually be disagreed with. If what you mean is you don’t really want to know about Buddhist thought, then fine, you don’t have to.

  45. Tom (# 38), I think I understand your sentiment, I used to be a fan of that “goddess” too – by the way, it was R. Thurman that called that figure “goddess”, right?). But leaving that Mahayana stuff aside for now, tell me first, do you consider classical goal of nirvana or asamskrta, which involve the dissolution of linguistic-conceptual activity itself, also as ideals representing what you called earlier as “the reactionary side of Buddhist philosophy, which has always sought to privilege body over thought, experience over understanding”?

  46. Tomek: Re #46, When you use the phrase “classical Buddhist,” it is the same as saying “Buddhism says” or “Buddhism teaches us”: it is a vague assertion of some universal “true Buddhism.” What particular Buddhist thinker or practice do you take as the true “classical” one?

    As for the substance of you question, yes, I absolutely do think that the “dissolution of linguistic-conceptual activity” is always and everywhere an indication of a reactionary attempt to prevent thought and reify and existing ideology as the natural state of things. To persist with Nagarjuna, he is very explicit on this point: we must not abandon thought, because the nature of “emptiness” is that we only ever have a conventional truth, and “without a foundation in the conventional truth, The significance of the ultimate cannot be taught” (MMK XXIV 10). The point of this is that we simply need to avoid reification, to be able to see our selves and our social systems as conventional constructions open to change, and liberation from suffering requires us to understand the conventional as real, with real causal powers, but changeable by human beings. It is only ever our capacity for symbolic thought that enables this understanding, that enables human beings to escape the pure determinism to which other species are subject (ie, we can plant our food and be less dependent on nature, we can cure illnesses, we can build houses and heat them). As Garfield explains it, “insight can only be gained through reasoning abnd hence through language and thought”; this is a core teaching of Madhyamaka Buddhism. In chapter 18 of the MMK, Nagarjuna explains that it is through mistaking our concepts for universal truths that we suffer—not through thought, but through essentialist thought. For Madhyamaka, then, Nirvana is not the “dissolution” of all thought, but the dissolution of essentialism or reification. We can then think the real, conventional, causes of suffering.


    Re #41: I would agree with this way of putting it. Clearly, we have some biological limits, our “emotions” are not completely malleable. We are, as Aristotle puts it, a social animal—what form our interaction with others takes is variable, but it is our nature to interact with other people. We are also a symbolic species, and it is our nature to use language—without the use of symbolic systems, we would still be living like apes, unable to improve our world. These are part of our conatus. Our emotions, then, are always a mix of a biological tendency and a cultural form. (This doesn’t, of course, make them “ultimately true,” since our genetic predispositions are also dependently arisen).

    We can also produce a situation in which we don’t need to feel any anger at all, right? That doesn’t mean we are “repressing” it—we don’t have a need to feel a certain quota of anger each day. So, in Plum Village, it may be that all causes of anger are excluded, and nobody needs to feel angry at all. The problem, for me, is when this “anger-free zone” is produced by assuming there are others who will suffer, be oppressed, and feel anger to provide the conditions for this artificial paradise—as when Thich Nhat Hanh accepts donations from a wealthy manufacturer of weapons of mass destruction to keep his village blissfully insulated from the real world.

    Wouldn’t you say that the guru-type communities you refer to are enabling this illusion that we “transcend” anger by artificially creating a situation where anger isn’t really necessary? They aren’t transcending anything, they are just allowing someone else to do the suffering for them, and then ignoring the suffering their lifestyle depends upon. It’s pretty much the strategy of suburban Connecticut, where I live.

  47. Tom (#47), I think I’d find reasons to be angry over at Plum Village! But seriously, I couldn’t agree more.

    Especially this: “Wouldn’t you say that the guru-type communities you refer to are enabling this illusion that we “transcend” anger by artificially creating a situation where anger isn’t really necessary? They aren’t transcending anything, they are just allowing someone else to do the suffering for them, and then ignoring the suffering their lifestyle depends upon. It’s pretty much the strategy of suburban Connecticut, where I live.”

    So well said. Another feature of how x-buddhism perpetuates, rationalizes, and enables the illusion that we can somehow “transcend” the conditions of suffering in the world by artificially insulating ourselves from “the real world” (as you say), while actually actively contributing to the suffering of others (even being financially dependent upon weapons manufacturers, as you point out in the case of TNH). All this points to how communities like Plum Village see themselves as working towards a truth that transcends the suffering within the real world, and therefore can rationalize their role in increasing the conditions of suffering due to their much more important, much more essential, “transcendent” solution via their version of living, realizing, and extending the ‘dharma’ as they see it.

  48. Tom (#45) Thanks Tom, I will check out Christpher Norris’s book. About our discussion of Shyam’s essay, the two points that interested me were a) TNH’s intellectual dishonesty, which for me is answered with intent, and b) “his peculiar claims regarding “realizing” non-self and how those claims construct an independent self (or soul.) I believe these criticisms to be perfectly legetimate and also believe that someone in TNH’s position needs to be open to and expect such criticism. I find the discussion stimulating, especially because I recently attended a Tibetan Buddhist Temple here in Los Angeles and plan on attending more. Our discussion of this last question however at least from my side, seemed to evolve into the age old question of wether or not man has a soul. I do not think I have any insight into this question above or beyond what the rishi’s, sages, or anyone on this site for that matter, have already said about it. However, everything I have said is what I personally believe and how I feel about it. I am removing myself from the conversation because I feel I do not have enough knowledge about the Buddha’s teachings or TNH’s, and because my personal beliefs are in exact opposition to what most of the discussion seems to be reacting against, that enlightenment is beyond rational thought and is “eneffable.” I personally feel that in order to reach a higher state of awareness it is necessary to surrender to the unknown, and to still the rational mind. I believe that it is this surrender that allows a spiritual transformation to take place and a new way of looking at reality to take hold, that being said, I do not believe that we should stop striving to aquire knowledge either individually or collectively. These inquiries it would seem, would better serve the Buddhist community at large if made in a rational, logical, scientific way, and for that reason I remain engaged as a casual observer hoping that one day these types of discussions will be able to help explain the way I feel through language, for the benefit of myself and all sentient beings.

  49. When you use the phrase “classical Buddhist,” it is the same as saying “Buddhism says” or “Buddhism teaches us”: it is a vague assertion of some universal “true Buddhism.” What particular Buddhist thinker or practice do you take as the true “classical” one?

    Tom, would you accept it if, instead of buddheme “classical”, I use word “early” (meaning sutra literature and even Abhidharma), where, contrary to Mahayana Buddhism clearly favored by you, concepts such as nirvana or asamskrta explicitly signified, and still signify to this day, as in the case of contemporary Theravada, the ultimate goals of the “path”, which nature as in the case of nirvana is ineffable, inexpressible by the means of language and concepts?

    To persist with Nagarjuna, he is very explicit on this point: we must not abandon thought …

    I understand that in “Nagarjuna” distinction between the two truths allows a legitimate function for everyday language and helps to avoid the reduction of all truth to silence; allows for the re-affirmation of language in a provisional sense that discourages essentializing its referents; preserves language in a practical sense, not only for teaching the “Dharma” but for ordinary functioning in the world as well. The problem with your “Nagarjuna” persistence is that you simply end up privileging “linguistic-conceptual activity” over perception (sensation – especially vision), so called pratyaksa in Indian philosophical context, which is singled out by many Buddhists thinkers (Asanga, Dignaga, Dharmakirti, Bhavaviveka) as closer to the unmediated truth of things then verbalized sentences, particular propositional subject/predicate statements. What is interesting here is that, for example, for Bhavaviveka, who argues from Svatantrika Madyamika school side, reality itself cannot be an object of inference, but inference, that is, language and conceptuality, are needed to clear the way to the apprehension of reality. So there is this implicit tension between language and perception that runs through Buddhist discourses on knowledge and awakening, and I am afraid that eventually perception won out as the mode of access to the world considered to yield knowledge in a more direct way, especially vision, that became the most representative of the senses in the Buddhist philosophical discourse. It was exactly seeing that become prominent symbol of unmediated access to truth. So from this perspective, recurring theme of “crystalline moments of awareness” in today’s buddhistic web chatter, as in comment #36, should not be understood as some kind, as you say, “aesthetic experience”, but it should be taken as a reemergence of the ideal behind which there is accumulated weight of a long buddhistic tradition of suspicion regarding language and concepts.

  50. Tomek: Even the term “early Buddhism” is a buddheme, implying “true” Buddhism, hinting at some absolute authority on the truth. Contemporary Theravada may tend to privilege the reactionary attitude, but I’m not convinced that is universally the case, either–that is, I’m not sure there is a completely unquestioned dogma on this point.

    That issue aside, I would agree that many Buddhist thinkers do privilege “pure sensation” over thought (Dharmakirti is a good example). They believe that this is an “unmediated truth” and so better than symbolic thought. I’m not disagreeing with this. My point is that they are wrong, that there is no such thing as a “pure perception” because our perceptions are always completely shaped by the symbolic register. Far from being a “problem,” Nagarjuna’s privileging of thought over pure sensation is what makes it possible for us to be awakened, to escape pure animal determinism and see our ideologies as ideologies, to break with the innate tendency to essentialize. I agree, also, that overall “perception won out,” but I don’t agree that this is a “‘triumph of the ideal.” It is the triumph of the reactionary, of the reification of ideology, of willful delusion, over the possibility of truth and freedom.

    I’m not arguing that you position has not “warrant” in the history of Buddhist thought–I would say it absolutely does, and in terms of counting up names and texts it is probably the overwhelming winner. However, I don’t take sutras or ancient thinkers as “revealed truths,” but treat them exactly the way I would a contemporary thinker. I privilege Nagarjuna because his argument seems to me both correct, and to contribute something important that is lacking from most contemporary thought (eg, the idea that “conventional truth” is not illusion, but real and causally efficacious).

    The “crystalline moment” is an aesthetic experience in every sense of that term–a moment of perception that escapes explanation in concepts is what the term “aesthetic” was invented to name. Such perceptions are constructed in social practices exactly to discourage the production of concepts which could help us to understand things better and transform our world.

  51. I’m not arguing that you position has not “warrant” in the history of Buddhist thought–I would say it absolutely does, and in terms of counting up names and texts it is probably the overwhelming winner.I don’t take sutras or ancient thinkers as “revealed truths,” but treat them exactly the way I would a contemporary thinker. I privilege Nagarjuna because his argument seems to me both correct, and to contribute something important that is lacking from most contemporary thought (eg, the idea that “conventional truth” is not illusion, but real and causally efficacious).

    Tom, I am well aware that historically speaking my “warrant” is “the overwhelming winner”, but it is certainly not what prompts me to engage myself in this discussion. At this point I’m much more interested whether your privileging of Nagarjuna, as a “thinker” contributing something lacking – in your opinion – from the most contemporary thought, is the sole reason that you chosen to call yourself a “Buddhist”? Or are there other, less explicit reasons that you do that?

  52. Ah, well, Tomek, now that’s a whole different question. It is a very good question, but is isn’t what you asked me before. I do think that the radically different way of thinking that some Buddhist philosophy enables is a good reason, could in fact be enough of a reason, but there is more to it than this, for me. It is beyond the scope of a comment to explain what they are, but I am working on something that attempts to make these reasons explicit. I’ll probably make some of it into a blog post in the near future.

  53. Tom, I’m no here for a x-buddhistic shell game. I am truly interested in what prompts people like you to categorize themselves as “Buddhists”. Is there, for example, any deeper personal sense of lack that manifests as something, as you write above, “lacking from the most contemporary thought”? So I take your word for it. I’ll remember what you promised.

  54. Tomek, just to be clear, I’m not saying that there is any “deep personal sense of lack” that leads me to Buddhism, and my explanation of why I think Buddhism is useful today will not have anything to do with such concerns. I have tried to make it clear that I see the mind as collective, not atomistic, and so the idea of a “deep personal lack” is, to me, simply a result of misguided thinking and a deluding form of ideology. At the “individual” level, I would say I have an embarrassing excess (of material comforts, health care, security, etc.), not a lack. I have family, friends, more activities than I have time for, and plenty of ability to make us of my individual capacities–the only thing I would say I “lack” is hours in the day. However, I don’t think it is that case that most people have such abundance, so perhaps the “lack” is in the social formation, not in anybody’s “personal” self.

  55. My comment about “crystalline moments of awareness” having become something like ammo here for a debate about the category of aesthetic experience, not to mention being named “buddhistic web chatter,” let’s talk about the history of aesthetics for a moment. It wasn’t invented to name, reify, and place value on something beyond words and concepts. That came later. It was initially coined, neologized, for quite the opposite reason: for an empiricist inquiry into the nature of pleasure. That it subsequently became a mystification doesn’t negate the fact that it was invented as an empiricist tool for demystification–a “science of pleasure.” When I invoked those moments of heightened awareness, my question was, precisely, how might we go about cracking the ostensible limits of language in such a way as to refute those who want to inscribe them as aporetic, simply because they don’t have the words to describe those moments. When I hear, as I frequently do in zen circles, “words can’t touch it,” my response is something along the lines of, then let’s see if we can do a little better with the words. Tom, your claim that aporetic thinking is ideological bs is much needed. But wouldn’t part of the point of a venture such as this one–here–be to provide a new language for describing that which has previously been categorized as “beyond words and concepts”?

  56. Jody, It’s true that the ostensible purpose of “aesthetics” was to enable an empiricist science of pleasure–the purpose that had earlier been served by less “scientific” sounding terms like “imaginative pleasure” and “sensibility.” However, right from the beginning with Baumgarten and Burke, it alway in practice served as a way to avoid any such theory, and so to cover over the inherent problems of empiricism with a kind of descriptive “science.” Kant was making any huge leap from Kames and Blair, for whom aesthetics was already turning out to be a poor science that was making to progress: all Kant does is to establish that such progress is impossible, because it is a faculty distinct from conceptual thought. So, the reification didn’t come much late, and was in fact the real function of the category right from the start.

    But yes, it would be important to account for those moments. The real point is not to “describe” them, though, so much as to explain them–we can perfectly well “describe” the moment, but what we usually don’t want is to explain exactly why they seem so pleasurable and meaningful. There are several discourses in which this can be done: marxist and post-structuralist cultural theory and psychoanalytic theory, in particular. It is possible to explain how those “ineffable” moments serve to maintain a fundamental repression, how the practice that creates them helps invest them with fetishistic power–Zizek repeatedly explains to us how the fetish works, how it gains its ineffable power exactly by masking the real network of social relations and reifying our current inadequate or incorrect concepts. My point is, there is plenty of language to explain these moments, and they aren’t all that hard to explain most of the time. The difficult thing is to convince people to listen to the explanation, and stop holding onto their fetish. We all love our symptom, as Lacan tells us, and the last thing the neurotic (or psychotic, or pervert) wants is to now the truth. And we are all neurotic, psychotic, or perverse.

  57. Tom, geez, you’re bumming me out. But I’m going to cheer myself up by digging up more of your work so I can find out why exactly we’re having this conversation here, and not at the mla. I genuinely want to understand that. See, I know what Marxism, post-structuralism, and psychoanalysis have to say about fetishes, symptoms, neuroses, psychoses, and perversity. Yup. Numbingly familiar, and those moves–well, pretty soon we figure out how to make those moves in our sleep, don’t we? But then there’s that damn cessation of suffering thing. Those boys just oddly didn’t make a lot of headway with that one.

    Why are we here, having this conversation? I see glimpses from time to time of a suggestion that you’re not just here as a critic of x-Buddhism. That you may be here for the purposes of critique as well. Now, “that’s a different question.” Can you direct me somewhere for the beginnings of an answer?

  58. Jody, I really don’t understand what the question is. What moves can you make in your sleep? Do you mean explaining the real ideological functions of aesthetic objects, symptoms, fetishes? If that’s what you mean, then I would say yes, those “moves” really would “make a lot of headway with” suffering. Maybe try making them while awake? What do you mean I’m not just here as a critic, but here for the purpose of critique? I’m completely confused by your comment. If you can clarify your question, I can try to direct you to the “beginnings of an answer,” maybe.

  59. Apologies, Tom, for not being clearer. Do you see the clarification of our relationship with reality offered by marxism, post-structuralsm, psychoanalysis, and critical theory as functionally the same as the clarification of our relationship to reality offered by buddhist practice? And if so, what kinds of buddhist practice are conducive to this clearer seeing, or, if you prefer, being awake?

  60. Jody: I think that post-structuralism, marxism and psychoanalysis produce concepts with which we could produce knowledge of our “conventional reality,” which in my idiom would be our ideology or our World in Badiou’s sense. However, as Deleuze puts it, a concept is like a brick: you can use it to build a church, or you can throw it through a window. Most American psychoanalysts would use the concepts of psychoanalytic theory to try to adjust their patient to functioning as a proper capitalist subject, and so not clarify their relationship to reality at all, but reinforce delusion. Marxist theory explains the capitalist economy, while American economists tend to fall back on probability and say it is ultimately purely contingent; but I have met people who use marxist theory to make money on the stock market very successfully–they now full well they are exploiting others, but don’t care so long as they get rich. The point is, these concepts can explain the causes of suffering quite weil, and could be used to eliminate suffering, but could also be used to produce it.

    I would say the same is true of Buddhist concepts and practice. They could help us to clearly see the causes and conditions of our suffering and so help us reduce suffering, or they could be used to produce greater delusion and cause more suffering (perhaps not for the practictioner or teacher, but for others). The most important thing of all, I believe, is to understand that we all have an ideology, that we are ideological animals by nature, and to become aware of what our ideology is–that is, to become subjects who can have an ideology with full awareness that it is an ideology. A big part of this is to be able to let go of the reification of the self, and to understand the self as completely constructed by causes and conditions (both biological/physical and human social sturctures), but still very real, and having real causal powers. Once we accept that our “mind” is not an atomistic consciousness, that it neither transcends the world nor arises mechanistically from the brain, but exists as a part of a collective symbolic/imaginary system, then we can become better able to use concepts to alter our World instead of using them to manipulate others with the delusion that this will produce greater happiness for the illusory atomistic self. This acceptance of the mind as a collectively produced and non-transcendent result of our symbolic nature is the most disturbing thing for most people. I would say there are a number of practices that could help us to realize this truth, and begin to think within this framework, but most Western Buddhist practices try very hard to avoid this, and fall back into the “subtle atman,” which is so comforting and seductive.

    My goal is to find practices which help us to realize we have no “atman,” no soul or “true self” or substrate consciousness or individual mind. We have only a conventional self, which is very real (as most “conventionally produced” things are–countries, laws, guns), but can only be changed by changing the causes and conditions of which it is an effect. Instead of the popular “spiritual” belief that we should only change our selves and learn to accept the world as it is, I would insist that we can only change our selves by changing the world, because the self is completely an effect of the social systems we live in.

    I have written about this in some more detail in the essay “Naturalizing Buddhism Without Being Reductive” (on this blog and in non+x). I’m also working on a much longer account of this–so any critical response on this comment or the essays in non+x would be greatly appreciated.

    One other question, Jody: why would this “bum you out?”

  61. I have tried to make it clear that I see the mind as collective, not atomistic, and so the idea of a “deep personal lack” is, to me, simply a result of misguided thinking and a deluding form of ideology.

    Tom (#55), don’t you think that you put – along with your concentration on language, concepts and social conventions – too much emphasis on the idea of “mind as collective”? But how about that what Madhyamikas call “primal ignorance,” or the “innate dispositions to reify”, which are, as Garfield mentions in his commentaries on MMK n. 110, p. 299, “embodied in our ordinary cognitive tendencies, which may, in fact, be ontogenetically more fundamental than the specifically social conventions to which they give rise and that then reinforce them.”? I hope that this remark does not make you feel nauseous with horror. I say so because I’m afraid that what Garfield says here is basically synonymous with what Boyers attempts to show in his works… Maybe, after all, my suspicion of a deep personal, or as you prefer, individual lack, is no so much misguided thinking and deluded form of ideology but a hunch that the hated, but nevertheless, unavoidable form of evolutionary determinism, will haunt human animal no matter how perfect it’s social formation will become.

  62. Tom, I’m not bummed out anymore. Thank you. Really. I am, in fact, anything but bummed out. My not terribly sophisticated response to what you write here is something along the lines of, “Hell, yes,” and, “Hello, fellow traveler.” And i also want to go away and think for a bit about it and read around in your stuff for a bit in order to say something a bit more substantive than that. But you most admirably answered my question.

    I think what was getting me down in the previous comments (and not at all in this one) was this sense that a massive and vital critical intelligence was being mustered to show why most contemporary buddhist writing and thinking misses the mark–why that writing and thinking consigns you right back into everything buddhism is supposed to help you make some headway on: the longing for transcendence, magical thinking, and, um, the actual material suffering of yourself and those around you. It bummed me out because, while I agree that the critical work of exploding the tidy truisms of this kind of writing is essential, I’m not even sure you need the archive (or arsenal) of critical theory to do that work. I felt a little bit of the sense of a dead horse being beaten, though in a most beautiful and balletic way. But I also figured, while I had you on the line, I’d really like to know whether your aim was just to show the hypocrisy and delusion of x-buddhism (ok, no small ambition), or whether it was, in fact, to propose that the problem was not (exactly) Buddhism itself, but the ways the teachings get passed along. Maybe, have always been passed along. This was the distinction I was trying to make between criticism and critique.

    To put this another way, I didn’t need you to teach me about critical theory. I didn’t even really need you to show me why TNH and others are in bad faith in imagining themselves to be beyond ideology, or beyond anything else. But I thought you might have quite a bit to teach me–and a whole lot of other people, too–about ways to think better about what for want of a better term I’ll still call buddhism, and why it might be worth keeping around. So, thanks. Off I go to read.

  63. Tomek: Re #62, I agree that we have a sort of innate tendency to reify, that the spectre of natural history will always haunt humanity. What I think is so essential about Buddhism, in its best forms, is that it teaches us that we can in fact escape this evolutionary determinism, we can escape our natural history, and, in Badiou’s terms, “live like an immortal,” instead of living like animals. Boyer suggests we should adapt our minds to our biology (and what really horrifies me is how much of what he thinks is biological is capitalist ideology), but the goal for Buddhism should be to refuse to limit our mind to evolutionary determinism, we should insist on our capacity, on our human right, to transcend natural history.

    Jody: you’re probably right that it doesn’t take quite so much ammunition to blow x-buddhism out of the water–it’s just what I happen to have on hand. And ultimately, I think such an arsenal of critical theory will be useful in helping us better do what x-buddhism fails to do. Besides, its just fun. I really can’t think of many things more enjoyable than reading Badiou or Zizek–even when I don’t agree with them they’re like a breath of air in the intellectual wasteland of contemporary academia.

  64. Jody (#63). I’m just getting caught up on some of the previous comments in this thread. But can you clarify what it is that might be beaten like a dead horse here?

  65. the tidy truisms and ideological feints of x-Buddhism, Glenn. Let me be clear … er. It’s not that I don’t think they need serious pressure put on them, time and time again. I do. Clearly they have smashingly broad appeal and fairly admirable staying power, given how easy it is to get people to sign on to those nuggets of magical and transcendental thinking (and if you think x-buddhism is bad, have a look at x-yoga discourse. No, don’t). Basically, it’s a much more user-friendly version of dharma, isn’t it? Transcendence is so … enticing. And it feels so good. So in a way, I suppose it’s fine to bring whatever weapons one needs to bear on it. It was just that I felt as though I was being energetically sold on something I bought a ways back. Not just the wrongness of x-buddhism, but the utility of certain 20thc Continental thinkers in exposing that wrongness.

    Still, I wondered whether we needed ALL the big guns of critical theory hauled in at once to beat dumb dharma back. And (inevitably, predictably) I wondered who the audience for such a critique launched in such a way might be. But then Tom talked about the fact that it’s fun to use these tools in this way, it’s pleasurable for him, and I stopped worrying about the horse. Pleasure is such a rare commodity in thinking communities these days. May the horse live to receive another blow!

    I also, as you can see, wanted to move the conversation in a slightly different direction, being new to these parts. I get how critical theory can be used to put considerable pressure on x-buddhism. What I wondered was, what do critical theory and buddhism have in common? Is there shared terrain there for the lessening of suffering? How do their rigorous interrogation of dualisms overlap, if they do? And what better understanding/expression of buddhist wisdom (if, as Derrida would say, such a thing exists) can be crafted from this unlikely meeting of languages and archives? I’ve already found a bunch of answers to these questions in an afternoon of remedial reading in the non-x stacks. Still, you know, catching up here. But very surprised and pleased to have tumbled down this particular rabbit hole.

  66. I guess it is not easy to like be a Bodhisattva and having left behind the desire to be… but it is the normal Bodisattva irritation, there are less who are free from it.

    But somehow that is also a kind of letting go, letting go for the sake of countless hungry ghost striving for something to be.


    1. Some corrupt-minded ones do make arguments;
    Then again, true-minded ones make arguments also.
    But a sage does not have recourse to any arisen argument;
    Therefore the sage is not unyielding at all.

    2. How would one get over his own view,
    Led on by preference, entrenched in personal inclination,
    Working up consummate systems for himself?
    Indeed, as one would understand, so would he argue.

    3. Whatever person, even unasked,
    Speaks to others of his own morality and observances,
    Whoever even of his own accord speaks of himself—
    Adept ones say his is an ignoble way.

    4) But a mendicant at peace, with self completely blown out,
    Not boasting about his morality saying, “I am like this,”
    For whom there are no distinguished positions at all in the world—
    Adept ones say that his is a noble way.

    5. Whosever philosophies are contrived, determined,
    And set before them are not immaculate.
    Whatever the advantage he sees for himself
    He is dependent upon a peace that is conditioned by instability.

    6. Indeed, not easily got past are the entrenchments of views
    Seized, having discriminated, from among the philosophies.
    Thus a man amid those entrenchments
    Discards, adopts a philosophy.

    7. For the purified man there is not at all in the world
    A contrived view concerning this or that existence.
    The purified man, having abandoned illusion and self-regard—
    What would he go by, he who has recourse to nothing?

    8. Indeed, one having recourse to philosophies has recourse to
    To one not having recourse, about what, how, would one make an
    For him, indeed, there is nothing acquired or discarded;
    He has shaken off all views even here.

    Neverthenless, it’s good to rember what gratidute means.

  67. Hello Glenn and Jody, (#65, 66) I just thought this might be a good time to bring up a quote from your “why non-Buddhism?” page:

    To both traditionalists and post-traditionalists, non-buddhism must appear as ill-behaved to an extreme. For, it is not interested in preservation of any kind. In casting a coruscating gaze on the very postulates that loyally uphold “Buddhism’s” vallation, it debilitates their potency and cancels their warrant. Again: this gaze, however, is not an act of hostile destruction. It is an act of vivification, or vivifying destruction: in clarifying it gives new life.

    Yes, Buddhism is certainly getting it’s ass kicked here–but ultimately in order to give it new life. Your website banner was recently changed from “weaving a bloody tapestry of ruin” to “Buddhism on the brink”. Good things are happening here. I just noticed these lines from J. Garfield’s translation of the MMK…

    Everything that is being destroyed is also becoming. Every destruction is a coming to be.


  68. Hanzze (#67). Obviously you’re a devout Slave of the Protagonist (buddhadasa); but, as far as this blog goes, your comments are just providing us with gratuitous instances of what we already know. An exchange with you might be worth the effort if you could address some of the critiques offered here, and why you, obviously, believe them to be invalid. Maybe you can start with countering my criticism of what I have been calling “x-buddhistic exemplificative braggadocio,” or “the x-buddhist detail fetish.” In response to an equally fervent Protector of the Faith (dhammarakkha) a while ago, I explained it like this:

    X-buddhist exemplificative braggadocio is a primary manifestation of x-buddhist faith in the principle of sufficient buddhism. This principle is a violent form of anti-humanism. The dream of the upholder of the principle of sufficient buddhism is to establish an uncircumventable standard against which the ordinary person must judge himself. Your dream of the heroic Buddha is wholly in keeping with this anti-humanist principle of sufficient buddhism. In your variety of x-buddhism, the Buddha matters first and foremost–everything unfolds from his exemplary person. In non-buddhism, the ordinary person matters first and foremost. For the ordinary person, all knowledges–including x-buddhism–are regional and comparable. Because there are no heroes, there is no master knowledge. I also speak of x-buddhistic exemplificative braggadocio using Laruelle’s metaphor of “playing with loaded dice.” X-buddhism is a particular shell game. Only the x-buddhist can win at it. Why? Because there is literally no end to the tedious tesselation called The Dharma. And only the x-buddhist has the specular vision from on high to perceive the intricate interconnections of the dharmic-samsaric whole. But this fact has nothing to do with the Dharma’s truth, or relevance, or value. It has only to do with the fact that “The Dharma” names an sprawling, deeply entrenched vallation, a vallation, moreover, to which only the person who reflexively responds to x-buddhist decision has access.

  69. Glenn, Is anti-humanism a term of opprobrium around here? I admit I’m surprised. Loved the snippets Danny pulled out of the mission (missile?) statement, but surely humanism would have to be a prime target for the coruscating gaze.

  70. Jody (#70). Taken in the technical, philosophical, sense, I am against humanism. What I really mean by “anti-humanism” is a position that pits the person, the human, against an unrealizable ideal, or subject.

  71. Tom (#32) The Buddha’s philosophy stems from a belief that this reality is not real, and that there is another reality beyond this one. This seems to be a basic theme running in this conversation, and that buddhist are simply trying to make concrete the abstract. That this transcendental thinking is somehow harmful, or holding back man’s ability to honestly look at his situation and thereby transcend his current limitations. It would seem to me though and I think everyone would agree, that our current understanding of the universe and our current scientific models for explaing it fall short. Indeed there are many scientific theories as to the possibilities of different dimensions, and universes for that matter, and none of these has been proven or is public knowledge at this point. I guess that what I am getting at is that even Einstien has said that we will need a new kind of math, a new kind of theoretical physics to find out what happens to matter when it passes through a black hole. That our current models will not work beyond the horizon where matter breaks down and something happens that we do not understand. Seeing how our formulation of concepts, words, thoughts, happens in this plane of understanding, and even our mathmatical calculations and theories are incapable of deciphering these problems, how are we suppose to explain the “ineffable.” It seems that indeed this is the goal of these dialouges, however I’m curious, and I guess the question is how does Speculative on Buddhism categorize this problem? And under the categories of user respones, where do I fit in? All of the sages in the past seem to be saying that the only way to reach this Nirvanna if you will, is through mind, and transcendantal thinking, but if as the Buddha says, that the nature of both of these realities holds a common thread, of emptiness, than theoritcally, it is possible to mathmatically explain. I am terrible at math, and am not even sure of what critical theory is, although it would seem a mathmatical way to explain organic problems. Again, these problems, it seems might not be solved until a new language is developed which hold true in both realities, universes, dimensions. I personally believe as you know that science and faith will meet at just this place when man is ready, at some point in the near(far) future. Just curious what you thought, and do Buddhist teachings talk about these mathmatical anomolies, and the future of the human race, besides the appearance of the next Buddha. “My children, my friends, I have come more quickly, perhaps, than you expected. But there is much to do, much that needs changing in the world. Many hunger and die, many suffer needlessly. I come to change all that; to show you the way forward — into a simpler, saner, happier life — together. No longer man against man, nation against nation, but together, as brothers shall we go forth into the New Country.” –Maitreya

  72. Justin: I’m not sure what you mean by “the Buddha’s philosophy,” but if Buddha really did think that “this reality is not real,” then he was just another idiot ideologue, and we’d best forget him. To say that reality is “empty of essential nature” or “dependently arisen” is certainly not the same as saying it is not real. Making assertions about “Buddhist thought” is just as pointless as making claims about “western philosophy”; one could quote Kant or Berkeley and then say “this is what “western philosophy” really says–but it wouldn’t be correct. Some Buddhist thought is useful and true, some is stupid nonsense, and we have to do the hard work of figuring out for ourselves which is which, and not rely on any scriptural authority.

    It is certainly the case, as Einstein knew, that our current theories of physics and our current mathematics are incomplete. That is why we must not reify them, and must be willing to improve them. In our current symbolic systems there are many things that cannot be explained, but we shouldn’t throw up our hands and say “that’s beyond thought.” In any given symbolic system, certain things are excluded, but the limitations of our human language shouldn’t convince us that there is no reality.

  73. This reality is illusory I guess would be more accurate. Thanks for your kindness. I believe compassion to exist everywhere!

  74. Glenn Wallis said
    October 21, 2012 at 11:45

    Hanzze (#67). Obviously you’re a devout Slave of the Protagonist (buddhadasa); but, as far as this blog goes, your comments are just providing us with gratuitous instances of what we already know. An exchange with you might be worth the effort if you could address some of the critiques offered here, and why you, obviously, believe them to be invalid. Maybe you can start with countering my criticism of what I have been calling “x-buddhistic exemplificative braggadocio,” or “the x-buddhist detail fetish.” In response to an equally fervent Protector of the Faith (dhammarakkha) a while ago, I explained it like this:

    X-buddhist exemplificative braggadocio is a primary manifestation of x-buddhist faith in the principle of sufficient buddhism. This principle is a violent form of anti-humanism. The dream of the upholder of the principle of sufficient buddhism is to establish an uncircumventable standard against which the ordinary person must judge himself. Your dream of the heroic Buddha is wholly in keeping with this anti-humanist principle of sufficient buddhism. In your variety of x-buddhism, the Buddha matters first and foremost–everything unfolds from his exemplary person. In non-buddhism, the ordinary person matters first and foremost. For the ordinary person, all knowledges–including x-buddhism–are regional and comparable. Because there are no heroes, there is no master knowledge. I also speak of x-buddhistic exemplificative braggadocio using Laruelle’s metaphor of “playing with loaded dice.” X-buddhism is a particular shell game. Only the x-buddhist can win at it. Why? Because there is literally no end to the tedious tesselation called The Dharma. And only the x-buddhist has the specular vision from on high to perceive the intricate interconnections of the dharmic-samsaric whole. But this fact has nothing to do with the Dharma’s truth, or relevance, or value. It has only to do with the fact that “The Dharma” names an sprawling, deeply entrenched vallation, a vallation, moreover, to which only the person who reflexively responds to x-buddhist decision has access.

    Dear Glenn Wallis,
    I am not sure how your resume that I am a slave of a slave (the quoted text is a sutta, one with is found in nearly all historical branches), while he, Buddhadasa, made also really good teachings, he had the sad tendency to philosophy (one of the lower fetters) and attachment to the world (maybe we can say it was the offspring of x-buddhism in thailand)… or even a Bodhisattva irritation 8-o
    How ever, if I read your quote, I would repeat (as that was my hint “Neverthenless, it’s good to rember what gratidute means.”), that you should honore him as he would fit 95% to your way. So I would say the topic it is merly a manifestation of a kind of issa amoung the “equal” or those who are in a competition. With honore and gratitude maybe compassion would arise “I my self are as he not free from affection, suffering and pain”.

    But I am how ever happy if you tell me that you already know all that stuff. So paitent to really come across it, would be actually enought.

  75. What I think is so essential about Buddhism, in its best forms, is that it teaches us that we can in fact escape this evolutionary determinism, we can escape our natural history, and, in Badiou’s terms, “live like an immortal,” instead of living like animals.

    Tom (# 64), the “best forms” of Buddhist teaching has always been about soteriology, understood as acquiring merit, attaining a more fortunate rebirth, or hopefully, bringing an end to it altogether. That is how the real buddhistic escape was understood. To nullify, or if you prefer, immortalize oneself in the ineffable state of transcendence. That’s the essence. Do you think that, for example, individual(s) writing “Nagarjuna” texts would treat your modern, secular renditions of their sacred doctrine as living “like an immortal” seriously? What kind of determinism forces you to conflate those two entirely different takes on soteriology? Isn’t Badiou alone not producing enough fresh “air” for you that you have to waste this “sacred” doctrine associating it with his name?

  76. Tomek: I really don’t understand what you’re saying here. I think I’ve made it clear that the bullshit about ineffable transcendence is NOT, on my understanding, the “best form” of Buddhism, that it’s a lot of horrid oppressive ideology. If you prefer to be deluded and contribute to the suffering of others and call it the “best form of Buddhism,” that’s up to you. If you believe that this is the “true essence” of Buddhism, then I would say that by your definition I am dead set against this “true essence,” and fully in favor of all those heretical Buddhists who were also opposed to such nonsense. You are sure you have the one “real” Buddhism, and all the other “Buddhisms” are mistaken; however, even if your “real Buddhism” is the “original” or “true” one, I would say it is wrong, produces delusion and suffering, and should be rejected in favor of the “false” one that seems to have gone on along side it for thousands of years. My argument is that the “soteriology” is just delusion. The emphasis in “like an immortal” is on the word “like,” that is, we will never be immortal in any real sense, only in this metaphorical one.

    Justin: re #74: I would say that a better way to put it is that our beliefs about reality tend to be delusions. Reality itself cannot be an “illusion,” but we can be mistaken about what it is–in fact, we have a powerful tendency to want to be deluded about it.

  77. Tom, the irony is, that by my definition of the buddhistic “essence”, there have never been any heretical Buddhists up to the modern period. It’s only in the modern era, that that what you call heresy have become possible, and consequently, wild and fancy secular associations, as your metaphorical “immortality”, escaping “evolutionary determinism” or “our natural history”, have become common labels polluting traditional x-buddhistic wheel of life. You rightly avoid to conquer my argument that your rendition of Buddhism would be unthinkable nonsense even for those who concocted “Nagarjuna’s” MMK. You’re well aware that it haven’t been done in the void and that this abstruse, and to many contemporary readers compelling and cherry-picked tract, had been wholly devoted to the Dharma, to that, as Glenn wrote, “specular omen pontificator of samsaric contingency”. So don’t tell me about contributing to the suffering of others, you, who still prostrate to that inhuman Pontiff.

    Do you remember the dedicatory verses of MMK? If not, I will remember you:

    I prostrate to the Perfect Buddha,
    The best of teachers, who taught that
    Whatever is dependently arisen is
    Unceasing, unborn,
    Unannihilated, not permanent,
    Not coming, not going,
    Without distinction, without identity,
    And free from conceptual constructions.

  78. Tomek, I try to be patient with you incoherent rantings because I know there is a language barrier and that makes you sound stupider than you are–but, beyond the language problem, you are just too stupid to argue with much. You don’t undersand even the x-buddhism you worship, much less the MMK–Nagarjuna does thoroughly refute your idiotic evil ideology. The very passage you quote refutes your position, if you understand it correctly–as I have demonstrated several dozen times now. Every time I explain why you are wrong, you disappear for a while only to return with the same moronic argument in another discussion. I’m willig to explain things to ignorant people, but your willful stupidity it just getting tiresome. Go retreat into you transcendent bliss and ignore the suffering of the human race like a “true Buddhist,” and be comforted with the knowledge that where arguments could not succeed, your absolute stubborn idiocy has defeated me. Hurrah for the triumph of stupidity! Pure evil is right behind!

    You claim, over and over, that I can’t refute your argument, but you never make arguments, simply assertions. You assert you know the true Buddhism, and assert I am wrong, but simple assertion is NOT an argument. Over and over I have offered arguments, explaining why I think my reading of Nagarjuna is correct, and your “argument” against me is that you have a direct line to Buddha who tells you I am wrong. If I have “polluted” your “wheel of dharma,” then all I can say is I am very glad–I hope you willful ignorance is a little less blissful because of me, and that you have a harder time convincing others to remain deluded and suffer needlessly in the hope of otherworldly bliss.

  79. The very passage you quote refutes your position, if you understand it correctly–as I have demonstrated several dozen times now.

    Tom, where did you demonstrate it?

  80. RE #44 @Tom:

    Hi Tom,

    It’s been a while since your reply but somehow first I thought it doesn’t make sense to answer but today I’m in the right mood to just try to see if I understand what exactly you mean.

    You wrote that I would avoid trying to examine what the “conventional self” is. And that this would be very well possible, that Nagarjuna did a good job with that. I have the Brad Warner translation of the MMK here somewhere and read parts of it. Maybe I should read some more to see if I agree with you.

    You continued that like Metzinger I insist on an “unexamined self that it refuses to acknowledge.” And that “The only thing we have to grasp, but the most difficult thing for many people, is that the self is nothing but this conventional thing produced by the symbolic/imaginary system and a bodily organism.”

    And finally “What you describe is, surely, a change in the way you think, but a change for the worse. You would suggest that we should accept that “writing happens” and abandon all examination of the causes, the social structures, which enable and limit such practices. This is the worst kind of quietism, and assumes a kind of faith in exactly that world-transcendent consciousness I refuse to believe exists. Experience needs a self, and there is on–a constructed self which has experiences and causal powers because of how it is constructed.”

    So that’s what I’d like to reply to you. So first of all we’d have to talk about what you understand as “conventional self”. I don’t believe that there is a “self” as such at all. In a summary the core of this idea to me is that there is no “self” as a controller or watcher or a little guy in the head who controls things and “runs the show”. Like Metzinger I believe that there is this body, this organism that over time developed brains that due to advantages in this world came up not only with a consciousness like most other animals have but als with a mechanism that manifests the “ego” or what most of us perceive as the “self”. You know that person, the owner of things, the guy running the show, which is a fixed thing and was born X years ago into this world/society and now lives till it dies.

    I do not believe in this “conventional self”, even if it doesn’t have a soul. It is not here now. What’s writing this text and thinks that it does exist is just something that the biological organism creates to enable it to survive better and be more successful in an evolutionary context. It’s what the brain comes up with, but there is no fixed thing here that runs the show. Stuff happens, like it falls in love with another organism that it wants to fuck and then the “self” comes up with ideas why it loves the person etc. for example. It then thinks and believes it made that decision to love the person for example. But it doesn’t. There’s no one.

    Now if that is your idea of a “conventional self”, in other words that “process” for you is the self and when you agree that it issn’t a fixed thing but just something that is created somehow then I can agree with you that such a “self” exists. But…only if it’s empty and only as an apparent thing. Since it’s like everything else not really real (but as real as it can be, it’s there but doesn’t have “self-existence”). But then where does Metzinger differ here (I read his book the ego-tunnel and think he’s really close to your idea…)?

    Also I didn’t abandon all causes by accepting that “writing happens”. And I don’t believe in a “world-conscioursness” whatever the hell that should be?! I mean for me the world IS consciousness. It’s the material world that came up with a consciousness, there’s no difference. Without “material” stuff, no consciousness. I just wanted to say that like now again “writing happens”. I can think about the causes and maybe figure some out. But that wasn’t the point I wanted to make, I just meant that what’s happening now is “writing”. And there is no fixed self doing this. If you want so you could say that there’s lots of selfing going on at the moment in different forms etc….but then where would you put the line between the “self” and “writing”?


  81. Daniel, The term “conventional self” is a common one in Buddhist thought, and I am using it pretty much in the ordinary way–that there is, in fact, a self, constructed by causes we can determine, that is real, and has real causal powers, but is not permanent. This isn’t my own idea–it is a standard Mahayana position, at least it is common in the Madhyamamaka. All I can really say is what I”ve said over and over already–the idea of “selfing” is the same as Metzinger’s position, and, as Hume pointed out centuries ago, always requires us to sneak a subtle self in the back door, and then just insist we aren’t doing so–a sort of “pay not attention to the self behind that curtain.” If you’re okay with such poor thinking an like to be deluded, then I can’t argue against your willingness to believe in something while simultaneously denying it–that would be like trying to argue a psychotic out of his delusions, right?

    It is astounding that you could claim that the conventionally constructed isn’t real, doesn’t exist, when we see evidence of its real causal power in our lives every minute of every day. The United States is a conventionally real entity–would you say it has not causal power in the world? It is not “only apparent,” and is “really real,” just not self-created, autonomous, and eternal.

  82. Tom (# 79), you blew you usual smoke screens calling me this and that, and then went silent like Vimalakirti in his den. Don’t you remember what the goddess said? So I repeat, show me where exactly have you demonstrated, as you claimed above, that the dedicatory passage I quoted earlier, refutes my position, if I “understand it correctly”? Don’t you agree this time with both Garfield and Streng, that there are two ways of reading it; that besides the conventional level there is the ultimate one, “at which his [Nagarjuna’s] own view must itself be seen as a merely conventional ostention of an ineffable ultimate truth.”(MMK p.358)? Make some effort and try to be more subtle in your rhetorics this time. Imputing me “a direct line to the Buddha” or misrepresenting my irony with the the pollution of the wheel of dharma was truly embarrassing.

  83. Hi Tom,

    okay so maybe our terms have just been different. For me with a “self” whether it’s conventional or not comes the idea that it exists on it’s own, that it’s a thing standing apart from others and is seperate from everything else. Or as wikipedia states in the summary “The self is an individual person as the object of his or her own reflective consciousness.” Now for me such an “individual person” is only apparently real. It’s a construct, without things around it it doesn’t exist. That of course is not only true for the self but for other things we perceive and talk about, too. Now using “selfing” just tries to make this clear since saying to someone “yes there is a self, you are/have a self” will lead to the usual understanding that there’s a fixed self/person behind everything, apart from everything else. And again what exactly is your point with Metzinger? Did you read “The Ego-Tunnel”? What do you disagree to?

    I’m willing to keep on looking behind any curtain and am not okay with “poor thinking” (at least I think so, could be wrong!).

    Tom, there’s no doubt for me that you will beat me on this area of philosophy and smart words as easily as TNH. I’m not good in this and I know it. My hope here really is that I actually learn how to better express in words what this experience here is from moment to moment when words fall away. And I think there’s something I can learn from you here.

    Hmm your example of the United States is a good one. I’d say it’s there, sure. At least for me 😉 But what is it? Can it exist without all other countries? Is it still the US when no one is living there? And just being on that land that is called “USA” without thinking that it’s the “USA” just looking around will you find a USA DNA-stamp or something in every stone? In other words, how real is real. For a cat living in the USA is there a USA? Regaring “selfing” etc. if you name Nagarjuna this was also one of his core thoughts if I remember correctly…?

    Btw I’d love to talk with you about your views on these things on Google Talk or Skype or whatever, if you’re interested send me an email.


  84. Daniel: I have read Metzinger’s book, and many other things he’s written. They all come up agains the same problem, which he can claims to resolve but merely insists we should ignore. His position is just the latest in a long line of attempts to explain the mind in completely positivist and empiricism terms, as an atomistic epiphenomenon of the brain. This always come’s up against the need to assume a “self,” a kind of infinite regress or homunculus problem, in which there is always a consciousness being “tricked” by this biological/cognitive error. I have had this discussion on the blog with Matthias and others a couple of times, and given specific passages where this problem arises. Metzinger and his fans just insist that this is “just a problem of language” and so we can ignore it–at least Hume had the courage to admit that this was a true problem, that in his “Treatise” he had been hiding a “self” behind some rhetorical sleight of hand. For the empiricists, denying this is imperative to reproducing their ideology of an autonomous and atomistic consciousness while insisting they are being scientific and rational. When real arguments against their position are advanced, they simply ignore them, restate their position, and claim they have refuted their opponents; and the argument against the idea of an atomistic mind arising from an individual brain have been made a thousand times over the last three centuries, and have never been refuted, simply ignored.

    The example of the United States, for instance, does not assume there is some “USA DNA-stamp” anywhere, there is no essential “USA,” it is completely constructed by human beings and would cease to exist if we did. It is also defined in relation to other countries, not arisen from the earth, just as the conventional self is defined in relation to other individuals and not arisen from the brain. Nevertheless, it has enormous powers and is very real. One of Nagarjuna’s most important insights is that while we are completely dependently arisen we are still completely “real,” that the conventional is all that there is, that there is no “ultimate” which transcends the conventional. In Badiou’s terms, truths must always appear in Worlds.

    So, Tomek, I absolutely don’t agree that there is any truth that must remain ineffable. There are truths that are inexpressible in our current symbolic systems, that are excluded from our present World, but they could be made to appear, they could be expressed, if we change our symbolic systems to account for them. Nagarjuna’s expression of truths occurs in his particular World, and so is conventional, as he explains. It is still true, because it explains the truth that there are two truths: there is a mind-independent reality indifferent to our consciousness, and there is a conventional truth which is still very real with real causal powers, despite being produced by us and being impermanent.

    As for where we have had this discussion before, you can go back and reread them as well as me–I don’t really feel motivated to collect all the previous comments on this, because I’m sure it will be an hour wasted, you will simply respond with the same assertion and claim it is an argument. I’m not interested in argument from authority–one can no doubt find some authority who disagrees with my claims easily enough, just look in almost any book. What I am interested in is finding the truth, and this is why I find Nagarjuna interesting: the MMK (and other works as well) give us an insight, attempt to force a truth into the human symbolic system, that we have still not completely accepted. One of those truths is the permanence of ideology, another is the collective nature of the consciousness, its occurrence neither in the body nor the soul but in the human symbolic/imaginary system. Another great truth of Buddhism is that we need to change our actual material practices to fully grasp these truths–that we cannot simply read them in a book then go about our lives in the same old social system. Western philosophy seeks to describe and explain the world, but insists it must leave it exactly as it is to remain “objective” about it: the goal should not be to explain the world, but to change it. If our consciousness is dependently arisen, we cannot change our minds without changing our World.

  85. Tom, tell honestly, how can you even tell that your view, that Nagarjuna supposedly equates his ultimate truth with, what you call, “mind-independent reality indifferent to our consciousness” is that what “he” really wanted to express dancing on his tightrope on the limits of language and metaphysics? Didn’t he said:

    The victorious ones have said
    That emptiness is the relinquishing of all view.
    For whomever emptiness is a view,
    That one has accomplished nothing. (MMK 27:8)

    But this is not what interest me the most. I’d like to hear from you, why, instead of, for example, relying on the modern science to express the truth of the mind-independent reality, you invoke the aid of the second Buddha, as Nagarjuna is sometimes called by the pious? You says that “Western philosophy seeks to describe and explain the world, but insists it must leave it exactly as it is to remain “objective” about it …” Who do exactly you have in mind? Haven’t we had dozens of Western thinkers, that had tried to do both, to remain “objective” and at the same time make a change in the world. I just can’t believe that you need such a vaporous figures as “Nagarjuna” to make the world a better place.

  86. Tomek: Your real concern is that we could do the same thing with some other vaporous figure, one of the (equally vaporous, right?) “dozens of Western thinkers”? Perhaps we could, but I can’t think of one. Who do you have in mind? If there really is some Western thinker who produces this idea that the mind is not atomistic and in the brain, but collective and in the symbolic/imaginary system, AND who believes we should change this system by inventing new practices which may be eccentric to the orbit of normalcy, well, then, for me that would be just as good as doing any kind of Buddhism at all. I’m unfamiliar with any such discourse/practice in the history of Western thought, so I will remain faithful to the great Buddhist Event, the attempt to produce this truth in the human world(s). If you know of any such discourse/practice, please, share it with us! I would ask, though, why you are so terrified of reading Buddhist philosophical texts? Why can’t we read them the same way we read Kant or Heidegger? What is so disturbing about treating a 2000 year old Buddhist text the same way we treat a 2000+ year old Western text? Aristotle is just as “vaporous’ as Nagarjuna–even more so, in some ways, because absolutely none of his existing texts were actually written and published by Aristotle, whereas we at least assume that whoever wrote MMK was, by definition, Nagarjuna.

    I’m not concerned with what some individual actually “intended” to express. I am interested only in what the texts actually do say, and the practices that we produce by reading them. The passage you quote here is an excellent example. Intention is insignificant, but the kind of thought we can produce in the discourse of arguing over the meaning of this passage is uniquely useful. We can use this passage to explain that all ideology is humanly created, that a “view” refers to the reification of our ideology, the insistence that there is one particular World that is universally true; we can use it, also, to explain why it is imperative not to accept the absolute relativism of postmodernism, that falling into the delusion that because an ideology is humanly produced it is not real and has no causal power accomplishes nothing, produces only the worst kind of cynical quietism in which our ideologies can have even more power than reification gives them, because we accept that it is not worth our trouble to make the effort to change them–and we become completely the pawns of the existing system, and learn to love our oppression through the pleasures of cynicism. Nagarjuna can serve as a text to enable this kind of discourse, and to demonstrate that this problem, the problem of ideology, reification, and cynicism, is not a “modern” one and proof that we are “post-ideological,” but a consistent dilemma of the ideological animal that we are. We can put Nagarjuna to use, and produce new Buddhist practices intended to liberate us from our ideology. If you have some “modern” ghost that would be more useful for producing this practice, name it; but, you’ll still need to explain why recent is always better than past, why this isn’t just the result of assuming we are now triumphantly beyond the naive problems of more “primitive” humans.

  87. I like TNH’s writings a lot and the mindfulness approaches he suggests… more than his sloppy reasoning, I’m more concerned about TNH’s contradictory lifestyle – flying around in planes, driving around in cars … i wish he would be more mindful of that…

  88. Re Metzinger, or preferably: Re The body/animal – I don’t want to (re)open any discussion about Metzinger, Pascal Boyer or neuro-psychology and evolutionary-psychology in general. But this topic is far from solved. The last time I argued here about Metzinger (I don’t remember where) I tried to show that his model of the individual consciousness is open to the social sphere or the symbolic/imaginary. I think I can see what your, Tom, objections are. You write about

    a “self,” a kind of infinite regress or homunculus problem, in which there is always a consciousness being “tricked” by this biological/cognitive error

    I think “tricked” is the point, isn’t it? If we as conscious beings are just a trick of a biological organism, than we really can do nothing about the situation we are in. I doubt that Metzinger or Boyer see it like this. But I am sure the armed forces of consumer capitalism – marketing – use insights like the ones by Metzinger and Boyer for their business to sell more useless crap (in an attempt to keep the head of consumer capitalism above water). I think particularly Boyer is able to give some hints about the interplay of the biological and the social sphere.

    If there is an interplay is out of question. If we say no, this would be pure solipsism.

    What we need here, especially in this forum of non+x, is an open debate about such questions and not so much a polemical hither and thither. It would be constructive when somebody would be able to write a more in depth analysis about this topic: What is the relationship of the (phylogenetical) biological heritage we certainly bring with us and our social constructedness as a subject known as a dispersed entity?

    For polemics the true target is the marketing guy. He is the one using everything he can get to manipulate the subject. He is the true reactionary subject in the sense of Badiou. “The moment of truth” is a marketing technique. It would be an interesting question if what is done in marketing with “the moment of truth” isn’t possibly the dark/reactionary side of what Badiou says about “fidelity” in his Ethics? To bind the costumer and to make him stupid by being faithful to the product (e.g. examine Apple’s product strategy as a hijacking of desire).

    And that’s a question about Buddhism too. Buddhism is on the verge to be extinct because it is made a product. So let’s think about where to direct the power of polemics.

  89. I would ask, though, why you are so terrified of reading Buddhist philosophical texts? Why can’t we read them the same way we read Kant or Heidegger?

    Tom (# 87), if even Kant or Heidegger or for that matter, let’s say, Wittgenstein can’t be read without the threat of fideism infiltrating human minds, so how come the x-buddhistic texts as “Nagarjuna” can be immune to that parasite?

    But let’s return to your attempt to equate Nagarjuna’s ultimate truth with the mind-independent reality, which you do not mention again this time. I think that this is just a perfect example of that what we should be wary of, namely, of the kind of wild speculations concocted by you and others bitten by the dharmic decision, that allow the voltaic network of x-buddhistic postulations to stealthy invade the secular sphere and implant itself – in this case, in the modern scientific discourse – as a fideistic parasite. I wouldn’t mind if you confabulate about your faith in „the great Buddhist Event” in seclusion of your den, but of course, you can not constrain it only to yourself, as buddhistic preacher you have to spread it all around. Below, let me remind you what the voltaic network of postulation is. I don’t think that its “totality” excludes your fancy interpretations of “Nagarjuna” texts so much cherished by you. You simply constantly feed repetitive patterns of that totality with your own idiosyncratic reformulations of x-buddhistic syntax and unwittingly blunt the radical edge of this whole project.

    Voltaic network of postulation. A totality that constitutes the Buddhist dispensation. It is the totality of premises, claims, propositions, presuppositions, beliefs, axioms and so on coupled with the totality of utterances, talks, interpretations, commentaries, sub-commentaries, secondary literature, and so on. Because of the colossal and intricate accrual of this twenty-five hundred year old dispensation, infinite x-buddhisms, each complete in itself, may be generated from this network.[Nascent Speculative Non-Buddhism p. 24]

    Nonetheless I hope that your dharmic piggybacking here is tolerated for a good reasons by someone much more cunning that you’re and the blind force of you decision is deliberately used to propel this project.

  90. Re #90: I have to disagree on this one, Matthias. Boyer and Metzinger must be attacked with the full force of our polemic, exactly because we all already know that Madison Avenue is trying to delude us, but it seems to be harder to notice that Metzinger and Boyer are producing exactly the same kind of capitalist ideology, and calling it science. Boyer doesn’t address the “interplay of biological and social,” he simply assumes that capitalist ideology must be universal and so biologically encoded in our genes by evolution. Metzinger clearly thinks there IS something we can do about our situation, because we have an atomistic consciousness that transcends the “World” of the biological/cognitive error–the purely objective scientific mind of the bourgeois humanist subject; Metzinger insists he has done away with this idea of a transcended mind, but he has simply hidden it behind a rhetorical curtain, where it still can make the decision to escape error if it can avoid being “tricked.” This is why this kind of ideology in the guise of science needs the most powerful polemic–it is far too easy to be drawn into their error, believing that the they are critiquing what they are producing.

  91. Look. Tom has made clear over and over again his agenda, which is to advance the idea that we should only look for consciousness in ‘the symbolic order’, which he needs to support his argument that we can only change our ‘conventional’ socially constructed selves by changing the social order. He doesn’t advance any support for his contention that consciousness exists only in the social order, other than ‘because Lacan said so’ and he’s not actually interested in the views of anyone else unless they concur entirely with his own. Furthermore, his arguments against modern neuroscience are generally of the strawman variety. Oddly, despite the fact that I think he’s a pain in the arse, I actually have more sympathy with some of his views than he might imagine; second-order cyberneticians such as Bateson, Maturana and Varela have all advanced sophisticated epistemologies that expand cognition beyond the atomistic self and into the larger symbolic and environmental contexts in which we are situated. My issue is the continual referencing of the same sources of ideas (particuarly Lacan and certain aspects of continental philosophy that draw on psychoanalysis) when many of them have been superseded, disproved or at least largely discredited. It’s perhaps not surprising from a humanities professor, but I find it pretty tiresome, to say the least. Any talk of learning anything from neuroscience is usually met with the accusation of ‘look! an empiricist! burn him’. Anyway, for anyone interested in an alternative view on Lacan, try this link:

    Dylan Evans was a prominent Lacanian pyschotherapist and academic, who wrote one of the standard reference texts on Lacanian theory. In this short essay he writes about how he came to be involved, and how he eventually came to disavow Lacan as he learned more about evolutionary psychology and the lack of any evidential basis for the claims being made. Now, I am sensitive to some of the arguments about the social construction of science, and also criticisms of naive empiricist epistemology, but I’m not satisfied that we just need to accept Tom’s claim that consciousness is in the symbolic order because Lacan said so, and some Parisian intellectuals tended to agree with him.

  92. Ah, the number of terrified reactionaries we attract here. I know most readers never post a comment; I have to hold out the hope that some of them are not so terrified of truth that, like Lee and Tomek, they will insist they will not listen to any explanation, because they know in advance that explanation must be wrong. Lee, you have explicitly stated that you will ignore any evidence that Lacan’s theory is true–that you will refuse to hear it. So, of course you believe it must not exist. You say I offer no support for my postion, but when I offer to you say you will not listen to anything I say. Tomek simply asserts the same nonsense over and over, with no argument: he knows the true interpretation of Buddhism, what Buddha (and apparently Nagarjuna) “really” meant, and I am wrong about them, saying something they could not have “intended”, yet at the same time am guilty of “fideism” exactly because I refuse to accept that truth depends on faithful adherence to received opinion. Nobody is asking for ”faith” in Nagarjuna or Lacan or anyone else; I am only asking that we put their concepts to use, and see what can be explained that must remained unexplained in the current discourses of positivism and empiricism. There is abundant evidence for the existence of the mind in the symbolic/imaginary system, rather than the mind–the evidence is in what it can explain, in the problems it can solve. It is not “empirical” evidence, because we cannot empirically prove that empiricism is wrong–we can only point to all the things it must throw up its hands at and label “artefacts” or “error” or “too complex,” and offer an explanation for those things. Take a look at Andrew Collier’s book on Critical Realism, where he explains that in a more adequate epistemology of science, psychoanalysis has much more scientific evidence to support it than any empiricist psychology, whether evolutionary or cognitive–these are merely capitalist ideology in the guise of science, the most powerful strategy of the reactionary subject. I am not saying this to Lee or Tomek, who have already said they will ignore any explanation I might offer and simply insist I must be wrong. I am writing this for those among us who might want to actually do some intellectual work: can we get past the infantile shouting of the reactionaries, who put their fingers in their ears and shout, then complain that nobody will explain things to them?

    Craig: what would those practices look like? That’s the big question here. I have some suggestions, but no final answer. What kind of practice do you think might enable real critical thought and motivate collective action for change? I don’t think it is education, at least not as practiced in the U.S.: our educational system is designed to prevent all real critical thought, to train corporate cubicle dwellers who will blame their misery on the current president and their significant others, and seek relief from suffering not in social change but the endless pursuit of “self” improvement, a better love life, and the periodic pain-killer of pointless elections. Then they’ll die, and hope to go to heaven, I guess. We would need a completely different model of “education” to really do anything useful.

  93. To be fair Tom, you’re the one who usually starts the infantile shouting, although I admit I do get swept up in it, and enjoy a good slanging match. I did also read elsewhere on the site that you sometimes use this as a strategy to provoke people to argue with you in an attempt to shift their thinking, which somewhat re-frames my perceptions of why you actually do this in a slightly more positive direction. Personally, I’m not sure if it’s helpful or not – it can provoke a symmetrical rather than complementary response, and I also think you frequently misunderstand what people are actually trying to say. The final thing that disturbs me most is when I hear (some) people start to parrot your ideas back at you, which seems the very antithesis of what this blog professes to be about – i.e. liberating thinking from ideological constraints. Anyway….

    “What kind of practice do you think might enable real critical thought and motivate collective action for change?”

    I think this is a question that we both agree on, despite your reactionary characterisation of me as a reactionary. Elsewhere on the Non X discussion, I also notice that there is some interesting contributions of cybernetics and non-aristotelian logic, which, as I have indicated before, are far from the standard empiricist epistemology, and which I think potentially have much of value to contribute here, if we can get past the infantile shouting. So, shall we?

  94. Honestly, Lee, I doubt we can. I don’t mind the name calling–I am an obnoxious ass, so there’s no point calling it crazy wisdom, call it what it is. What I mean by “infantile shouting” isn’t calling me a prick–that’s just calling it like you see it. Rather, I mean the kind of response that goes “I won’t listen to your explanation, and my refusal to listen is my proof that you are wrong.” I have no strategy to get around that.

    I could, for instance, explain why cybernetics and non-aristotelian logic are exactly in line with empiricist epistemology, that they function to save empiricism, and its veiled idealism, from collapse. They have their use in certain contexts–they can, for instance, enable us to make some kind of prediction when we haven’t got a precise enough explanation for an exact prediction–but when we commit the epistemological fallacy and assert that because our knowledge is fuzzy and probabilistic therefore the universe is, we are back in the realm of ideology masquerading as science. The law of the excluded middle does not require us to produce binaries (that is a misapplication of logic) it only requires precise concepts–which we don’t always have, and so logic fails. But of course, your response would be to deny the very existence of such truths, to insist on the universality of the capitalist ideology, and this is what I mean by “reactionary,” And you need to grasp the difference between using someone else’s concepts and “parroting” ideas–the refusal to distinguish concepts which can explain the world from beliefs about the world is another typical reactionary response.

  95. Me too, Tom, when you spend so much of your time creating strawmen and then arguing against them. It’s just too time consuming to have to correct every one. To think that you can characterise the entirety of systems thinking / cybernetics (and all the various) as ‘knowledge is fuzzy and probabilistic’ is ridiculous in the first instance; and then to go on and say that I’m committing the fallacy of thinking that’s how the universe actually is, is a hallucination entirely of your own concoction. But we could go on like this for ever, so let’s not; let me turn to some of the places where I think there may be some common ground for agreement, albeit using a slightly different language:

    1. We can only ever know ‘reality’ through our ideas about it (ideology); however, we should not make the error of confusing our ideas about reality for reality itself. This seems to me to approximate to Korzybski’s map / territory distinction. Also, I think that the way in which you use ideology approximates quite closely to the way I would use the term epistemology, and if so, I concur that you cannot not have one, even in you are unaware of it.

    2. Your ideology / epistemology entirely defines your view of the world, whether you think so or not. Analytic thought plays an important role in surfacing unconscious assumptions within an ideological / epistemological framework, which otherwise limit the scope of what can be thought / known.

    3. The development of ideology / epistemology is ‘in large part’ a social practice, some of which is explicit and some of which is implicit. I may differ from you here, in that I think that there are other influences (phylogenetic and environmental, but not in the sociological sense).

    4. What we ordinarily think of as an individual mind is actually part of a larger immanent mind, which exists in the interactions between people, social and cultural forms and other ‘agents’ within the system. Making ‘individual’ changes is frequently pointless, because the larger system will tend to change things back.

    Is there any common ground here? If not, then I’m not in the right place, because I can’t be bothered to perpetually argue against positions I don’t actually hold. My interest, it may surprise you to know, is also social change and the ideas that we need to take us forward as a species right now. If that’s what we’re about, then let’s leave out the slanging and get on with working out what they are.

  96. Lee: This is exactly the kind of response I mean. I didn’t say YOU commit this epistemology fallacy (you may, but I don’t know), I merely offered the observation that the entirety of systems thinking is an attempt to save empiricism, to make it still workable despite its many problems. Your response is, once again, you can’t be bothered listening to any ideas that threaten your ideology, and your refusal to listen to them is proof they are wrong.

    As four your four points: 1) ideology is not the same as epistemology, because it includes practices that go beyond knowledge–ideology does not “map” the world (that is what science tries to do), but creates practices for humans to get around in the world. 2) with the above exception I would agree with this–we always have an ideology, the trouble is not knowing that we do. 3) the development of ideology is completely a social practice–biological and environmental determinants exist, but they are not “ideological.” 4) This is what I consider the most important point, and what is most threatening to capitalist ideology generally.

    I do hope to promote change, but not simply modifications acceptable within the positivist/empiricist ideology. That would be like thinking we can eliminate capitalism without eliminating exchange value.

  97. Tom, #92, etc.

    “we all already know that Madison Avenue is trying to delude us”

    We know “that” but not “how”, or we know it only partly. Already there are techniques like “neuromarketing”. Although these might be, at this point in time, not really working, it is evident that marketing will use all about cognitive and evolutionary psychology what they can lay their hand on. Promising psychologists are oftentimes headhunted directly from university into the laboratories and marketing departments of the big players – and their research results stay there.

    They will use also everything from meditation, breathing exercises to yoga in all its variants to get more knowledge about how the consumer can put himself into a state of relaxed well being – all for regenerating his workforce – while at the same time knowledge about ideology and its genealogy remains in the dark. We know that it happens. But we can put more emphasis on how it happens.

    Shyam discribes that in section four of his text in Foucaultian terms. Buddhism seems to be in fact a very well functioning panopticon. Today there are no more asylums or military barracks like in the “societies of disciplin”. Today in “society of norm/control” the structure of the panopticon became invisible – the act of disciplining itself becomes invisible.

    I would ad to this that TNH isn’t aware of being something like a puppet on an string. The norm today of being a self regulating, well being, good looking, smart and successful consumer citizen is transmitted also through him. Here comes in (Weber’s) “charismatic personality” and its possible roots in the phylogenetic-biological realm. People literally fall in love with their guru, regardless of him/her being meat loaf or truly holy (e.g. Kumaré). Everybody knows how physical this is, red hot glands workomg overtime etc. Love is one of Badiou’s main examples for an “event”.

    For me there is a big question mark here. I remain with the question: “What is the relationship of the (phylogenetical) biological heritage we certainly bring with us and our social constructedness as a subject known as a dispersed entity?”

    We should expose the role of marketing in creating these “charismatic personalities” and how they use the biological realm – blood sweat and tears – to model them. For my part, with Foucault’s genealogy and his thinking about power.

    P.S. In spiritu ludi.That was really the hook wich caught me here …and axiomatic heresy, what ever that means. To throw in whatever is at hand and try out what happens.

  98. I’m going to continue with my strategy of trying to find some common ground, rather than responding to the predictable goading. I don’t think there is a great deal of difference between our uses of epistemology and ideology; I would say humans create cognitive maps and models (hypotheses in action) that enable them to get around the world, which is not necessarily any comment on the accuracy of those maps.

    It’s not an observation that the entirety of systems theory is an attempt to save empiricism, it’s an opinion. To make such a statement would imply that a. you have complete knowledge of systems theory in all of it’s various manifestations, which I doubt. I assume you are basing a sweeping generalisation such as this on some critique or other that you have read. Would you care to share or summarise it?

  99. Lee–of course I don’t know the “entirety of systems theory.” There is not point. The fundamental assumption is incorrect, so the entire rest of the project is problematic–it may follow perfectly logically from the flawed foundational assumption, but it still gets us nowhere–at least when applied to human beings. It may work well enough in other areas, were its fundamental assumptions do apply, but it has nothing useful to say about human social systems. We do create cognitive maps, but those still refer to some external world; this is not the function of ideology, which constructs our relation to the external world–it may motivate what kinds of “maps” we produce, but the map itself is not an ideology. The map can always be falsified, ideology cannot be falsified, although it may be shown to be contradictory. I wonder if this is part of the unbridgeable gap, here–that you are unwilling to accept the existence of ideology in the sense that I mean ideology?

    Matthias: just a quick note–it is fortunate that Madison Avenue makes use of cognitive and evolutionary psychology. Since they are not really sciences, but delusions, their marketing will be much less effective than if it made use of psychoanalytic theory. Imagine if a Lacanian theorist, armed with all those powerful insights into desire and the structure of the subject, were to open an advertising agency? Of course, there are some who manage perfectly well “intuitively,” so long as the ignore the pseudo-sciences–but if they start marketing based on “psychological theory” we’ll all be better off.

  100. Re systems theory, which fundamental flawed assumption Tom? I’m not sure I do reject your definition of ideology, I’m simply trying to better understand it by placing it next to something that I understand better in order to flush out the key differences, e.g. construction of the relations to the external world. I’m still not sure there is a fundamental functional difference in the way that we are using the two terms, if by relations what you mean is that ideology contains a persons conceptual knowledge about who and what he / she it, what the world is like, what’s important, how they fit into the social systems they are part of, theories of minds of others etc. If this isn’t what you mean by relations to the world, then what?

  101. Re Systems theory: I have never read any critique of systems theory, and always assumed it was just so obviously misguided and ideological that nobody would bother to critique it–it would be sort of like critiquing Dianetics: its obviously silly to most of us, but to those who are true believers no critique could be effective. The basic assumption that all systems seek “homeostasis” and the obviously positivist epistemology are the basic assumptions that I would simply reject. I know about systems theory mostly through psychology; when I was a grad student in psychology, way back before I did my degree in English, systems theory was popular in clinical psychology, despite complete failure to ever be of help to anyone at all. I wondered if the psychologists had simply misunderstood the theory, as is their wont, and did a little reading about it–just enough to see that its basic assumptions have no real use in describing human systems. They may have some use in engineering, but that’s certainly a different kind of use.

    Regarding ideology, I tried to explain this in some previous essays that appear on this blog and in non+x–primarily the essay on “Naturalizing Buddhism.” What we consider important is absolutely a part of our ideology, but our understanding of what the world is like is not. The knowledge that apples grow on trees is not ideological knowledge, but our preference for apples as a food is a part of our ideology. Ideology is not limited to “conceptual” knowledge, but can include thoughts that don’t reach the level of concepts–our “gut level” response to things, our emotions, even subtle things like our cultural sense of personal space. As I said, our ideology may influence what kind of knowledge of the world we produce, but that knowledge of the world is not ideological. There is a difference, a hugely important difference, between the infinite corrigibility of our scientific knowledge that the absolute persistence of ideology–ideology is not a result of error about the world, and better scientific knowledge cannot reduce our need for ideology (this is just a reminder, because it is such a common mistake in ideology theory to assume we will no longer need it once we correct all our errors about the world–knowing what the world is may influence, but cannot determine, what we will decide to do in it).

  102. It’s demonstrably true that systems seek homeostasis; take for example the body’s ability to self regulate it’s temperature; systems theory is also the foundation of modern climate science, and the basis for explaining how there are biological forms at all, in that they apparently (temporarily) move in the opposite direction of entropy. In short, it’s ridiculous to compare it to something like Dianetics.

    Please elaborate on the ‘obviously positivist epistemology’ as I suspect here that you don’t really know what you’re talking about. It’s a shame that you dismiss it from a position of ignorance when there clearly are so many ideas that are potentially closely related to this project. Gregory Bateson, for example, strongly influenced Deleuze and Guattari; who wrote that ‘Gregory Bateson has clearly shown that what he calls the “ecology of ideas” cannot be contained within the domain of the psychology of the individual, but organizes itself into systems or “minds”, the boundaries of which no longer coincide with the participant individuals.’. But, I suspect, you are not really interested in learning anything outside of what you already consider to be relevant or important. Ironic really.

    Thanks for the pointers on ideology. I think we are covering approximately the same ground here, but the additional distinctions are useful.

  103. To be honest, no, I’m not really interested in going through systems theory and explaining what’s wrong with it. I did that years ago, and there’s nothing of use for me in it. If it might persuade somebody else that it is a capitalist ideology and nothing more, it might be a worthwhile project for somebody, but since it seems to have so few adherents today and most of them cannot be convinced by argument or evidence, I just don’t care to do it. Like I said, it was something I looked into many years ago, thinking it might have something interesting to say, and found out it didn’t. (I’m speaking here of systems theory concerning human societies or psyches–when it comes to missile guidance systems or something, that’s a different kettle of fish). I have no more interest in revisiting it than I would in revisiting any other intellectual dead-end. Believe it if you need it, okay? If you can’t see that systems theory is completely positivist, then you just don’t know what positivism is. I don’t think a systems theorist would have objected to this label, they would not have seen it as a flaw but as a virtue. But of course, I don’t know what I’m talking about, I never really do–so stop asking me so many questions. Really, body temperature is a model for all human behavior? We never seek to grow and change, but to remain the same? That’s not an ideology, but provable fact? How absurd. But, just like Dianetics, true believers will say the most absurd things and proclaim “Can’t you see how true this is?” And that’s good to know about Deleuze and Guattari–one more thing I disagree with them about.

  104. 94:


    yes that is the big question. what practices? i’m just lost there. what changed me was immersion in the city, working in a county mental health center and shutting my mouth to listen. alas, that led to some severe cynicism. it’s a clusterfuck out there! it really comes down to life experiences i think. however, these can’t really be orchestrated with willing participants. or maybe they could. for example a conservative christian parent has a gay son and, by some miracle, sees the light. i’m also reminded of a film i saw in grad school called ‘the color of hate’ or something. it was a diverse group of men and the white dude seemed to really see what the minority experience is like. i’ll never forget my professor asking us to ‘think about what you believe.’ that could be a practice. meta-thinking.

    i really liked your summary of the cubical workers life cycle. it sickens me and leaves me pretty much on the verge of suicidal ideation (no method, no plan 🙂 and complete cynicism. i was tirelessly active in several causes the last decade and what did it do? i’m still left with that question i raised above. how can me make change? what are the new practices? oh, and raising kids in this sick world of capitalism via the public schools is beyond a nightmare. the sickest horror minds couldn’t have come up with a such a plot.

  105. Tom. I don’t think evidence is a concept you really understand. This much is clear to me – you don’t know enough about it to make an informed judgement, which tells me a lot about you and the way you operate. It would be a pointless waste of time to level the ‘true believer’ accusation back at you re Lacan and pyschoanalysis, because you will just respond with more rhetorical strategies. It just clarifies one thing for me – I don’t need to waste any more time listening to what you have to say.

  106. …and, as an afterthought, I think you know that a system of ideas tends to want to maintain stability, hence otherwise, why would you need to provoke ideology in order to get change? The very inertia that you are trying to overcome is because people are attached to their ideas, and because ideas don’t exist in isolation, but in dynamic webs of relationships such that a change in one has effects for all. This is one reason why change is difficult. I think it’s possible to develop meta-strategies and beliefs that guard against this tendency, i.e. seeking comfort and those with the same ideas as you is unlikely to lead to any kind of meaningful growth, simply stagnation. Or, difference is the basis of all genuine learning. Seeking homeostasis is not the core idea of systems theory, it’s viewing things in terms of patterns of relationship, and the recursive effects of feedback in interactions between elements of a system. But don’t get me wrong, systems theory is just another way of describing / looking at things, it’s not ‘the truth’. Good luck with your project. I’ll keep reading from time to time, but I don’t think you and I are ever going to see eye to eye, and I’m sure we both have better ways to spend our time.

  107. 94:

    also, as far as education goes, i think that Montessori is much better than public school in terms of critical thinking outcomes. at the same time, i’ve read controlled research that indicates that kids coming out of Montessori school are ‘better adjusted academically and socially’ than public school counterparts. does this mean that they’ll be more well adjusted cubicle workers? parents have a lot to do with helping kids learn critical thinking, social change, meta-thinking, questioning. i am amazed at how sick public school is though with it’s negative feedback by grading (if you didn’t get it, tough luck, you’re average), it’s constant social activities, TV, STUFF everywhere. it really is a training ground for the cycle of life you describe above. how disheartening it is.

  108. Craig: I’m also a little wary of Montessori–it seems to be so focused on “productivity” and everything serving a goal, so thoroughly capitalist and utilitarian. It always seemed to me that the difference isn’t that they promote real critical thinking, but that they train people to be the bosses of the corporate cubicle dwellers who come out of the public schools. All we an hope for is to teach our kids how to play the game they need to play in school, and give them a real education at home. It’s sad, but there isn’t much of an alternative, unless you have a lot of money. We live in the “good” school district in our area (high income, more dollars per student), but they mostly watch movies, many of their teacher are shockingly stupid (most of them cannot write a grammatically correct sentence, to judge by the assignments they write and the memos that get sent home), and they write essays that are submitted online and “graded” by a computer program that give them a numerical score.

    “Meta-thinking” is one way to think of meditation. Western Buddhism tends to stop at “serenity meditation”, which is only a preparatory stage. Analytic meditation, which will lead to insight and awakening, is actively discouraged, because it requires intensive reflection, judgment, and discursive reasoning. We do need to do this, to awaken to our ideology, and to encourage others to awaken to their own. There is enormous resistance to this–the “reactionary” response is the angry denial of any truth, the refusal to acknowledge the existence of ideology, or at least to acknowledge one’s own (everyone else has one, just not me). This is hard to overcome, but unless it is overcome we will have to wait for a more complete economic/environmental disaster before any change can occur. My position is that “metathinking” is best done in groups–it is difficult to see one’s own blind spot, to become aware of what is in one’s own unconscious. The reactionary, like the obsessive neurotic, will insist that he (this is usually a he) can do this alone, because he want to insist he has no unconscious, only a “preconscious”; he is terrified of the possibility of his own unconscious motivations.

    Mental health centers are never designed to really encourage such insights, right? They are meant as a sort of pressure valve, to prevent the suffering from becoming radicalized. We don’t want to invest enough resources to really help them, just enough to diminish their motivation to revolt–sort of like deciding how well we have to treat the slaves to prevent their joining Spartacus.

  109. 110


    Thanks so much for your response. I really value your input. I’m in the same situation you are. However, we had the kids in Montessori for a few years before they went to public school. It seemed a little more child-centered and relaxed than public school. I also liked the peace education. Your points about their focus on productivity are interesting. Repetition was also a huge deal. At the same time, they were very strict about kids ‘acting like kids’ in and out of the classroom. Go figure.

    I agree about teaching kids to play the game, meta-think, be critical. They did a voting exercise in my son’s class and Romney won. When my son told me this I just about lost my shit. It’s not surprising, but it’s definitely that emotional reaction created by this capitalist system. It was a good teachable moment though. Other things we do are kind of non-practices. We don’t have a TV, we read books (not computer screens), we don’t play video games, we don’t play guns, we value non violence and routine. So maybe, non-practice is the way to go.

    Meta thinking in groups is definitely a possibility. Your are right, there needs to be some corrective there. An analyst perhaps? I’m thinking about Yalom’s group therapy as a starting off point. Not meeting certain conditions make groups a nightmare though. Concerning mental health centers, yes, they are a pressure valve. All the basic counseling ethics one learns in school go straight out the window. It is low level management of symptoms and definitely not much of a help. There are real ways to help mentally ill folks, but yes, we don’t want to spend ANY resources. My first masters degree was in counseling and I was sickened by history of the profession basically being created to deal with Nixon’s deinstitutionalization. Career guidance for psychotics…that’ll help. Ah, then playing the game, try a PhD in all this bullshit. I digress.

  110. What do I think? Well there are many critics on this forum trying their hardest to break down TNH’s intentions so they can prove that they are right and someone else is wrong. Which says to me that their views are the only views that are right and they have formed a group who agrees with them. They are the masters looking for others to agree with their theory. Have either of you been through a war? Have any of you been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize? Are any of you trying to look within and calm your bickering minds? Your form of looking within is to mirror back to one another your play of incredible long intellectual words so as maybe you will appear to be the smartest and the most highest of thinkers. You don’t have to agree with TNH, you don’t have to practice what he is teaching. He doesn’t from what I have read or watched of him discriminate against any religion. I see him as a person who is wise and has been through much suffering, even being exiled from his own country because his views and practices don’t resonate with the peace he is trying to promote. And re the people who are in Plum Village with him, as far as I can see they are not prisoners and can leave at any time if they so choose to do so. Elders have always been a part of society and have been respected as they usually if in sound mind and body and spirit have much to offer to the younger people as they have more wisdom. This is what society today is lacking, the sense of family and community.

  111. Teresa (112),

    as far as I see nobody here suggests that (s)he knows about the “intentions” of TNH. Can you give an example where this actually happens?

    In which way does having been through a war or being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize make someone immune to criticism?

    I’m part of a TNH-sangha and I find very much of the above criticism to be true (at least partially). So can you be more clear about what you think is wrong about it?

    About the elders/family/community thing: When my grand-father was young there was a strong sense of family and community in Germany. And he was showing so much respect to the “wise” elders that he ended up being a war prisoner in Russia. I was too young to have a serious conversation with him about that topic, but what disturbs me most from my memories is, that he and my grandmother never questioned anything they’ve been told. “We’ve been told to do it, so we did”. Sorry if bringing up the Holocaust is a bit over the top for a little comment like yours. But that’s what comes into my mind when someone suggests more respect to elders and less critical thinking.

  112. Re my “little” comment. If you are part of a TNH sangha then why don’t you go within your group and place the things being critiqued, on the table, to your sangha? Why are you part of a sangha? These people are your community, no? Re being immune to criticism, no one is immune to it, however, why criticize? If you have troubles with the teachings and philosophy of TNH, then just leave or form your own group with your own people according to what you believe to be true. Hopefully it has some benefit to it. Why throw stones at someone, trying to wrap your mind about what is true or what isn’t. What are you hoping to achieve? To crumble anything that’s good in this world? Look at what the person you are critiquing has done for the betterment of the world and people. It is true that the only way that one can help another is to help themselves first. You cannot hope to make a change in the world if your internal world does not change. That’s the beauty of mindfulness. TNH’s style of teaching is gentle, so simple, so easy. Mindfulness, what a beautiful way to life one’s life instead of in a small part of your head not seeing what is in front of you. Also, I was trying to make the point that having known suffering and being actively involved in peace efforts gives someone a certain degree of solidity, showing the world that they are making a stand for peace and change in the world. When was the last time you did something however small to make a difference? I read most of the posts and find it rather amusing how some of the people on here have big egos and cannot bear it when someone disputes their long winded explanations. Are they really the thinkers they purport to be? Does it really matter if like a tree a new branch has grown? Maybe TNH is a new thinker born out of his suffering who has been enlightened to many different truths and is sharing them with anyone who wants to know. How are you certain that he isn’t? And how does he shake your world so much that you dedicate a forum to intense criticism of this seemingly gentle soul. In reply to your last paragraph, since you were too young to have a decent conversation with him about the topic you are only using your memories of childhood to come to a conclusion as to why your grandfather ended up a war prisoner. In addition, I said “if in sound mind, body and spirit” Elders have much wisdom to offer. Just because someone is older doesn’t necessarily mean they are a wise Elder. But who knows, you don’t know all the details and your grandfather wouldn’t have been the person he was without the trials and tribulations he also endured.

  113. Teresa (114),

    If you are part of a TNH sangha then why don’t you go within your group and place the things being critiqued, on the table, to your sangha?

    Actually, I do. How the hell did you come to the conclusion that I don’t?

    Why are you part of a sangha?

    Because I learn useful things there and because I enjoy doing this with other people (btw, TNH-sangha in this context is not a monastic order but more a meditation group. Emphasis on lay practice certainly is something good about TNH). You know, the great thing about my sangha is, that you can criticise things AND be part of the sangha. Something that apparently seems to be a contradictory to you!?

    however, why criticize?

    To make things better. Ultimately, to reduce the sufferings of all sentient beings. The founder of my group critizises theravada-doctrines all the time because he thinks they are dangerous and create suffering. How can you be compassionate and not criticize things that cause suffering?

    If you have troubles with the teachings and philosophy of TNH, then just leave or form your own group with your own people according to what you believe to be true.

    Why should I leave my group? Because I don’t agree with everything there? I think the most dangerous thing you can do is to create a place where everybody agrees with you. How are going to find out your own mistakes if everybody agrees with you?

    When was the last time you did something however small to make a difference?

    How the fuck would you know? I have no clue what you consider to make a difference, but as you seem to be a great fan of mindfulness: What about the fact that I take part in the attempt of my meditation group to introduce anyone who’s interested to the practice of mindfulness?

    In addition, I said “if in sound mind, body and spirit” Elders have much wisdom to offer.

    How do we find out how someone is “in sound mind, body and spirit”. Maybe by thinking critically about what they say? Maybe by doing exactly what Shyam Dodge did in his essay?

    Besides, in which way does this make any statement of mine more or less valid? If a dog wrote my comment or the essay of Shyam Dodge it wouldn’t make any difference.

  114. Teresa (#112). Welcome to the world of criticism, also known as, in your terms, exchanging “views.” I see you’ve jumped in with both feet. I hope you’ll keep afloat, and not give in to the all-too-Thich-Nhat-Hanhian temptation of sinking into the blissful depths of silent non-conceptuality.

  115. 🙂 Matthias thank you for your fascination. Whoa Siibhu! Is this the way you speak in your group? Looks like you have anger issues. Guess it’s something that you are working on and it’s good you found a group you can relate to, however, personally, I wouldn’t want you to teach me meditation. Just saying… Oops! now I am criticizing you, forgive me. That’s why the journey starts within each one of us. As far as I have read and listened to TNH he doesn’t support violence or suffering so I am not sure what you are saying when you say that you are trying to stop suffering. Maybe you are on a journey to stop your own suffering? Like probably all of us. Again, mindfulness and self reflection. We are all working on breaking out of our stories. Re critiquing, there’s really nothing wrong with making something your own and fit to your needs, but to take a teacher’s teaching and to criticize their look, their voice, their style, their wisdom is not a peaceful place. It’s much like a relationship. If all you are going to do is pick out certain things you like a criticize the rest, well, there won’t be much peace or restful mind. You will always be looking for how that person is going to undermine you and what they are saying or doing that is not pleasing in your eyes. Glenn, we all have different ways of looking at things, I totally understand, but TNH is really not a silent non-conceptual person in my eyes. I believe he is saying what is in his heart and soul. He has done much for the world and I guess everyone will have a group of hater’s and critical people. I love the underdogs, they are the people that keep the world sane… oh, I guess that’s just my opinion…

  116. Teresa (118),

    I read both your comment and my reply again and I’m confident that my writing is not more aggressive than yours (although your aggression is way more indirect and implicit). So maybe you have some anger issues, too?

    But I have to admit: you’re totally right. I’m working on this anger thing. Often I’m not angry enough, so it’s part of my mindfulness practice to be angry more often. So far it seems to work out, Buddhist practice already made me a more angry person. Yay!

    But Leaving aside the personal chit-chat: Just because someone does not “support [violence or] suffering” does not mean he does not “cause” suffering. And yes, criticism is not a peaceful thing. But how does that prove that it’s wrong to perform criticism? Should all political activists stop their fight against oppressive regime because it’s not “peaceful”? Should organisations like Amnesty International stop their work? Should we introduce a one-party-system at all western democracies? That certainly would reduce the criticism the government gets…

    P.S.: Tom, is this the way it starts? Is this the kind of experience that influenced your style of communication on the web? Am I turning to the dark side of the force?….

  117. Hi Saibhu! No definitely not stop “criticizing” or should I say be active against those things that threaten peace, violence towards humans animals and the Earth etc. It can be done in a non violent way. Am I just saying why criticize those things and people that are right with the world? 🙂 they are not a threat unless you believe that they make one suffer by causing one to look deep within and get us out of our comfort and denial of having to deal with our lives and the world around us.

  118. RE #119

    Saibhu: Welcome to the dark side; we have the good beer.

    And we don’t have to sip tea and chop carrots; and we’re allowed to think.

    It is important not to allow the reactionaries to suffocate thought with their rhetoric of “kindness, maturity, accepting reality.” Sometimes, the only way to tear through the suffocating pillow of niceness is to be harsh with people. The x-buddhist world is fond of this rhetorical strategy, and it helps them hold onto their delusions. I hear it all the time in other areas of my life as well. Let me give an example. As a middle-aged white man living in a very white, very middle-class town, I hear racist comments all the time—the assumption is that since I am “one of them” I will share their racist beliefs. If I react to such statements, I always hear this same rhetoric: it is “immature” to react to such things, it is “hostile,” and I should learn to accept that this is just the way these folks are, they are too old to change their ways. Racism is seen as not worth getting angry over. This is the same strategy the x-buddhists use: even if someone is teaching something that will produce suffering for most of humanity, we should be “mature” and “kind” and accept that it produces contentment and comfort for the privileged few—to interrupt their tea party to point out that they are deluded is cruel and unkind! Then, of course, they add the “everything everyone thinks is right” postmodern nonsense, or the appeal to personality (but this teacher is so nice, so sweet, or has suffered so much, we cannot disagree with anything he says).

    Don’t be defeated by this rhetoric. The struggle between the truth of Buddhism and the reactionary/obscurantist response to it is quite old. Nobody is saying that Thich Nhat Hanh doesn’t mean what he says, or that he isn’t teaching a kind of Buddhism that has been around for over a thousand years—that isn’t the point. The point is that what he is teaching deludes people, and that this version of Buddhism has been deluding people for thousands of years, and that delusion produces suffering. The assertion that he is “highly attained” and so we cannot question him is just nonsense—if he is teaching that we have an eternal soul that transcends the world, he is deluded and so must be questioned. I prefer to think such teachers are deluded, not manipulative con artists preying on the vulnerable to feed their egos and their pockets. I like to hope that if their delusions are pointed out, they would be happy to see that, even if it hurts their book sales or the attendance at their retreats. I may be wrong about this, but I will persist in believing it until someone can clearly demonstrate that people like Ken McCloud and Alan Wallace are intentionally trying to con people; I believe they are just mistaken, and might someday see the glaring contradictions and errors in their thought.

    I’ve been reading the book Pruning the Bodhi Tree, about the Critical Buddhist movement in Japan, and this collection of essays describes this conflict quite well. To quote Dan Lusthaus’s contribution: “Buddhism began by noting that the underlying belief in an eternal self—expressed in a variety of forms—was the deepest, most pernicious, most intractable thing to which humans cling,” and while the more obvious versions of this are easily dismissed, they “are not nearly as problematic and difficult to identify as the more subtle substantialistic readings” of Buddhist texts. The goal is to be critical, to be able to identify and eliminate these subtle kinds of essentialism, because they always lead to suffering. Sometimes, to make headway, you will have to blast through a heavy layer of anti-intellectualism and the oppressive rhetoric of niceness and acceptance and civility—but the entire goal is NOT to accept the belief in an eternal self, not matter how subtle, and to undermine that belief even if it makes people uncomfortable.

    Welcome to the dark side. You may now stop chopping carrots and read a book!

  119. Tom (#121), Both of those situations that you describe, about reactionary x-buddhist rhetorical strategy and about racism–I see both happening in my meditation group. It is very subtle. That, of course, just makes it all the more necessary to tease out and expose. I am either going to find a way to create a “meditation subject” that is passionate and active, or else give it up altogether. The subject of the x-buddhist practice environment, whether devotionally- or contemplatively-oriented, is passive, unthinking, myopic. At worse, s/he learns to eschew passionate engagement altogether in the name of non-judgementalism, equanimity, and such desired values. At best, s/he does engage, but always in the name and with the larger agenda of The Dharma.

    No matter how often I bring up the topic of practicing to “pierce ideology,” virtually all of the participants use the practice to enforce their deeply yearned for ideology of spiritual succor. Sometimes the spiritual is cloaked in the secular; but the end result is, of course, the same. When I bring politics and social issues directly into the discussion, it is as if I have transgressed an invisible, darkened threshold. Saying something like, “we should judge the wealthy more harshly and more acutely, not less so” is unacceptable in a meditation/devotional environment. The western x-buddhist ideology of ethics plays right into the hands of the Koch brothers.

    You outlined a practice session a while ago. It had to do with reading a text and asking the participants to say why the either like or dislike it. This was a way, you said, at getting at our unacknowledged values, etc. I’d like to try that. Can you locate the comment by any chance?

  120. Glenn (#123) This may be Tom’s comment you are thinking of, #15 from The Mirror of practice…

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

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

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

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

  121. 🙂 Tom, maybe you are the one it seems that can’t be happy but must chase your mind around and around to try prove that your personal truth is right hence your theories on different “types” of people and the psychology that goes with that. Reactionary that is your term. I don’t condone anything that hurts another. I don’t like it when others are cruel to people animals our Earth etc. It hurts me deeply to see the society that has been built since our time began. I don’t turn off my brain re this. I choose to make changes in my life that will minimize things that are not conducive to making my life and the world a better place. We have many choices to deal with these situations. Violence isn’t the answer because if it was the world right now should be perfect. Just like I cannot change your mind as you have many stories that you live with, it is your journey and I or you by my words and actions can bring out the best in you or the worst. That is the same with reacting to peoples ignorance re racism or whatever else is hurtful. These are their stories. What is the one thing that animals us included in this statement cannot thrive without? Love and kindness. Sometimes it’s very difficult to have tolerance or listen and watch some of the atrocities going on. Sure there are some that are users and are using the malleable minds to further their pockets. I don’t see this with TNH. I see a gentle monk, a person who is dedicated to helping other beings. I don’t see a great deal of wealth there. Plus you can’t “make” yourself into something no matter how much you meditate, do things that you don’t believe in. It has to be your awareness, your heart, your soul that is ready for more deepness and open ness. Maybe you are just not there yet. Questions on then if that’s what you need to do, but do not become bitter. There are many times in life when you have a whoa moment where you think “what the hell was I thinking at that time and how could I do or believe those things”. Many were hurtful things. We all have the capacity to be cruel or kind but when we have the awareness it’s so much easier to be kind.

  122. Teresa (120),

    so then you think TNH as the first human being in the world is never wrong? In that case you’d have to argue against the valid points Shyam Dodge, Tom Peppers and others have made about how some of the teachings of TNH cause suffering (in others).

    There are many times in life when you have a whoa moment where you think “what the hell was I thinking at that time and how could I do or believe those things”.

    Of course. That’s the point when we learned something and realise me made some progress. The funny thing is: for some people one of the stupid things they leave behind – wondering how they could do or believe it – is: Buddhism.

    Btw, you do realize that you don’t sound very kind and gentle at all, but very arrogant and aggressive? Not that there’s something wrong about that, it’s just that what you say is in total opposition to how you say it.

  123. Saibhu, wrong might be right for me and right might be wrong for you. If TNH teachings cause anyone suffering then they should probably look somewhere else. To look for what is right or wrong is really a personal experience. No one learns in the same way. The key thing here is someday we will all die, whether we come back as another human, are extinguished forever, take on another form (THN believes this and makes a great point on that what and I happen to resonate with that). Doesn’t matter. Point is: we all have our programmed stories and to break out of them takes mindfulness for me anyway. I don’t know what Buddhism all entails as I have not studied it. I know that I want to do no harm to any living being, I want to minimize my footprint on the Earth and I want to live each day in the now. These are what TNH teaches and I understand it! Plus I love the fact that he is into peace and has made many efforts to help do so. My logic and understanding is turned on to actions and not just words. He seems to have achieved a certain peace in his life by his thought and actions. So with that said, no I am not a scholar on Buddhism text nor do I want to be. I believe it’s common sense to see if writings and practices lead to peace or war. Re you thinking I am arrogant and aggressive well then, I guess I fit in with the theme of this group. Yes, I stand for what I believe in. I just want to live and live in the now. Yes I am blunt but you are maybe unknowingly pigeon holing me into the image that you have of someone who as a woman, and a believer in peace and harmony should conduct themselves. Sorry to disappoint you.

  124. Saibhu…maybe you are right saying I am an aggressive and arrogant debater. Maybe I unknowingly do this when discussing something. Would you be able to comment on how I could better get my point across. I am totally serious, as I would like to know. You have made me wonder why I take offence to this blog and why I am defending THN adamantly. Why do I care what anyone thinks as long as it resonates with me?

  125. My question is for anyone really, but I remember broaching the subject with Tom and Glenn a while back, and I am curious what you guys think since I am relatively new to Buddhism, I thought you guys might be able to point me to a specific scripture. The subject is that one of you said that the Buddha said or believed that we had a soul or Jiva, and that this was referenced by the Buddha many times in scripture. I am curious if you guys are referring to his belief in re-incarnation, and his ability to see past lives not only of himself, but of others, and that in fact he talked about people coming back as humans as well as inanimate objects or plant life? I ask because in my limited knowledge I do remember him telling stories like this. Is this considered reincarnation and proof of a soul, or is it possible that this is due to dependent co-arising or a combination of elements with a concious awareness of said life, but not necesarrily a continuence of the same soul? An all encompassing awareness due to the fact that all of the same elements that were present in the previous lifeform now being present in the current one with a transference of all memories and even conciousness itself. Does that make any sense? I feel even my question is biting off more than I can chew, I feel I might not be ready for your answer! I guess what I am trying to say then is that just because the Buddha talked about reincarnation does not implicitly mean that he believed we had a soul? Also it is really confusing because we cannot really define conciousness, and by that are we talking about the soul, memories, ego, or “life force?” I am kinda making this up as I go along, so if it doesn’t make sense, maybe you can just simply point me to the best scripture that I can find in a bookstore or on Amazon where the Buddha talks about the soul. Thanks guys.

  126. Justin (#130). I’m afraid my answer will be disappointing. I don’t want to discourage you from reading the canonical x-buddhist texts. I would only suggest that you entertain the possibility that what you are reading is something other than what the texts themselves, and the communities of x-buddhist believers who hold them dear, say you are. They say that in reading the texts you are encountering “the teachings of the Buddha.” For the x-buddhist believer, that is serious business because “the Buddha” is believed to be extraordinarily wise. He is so wise, in fact, that what he teaches transcends time, place, and culture. He teaches, in other words, universal truths. These truths, moreover, are not articles of faith: they are phenomenologically observable facts. So, the Buddha is the perfect teacher for our time, place, and culture because, like him, we value empiricism, skepticism, explanations consonant with naturalism, and so forth. Well, I’d ask you to consider that this is all misguided. It is based on a volatile combination of yearning and ignorance. Belief in such a teacher stems from a persistent age-old human desire for ultimacy, for a final, unsurpassable explanation. This desire for security is so powerful that it marshals ignorance as an ally. Most people who are attracted to x-buddhism seem to be pretty intelligent and better educated than average. Yet, they are capable of perpetuating the most egregious errors about the supposed source of their beloved teachings. The errors are manifold. They are errors concerning Buddhist history, the nature of textual transmission, mytho-biographical formation. They are errors as well in thinking, logic, and conception. To be an x-buddhist means to perpetuate a dark cognitive and emotional ignorance about such very basic matters.

    Because virtually every other “Buddhist” venue subscribes to some version of “the teachings of the Buddha/the timeless Dharma,” you will have much better luck with your question elsewhere. People over at the Secular Buddhist Association get very excited about conversations around the soul and life after death. Try them.

  127. Would you be able to comment on how I could better get my point across.

    Well, as I consider some of your points to be wrong, I’m not interested in providing you with arguments and strategies to convince other people. If you want to convince someone here you’ll have to give arguments why they should be convinced. That’s your business not mine.

    However, I said you sound (sound, not are) arrogant and aggressive, so I’ll explain you why I think that: First, you argue against persons not arguments. E.g., in your first comment you state that people here are critics because they want to prove that they’re smart (as a math student, proving theorems is a more comfortable way to prove ones intellectual capacity). Later on, you implicitly suggest that we have no authority because nobody of us was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and so on.

    The whole message always is: “You don’t know, but we (TNH&co) know. So shut up and listen to the great masters!”

    “Mindfulness, what a beautiful way to life one’s life instead of in a small part of your head not seeing what is in front of you.” <– Again: You (the mindfulness-practitioners) are so great and we are so stupid and don't see what is in front of us. Yeah, well….

    "How are you certain that he isn’t [enlightend to certain truths]?" Well, we're exactly at the process of finding out. If you question this process (of questioning) it means that you already have the answer. Again, you *know* and we are just stupid for asking.

    "Maybe you are just not there yet." Yeah, great. Treating adults like kids. Instead of taking the time and explaining things simply state that someone is not "enlightened" enough (but of course you and TNH and all the others are…).

    You have made me wonder why I take offence to this blog and why I am defending THN adamantly. Why do I care what anyone thinks as long as it resonates with me?

    Well, that’s something I’d like you to examine. Maybe you’re afraid that you could be wrong and others might be right? You’re a Buddhist right? So this could be a good test to see whether you’re attached to your own views or not. 😉

  128. I’m afraid my answer will be disappointing. I don’t want to discourage you from reading the canonical Buddhist texts. I would only suggest that you entertain the possibility that what you are reading is something other than what the texts themselves, and the communities of Buddhist believers who hold them dear, say you are. They say that in reading the texts you are encountering “the teachings of the Buddha.” For the Buddhist believer, that is serious business because “the Buddha” is believed to be extraordinarily wise. (…) This desire for security is so powerful that it marshals ignorance as an ally. Most people who are attracted to Buddhism seem to be pretty intelligent and better educated than average. Yet, they are capable of perpetuating the most egregious errors about the supposed source of their beloved teachings. The errors are manifold. They are errors concerning Buddhist history, the nature of textual transmission, mytho-biographical formation. They are errors as well in thinking, logic, and conception. To be a Buddhist means to perpetuate a dark cognitive and emotional ignorance about such very basic matters.

    Glenn (# 131), let’s suppose that someone did such a seemingly cosmetic changes to your comment that I did above, would you still sign under it? Concerning your statement quoted below taken from Why x-buddhism, I supposed, you would. But maybe I’m wrong and there exist some syntactically unusual, highly transparent to itself “truth of Buddhism” that is free of decisional machinery, self-reflexivity, that is free of x, and therefore is ready “to perform the kind of self-critical evaluation of itself that is required for maturation beyond visionary forms of knowledge.” (Nascent Speculative Non-Buddhism, p. 3)?

    My contention is that we can trace the authority of each x back to a simple yet powerful syntactic operation, an operation that is embedded in, indeed, constitutes, the abstract One. In short, decision functions as an algorithm of infinite iterations (x) of the One (“The Dharma;” “Buddhism”). That is the general sense of the term “x-buddhism.”

    If I’m wrong indeed, explain to me how that syntactically unusual form of “truth of Buddhism” would be even possible, considering what you wrote in your article “Every utterance, every written word, every claim of the type “Buddhism holds” or “the Buddha taught” or “according to the Heart Sutra/Pali canon/Shobogenzo/this or that teacher,” every attempt to formulate a “Buddhist” (or crypto-Buddhist/mindfulness) response/solution to X invariably instantiates buddhistic decision. This decisional operation constitutes the structural syntax of buddhistic discourse, and, in so doing, governs all such discourse—the most scientistically covert and the most secularly liberal no less than the most religiously overt and most conservatively orthodox. Without it, there would be no Buddhist discourse, no such utterances, no Buddhism, no Buddhists.” (Nascent Speculative Non-Buddhism p. 5-6)

  129. Hi Tomek (#133). You are correct: I would not sign off on your slightly-altered version. And you are also right about the reasons; namely, those given in “Why X-Buddhism?” So, I won’t repeat those reasons here.

    The interesting part of your comment is, of course, this question of a “truth of Buddhism.” I see two issues. First, of course, I would have to limit the phrase in two ways: a truth of x-buddhism. The first change indexes my contention that local systems of knowledge may articulate real human truths, or facts of life that hold for everyone, everywhere. Some truths are trivial, along the lines of 1+1=2, and some are profound, like the contingency of infinite multiples. Various local knowledges, such as science, mathematics, literature, gastronomy, and so on, make it their business to identity, trace, and categorize specific truths. So, it’s perfectly possible that the local knowledge that goes by the name “Buddhism” does so, too. But here is where my second change becomes necessary. “Buddhism” is useful when held up to, say, Christianity, fashion, or bocce. The term creates useful distinctions in such cases, in general conversation. But, of course, when it comes to examining its articulation of human truths, “Buddhism” is like slicing a soggy cranberry with a bass guitar. There simply is no royal court of Buddhism to which we can appeal in determining, for instance, “the correct meaning of no-self.” Instead, there is a seemingly endless stream of cultural-doctrinal plurals: texts, traditions, teachers, interpretive communities, canons, stories–just so many twists and turns that no real cut can be made from those plurals. This is why we need to nuance the articulation via recourse to specific materials. “X” signals, among other functions, the beginning of such work. This is not to say, of course, that there is no “Buddhism ideology” or “ideology of Buddhism.” There certainly is. We can think about it in the same way that Badiou does “ethics.” In Ethics, he uses the phrase “ideology of ethics” or “ethics ideology.” In philosophy and politics, and in the popular press/imagination, he says, “ethics,” as a grand singular or in general, is used as a “gunboat of the Law.” It is a way of constructing, on flimsy, easily refuted grounds (cosmic Law, the primacy of the Other, God, universal human rights, the inviolability of cultural difference), a rationale for certain relations over others. “Buddhism” (The Dharma, Gotama said, etc.) like “ethics,” perpetuates, in this regard, an arguably pernicious status quo conservatism. “X-buddhism” (Dogen’s Soto Zen; Stephen Batchelor’s Secular Buddhism), like “the ethic of psychoanalysis,” forces the kind of labor that may lead to a truth’s articulation. But without the labor, we will never know. Badiou, of course, says things like “the only ethics is of processes of truth, of the labour that brings some truths into the world.” And here, I think, we have the second issue at the heart of your comment. By invoking Badiou, your on-going conversation with Tom Pepper comes to the front. I will leave it to Tom to add his part here. I would have to review your exchanges to refer to them responsibly. I think that Tom is obviously using the term “truth” in a more robust Badiouian technical sense, while I am using it as a synonym for “demonstrable fact of life.” X-buddhism, I think, identifies many such truths: the Pali canonical version of anicca as perpetual vanishing, for instance, or Nagarjuna’s articulation of pratītyasamutpāda as radical contingency. (I claim, of course, that their value as truths is evident only once we disable decision, but that’s another topic.) But Badiou, and Tom, have something else in mind. Tom has taken many stabs at explaining his usage of the concepts “truth process” and “event.” Maybe you can go back and pick out the greatest hits of your exchange, and we can work from actual statements. The point that I want to make here, is that this part of your comment is valuable and interesting because it may help us to get at some nuances in our various approaches to “non-buddhism.” In fact, if you decide to continue this conversation, maybe we should move it over to current post: “The Power of Negative Thinking.”

    Is this helpful at all? Thanks!

  130. Tom #40, Glenn #131

    “I do not believe that either believing in or not believing in an atman or anatman is in anyway connected to the Budhha’s teachings.”- Justin #40

    “Well, since this is commonly accepted as one of the core teachings of Buddhism, I just have no response here.” -Tom #40

    In the limited reading I have done, I don’t recall the Buddha talking about the atman. I know there are a lot of very long Sutra’s accredited to the Buddha, like the Heart, Lotus, and probably a bunch I have never heard of. Just curious what the best text to read regarding the Buddhas’ teaching on the atman would be, that I can find in a bookstore or on Amazon? Any help would be appreciated.

  131. Saibhu, thanks for the feedback. I just realized that even the Buddha said don’t believe everything that is written, no? Basically everyone is on their own quest. There is no spelled out road. But even so, I myself still resonate with TNH’s teachings and they work for me whether anyone thinks they are childish, sloppy, etc. Doesn’t make it wrong or right. It makes it right for me though. Reminds me of what Jiddu Krishnamurti said, truth is a pathless land.

  132. Justin: Re 135, I can’t imagine what you are reading that doesn’t even mention the principle of anatman. This is a very controversial topic in the entire history of Buddhism: it is assumed by pretty much everyone that anatman (anatta , nonself, etc.) is one of the fundamental teachings of Buddhism, and the debate concerns exactly what it means. If you haven’t read any basic introductory texts on Buddhism, perhaps start with one of them. They may present different perspectives on the question, but just about all of them mention it. I like Rupert Gethin’s “The Foundations of Buddhism,” but he takes an “outsider” position. The sutras on anatta can be found online at “Access to Insight,” and there are also some essays on the topic at that site, from a Theravada perspective.

    Teresa: I’m puzzled about why you are concerned with this blog at all, unless, as Saibhu suggests, you are at some level aware that the Thich Nhat Hanh teachings are not really so deep and wonderful. The objectiion to what Thich Nhat Hanh teaches advanced by Shyam here and by myself several time is that his teaching perpetuates the attachment to the belief in an eternal self; a fundamental teaching of Buddhism is that attachment to the idea of an eternal self is the primary cause of most of human suffering. So, if you are unconcerned with perpetuating human suffering so long as it makes you feel good–if, as you claim, anything anyone believes is always right “for them” and if it causes others suffering that’s just not important–well, why are you here? Why are you concerned with what we think, if everyone is always right and it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks as long as it “resonates” with them personally? If you do not accept that there is no atman, and so do not accept that belief in an atman is the cause of human suffering, then nothing we could say could change your mind, right? I do not believe that there is any eternal “self” of any kind, single or multiple, conscious or “beyond thought,” and I do believe that the attachment to this delusion is a fundamental cause of human suffering. If your argument depends on the belief in an atman, as Thich Nhat Hanh’s position does, then you will never convince me, and I will always try to persuade you and anyone who will listen to let go of this attachment, because the suffering not just of yourself but of all people is caused by perpetuating this belief. If, on the other hand, you are just taking the postmodern position that there is no “better” belief, and you have every right to believe whatever “resonates” with you not matter how much suffering it causes others, you will still not convince me, and I will still try to persuade everyone to reject this self-absorbed and twisted reasoning.

  133. Tom (#135)
    Thanks Tom for answering. I associate the idea of an Atman with the idea of an eternal soul, as I believe this to be the definition. Yes, the way I understand it the Anataman is a buddhist teaching, from the Buddha, but is simply used as a tool for teaching the deeper meanings of his philosophy when opposed to atman. I thought that the Atman was an idea that was introduced into yogic thought before the birth of the Buddha. Not sure about Anatman? Anyways I will check out the sight you recommended on the scriptures in how they relate to the Anatman, but what I am really interested in reading is a direct translation of the Buddha’s teachings in regards to the “Atman.” I simply mean an actual translation of a passage in which the Buddha himself talks about the atman and it”s meaning, without using it opposed with the term Anatman in the same sentence. To put it another way, is there an actual translation of the Buddhas’ own words in which he defines what an “Atman” is?

    This was my question until I found this on the sight you suggested.

    Then the wanderer Vacchagotta went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, exchanged courteous greetings with him. After an exchange of friendly greetings & courtesies, he sat to one side. As he was sitting there he asked the Blessed One: “Now then, Venerable Gotama, is there a self?”

    When this was said, the Blessed One was silent.

    “Then is there no self?”

    A second time, the Blessed One was silent.

    Then Vacchagotta the wanderer got up from his seat and left.

    Then, not long after Vacchagotta the wanderer had left, Ven. Ananda said to the Blessed One, “Why, lord, did the Blessed One not answer when asked a question by Vacchagotta the wanderer?”

    “Ananda, if I — being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is a self — were to answer that there is a self, that would be conforming with those brahmans & contemplatives who are exponents of eternalism [the view that there is an eternal, unchanging soul]. If I — being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is no self — were to answer that there is no self, that would be conforming with those brahmans & contemplatives who are exponents of annihilationism [the view that death is the annihilation of consciousness]. If I — being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is a self — were to answer that there is a self, would that be in keeping with the arising of knowledge that all phenomena are not-self?”

    “No, lord.”

    “And if I — being asked by Vacchagotta the wanderer if there is no self — were to answer that there is no self, the bewildered Vacchagotta would become even more bewildered: ‘Does the self I used to have now not exist?'”

    I see your confusion now Tom on my earlier statement, I was not very clear. The point I was trying to make when I said that the Atman or the Anatman wasn’t in any way connected to the teachings of the buddha was that the Buddha never specifically states that there either is or is not an atman or an anatman. He refuses to answer the question. He simply uses the meanings conveyed by the terms to try and “get across” the deeper meanings of his teachings. I would be very suprised if anyone could produce a direct translation of the Buddha in which he states there is an “Atman.”
    So since the Buddha himself refuses to answer wether or not there is an eternal soul, it seems that I am completelyl in agreement with the argument put forth here that TNH’s position is wrong if he is putting forth this hypthosis.

    I stated earlier though that for me some of it comes down to intent, and I believe Shyam is definately right in stating that this is sloppy thinking in regards to this. I obviously would like to see TNH opinion on some of these talking points. However these are only my thoughts with regards to #1 of Shyams points: the one which he says that TNH’s position on “His peculiar claims regarding “realizing” non-self and how these claims construct an independent self (or soul.)
    As this is a very deep, complicated, and layered essay there are plenty of other topics going on here, but for the time being we seem to have settled on the Atman and Anatman and TNH’s position on it.

    The subject matter and the vocabularly has really made my head spin, and it has taken me a while to through off my Buddha-TNH-protectionist-reactionary chains and join the dark side.
    “I do believe that the attachment to this delusion is a fundamental cause of human suffering.” Tom.

    Tom you really are a Bikkhu! That’s just what the Buddha is saying right?

  134. I don’t know why I am on this blog, I guess I accidentally landed here. And I wish you peace in your journey of understanding. I don’t feel myself that TNH is teaching suffering at all. His concept is that a person “manifests” as something different which to me makes sense because we all return to the earth as we are all made up of non human elements. Anyway, happy searching, I just want to live life and mindfully at that.

  135. PS, and that doesn’t cause me suffering at all, it actually brings me joy realizing the interconnectedness of all life. Trying to pick apart scriptures and arguing about all this is what causes suffering for me.

  136. Teresa (#140). Why don’t you finally stop ventriloquizing “the words of the Buddha,” or of Thay, and speak as the vulnerable goddamned human being that we all see you as?

  137. Ha ha Glenn, you are making me laugh I am not the only one ventriloquizing if that’s what you call quoting. You guys are doing a fair bit of that yourselves. Yes what I am trying to get across is we are all going to die but it looks like you guys are doing all the suffering trying to figure this stuff out and worrying yourselves and pulling out your hair trying to get to the simplicity of it. I think that’s why the Buddha after all his searching and years of trying to do things to get to the truth had his enlightenment under that tree in a simple moment of realizing he was one with all.

  138. Oh my god, Teresa you are the perfect example of right-speech violence. This is so arrogant, haughty and pretentious…. Your sweet buddhist voice soaked with bigotted self-righteousness. This kind voice of oneness and its slight trembling of anger, nonetheless keeping its contenance, the knife in the hand on your back – I love it. You should be put to the museum as an exemplar of the Buddhist true self. The only thing I would have to think about is how to kill you without ruining the exhibit.

  139. RE 140: I did not mean to say that you were “suffering”, merely that you are perpetuating a belief that causes others to suffer. Slave owners in antebellum South did not suffer because of the racism–racism helped them avoid suffering, justifying their actions; however, that doesn’t mean the belief didn’t cause others to suffer. Anyone who believes in an atman will ultimately ignore the suffering of others for their own comfort; if you’re okay with that, then I probably can’t persuade you of anything.

    Of course, I also find it sad that so many people, and not just followers of Thich Nhat Hanh, assume that thinking must be the worst kind of suffing, that trying to determine the true causes of anything is a painful and horrible thing to have to do. It might take some effort, but really, effortful thought can be fun. Try it sometime. Hell, even Dogen said that “without the discriminating mind, we cannot awaken to the Bodhi-mind.” Ultimately, I think that those who reject thinking to avoid what they think is “suffering” are giving up the chance of living as a human being, and accepting life as a mindless animal, and simply because they have bought into the dominant ideology of late capitalism and believe that thought is useless, painful, and bad, and we must only seek the comfort of the body.

    RE 138; Justin, the fans of the eternal soul/consciousness/essence version of Buddhism are very fond of this sutra. The point here, though, is that this question is not properly formed, that it depends on a misunderstanding of what atman means, and so cannot be answered with a yes or no (sort of like the question “have you stopped beating your wife yet?”) There are many other sutras in which the Buddha explicitly states that there is no atman. The idea of atman was common in ancient India, so it didn’t really need explicit definition; it refers to the idea of a consciousness or “soul” outside of the phenomenal world–our “life force” or “soul” is a part of this “atman” and will return to it when we die and escape this phenomenal world–for the Jain, for instance, karma is like the “glue” that holds the atman to the phenomenal world, and so complete inaction would stop producing our “sticky” karma and let our soul join the eternal atman in pure bliss. The radical teaching of Buddhism is that this “atman” does not exist, and belief in it is the great delusion that causes our suffering.

    It is important not to seek out sutras that seem to say what you want to hear and then cling to them as if they were a revealed truth. We need to treat Buddhist texts the same way we would treat the texts of Aristotle or Spinoza or Marx: they may be full of great insights, but will sometimes be completely wrong about things. Surely we don’t accept, with Aristotle, that slaves are “living tools” and a necessary part of any society? And surely Marx’s ideas about Greek art are just wrong? We should treat the sutras and all Buddhist texts the same way.

  140. Matthais, I think what you and other’s that might be getting enraged don’t understand is: I am not trying to be haughty or arrogant. I am vulnerable just like all of us. We are in this together. It seems that some of the people here are getting peed off because I happen to want to use my thinking the way I see fit for me to discover myself. I don’t know what right speech is I am just telling you how I feel. All the experiences up until now in my life have made me feel like this and upon discovering TNH what he is saying is resonating with me. My suffering really comes from seeing how the reality of the world is. People fighting for nothing, species of plants and animals dying daily, nuclear power destroying the Earth and us from sea to sea. So no, I am not trying deliberately to put anyone down. I was laughing that someone could get so mad at my comments and accuse me of not being myself. I have spent years and years learning who I am and even now it’s still a challenge.

  141. And Tom, you are assuming that I have never thought about anything in my life but that is untrue and if you knew me you would understand how my lifestyle is opposed to the suffering of humans, animals etc. I cannot stop everything that is going on in the world and I am not choosing to turn the other way for my own comfort. I think anyone that lives in this society is doing this, me included. Just by living in this current system makes it so. So no, I am not blind to the injustice and suffering of the world and I doing what I can to alleviate some of it. Look at lifestyles and see if what you are eating, thinking and doing does not cause suffering on some level. I also disagree with your assumption that animals are mindless, this to me causes much suffering.

  142. “I think that anyone that lives in this society is doing this” meaning our current system and how it causes suffering. Meaning we live in a land of abundance only because of the taking from other countries, if we drive a car we are causing suffering to others, if we are in the mindset that only certain resources belong to certain people, if we eat factory farmed beings and the list goes on and on.

  143. Not saying I believe in the system and I don’t eat animals, I don’t believe in the way the scale is tipped in favour of certain countries, but I do drive a car so I cause suffering to humans, the Earth and all on it. It looks like that will be the next thing to go, however I will still need to use transit and this will still cause suffering. So before you get all hot under the collar know that I want to be mindful of everything I do. Also I am not “doing” any of what I am doing to get higher status, to reap some benefit in a future life etc. This is who I am, who I have become.

  144. Teresa, I am not assuming anything about your “life,” I am responding only to what you write here. I have no idea what your life is actually like, but the things you write here are helping to support the suffering of the majority of the people on the planet. If you accept the idea of an essential transcendent “self,” it always leads to the idea that there is nothing you can do to change the world–and it becomes a comfort that it is okay to drive a car or make weapons for profit because in the end we cannot change this suffering, and if we only become indifferent to it we will eventually live in an ocean of endless bliss. It is true that there is enormous suffering caused by the American way of life, and the typical response is exactly yours: I sympathize with the suffering masses, but I can’t do anything about the world, so I will conclude that everything anyone thinks or does is right “for them,” and I’ll go sip my tea and look at flowers and feel virtuous that I have acknowledged how much other suffer. Thich Nhat Hanh encourages this approach in the huge numbers of popular books he publishes, and if he doesn’t mean to do this, he has a responsibility to stop publishing this kind of evil crap. There is no justification for comforting the rich and powerful in their attempt to avoid taking action in the world, and everybody has a responsibility as part of the human race, whether Buddhist or not, to attack this kind of teaching at every opportunity, to make those who follow Thich Nhat Hanh or Alan Wallace or Chogyam Trungpa upset and uncomfortable and angry–their saccharine niceness needs to be disturbed.

  145. Tom (re:#138)
    Round in circles we go. The Buddha does not say that an atman does not exist either. It seems he is simply saying that clinging to the belief that it either exists or does not, is what causes suffering. Clinging to a belief that the atman does not exist therefore is just as much a cause of suffering in the world as clinging to a belief that an atman does exist. Let go of the raft he says.

  146. Re 151: Well, there are in fact many places were it is explicitly stated that an atman does not exist, that belief in it is a delusion. “Clinging to views,” that favorite phrase of the x-buddhist, often means only the “view” that there is an atman–it is not a matter of indifference, something is is “okay” to believe in as long as you don’t really believe in it; rather, the idea of an atman is the root delusion and cause of suffering. There are, of course, many Buddhist texts that say there in fact IS and atman, we just shouldn’t be “attached” to it, and many say that we cannot know one way or another–the history of Buddhist thought is full of contradictory positions. My postion is that anyone who believes there even might be an atman is deluded and producing the worst kind of oppressive ideology. If you want to cling to the idea that you have a soul, then there are certainly schools of Buddhism that do so–they are just wrong, and producing delusion and suffering in the world. But, again, if your own comfort is more important than the suffering of humanity, there is not “rational” argument agains that; it is just like the capitalist who knows full well he oppresses and exploits people, but simply says he has no reason to care, as long as he stays rich and happy.

    As for what “the Buddha really says,” well, there are just texts. The Buddha is a literary figure, and says many contradictory things, depending on the philosophical postion of whoever wrote the particular text. At a certain level we just have to come down to a decision: will you believe in a world-transcendent substrate consciousness, and therefore willingly produce suffering now in the hope of future bliss, or do you reject such a hope, and opt for happiness in this world. I choose the latter. And there is no way to prove there is not a soul which we cannot experience or have any possible indication of in this world–by definition, the existence of something we cannot possibly have any evidence of is impossible to disprove.

    I’m not going “round in circle,” I’m stating the same exact thing over and over. You are trying your best to find some authority to tell you you really have a soul, or to allow your scriptural permission to believe in a soul–that is actually quite easy to find. Read Thich Nhat Hanh’s essay in the lates issue of Tricycle, if that is what you want. But remember that the authority of some text will never really produce the existence of this promised blissful afterlife.

  147. Tom, I don’t understand what you are saying. I am doing something to help the world. But I cannot be everything and do everything. That’s why there are groups of different sorts dedicated to helping the world in different ways. I just told you that I do not believe in this current system. How do you get that I am comforting the rich in this world? How do you get that I believe in just thinking about myself? You can’t just change the world’s thinking overnight, unless they themselves realize what is happening too and decide to see. What can we do about Fukushima now? How can we help the beings that are tortured in the name of “food” by not supporting it. How can we stop the genocide?, by not believing in the “American Dream”. How can our ways of thinking and doing ripple out? The thing is the world changes when we start with ourselves and then our families and then it branches out. Obviously we believe in different concepts of how to achieve this. You see getting in touch with our internal world in order to change the outer world as something evil, I don’t.

  148. Re:151
    I am not looking for permission for belief in atman. I simply believe I both have a soul and do not have a soul both at the same time while trying not to cling to either belief. Clinging to either it seems is duality and I am trying to always remember that I am a part of a transcendant conciousness that is beyond duality and that there really is no difference between you and I or a rock and a tree because we are all made of the same thing, and share the same conciousness, or energy field. We are all however at different evolutionary stages in our journey which allow us different capacities for interacting with our reality. The matrix if you will. I believe that at some point after death in some form we might go back to the source but only after we have evolved enough and it is time in the cosmic plan for us to do so. I do believe there is a plan in place by an entity that I do not understand. At some point I believe it is beyond my capacity to understand, but I don’t give up trying, or expect others too. I encourage it, because while I might not be smart enough to figure it all out, that doesn’t mean someone else can’t or won’t, and I feel we are put here to search for exactly that answer. It seems the search for an atman itself is a product of duality, our current reality. Does what I’ve said constitute a belief in an atman? I think yes and no, but I am interested to hear what you think. It might not make sense, but I don’t think it has to either. Duality is suffering. Like the Yogi’s say, with all of the suffering in the world how many seek God? If there was no suffering would any seek him/her? I believe it is possible to overcome duality in this place, but I believe that it happens by grace, and that honesty and compassion are the steps in the evolutionary ladder that allow it to happen. I am sure there are all kinds of contradictions in what I have said, and that it doesn’t make sense, but I am interested in what you think because I have much admiration for yor analytical mind, especially in regards to my personal feelings. Namaste. J.

  149. Justin: there’s not much to say. You believe in something that seems to me absolutely absurd to believe in, like believing in magic or ghosts or leprechauns. It makes no sense to say that denying the existence of something that does not exist is “duality.” If I deny the existence of unicorns or fairies, it is not “dualistic,” it is simply correct, and has nothing whatsoever to do with dualism. On the other hand, to believe that there is a soul or mind or consciousness completely incapable of being influenced, changed, or affected by the material world is the very definition of dualism–it does no good to simply insist that your dualistic concept is non-duality; redefining terms to mean the opposite of what they conventionally mean doesn’t change anything.

    Theresa: I’ve explained already why your position promotes evil. I do think the fact that you are so concerned about defending your position against all reason is a good sign–it indicates that you are at least not so certain in you position that it has totally destroyed your capacity to thought, that perhaps at some level you are a bit bothered by the implications your own position.

  150. Nope, wrong again on your image of me. And…contrary to your belief I am not bothered a bit by any implications of anything I have said. It is my truth. Defending my position against all reason? Whose reason? Yours? Just because you’ve explained to me why you think my position promotes evil doesn’t actually mean your position is the right view, if you will. Why don’t you put all the energy you are using against the real evil in the world.

  151. RE 157: “why don’t you put all the energy you are using against the real evil in the world”: I am!

    The familiar rhetoric of the true idiot: “nope” as the ultimate argument, and, of course, the ever popular “I don’t understand all your big words, so you must be wrong.” This is the true evil in the world! A world in which truly stupid people have the incredible arrogance to insist that their sheer ignorance is proof that they are right, and then assert that those smarter than them are “arrogant” for being intelligent.

    Teresa: Your are not at all bothered by anything anybody says here? Can you prove it? Stop posting your embarrassingly moronic snide and hostile remarks! You are making a true ass of yourself. Look at the comments you are getting–everyone is trying to point out to you what a stupid hostile jerk you are coming off as! If this truly doesn’t bother you a bit, if you are resting in complete equanimity, demonstrate your superior attainment: stop acting like a stupid teenager, making absurd claims about things you don’t understand. Spend just a day or so trying to actually realize how very upset you really are about this blog–if you weren’t, would you really be so obsessively spouting moronic nonsense? Try to at least admit to yourself how upset this is making you. Just one day, take twenty four hours to think about it–then, if you still think making a complete ass of yourself in public is the wise thing to do, come on back and keep it up!

  152. Hmmmm looks like you are the idiot. Your frustrate yourself and resort to belittling just because someone doesn’t agree with you and your personal theory of evil. To you, somehow I must be inferior in thought, actions etc. It’s not your big words I am worried about it’s your verbal diarrhea. Tell me what else you to “fight” evil besides sit behind a computer and argue your point. What do you do in your personal lifestyle?

  153. Oh, and I am not making an ass of myself but you look like you are doing a fine job. Also, I am not upset about this blog. At first I was and then realized why should I be and maybe I was being too pushy. Hence the talk with Saibhu. Then I came back stating why I believed as I do but according to you and maybe others I am nothing but an ignorant, thoughtless, misinformed, uneducated, stupid person who is not capable of rational thought, making claims about things I don’t understand because I don’t speak your language. Thanks for the offer re taking twenty four hours to think of what I have said but I really don’t even need 30 seconds. I have no regrets, no retractions, nothing. I think I have pretty much said everything I want to say. Good luck with your evil busting.

  154. Teresa (160),

    usually I’m not as quick as Tom Pepper when it comes to calling people stupid or uninformed, but then you wrote:

    I personally don’t see where he teaches that there is a “self” or a “no self”.

    That’s what the whole essay by Shyam was about. Did you even read it? Imaging having a discussion about the best way to prepare pasta and someone drops in making remarks and then stating that (s)he does not even know what pasta is….

  155. Ah, the old “no, you are” argument. That one still works as well as it did in first grade.

    I rest my case on this one: the followers of Thich Nhat Hanh really are a bunch of ignorant, stupid, angry, nasty, petty people, who try to bully others with their pretense to “mindful” kindness. I wasn’t going to respond to this particular dimwit (really, I wasn’t “quick” on this one, and ignored her for quite some time), but I couldn’t resist the irony: in response to a post explaining what is wrong with Thich Nhat Hanh’s version of Buddhism, his defenders wind up proving the point. Like so many Zennies, they cannot even be sufficiently self-aware to know they are angry, and they mistake their lack of self awareness for “attainment.”

    There is a certain sad pleasure in making these cult-of-niceness Buddhists sputter and shout and call names and storm off in a fit. One can only hope they learn from it how very poorly their brand of Buddhism works–but I doubt it.

  156. Hi all,
    I apologize but I have a question that is unrelated to the issues raised, but does relate to Thich Nhat Hanh. I’m in the midst of writing an academic paper, and am searching for the place where Hanh claims that when we do not practice mindfulness we unwittingly practice the opposite. Basically I need the exact reference if anyone has it.
    That is, I’m not looking for something close to this claim, but rather the exact claim mentioned.

  157. RE 164: I don’t think you’re going to get much help with this request. I can’t even imagine what “reference” you could be talking about. What would it even mean to say that when we are not practicing mindfulness we are “unwittingly” practicing something that is the opposite of mindfulness?

  158. What Hanh states (somewhere, which I am trying to find out where) is that when you are unaware of your anger, your expression of the anger is a practice in getting better in becoming angry. That is whenever you do not meet your thoughts and actions through mindfulness, their content is reinforced, deepening their formation as habits. Jon Kabat-Zinn has mentioned this in his book “Coming to our Senses” referring to this idea’s source as TNH, but did not bother mentioning the exact source. I’m trying to track down the exact place. Any help would be welcome.
    Thank you.

  159. So confusing this blog.
    Atman ( Soul or Self ,) Anatman ( Non-Self.)
    Anatman seems to be used specifically in Buddhism as a tool for teaching about the illusory nature of the self in sensory terms or the phenomenal world, while the Atman or soul exists in the noumenal world and thus cannot be known. Is it a contridiction to call the Atman a soul and a self? Calling the Atman a self, is only appropriate when used against an Anataman or a non-self, which is how it would be used when discussing the phenonenal world. In the noumenal world there can only be the Atman.
    TNH discusses the Buddhist view of the Atman, as a coming together and dissolution of the elements in a podcast from Plum Village given on Sunday August 12th, at the 1:03:00 mark of the podcast titled “Is It Okay To Tell A Lie?”
    Does this also explain TNH’s view of a non-self?

  160. Justin: this confusion is common, and I think it results in part from the persistent translation of atman as “ego.” Ego is a term that has varied and even completely contradictory meanings in English, and the western world generally, and there is a tendency to slide imperceptibly between the different meanings of “ego” when discussing atman. Atman, though, has nothing to do with any of the senses of the term ego.

    Atman is an abiding essence, something unchanging and indestructible. It is perhaps closest to the idea of “soul,” although there are some differences, depending on the particular religion. Anatman, then, is not a “tool” to teach that the phenomenal/conventional self does not exist; rather, it is the truth that the phenomenal/conventional self IS ALL THAT EXISTS! The idea is not to “get rid of the ego” in any of the senses of the term (vanity, conventional sense of self, subject position, self-image), but to recognize that the self is completely a dependently arisen construction, and yet is completely real. Therefore, the self can be changed, including changing it into an understanding which includes awareness of its social constructedness.

    Think of the country of the U.S. It has no atman. It does not have an essential nature that exists outside the phenomenal world. It is completely constructed by social practices carried out over the course of centuries, and its characteristics depend as well on certain geographical features of the earth. If the earth were destroyed, there would be no more U.S. at all, in any sense. Even if, by some miracle, everyone woke up tomorrow convinced that the U.S. was really a province of Canada, it would cease to exist completely. Nevertheless, it is real, and has very real causal powers–it is not in any sense a “mere illusion.”

    This is not a difficult concept to grasp, intellectually, but we are so ideologically attached to the belief in individual autonomy and atomism that most people will do anything, resort to “believing” in the most idiotic nonsense, to avoid seeing the truth of this.

  161. Warning before I start…I’m a fan of Thich Nhat Hanh. Feel like I’ve learned a lot from him, and that my life is much better as a result. I’m also probably your worst nightmare in another way-I’m a proud bookstore Buddhist. That said, I will comment on the original post…

    Shyam Dodge starts with the criticism that by saying the goal is to realize non-self, and that doing so is more that just realizing an intellectual understanding, Hanh creates an atman. I don’t disagree with that, but I don’t see that necessarily as fuzzy thinking. Hanh may be trying to make a point-that realizing non-self is not a process that ends with one intellectual realization. That if you think you have thought through all the ramifications of such a concept, you really haven’t. No one is capable of doing so. Or perhaps that is just my own take on it and Hanh is bankupt-doesn’t matter which.

    What counts is what I can learn and from the words Hanh used. Putting concepts into words has never been satisfactory, and probably never will be. There seems to be a belief held by “intellectuals” that if you can’t argue with words effectively, then you aren’t thinking clearly. I don’t believe that-perhaps because I’m a lawyer. Applies whether you are Buddhist or non-Buddhist.

    What I am far more interested in than the intellectual coherence of Hanh’s explanations is what “good” he does and what “good” does he motivate others to do. I saw someone comment that one of Hanh’s minions shut the door on a question saying it was off the table-I’ll condemn that. Is that representative of what the bulk of people affected by Hanh would do? How do Hanh’s influencees compare to others influenced by other x-Buddhists, or for that matter, other religious and non-religions teachers? On balance, I find he motivates me in ways I find positive. I’m sure there are bad things being done by some who proclaim Hanh as the top dog, but in my experience to date the bad things are outweighed by the good.

    I always come back to what is at the top of Hanh’s list of precepts, in mindfulness training number 1:

    Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, we are determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. We are committed to seeing the Buddhist teachings as a guiding means that help us learn to look deeply and develop understanding and compassion.

    If Hanh’s discussion of non-self doesn’t work for you right now, go on to something else. I think that’s what training #1 implies. I’ve found plenty of Hanh’s statements to be useless for me now, but many have been useful, too. Some I want to consider further. Be open to what he(or anyone) is saying meaning something more important later. And gaining some incite from what he said happens, be open to dumping it again. I’ve seen several posts here arguing for developing ideology. Ideology can be useful, especially when thought out rather than adopted, but I’ve yet to see an ideology that works perfectly and doesn’t need adjustment, and, often, total rejection…for now.

    Thanks for putting your criticism in this article out there-I found it useful. Ditto the website generally.

  162. Jett (#171).

    Thanks for joining our discussion. I was curious about your statement:

    There seems to be a belief held by “intellectuals” that if you can’t argue with words effectively, then you aren’t thinking clearly. I don’t believe that-perhaps because I’m a lawyer.

    I would think that a lawyer in particular would recognize the inseparability of thought and speech. How would this discontinuity of thought and speech work, anyway? Do you think that thought-deficient clear speech is really possible? Of what, then, would such speech consist? (It’s not “thoughtless,” is it?) I am not interested in a discussion about abstractions. I think you have addressed a practical issue. I hear this rhetoric of thought-speech separation from college freshmen and spiritual snake oil salesmen alike. It permits obfuscation and manipulation. It says: Just trust me.I know it sounds impossible. It is beyond words.Just trust me. In the life of the mind–of ideas and beliefs and so on–words are all we have in common with one another. So, let’s learn to speak and think more clearly rather than give into the lazy rhetoric that you suggest.

    I also think that you might have missed the main point of Shyam’s essay. It is not a question of finding something “that works for you.” Shyam is arguing a bigger point. He is arguing that Thich Nhat Hanh presents his ideas about truth and wisdom in a manner that is some combination of deceptive, incoherent, and ideologically-coercive.

  163. Thanks for your response. I don’t see the connection between speech (or writing) and thought as always the same. Despite dictionaries, the same words can convey different meaning to different people. Sometimes analogies or metaphors are used because of the complexity of concepts, and later listeners/readers either don’t get what was meant or take the imagery literally. On top of all that, words are often interpreted later for purposes for which the speaker never considered.

    You ask is thought deficient clear speech possible? My point is clear speech depends on both speaker and listener, and that all speech occurs without complete thinking. Clear speech is an unobtainable, yet pursuit of it is worthwhile. Unclear speech may still stimulate worthwhile thought and reaction.

    To your second point, let me first note an even better response to the idea that something more than an intellectual realization is impossible. How about an emotional realization? I knew my mother killed herself because she was mentally ill, but emotionally I was still angry because I felt like she did it to me. We might intellectually recognize what non-self is but not really feel it.

    I know the author and you base your disapproval of Hanh on more than that one example, and perhaps a fuller discussion would find us agreeing on some and disagreeing on others. I’m just saying that on the whole my experience with TNH has been positive, IMHO. And even when I end up finding that on the whole I don’t appreciate someone, I try to keep open to the possibility that they have a point(but it is hard).

  164. I’m ready to tackle arguing with the entire argument Shyam Dodge makes in the original post.

    First, he argues that TNH says that non-self is not something you can “just” understand “intellectually,” and goes on to conclude that this means non-self has existence apart from individual experience. Dodge has tortured THN’s language severely here. Understanding something emotionally is not the same as understanding it intellectually. Use of intellect is reasoning-look at preferred definition from the Collins English Dicitionary: 1. (Psychology) the capacity for understanding, thinking, and reasoning, as distinct from feeling or wishing. Clearly, a plain language reading of what TNH is quoted to have said does not rule out that he is talking about understanding non-self emotionally. No way to conclude that TNH is secretly arguing for a soul in his responses.

    Second, he concludes that TNH is intellectually dishonest because of the following quote:

    Non-self can be a view, impermanence might be a view, and if you are caught in a view, you are not really free. The ultimate has no view. That is why nirvana is the extinction of all views, because views can bring unhappiness—even the views of nirvana, impermanence, and no-self…

    Basically, Dodge argues that if nirvana is no-view, and TNH says nirvana is a view, then he is being inconsistent. Dodge fails to consider a difference between a view of nirvana and nirvana itself. The simplest way to explain is an example: a perfect view of an object is to be able to see all side of it, and it’s interior, all at once. That isn’t possible. Whatever view we have of an object is incomplete. When we take our views as being superior to other views, we miss something. True nirvana is no-view, or, to use words that may be just as hard to wrap our heads around, all views. To think we understand nirvana completely is incorrect. THN is simply saying we can have a view of what nirvana is, but it will be incomplete. We need to be ready to go beyond our view, not in a supernatural way, when necessary to understand. If having no-view, or every view, of an object is hard, how much harder for nirvana!

    OK, so Dodge is wrong on his two key points that lead him to a third: that TNH fails to see that “that there are ways of remaking the world that both benefit us and relieve suffering,” what he calls ideology. That views of the world can be useful. I fail to see where TNH has said that, or that such a conclusion flows from his other quotes. That is why we have views-they are useful. They can be used in good ways. But they are inherently incomplete. The limitations come from the limitations of our senses, our limited capacity to think, and our emotional attachments, among other things.

    Dodge’s next assault is on THN’s social engagement. Dodge says “His vision of “the Buddha’s teaching” produces socially non-reactive, non-discriminating subjects.” His basis for such an assertion is that TNH says that the freedom he seeks is not political, but rather freedom from destructive emotion. I’m having to restrain my words here-there is simply no logic that gets from what TNH says to what Dodge says is TNH’s vision. Being able to keep one’s emotion from overpowering their reason in no way leads to non-reactive, non-discriminating subjects. Instead, it seeks to place reason at the forefront of decision making, to the extent possible, unclouded by emotion, however well founded. Dodge’s charge also defies the reality of what TNH has actually done over the years. Going out and physically helping save the Vietnam boat refugees on the high seas, criticising both the US and the North Vietnamese Communist government-these things are not “non-reactive, non-discriminating.” In my experience, TNH followers are often on the forefront of controversial issues, trying to engage in rational discussion of them, seeking peaceful resolutions. Locally, they show up at every Texas execution. Are there some who simply end up making themselves comfortable based on TNH’s words? Perhaps, but I don’t know those folks.

    Dodge also attacks TNH on democracy in his sangha, noting that TNH says both seniority and democracy work together. I am one who is very sensitive to any sort of superior guru system and personality cult development. I also have problems with a priest/monk hierarchy in any system. However, the fact remains that community wisdom, whether in the form of societal norms or a hierarchy of leadership can have knowledge worth appreciating. The test for every person is to decide how much deference to give to established ideas that have “withstood the test of time” and how much to trust ourselves. We’ve see the result of too rapid of a revolution time and again, but we’ve also seen the results of just trusting authority. Threading the needle is difficult. I don’t see TNH’s solution for his sangha to be one that excites me greatly. From what I see, there is no dictatorship in the sanghas I’m familar with. Indeed, they are primarily lay led.

  165. Jett (174),

    just on a quick note (it’s alreay late in germany ;)).

    TNH followers are often on the forefront of controversial issues, trying to engage in rational discussion of them, seeking peaceful resolutions.

    Compared to other Buddhists TNH followers may seem very political, but their way of “being political” often enough is very “apolitical”.

    In Germany for example there’s the “Netzwerk Achtsame Wirtschaft” (Mindful Economy Network). They actually try to change the current economic system, which certainly is a deeply political issue. But their approach is simply to be a mindful consumer and thereby to change the economy in small ways. Recently they sent an invitation for doing a walking meditation in a local mall to demonstrate against christmas-y consumerism. The message on the flyer said something like “don’t consume, just breathe and be happy”.

    There was no reference to creating pressure on the government to change laws and regulations, no reference to support NGOs that actually try to change the economy, no reference to “consume differently” (e.g. not buying certain products) or other ways to create pressure on companies.

    “Breathe and be happy”, while the people who made the jeans you wear while breathing get cancer from making them. Oh, and that homeless guy next to you that freezes, well you can’t buy him anything, because your busy changing the economy by not buying anything. Great!

    A lot of the criticism Shyam described in this essay could be applied directly to this whole initiative – so I don’t think he’s that far off.

    P.S.: My meditation group is TNH, and comfort is the most common criterion to describe things (“It was so beautiful”, “I felt very good while doing that mindfully”, “Everything was soooo peaceful!”)

  166. The sangha here in Austin does food drives for the needy, does vigils at executions and assists in developing prison libraries among other activities. They often pass along info on volunteer and charitable activities on their email list. Individuals are involved in many charities and direct political activities.

  167. Shyam or Glenn, could you please write a critique of the “intellectual dishonesty” in this very piece?

  168. In response to Jett (#174):

    1. Emotional understanding could be a fair argument in a different context, except in TNH’s view emotions are something to be transcended not used to realize non-self. In essence, if you read TNH carefully, he is arguing that non-self must be realized in isolation–independent of thoughts, emotions, and desires. I simply used the “independent of intellect” quote as one example. Jett, if you can point me to a place where TNH describes a process or methodology in which non-self can be realized via emotional understanding (or any other quality or faculty of subjective human experience) I’ll take your points more seriously.

    2. You are presuming that nirvana is a thing that exists in isolation, independent of a particular ideological construct. The burden of proof for nirvana as a transcendent reality, independent of a “view”, lies on the shoulders of those who proclaim nirvana to be such a transcendental truth. TNH, like you, claims that nirvana is a truth that transcends views, failing to consider that nirvana might only exist within a particular ideological construct, and without that ideological basis nirvana ceases to be a relevant idea.

    3. You say that you cannot follow my logic. Let me break it down as concisely as possible: TNH believes that the only thing that brings freedom is a transcendent truth (independent of ideology); secondly, he claims to be able to contact and transmit such a transcendent truth; thirdly, he views ideologies as a kind of psychic prison and that buddhism can liberate the individual from this interior prison of ideology via realizing nirvana/non-self etc. Hence my claim that TNH does not, first of all, acknowledge that his vision of buddhism is a view (or ideology), that he sees ideology as a prison, and therefore does not understand the value of ideology as a means of remaking the world–instead he wants to pretend that he can, through buddhism, escape ideology (or views) altogether. This is why it is intellectually dishonest.

    4. First of all, let me reiterate: I am claiming that TNH’s philosophy (if you can call it that) is an ideology that promotes so-called “positive emotions” and views things like anger as “poison.” Therefore this ideology is attempting to dictate a very specific model of both behavior and subjective experience. I don’t claim that TNH is trying to promote an emotionless version of the dharma, rather I am arguing that he is prosletyzing a dharma of “positive emotion” to the exclusion of other emotions like anger. This is a kind of prozac buddhism, anesthetizing the buddhist to the real conditions of suffering in the world. It plasters a serene face on the potential social-change maker. Such medicated serenity (meditative) is the opposite of social engagement, it is dissociation and numbness to reality. While TNH might do some “good” in the world his lasting legacy is one of dissociative trance (his version of “mindfulness”) and not vital passionate social engagement. His emphasis, which he states very clearly, is on freedom from destructive emotions, his secondary mission is (as a kind of byproduct) ‘social change’. I wonder, after so much self-medication (meditation) if these anesthetized serenely smiling buddhists will have the wherewithal for social revolution… I think not, if only because they’ve found internal means of numbing themselves to reality and suffering–and therefore don’t have the emotional gumption to do anything other than ‘mindfully’ walk through our crumbling social structures completely numb to the world. I’d suggest you reread Foucault and investigate how social structures implement means of self-regulation that reinforce and calcify the existing order (no matter how insane), and then contemplate whether or not TNH is reinforcing this structure with more potent means of self-regulation or if he is indeed offering a path of “liberation.”

    5. Jett, there is more to my quote regarding “the way of seniority.” TNH also says that “Western” Democracy could learn from his “way of seniority.” He claims that it works better than a system where all people have an equal voice. Really? Often social change is brought about by the youth of the nation rising up. What would happen, socially, in the US if the socalled “senior” members of society had a vote that weighed more than that of the less “senior?” Who would determine seniority? Would it not simply reinforce existing power structures, with little to no social change? How is this addressed in TNH’s communities? I’d suggest you think about these things a little more carefully, because these are very strong statements that have significant implications politically and socially.

  169. Glenn and Shyam,
    How did you get the conclusion that “TNH means non-self is a kind of soul or atman independent of the mind, the body, thoughts and emotions,” and “He, in fact, is preaching the doctrine of atman”?
    Shyam’s autobigraphy “a Harvard educated former monk. Raised in an ashram…”gives me the idea that he did not get any kind of real buddhist education either in a hindu ashram or in Harvard. That’s why he can not understand the basic concepts of buddhism like non-self, interbeing, suffering, mental formations, etc.

    Sometimes I find TNH’s style of speaking oversimplified as if talking to a child. I think that is because of the need to adress people from different educational backgrounds, intellectual capacities etc. There are very simple and clear statements in the Shambala interview and other writings of TNH like “There’s no separation between self and other, and everything is interconnected. Once you are aware of that you are no longer caught in the idea that you are a separate entity.” and “Thanks to the realization that there is no separate self, you realize that happiness and suffering are not individual matters. You see the nature of interconnectedness and you know that to protect yourself you have to protect the human beings around you.” But you see although clear and simple, words alone are not useful. Unless you get a basic theoretical/practical education and put it into practice, you may take any buddhist teaching as a doctrine or theory and develop faith or disbelief in it.
    When you lack practice you can manufacture any meaning from mere words, like one might also say, “TNH is talking about some kind of godhead called “interbeing”. (!)

    I always oppose anti-intellectualism and attitudes that refuse critical thinking. But intellectual abilities and critical thinking alone are not enough to understand a buddhist teaching, just like they are inevitable but not enough to attain political, social or any kind of freedom. We need to get involved in the practice of what is “preached”. TNH says “This is not just an idea or something you understand intellectually. You have to apply it to your daily life.”

  170. Orategama: It isn’t hard to get the idea that Thich Nhat Hanh is teaching the existence of Atman. He is quite explicit about this in literally dozens of places. He does believe that there is a “true self” which is a “pure consciousness” without an object, that remains eternally undefiled and will continue to exist once the phenomenal world is left behind. In my essay “Comfort-Food Buddhism” I mention this briefly, but TNH is very clear on this in his essay in most recent issue of Tricycle. This isn’t uncommon in Buddhism, of course. As the Critical Buddhism movement in Japan has made clear, there is a long history of debate between those Buddhists who teach that there is no atman at all, and those who teach that “non-self” simply means that the phenomenal “self” is impermanent, and is radically divided from the eternal “true self.” TNH is clearly of the latter camp. I have long objected to the fact that he often claims he holds the former position, and then teaches the latter position, but recently he has become quite explicit that he believes in the existence of the atman–he just doesn’t want to call it by that name.

    Where do YOU get the idea that he does NOT believe in an atman? From the idea that we are all part of the one, big, universal soul, not discrete separate souls? That is the very definition of atman for Advaita Vedanta, right? That is exactly the Brahmanical understanding of atman, and is exactly what the early teaching of anatman is arguing against–that is, it wasn’t meant, as TNH implies, to indicate that we have no discrete, individual, single-serving souls, but that there is nothing of the order of a soul at all!

  171. For all intents and purposes, TNH’s version of the dharma makes one into a “good citizen.”

    Well, at least for TNH or his followers, not in Vietnam from 1960s untill 2007.

    His vision of “the Buddha’s teaching” produces socially non-reactive, non-discriminating subjects.

    Jjust like the ones in London on International Peace Day. <a href=”” target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow”

  172. RE 183: “Just like the ones in London on International Peace Day.”

    Yes, exactly like that! Subjects who mistake “protests” approved by global capitalism and the mass media for real social action, and would never consider doing anything that might subvert the status quo. That’s the point–these are “good citizens” of global capitalism, who hope to convince everyone that “world peace” equals word-wide American hegemony, “getting along,” and mindfully buying what the media feeds us.

  173. Tom, (#181)
    I get the idea that like many buddha dharma teachers, Thich Nhat Hanh does not believe in anatman from his book “The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching”. In the 18th chapter of the book, he tells about Three Dharma Seals, anitya, anatman and nirvana. According to his definition, anatman is being without an essence. There is no mentioning of a universal soul or atman.

  174. Yes, he does say that, quite often, and in many places. But then, he also goes on to explain that what is without an essence is your phenomenal/conventional self–because your “true self” (a term he uses in nearly everything he writes) is part of one, unified, world-transcendent life force, and is eternal and unchanging. Your individual self has not atman, according to TNH, but the collective life of the universe does have one–in fact, in the Upanisads, this is one of the definitions of the term atman. Read the essay in Tricycle I mentioned–he is quiet explicit there, while in many other places he tries to equivocate and can be quite obscure.

    Again, what I have always objected to is this tendency to present the teaching of anatman as saying that there is one big world-transcendent collective consciousness, which is the very definition of atman. TNH, like many other Zen teachers, takes anatman to mean only that there are not multiple, individual souls. The divide on this goes back many centuries, and those who follow the TNH’s interpretation do seem to be the majority. The biggest difference seems to me to be that TNH, and other modern teachers, won’t be open and explicit that this is what they are teaching (although TNH has been more frank about it recently). In the past, it seems to have been more common to simply admit that when you said anatman you really meant only that the body is not permanent, but that the “substrate consciousness” which is not part of the phenomenal world is eternal.

    The “dishonesty” is simply that these teachers claim to be teaching that there is no soul, to make their teaching acceptable to the public which would not buy their books or go to their retreats if they said up front that they were teaching how to rejoin the collective soul.

  175. Frank (#9) you say Regarding your point about the community, hierarchy and authority: I can only say that when I was told there were something not open to question or discussion, I bolted! To express any disagreement with “Thay” was simply beyond the pale of “correctness” among the “sangha.” The deference to the man is creepy.
    I did not visit the sangha at plum village. Can you please give more details about that event, were you told by TNH himself about subjects that are not open to discussion?
    And Tom (#185), I read the article “Free From Fear” in Tricycle. Are you referring to the part about the “ultimate dimension” and the analogy of water and the wave? If so, that is the same with the teaching in the book I mentioned. This “ultimate dimension” is nirvana. Not Atman. Nirvana is simply transcending the ontology based on the dualistic notions of atman/anatman, beginning and ending, birth and death, being and non-being with your own experience. When you get above conceptual thinking, you can get closer to nirvana, but if you start by rejecting conceptual thinking alltogether, that is animal mind. My cat is “already there”.
    I agree in some of the TNH’s writings and talks, there are examples of “sloppy” terminology and expressions. In the Tricycle article there are phrases like “our no-birth, no-death nature” that can be confused with such a permanent entity like soul. Likewise, buddhanature is a misunderstandable word. “The potential capacity to attain nirvana” would be a better phrase.
    As the people in the parts of the world that theistic or vedic religions are dominant, a belief in a soul, god, ultimate entity is coded in most people’s way of thinking. Also dualistic thinking is inevitable. Beginning from our childhood we are immersed with such beliefs. In most of the philosophical thinking also essentialist ideas are dominant. So it is very hard to put aside these beliefs and notions. The14th Dalai Lama tells about an incident that one of his acquaintances with a hinduist background was “terrified” when he was told about the teachings of anitya and anatman. So he says “It is better not to scare people who are not ready to hear such teachings, for the sake of compassion.” I don’t agree with this kind of conventionalism. I guess it is because I am not that much compassionate.

  176. Yes Ortemaga, and this is the last time I’ll say it: he does NOT call it atman, says it is NOT atman, but it has exactly the same characteristics as atman, and is precisely the same in every way as what IS described by the term atman in the upanisads and in Vedanta to this day. That is my point–he thinks if he simply refuses to CALL it atman, then that makes it anatman. HIs “nirvana” is not “transcending the dualistic notions,” but is exactly reifying them, by insisting that there is an impermanent and somehow lesser realm of “concepts” and a realm of thought-free, non-conceptual consciousness. THAT is the very definition of dualism!! That’s what the word dualism is meant to describe (as in the Cartesian duality between mind and body, for instance–as long as there is a “realm” of thought that has no concepts–well, that is exactly how atman is described in Advaita Vedanta. For the last time, because I really cannot make it any more explicit: I know that TNH does not CALL it atman, if fact that he SAYS it is anatman, but what he is describing in that essay and everywhere else in his writing is exactly the same as what Vedanta, Brahmanism, and the Upanisads describe as atman–EXACTLY–even in the very same terms!!!!–so he can insist it isn’t the atman if he doesn’t call it one, but if I call my car a horse, it’s still a car. If you can’t grasp this, I don’t think I can help you much more on this point–maybe somebody else can try, but I cannot see how to be clearer on this, and I cannot get why you don’t understand it.

  177. 183:

    Tom, what is real social action? I’ve been trying to figure this out for years. I was a huge activist at one time. I always had the inkling that what we were doing made no difference. I’m just at a loss. One thing I have found is not falling into discussions about this and that concerning capitalism, but laying out my Marxist ideology on the table from the get go. Unfortunately, that usually ends the conversation. It’ ended every single one I had with relatives over the holidays. The family is very very concerned about me and my politics and buddhism 🙂

  178. Sorry no comments (yet), just a question: Is there any way to subscribe to all comments in a post without making a comment first?

  179. Re 188: Well, my take is that in the current state of global capitalism, real social action is going to take very large groups of people. The enormous ideological and coercive power of capitalism will be difficult to overcome. My approach is to work on breaking the grip of ideology first, with the hope that as the current economic depression continues, and worsens, more people will eventually be motivated to change the system. When they have no housing, health care, or food, when they can’t raise families or work, then the only thing holding people to capitalism is their ideological attachment to it.

    Of course, relatives probably aren’t the best place to start with this. Usually, your family is very attached to seeing you as the snot-nosed kid who plays with Legos and watches cartoons, and it is hard to get them to listen to any serious thought you might offer (at least, this is my experience).

    Explaining to people that their ideological attachments ARE ideological, and not in their own best interest, is the only way I can see to produce enough poorly interpellated subjects to begin some kind of radical action. Of course, the way you know that this is, itself, dangerous radical action is by the number of reactionaries who will shout, loud and long, that what you are doing is evil, incorrect, and anyway will be completely ineffective.

  180. 190:


    Thanks for the response. Excellent points there. The more I study Marxism and see what is going on the more I see that capitalism will ultimately cause it’s undoing. The most deluded seem to be the middle and lower classes. They fight tooth and nail for this oppressive system while slogging off to work for 1/3 of the day and trying to make ends meet. All the while blaming their suffering on their marriage or what ever. It’s amazing how strong attachment to ideology is! I still wonder how do I care for myself and family in the midst of this capitalist suffering all the while trying to break others’ delusion. Choose my battles 🙂

    Thanks again,


  181. Tom and Craig,
    # 190 #191
    That marxian presumption about “ideology” and how people are deluded with a certain kind of ideological conditioning… If only they could have the “right” world view, they would get rid of capitalism, poverty, consumerism and all evils. And buddhadharma teaching of ignorance (avidya) seems very similar to this theory. But “knowing” in the sense of theoretical knowledge is not enough. You still have to make a choice for acting in another way. And this choice will not be made if you only know the conditioned state of mind you are in, but you don’t really know how to practice this insight.

    A subject pursuing certain objects passionately… We act in this way because we have a “habitus” and even if someone tells us that “this action is not in our own best interest”, we may still be convinced that we need certain mental or material objects to fulfill ourselves emotionally or mentally. To get out of this pattern, we need something more than just being “preached” about our ideological attachments. Althusser and later philosophers are really inspiring. Actions, practices and “rituals” other than the ones that attach us to our “ideology” are needed. Even the humble practice of sitting for world peace in a public space would be of better help. But of course there must be other, much more creative and effective practices.

  182. Reading other posts and comments, especially the ones on “x-buddhist provocateurs”, I am convinced once again that it does not matter if you understand anatman or non-self conceptually when you don’t really know how to put this understanding into a “material practice”. With the “right” understanding of anatman, you may not cling to a permanent, transcendent self or atman but you may still sometimes cling to one that is impermanent and mortal, dwelling in a banal, insipid reality, as passionately as Cioran, “with thwarted desires, unhappy and desperate…” etc. 🙂 And with lots of anger of course. But fortunately, only sometimes. When I made the previous comment I had not read samsara-as-the-realm-of-ideology I found it really inspiring.

  183. Hi John “Ta Tao” (# 195). You seem to have the beginnings of an enlightening criticism of the post. But would you mind elaborating some. I am pretty poor at abstract thought, and so would appreciate some concrete examples. Thanks for taking the time and trouble for crafting such an intelligent, thoughtful comment!!!

  184. Yes, master Tao, please either enlighten us with your understanding or cease teasing us with your crumbs of wisdom.

    In other words, shit or get off the pot.

  185. John,

    For someone ‘breathing for peace’ you sure are causing some unnecessary discord.

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