Can someone help me out? I recently read a blog post that struck me as telling a vital story about x-buddhism in the contemporary West. The thrust of the narrative is this: a critical mass of x-buddhist “provocateurs” are working independently toward “a radical re-engagement with Buddhism,” one that enables an escape from the old “romantic and idealized interpretations of the path.”
Here’s where I am asking for your help. I want to be convinced that the story is true! But I cannot for the life of me see the validity in it. So, I’m asking you to find some evidence for the narrative, and report back.
The two-part post that I am referring to was written by Matthew O’Connell at Elephant Journal (all links at the bottom), and is titled “Post-traditional Buddhism: The Quiet Revolution?” I think O’Connell’s post is certainly worth further consideration. What I find interesting is that O’Connell intelligently articulates, for the first time that I know of, the contours of an emerging defining narrative in the western x-buddhist scene, a kind of origin myth. As O’Connell says:
Post-Traditional Buddhism is a concerted effort to move away from the hegemony of what Dave Chapman describes as Consensus Buddhism. Because of this, many of its features are a direct refusal to kowtow to traditional Buddhist forms and relationships.
O’Connell’s post is discerning. My purpose here is not to critique his many assertions concerning the nature of an ostensible post-traditional Buddhism per se, except to say this: he confuses rhetoric for reality. While O’Connell gives an accurate description of the emerging “post-traditional” narrative, he mistakes the claims of his sources for an actual state of affairs. So, the real value of O’Connell’s post, for me, lies in its second-order reportage. It is the people he is reporting on who merit criticism. I say this for two reasons.
First, the story of a radical post-traditional Buddhism is indeed being driven by the “new[ish] generation” of x-buddhist figures, particularly in North America, and the story that these so-called provocateurs are telling about themselves is spurious, to put it mildly. Second, in crafting such a misleading narrative, the aspiring provocateurs are effectively diminishing the possibility of realizing the “promise and potentialities” embedded within their very narrative (see “The Power of Negative Thinking”).
So, who are these radical path-breaking x-buddhist provocateurs? O’Connell singles out the following figures:
- Hokai Sobol;
- Ted Meissner of the Secular Buddhist Association;
- Stephen Schettini, “The Naked Monk;”
- Buddhist Geeks (I think that’s Vince Horn, mainly);
- Ken McLeod of Unfettered Mind;
- Kenneth Folk;
- David Chapman*;
- Brad Warner;
- The Dharma Overground;
- Stephen Batchelor.
(He also mistakenly includes “the Non-Speculative Buddhism [sic] chaps.” But anyone who reads this blog will understand that that inclusion is very problematic.)
It is, of course, fair to claim—for the sake of discussion—that there are real differences between, say, traditional Tibetan or Japanese forms of Buddhism and current western versions of x-buddhism. But—and here’s my main point of contention—the old and the ostensibly new have more in common than the rhetoric of “post-traditional” admits. Not a single person mentioned by O’Connell, for instance, questions the very framework within which their supposedly radical innovations are being worked. That framework is, of course, “The Dharma,” or indeed simply “Buddhism” itself. By not calling into question the foundations of traditional x-buddhisms, the claim that our provocateurs are engaged in a battle “to pull apart traditional teachings and break down and defile Buddhism’s core taboos” rings hollow to my ears. (We might ask, along with Samuel Beckett, “What is the good of passing from one untenable position to another, of seeking justification always on the same plane?”) So, contrary to what O’Connell reports, because of their continued enchantment with and devotion to x-buddhism, these figures will most certainly not be able “to move away from the hegemony of what Dave Chapman describes as Consensus Buddhism.” Please, visit their sites and report back to me: are they not precisely beholden to that hegemony; are they not, in fact, renewing the warrant on x-buddhist consensus for the next generation?
If you are willing to read up on Buddhist history, you will discover that Hokai Sobol, Ted Meissner, Stephen Schettini, Vince Horn, Kenneth Folk, Ken McLeod and the others fit cleanly into the age-old trajectory of x-buddhist thought and practice. Ted Meissner, for instance, has replicated almost to perfection the Protestant Buddhism of T.W. and Caroline Rhys Davids (of the Pali Text Society). Kenneth Folk’s “Dharma” bears an uncanny resemblance to the Buddhism of the old Theosophists. Ironically, O’Connell mentions David McMahan’s work The Making of Buddhist Modernism as identifying features that people like Meissner “radically” shift away from. Although Meissner’s site justifies O’Connell’s claim, just the opposite is true. McMahan includes as defining elements of the modernist Buddhist trajectory features that Meissner in fact celebrates and promotes, such as rationalism, scientific naturalism and Romantic expressivism, as well as a “focus on meditation, social engagement, internalization, and emphasis of equality and universality while de-emphasizing ritual, mythology, and hierarchy” (from Eyal Aviv’s review on H-Net). When we evaluate the current “post-traditionalists” in the light of x-buddhist history, we begin to see just how redundant their “innovations,” in fact, are. Debate about karma and rebirth, in other words, is as old as Buddhism itself.
In believing their own story that they represent “radical” or even innovative x-buddhist change, people like Kenneth Folk and Vincent Horn and their respective organizations miss a real opportunity. In my post “The Power of Negative Thinking,” I argue that in not recognizing the difference between rhetoric and reality, in missing the contradiction between these two, the very promise and potentialities inherent in these peoples’ x-buddhist ideology of awakening, etc. is missed. Imagine that some new political party were to come on the scene, promising to create a structure for realizing, say, equality, among citizens. The fact that terms like “post-traditional” and “radical” are used to differentiate the new party from the old admits to the actual necessity of those features for realizing the goal of equality. The party gets going, creates its platform, sends out its representatives to give talks, publishes tracts, etc. And, to a discerning observer, it turns out that the new party is simply mimicking the old. Worse: it mimics the old, but, for whatever reason obscures this fact. An opportunity is lost. Proven, though, is the party’s rhetorical assertion that genuine radicalism and post-traditionalism are required to break out of the established ways.
Really, I have to wonder whether Hokai Sobol et al are just willfully ignorant concerning their so-called “post-traditional radicality.” Each seems sincerely to believe that he is a “pathfinder, starting anew” (Sobol on himself). Maybe they are just not all that interested in digging in too deeply–into, for instance, x-buddhist history, for starters, or the presence of contradictions in their thinking. After all, each of the people O’Connell mentions could be seen as having a vested interest in belonging to the x-buddhist club. Whenever, throughout its history, x-buddhism has melded with commerce and the need for popularity (think: Facebook “Like” button; blog hits; Twitter followers; book sales; podcast downloads; retreat attendance; etc.), the result has invariably been just what we’re seeing now: an intellectually vapid mélange packaged as just the opposite: as, that is, a serious, rigorous, honest investigation into matters of crucial human importance. For anyone who cares to see, our x-buddhist provocateurs most certainly are not provoking anything new. What, then, I wonder, are they doing?
One last thought: Since these figures are so serious about this business of becoming radically post-traditional, why don’t they engage us here at Speculative Non-Buddhism? Think about it: given the radicalness of the task at hand, isn’t even the most rigorous, brutal exchange of ideas worth it?
- I am not sure that David Chapman belongs on this list. If he keeps doing what he’s doing, he’s going to burst the seams.
Matthew O’Connell‘s original post (part two) at Elephant Journal. (Some of my comments there are reflected in my post here.)
Hokai Sobol (as of this posting, this site appears to be down).
Ted Meissner of the Secular Buddhist Association
Vince Horn, of Buddhist Geeks
Ken McLeod, of Unfettered Mind;
Kenneth Folk Dharma
Brad Warner, of Hardcore Zen
The Dharma Overground
355 responses to “X-buddhist Provocateurs?”
Maybe it would be useful to emphasize some distinctions: traditional vs. modern vs. neither of those; Consensus vs. each of those.
Buddhism has been post-traditional since about 1850. All the Buddhisms available in the West are post-traditional (in varying extents). Most Western Buddhists are unaware of how untraditional the “traditional” Buddhisms are; they are mainly 20th century inventions. (McMahan makes this point well.) This is important to understand, but it means that a slogan of “post-traditional” is vacuous.
“Consensus” is my term for a particular brand of Buddhist modernism; the mainstream of American Buddhism that was heavily influenced by the 60s/70s youth movement. I see this brand as having had hegemonic power over American Buddhism roughly from 1990-2005 (and is still dominant). This brand has particular problems (along with some virtues).
My interpretation of Matthew O’Connell’s article is that he’s pointing to the phenomenon of the end of Consensus hegemony. Buddhist politics has shifted to the extent that that alternatives are possible. (I see this as a very good thing.) These alternatives might be modern or not, and will doubtless have their own problems and virtues.
Everyone on the list is modern to some degree, and (as you point out) deploys the tropes of Buddhist modernism, delineated by McMahan, to negotiate between tradition and contemporary secular culture. [Did I really just write that sentence?] To various degrees, some of us also call into question those strategies of reinterpretation.
Questioning foundations is certainly part of my agenda. For me, that starts as much from rejecting modernism as rejecting aspects of Buddhism. Not in order to return to tradition, but with the recognition that modernity ended in the West in the late 20th century. The central modernist dream of finding certainty in systematic foundations is over.
What, if anything, does Buddhism have to offer once we accept that culture, society, and the self have permanently disintegrated into shifting, kaleidoscopic patterns of atomized meanings?
It may not be obvious that this is the trajectory of my writing, since I’ve been trying to lay a bunch of conceptual groundwork. At the rate I’ve been able to write, it would be years before I get to the point, so I think I may have to cut to the chase:
Is anything of value left when we abandon the hope that Buddhism provides transcendent certainty and an ultimate goal?
This is an open question for me. I have a lot to say about it, but no definitive answer.
Hi David. Funny, I added an asterisk next to your name as you were probably writing your comment. I am not always clear what your position is in relations to traditional forms of x-buddhism. Doesn’t it vacillate? Are you, from time to time at least, on the verge of abandoning the refuge?
I think that an honest exploration of this question requires a radical form of thought that the people in the list are incapable of. Or are they just unwilling to take the risks required? The irony is that they talk the talk of innovators yet walk the walk of traditionalists. In doing so, they lay out the requirements for genuine post-traditionalism, and then flinch. As I think you are saying, the term “traditionalists” no longer indicates only those who subscribe to ancient cosmologies or medieval superstitions.
About your term “consensus Buddhism:” Do you think that the people O’Connell mentions might be creating the new consensus? It seems so to me. Maybe that is their innovation! And I would add that this new consensus, as I said in my post, is really just a renewal of the old warrant on the Dharma. So, we have quickly returned back to the old. Damn. How can we escape this orbit of the Dharma? I have an idea: post-traditional radicality!
But who will do the dirty work?
I’m not sure when you say “traditional”, whether you mean actually traditional (i.e. pre-1850), or things like the export Zen of the 1920s, or the Thai Forest Tradition circa 1960, both of which were already heavily modernized. Everyone on the list is modern, not traditional, in this sense.
There is an explicit alliance among many of them to develop a movement, as you suggest.
I’d agree that most are not offering any dramatic innovations over what had been accomplished in the late 1800s and early 1900s. So, I wouldn’t be happy if they accomplished a new hegemony. But, inasmuch as they offer an alternative that is helpful especially for the post-Boomer generation, I’m supportive for now.
I consider all of Buddhist history fair game to ransack for fragments that may be of use in the present and future. I don’t believe any past Buddhism is workable as a complete system for the future.
The more Buddhist history I have read, the more I am impressed by two things: (1) the constant, extraordinary innovation, which has always had to be obscured with rhetoric of traditionalism; and (2) the ways that Buddhism is continually reconfigured to serve power interests. As I unravel these double obfuscations, it is ever more difficult to take Buddhism’s presentations of itself seriously.
Still, I think there’s something of value there; or, rather, many different things that can be valuable to different people in different contexts. The difficult task is to sort out what those are, and how they can be re-used in ways that serve present and future needs.
Since there’s no bright-line test for what it is to “be a Buddhist,” refuge is not a fact but a stance. So far, it seems more useful to say “I am a Buddhist, but” than “I am not a Buddhist, but.”
“Post-traditional radicality” sounds nice, but what does it mean? Again, I think all the Western Buddhisms are post-traditional. That’s not interesting. Post-modernity, post-systems—that would get me interested.
Radicality: what’s that? It’s fine to reject all of Buddhism, but then you can just forget about it. That’s not radical, it’s just de-conversion. A useful move forward needs to figure out what to accept as well as what to reject. And, if that move is going to do something more than just recapitulate the modernist reforms of 1850-1990, it has to be based on a new understanding of what Buddhism has been, and a new set of values to re-weave it around.
“Who” is indeed the question. Is anyone up to the task?
David: Re: “The central modernist dream of finding certainty in systematic foundations is over”
This strikes my as funny–since the most common definition of “modernism” is the rejection of “certainty” or totalizing systems (think Joyce, Kandinsky, etc.). We are alway convinced that we have finally given up that “old-fashioned’ belief in some certain ground–we have been telling ourselves that in the English-speaking world at least since Hobbes. In the discipline of English, many works that are considered “postmodern” predate modernism by centuries–and we just don’t seem to grasp that we always think we have just made some radical break with those who went before us. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is a universal feature of human cultures, but it certainly seems to exist from the very first glimmer of capitalism.
As for all those “post-traditionalists,” they may be willing to drop the superficial trappings to different degrees, to substitute new marketing techniques, but they are all absolutely devoted to the exact same thing: the insistence that there is some kind of world-transcendent essence which will live on in eternal bliss one this world ends. This atman-that-is-not-one is the one thing that they all promote, and in every case it leads to politically conservatism and the embrace of capitalism as inevitable. What is important is not how “traditional” they perceive themselves as being, but that they all want to produce capitalist ideology in exactly the way Zizek explained to us years ago.
O’Connell’s article is just another deployment of the claim of “subversion” as a way to do the exact same thing with new labels. In the 90s, my wife organized a panel at a conference called “Adventures in Subversion,” about how no text could be taught unless it was claimed that it was somehow (usually “subtly”) subverting capitalism, patriarchy, racism, or some other evil. Back then, it turned out that every “great” work of Literature ever written was radical and subversive–and all so subtly so that they never managed to change a thing. This claim of “subversion” was just a way to block any real change in the discipline, to keep right on teaching the same exact texts in the same exact way, with a slightly different tone and some new terminology. That strikes me as what all of these groups are doing–just reproducing the old bourgeois-humanist secular-christianity, in which we will all go to heaven if we are just good capitalists (and are not so self-absorbed and childish as to be politically active!). It is just the same capitalist Christianity Weber described, repackaged as “Buddhism” for a new generation.
Hmm, yes, well, I’ve explicitly repudiated the eternal bliss selling point:
I think that you are right that this is pervasive, and that rejecting it is a difficult and necessary way forward.
RE #3: “(1) the constant, extraordinary innovation, which has always had to be obscured with rhetoric of traditionalism; and (2) the ways that Buddhism is continually reconfigured to serve power interests.”
This comment came up while I was posting my previous comment. This seems to me (as I’ve said before on this blog) the best way to understand the history of Buddhism. Moments of innovation, of the emergence of truth, and long centuries of containment by those in power. These moments of innovation are still, I think, potentially powerful, but the work of extracting them from the overwhelming mass of obscuration and the enormous conservative “consensus” of the atman-buddhists is, well daunting on a good day.
Amen to all that.
I question that I have on reading this (as with most things on this site) is, after we’re done tearing down various Buddhisms, what exactly are Glenn and others proposing as a means of moving forward? What constructive plan of action is there or is this simply a long-winded site dedicated to deconstructing Buddhism in order to de-convert people from it and then they just go along with their lives? What is the alternative being offered that is better than the Dharma, exactly?
I know that that distinction between modern and traditional is a feature of the current consensus rhetoric; but, again, I do not see it born out in reality. These modern forms preserve many aspects of traditional x-buddhisms, if often in disguised–modernized–forms. There has never been a break in the development of x-buddhisms. We can even find elements of “Buddhist modernism” in the Pali canon (primacy of meditation; appeal to reason; eschewal of devotional practices and ritual; and more). What makes the current list of “provocateurs” indistinguishable from traditionalists is the same thing that renders them impotent as agents of x-buddhist change: subscription to The Dharma. That they differ on which elements of The Dharma to feature does not constitute radicalism or post-tradionalism, it simply highlights the fact they are beholden to the identical ideological frame of reference.
Yes, we are, at this blog. We are presenting a real alternative to the type of investigation that counts as radical in x-buddhist circles. If you read around you’ll see that there is no wholesale rejection of x-buddhism here. What we reject is what Tom Pepper has shown to be reactionary and obscurantist usages of x-buddhism. Unlike the radicals mentioned in the post, we still hold out for the possibility that x-buddhism offers us truths.
Al (#8). Your question operates out of the very x-buddhist assumptions that we are examining. Better than the Dharma? Who says that there is some failsafe ideological system that can somehow be shown, once and for all, to be better than “the Dharma”? What if you threw out such hopeful systems-oriented belief? What would you have then, what material would you be left to think with?
Another way that your question merely shows you to be beholden to an unthinking devotion to x-buddhism is that you assume that there is some practice outside of human thought, discourse, and engagement that will save us all. What if what we’re doing here is “moving forward”? What if, at the end of it all, you have to answer those questions of yours, not the wise architect of some “constructive plan”? What’s your plan, Al? Or do you leave those matters to The Dharma?
By the way, there is a ton of material on this blog about “practice.” But beware: it’s pretty “long-winded”–more of your x-buddhist underwear showing.
I certainly resonate with a desire to be more radical and question foundations of Buddhism. I also think it is frequently the case that capitalism reinvents itself to include its own critique, and we might be seeing that in the movements and individuals listed here.
I would like to point out that perhaps the names listed here do not form as much of a consensus as the author would indicate. Having attended the most recent Buddhist Geeks conference as a volunteer, I expected to find a consensus but was shocked by how heterogeneous the group was in fact, in terms of practice, ideology, politics, embrace of technology, etc. At one point a speaker quoted Zizek in a round table discussion, specially the idea that Western Buddhism fits perfectly into consumer capitalism. Real dialogue and critique is happening, and I was impressed that is was allowed to happen at this conference. That said, there was also a strange rant from Tami Simon which seemed like Gordon Gekko giving a presentation about the virtue of charging money for dharma. I couldn’t understand why she didn’t just say that dharma is universal and freely available in many forms and what her business sells isn’t dharma but media–seems to me like that would be a better rationale that wasn’t so blatantly capitalist.
In any case, I think the discussion is happening, at least to some extent. Regarding Tom’s comment above, I take the Western Buddhists at their word when they say they are not atman Buddhists or pitching enlightenment. Certainly everyone on this list has argued strongly against false notions of idealized enlightenment, repeatedly, and appears to me to genuinely wrestle with the reason for practice when there is no light at the end of the tunnel. If anything, it is extraordinarily rare to find a Western Buddhist who promotes any notion of atman as real, existing, and liberating. But again, I don’t think there is a consensus here so much as an ongoing discussion about such matters.
Like David Chapman above, I am also curious what exactly is meant by radicalism here. Radical how specifically? Radical like Jesus saying give all your money to the poor, or radical like what exactly? I agree that we should be skeptical of empty rhetoric, and not understanding what this radicalism refers to it remains an empty signifier for me.
Glen Wallis (#9) “Unlike the radicals mentioned in the post, we still hold out for the possibility that x-buddhism offers us truths.”
Which ones, out of interest? (sorry if there’s a link on this blog I’ve missed)
I think that there was a break, or at least drastic innovation, in Buddhism in the late 1800s. I recommend reading McMahan about this. Or, to advertise like a capitalist roader, I’ve written a dozen or so pieces about that history, starting at http://meaningness.wordpress.com/2011/06/16/the-making-of-buddhist-modernism/ (and with some unrelated posts interspersed).
What Americans think of as “traditional Buddhism” is mostly actually mid-1800s Western ideologies that were exported to Asia, had some Sanskrit jargon sprinkled on them, and then exported back. This is important to understand for two reasons. One is that we have cogent critiques of those ideologies in their Western guise, and once you realize that “Buddhism” is actually Romanticism and Protestantism and Scientism, you can cut through most of the bullshit. The other is that this stuff was actually useful, to some degree, in some ways, and so it may be inspiring to see that we can, indeed, weave together bits of tradition with Western ideas to produce something of value.
As far as The Dharma, barf. I say “Buddhisms,” and I say they are ideologies. To varying extents, they reflect genuine insights, and all have their blind spots.
I don’t see that, so far, any Buddhism has broken out of the circa-1900 modernist assumptions. You are trying to break up those assumptions; so am I. I hope many others will join in that effort.
A few comments.
#8: Al, what’s amazing to me is how many times folks come to this site and refuse to argue with the points being made but rather dismiss the entire project at hand because an alternative hasn’t been formulated. First off, many alternatives have been discussed on the blog. As Tom would suggest, do some reading and think a bit. Also, the idea of not criticizing something because a better alternative has not been established is utterly ridiculous. The whole point is not to jump to the end, but look at what’s there, critique it and see if anything is left.
This brings me to my other point. It may be too simplistic, but the issue at hand with these new radical x-buddhisms (the new voice of buddhism, practical buddhism etc.) is precisely the Dharma, Sangha and Buddha. Working in that context is nothing radical and is blinding to critiques that can be seen only from the non-buddhist perspective. I’m reminded of my Christian days in theology school. Drop God from the conversation and many, many problems are solved! Any new Christian Church might seem radical (conservatively or liberally), but you still have to ask Jesus into your heart (whatever the hell that even means).
Duff (#11). Thanks for joining our discussion. One of the positions on this blog is that the disagreements between x-buddhists is not evidence of ideological heterogeneity. What binds together all of those people you witnessed at the Buddhist Geeks conference is belief in a saving dispensation, called “The Dharma,” or simply “Buddhism.” Arguing about what constitutes the proper or relevant features of that Dharma for our time is precisely the mark of an x-buddhist. I call this tendency to bicker about the dharmic details “exemplificatve braggadocio,” or “the detail fetish.” So, you have really only depicted a predictable scene, a scene of what we can call decisional consensus.
I agree with you that “the discussion is happening.” My claim is that it is not, and can not, happen robustly and courageously enough among x-buddhists. One of the claims that O’Connell makes in his Elephant Journal post is becoming a common rhetorical feature in western x-buddhism:
I challenge you to find a single instance of an engagement between an x-buddhist figure and “other sources of knowledge” where x-buddhism has not prevailed. Buddhists do not so much as engage with local knowledges as look to them to validate what they already believe to be true.
I would argue that the exact opposite is the case. Certainly, none of the people mentioned subscribes to an unequivocal anatman. I know that they all say that they do. That is where you differ from those of us writing on this blog. We do not “take the Western Buddhists at their word when they say they are not atman Buddhists or pitching enlightenment.” A working premise of this blog is that, until otherwise shown, an x-buddhist teacher is a person who does not do/believe what he says he does, and does not really say what he does/believes. Again, be careful not to confuse rhetoric with reality.
What is radicalism? It occurs, in the first instance, in thought itself. Can you think, say, anatman or anicca to their limit? “To their limit” means far past what wise sensei or the precious lama or the secular-buddhist or the “atheist-“buddhist will permit. Try it: what happens when you think some x-buddhist term of your choice to the limit? My prediction is that you will continue to think a long time after you’ve exhausted x-buddhism’s own postulates. Maybe such thinking will suggest to you specific forms of practice. Who knows what will happen once you unbind thought from “The Dharma”? Let’s face it, thinking and “The Dharma” do not always have shared interests.
RE #11: “I take the Western Buddhists at their word when they say they are not atman Buddhists”
That’s exactly the problem. They are teaching about the eternally abiding and unchangeable “true” consciousness, and simply insisting it isn’t an atman, and so many people believe it. It’s like saying, look, we believe in magic one-horned horses, but we do not believe in unicorns! And everyone says “oh, this is the true non-unicorn teaching!”
oh my god
Soylent yellow is X-buddhist people!
I thought he wanted to know if you are communists seeking to overthrow buddhism and convert buddhists to your own dogma.
or maybe this is like that other movie
where the guy thinks he is helping the kid who sees dead ideologies
then at the end we realize it is his dead ideology
(re #15) Ok, I think I understand now. Basically you are doing open-ended inquiry and philosophy instead of confining yourself to Buddhist ideology, and that is what is radical about the inquiry here.
Honestly, I think you are probably only 50% right that the people you listed here are also confining themselves to Buddhist ideology. From my actual conversations with these people and with others at the Buddhist Geeks conference, I have to say that it doesn’t seem to be the case that people are only operating out of a Buddhist framework. Sometimes that is indeed the case and perhaps limits thinking unnecessarily. On the other hand, I don’t necessarily think it is a bad thing to have an ideology, which is to say a working set of premises upon which to have a conversation, organize a religious group, etc.
I tend to be more along the lines of what this project is doing (again assuming I now understand what it is doing), that is I was trained as a philosopher and tend to question everything…which itself has its benefits and drawbacks.
(re #11) It’s possible that the people on this list all subscribe to an atman Buddhism without knowing it, consciously denying it, and never affirming it, but I don’t know what criteria would show that they indeed do promote atman Buddhism if not saying it, indicating it, making arguments that rely on it, etc. Perhaps you have written something somewhere which I can read that would clarify?
I only know one Buddhist who affirms atman, and pretty much everybody else online argues he’s wrong, the author of the Zennist blog.
oops last comment should say re: 16
Also FWIW, I have thought about atman as well as meditated some to the point where I don’t think there is such a thing. My life seems to be somewhat better as a result of meditation, but I haven’t found any atman anywhere.
Right, please let me rephrase the question I put in (#12):
Glen Wallis (#9) “Unlike the radicals mentioned in the post, we still hold out for the possibility that x-buddhism offers us truths.”
On what grounds do you hold this possibility? There will be enunciable reasons for the assertion of such a possibility, I’m sure of it, and I would be very interested in hearing what they are. What will be of interest will be evaluating these reasons in what I see as the two clear domains of Buddhism: its textual domain, no different from any other written philosophy, and its yogic domain, the set of experiential practices. In which of these two domains is this possibility of truth to be found, I wonder?
6. ‘These moments of innovation are still, I think, potentially powerful, but the work of extracting them from the overwhelming mass of obscuration and the enormous conservative “consensus” of the atman-buddhists is, well daunting on a good day.’
This was personally the comment that most tickles my fancy and is precisely what I’m interested in, and in spite of what Glen had to say to Al, I’m also left wanting at times when engaging with the material here, however much I may be stimulated by the critique that goes on.
I’m the author of said piece on Post-Traditional Buddhism, which sort of began as an exercise in writing and developed into what has been critiqued. Glen commented on the Elephant piece and I raised a question to him there that I’d still appreciate having an answer to. Considering quite a few folk have raised similar questions about what’s left after the deconstruction, as Glen and Tom both allude to Buddhism having some properties worth salvaging, or as the comment from Tom states, ‘potentially powerful’ material, I’d like to know what you consider to be an alternative on the practical end, as in the doing of Buddhism as a stripped down set of propositions about life and the world and a series of relatively straight forward techniques for engaging with one’s experience of living in that world. There is much said about thought, but not so much about the concept and practice of meditation as it might exist and be engaged with as a non-x-Buddhist phenomenon.
Glen you teach meditation. Could you explain what you teach and how you ensure it doesn’t sustain x-Buddhism as it has been defined on this blog? Perhaps what you are doing with students would help those of us interested in ‘thoroughly-traditional-post-traditional’ Buddhism to consider alternatives based on your own work on the more practical side of teaching techniques of meditation and intelligent engagement with Buddhist thought and possibilities with students.
As for the atman issue, I’d like to comment, but I am not clear enough on the issue as yet. It’s quite possible I am caught up in the same fallacy. I’ll get back to you on that.
The additional questions I raised in reply to your comment at the Elephant Journal might be worth posting here after as they perhaps capture the themes that some avid readers of your blog are working with in response to the tough material here.
Well, truth comes from thinking and critique and not texts or ‘yogic’ practices. This site holds out for the possibility of truth, not the inevitability, as x-buddhism assumes. Read some of the articles on this site and some of your questions will be answered.
Comments #20-25. We have dealt with questions of “truths” (for me always plural) and “evental truth” or “truth procedures” (Tom Pepper employing Badiou) and transitive/intransitive realms of truth (drawing from Bhaskar and Nagarjuna) as well as practice or “praxis” throughout this blog. Can you start by reading the pieces with those terms in their titles? You will also find material on these topics at our companion e-journal, non + x.
I will say one thing about it, though. If you insist on asking your questions about truths and practice from any sort of x-buddhist/spiritualist framework, you will be sorely disappointed in our discussion of the topics. Since we do not play with the loaded dice used by the x-buddhists our game be will be wholly unfamiliar to you. It will take time to learn our rules. And, by the way, Duff, we are most emphatically doing neither philosophy nor “open-ended inquiry” here. If you want to know what we’re doing, why don’t you take the time required to get a handle on it?
Matthew (#25). Do you want me to post that comment of yours in your name, or do you want to do it yourself?
Matthew, I’d be interested to hear you respond to Glenn’s critique rather than simply dismiss it because ‘non-buddhists don’t have a better solution than buddhism’. With this, you make Glenn’s point yet again. Assuming meditation, whatever that is, is some how a practical tool for life is not the place to start for a non-buddhist, so i’m not sure you’ll get an answer on that. Also, I don’t see this project as deconstruction. We’re not starting with Buddhism and deconstructing it hoping to find a ‘better’ buddhism as the so called post traditionalists are. That starts with the assumption that Buddhism is it and we just need to find the ultimate kernel of truth in it. I think Glenn’s invitation to Al bears mentioning again. Take an x-buddhist notion and think it all the way through. What’s left? I have and I’ve found it to be a hell of a lot more liberating than circular rumination about the dharma in the context of the dharma.
Check out the intro articles on this site. They lay out the project pretty well.
27. ‘Glen you teach meditation. Could you explain what you teach and how you ensure it doesn’t sustain x-Buddhism as it has been defined on this blog? ‘
I’d still like you to answer this question. This is not a sort of challenge, or desire to compare, I’m genuinely interested in how you do it. Maybe I can learn something from you?
The idea of truths in the plural sits well with me as the idea of a singular truth seems patently absurd.
Craig, I wouldn’t say I’m dismissing Glen’s comments although to be honest I very much doubt I’ll arrive at your conclusions, but that doesn’t mean I’m not here and happy to play and the dice on my end are not all loaded. How could they be, unless you have me pegged, fixed an labelled as a dreaded x-Buddhist zombie?
I have checked out a lot of the articles here, it doesn’t mean I’ve necessarily swallowed whole the conclusions of them, or that I’ve been able to appreciate the ramifications of such ideas to the full. Like most of the knowledge I have, it’s a work in progress.
As for the rest. I shall respond later with the useful bits from the Elephant Journal when work’s over. Teachign beckons…
With all due respect, this being your blog Glenn, what you seem to be doing here is telling people to read elsewhere about what you are doing here. While I can perfectly understand you wanting people to read your texts, and not wanting to have to repeat yourself, I may suggest that some small investment of time, some sort of FAQ if you like, might further encourage your readers to make the time investment to read more of the texts here.
I am cognizant of Badiou, of Nagarjuna and of their respective ideas of truth (or truths). I am under no illusions with respect to expectations from this blog, you or anybody else, so am unlikely to be disappointed. My question was querying an assertion that you yourself had made, that “we still hold out for the possibility that x-buddhism offers us truths”, and the query was directed as to the form of these possibilities. Of course you are under no obligation to invest your time in pointing to possible answers to these questions, and in that sense I really don’t expect an answer from you either.
Thank you for this blog, on the other hand, the majority of texts I’ve read here are very engaging.
RE #21: It is my assertion that there are primarily two kinds of atman-buddhists: 1) Those who assert the existence of a transcendent and permanent self, but think it is not an “atman” if they simply don’t use that term (this would include, e.g., Thich Nhat Hanh and Alan Wallace), and 2) those who assert the non-existence of an atman, but whose arguments depend on the existence of some kind of atman which they can’t, or won’t, notice. Most of those on this list are of the latter kind (McLeod, for instance, is the former, as I have pointed out in previous discussions on this blog).
For instance, the Secular Buddhists’ obsession with non-thought, with achieving states of thought-free contentment, is a delusion, and depends on the existence of a self that is separate from all causes and conditions. They refuse to notice this, and become angry if you point out their error (an error, by the way, which has been pointed out for centuries in Western philosophy, and for millennia in Buddhist thought). This kind of obsession with reaching states in which thought is absent certainly does have warrant in the Buddhist tradition but it is always one of the strategies of containment, meant to subtly reinforce the attachment to the sense of self while deluding the practitioner that she is escaping exactly that attachment.
The acceptance of the empiricist/positivist idea of the reductive atomistic self (the “self” of neuroscience and psychology that the Geeks like so much) also depends on the existence of a subtle self. Hume pointed this out hundreds of years ago, and despite centuries of effort nobody has even come close to defeating his arguments: the empiricist (“scientific”) idea of the self as produced in the brain by its interaction with the world always depends on some rhetorically hidden concept of a “self” that is NOT produced—a “soul.”
No matter how they proclaim their acceptance of anatman, they all assume the existence of some kind of atman they want to build powerful attachment to and so avoid real thought and change in the world.
RE 20, 24, 30: As for the issue of the “truths” of Buddhism, as Craig suggests, they are not going to be found in the texts or the practices in the sense that the x-buddhists would suggest. That is, there is no collection of “true” passages or statements in Buddhist texts that can be held up as scriptural truth. There are, however, some concepts and strategies for forcing the appearance of a truth. I am here relying on Badiou’s concept of truth (see my essay “Naturalizing Buddhism Without Being Reductive” in non+X) as something that is excluded from the present understanding of the World, from our existing “knowledge” or discourse—as such, it cannot be given in a clear statement—doctrine or dogma is always the very opposite of truth. Practice can certainly help us see the Truth, or at least the gaps in “knowledge,” but it is not some mystical, intuitive, “ineffable” experience that reveals the truth—these claims about mystical experiences are always and everywhere mistaking delusion and attachment to a self for profound insight. Practice is much simpler than that—that is, it is not mystical or complex. David Hume, with no Buddhist teacher or lengthy silent retreats or mystical mind-to-mind transmission, was able to see through “introspection” that there really wasn’t any core self. Nobody would call him a spiritual master, and he achieve this direct, experiential knowledge of the lack or aporia in the reigning empiricist “knowledge” of his day by simply thinking about it. Of course, there is more to practice that this—we can practice to produce a more thorough and satisfying interpellation into those ideologies we consciously choose as the ones most likely to reduce human suffering; that is, we can practice in ways that make our intentionally adopted ideologies just as enjoyable as the destructive and “self”-centered delusory ones we are raised in.
“RE 20, 24, 30: As for the issue of the “truths” of Buddhism”
Of course there is no possibility of “truths” of Buddhism outside of its texts and praxis. But yes Tom, I would agree with much that you say in your reply here, thank you. I have yet to read the essay you point to, which I will endeavor to do, but if it refers to the Badiouian ‘event’ then yes, even Badiou himself recognizes that this touches on points of theology.
I am suggesting that you read around here. All of the texts at non + x, other than Issue 7, were originally posted here. We moved them over there for archiving.
As for an FAQ, I wonder if you’ll find the pages helpful; for example, “Why X-Buddhism.” Those pages are a bit out of date–things have moved along since I wrote them–but should give you a rough orientation to what’s happening here.
Concerning my statement that “we still hold out for the possibility that x-buddhism offers us truths,” I mean that concepts such as anatman, anicca, paticcasamuppada, sunyata, papanca, and so forth, may well be identifying indisputable facts of consciousness-independent reality. That, for instance, phenomena lack an abiding essence is, perhaps, true regardless of whether there are humans around to verify that fact or not. Perhaps other x-buddhist terms, such as, dukkha or panna/prajna, identify mind-dependent facts of human existence. Maybe. The entire purpose of this blog is to create a critical practice that enables us to considers the relevance of such x-buddhist terms, and to do so unbeholden to the x-buddhist network of postulation. When that network is permitted to operate in the analysis of the concepts the effect is deleterious. The network inevitably over-determines the analysis. Is this not to be expected? After all, the network governs the terms and concepts. So all we ever see when we perform the analysis within the parameters dictated by x-buddhism is x-buddhism–we’ve gotten nowhere. Unlike x-buddhists, who are content to roast platitudinous chestnuts in the comforting glow of the dharmic refuge, we are out in the cold, on the hunt.
“….we are most emphatically doing neither philosophy…”
Arguing over the existence and labelling of atman, name dropping famous philosophers and philosophical ideas, chewing over the nature of consciousness, self, language, politics etc. – forgive me but this looks ve-e-e-ery much like philosophising to me. Honestly, if you hadn’t said you were not philosophising, I would swear that’s exactly what you folk were doing….
RE 34: Well, there you go John–you should understand what terms like “name-dropping” and “philosophy” mean before you “swear” to anything. You might look less like a moron.
Matthew (#29). At the institute where I work, I am asked to teach using some x-buddhist framework. (It was founded by Korean Mahayana Buddhists.) The x-buddhist material that I work with comes from the Pali canon. I do not refer to the commentaries. I treat the Pali texts as whole, raw data, complete in themselves (as x-buddhist material, that is). I am interested in this material only in the first instance, as a point of departure. We think alongside of the x-buddhist material, and then go to where our thinking suggests we go. The x-buddhist material gets left behind pretty quickly. Still, my students want to understand something of the x-buddhist context, so we do study the models, concepts, and theories of the (mainly) Pali tradition. But the theories and practices are subjected to intense questioning and critique. The result of what ensues differs from person to person. This intellectual work thus cannot be excluded from “practice.” It is true that we also do seated “meditation.” The quotation marks are meant to signal that that term does not hold up to our scrutiny, since it–as it turns out–is dependent on further postulates and values that derive from, and insist on, ideological commitments that are not necessarily given in the practice itself. Still, we use the term “meditation” as shorthand for sitting in stillness and silence with attention directed toward some object or to the sensorium. I understand this practice to be on a continuum with the more robust intellectual work. Contrary to x-buddhist rhetoric, ancient and current, both, that is, involve thinking. We are learning to think better. To use some contemporary x-buddhist terms, we are also learning to judge and react better. (And no, I can’t say what “better” means for anyone other than myself, other than that it must surely include self-awareness.)
That attempt at an explanation will only make matters worse.
My extra-curricular sitting practice employs no doctrinal framework. You can get a sense of the direction of the group’s practice from the texts we discuss after sitting for an hour. What we are left with, in terms of “practice” is simply sitting in still, quiet observation. I don’t believe that such sitting has any sort of saving power.
As an example of a text we discuss, here’s the one from last week. It is by E.M Cioran, from On The Heights of Despair.
Truth, What a Word!
The idea of liberation through the suppression of
desire is the greatest foolishness ever conceived by
the human mind. Why cut life short, why destroy it
for so little profit as total indifference and the
illusion of freedom? How dare you speak of life after
you have stifled it in yourself? I have more respect
for the man with thwarted desires, unhappy and
desperate in love, than for the cold and proud
philosopher. A world full of philosophers, what a
terrifying prospect! They should be all wiped out so
that life could go on naturally—blindly and
I hate the wisdom of these men unmoved by
truths, who do not suffer with their nerves, their
flesh, and their blood. I like only vital, organic
truths, the offspring of our anxiety. Those whose
thoughts are alive are always right; there are no
arguments against them. And even if there were,
they would not last long. I wonder how there can still
be men searching for the truth.
Glenn, many thanks for your thoughtful response. I think I now have a much clearer idea of your project here. As another point of interest, I note that you mention paticcasamuppāda as a one of a possible set of “indisputable facts of consciousness-independent reality”. Was that meant with any irony? That is to say, can we come to an understanding of dependent origination which in some way is part of a mind-independent reality? If we do assert the truth of such a reality, surely paticcasamuppāda would have to be one of the x-buddhist terms we would deem as irrelevant?
Before I respond to some of these really interesting points / questions / etc. I wanted to first point out one thing that I’ve found a little bizarre about this conversation. Glenn, I e-mailed you several weeks ago, inviting you to do an interview on Buddhist Geeks. I was (and still am) genuinely interested in hearing you talk about some of the stuff you guys are exploring here, as well as hear the criticisms of x-buddhism. I pointed out that we had done similar types of interviews, and pointed out David Chapman’s interview on Consensus Buddhism, which to my ears had many overlaps with some of the stuff I was seeing you, and others here, write about. All these critiques are awesome, to me, as they challenge all sorts of hidden assumptions, and I’m all for exploring them out in the open. And I would include myself in the list of those folks who they challenge, so great!
What I find interesting is that you declined to be interviewed and said you would only participate in a conversation with me, an “x-buddhist” via the written word, because being an x-buddhist I would naturally use loaded dice. You then proceeded to drop some pretty provocative (and I would also add “dickish”) comments on our blog site, and then this post, basically claiming that we’re using rhetoric that doesn’t reflect reality. What I find interesting is that this whole time you’ve been forcing the dialogue and discussion to happen in the context and parameters of your choosing. It can only be written, in can only be asynchronous, and we can’t hear each others or see each other. Have you noticed that you’re forcing the dialogue to be held in that container? Do you see that this kind of hidden ideological aggression, of pushing others to only engage on your terms, is itself a characteristic of the kind of ideological thinking that you’re also criticizing? Ok, with that out of the way, I will happily jump into the fray, and agree to play by your set of rules. I don’t think doing so will ultimately lead to much new, in the way of understanding, but it’s a start. 🙂
First, I would concur with David’s use of the term post-traditional to mean what came after the mid-1800’s (essentially what came after the Industrial revolution). I would also use the term pre-modern to describe that period. In that sense, and just agreeing again with what David has pointed out, all of what is being called x-buddhism is post-traditional. The other term, and this one I consider differently is the term post-modern. This, instead, seems to be pointing to an exhausting of the ideological tendency to see the world through a seemingly cohesive model, set of beliefs, etc. It’s whats beyond the modern mindset, and its tendency to assume that we can integrate and resolve all paradoxes that arise (a pointless task I’ve found). The emerging of post-modern buddhisms is something that I see as just that, emerging. I wouldn’t really claim that Buddhist Geeks represents that, as most of what I’ve been experiencing is the breaking down of assumptions around how much we can meaningfully know through models or ideologies and the interesting ramifications that has on how we’ve been approaching the work of Buddhist Geeks. I’ve had my own battles with thoroughly modern Buddhists and I’ve interviewed many of them, asked them questions, been curious about how they’re looking at things. I’ve also declined to be involved in a long-term teacher training program in the Insight Meditation world, because of how they rankled at the fact that I was associated with, and had studied, with folks whose perspective they didn’t agree with. They wanted to continue doing things their way, weren’t interested in any different forms or experiments, so I said, “fuck it.”
I’ve also interviewed folks and talked to folks that don’t appear to be stuck on models and ideologies as much, and there’s a fluidity in the conversation and a breadth of where it can go that constantly surprises me. I think it takes real conversation and relationship to begin to see who is identified with the modern mindset and who is more unshackled from ideological thinking. There are a lot of ideological assumptions that I still bring to the table, and so it’s really the friction of real discussion (and disagreement) that seems to reveal something which is not so ideologically (and again not in the pre-modern sense, but in the modern sense) driven.
This whole discussion I consider part of that process, that we’re all in, of moving beyond (in the sense of it getting torn apart) this particular mindset. And obviously, not everyone is doing that. Not everyone who engages with Buddhist Geeks is doing that. But I don’t see that as a problem, and I don’t see it as a problem to listen to modern ideologies and reflect on them. In fact, the method I’ve been using with Buddhist Geeks, which wasn’t really an intentional method, was to become familiar with as many modern ideologies as I could, to present them, and to invite other people into the struggle of having so many disparate and contradictory perspectives. In the beginning, I think my intention was to try to “integrate” them, but now I find that a pointless exercise.
I also don’t really really buy the x-buddhist critique because it sounds ideological to me. There are this big group of “x-buddhists” and all of them are stuck in this mode of thinking… That’s just not accurate, and it’s obvious if you engage with these people (who are not static by the way) and see their inner process that many are also going through something similar. But there seems to be some refusal in doing so, from this group, and I can’t help but notice a lot of unquestioned assumptions, ideological positioning and aggression, and rhetorical that doesn’t reflect reality.
Take for example: “Unlike x-buddhists, who are content to roast platitudinous chestnuts in the comforting glow of the dharmic refuge, we are out in the cold, on the hunt.” What is this if not empty rhetoric that doesn’t reflect reality? Who says that all the people above are taking comfort in some sort of reassuring refuge? I for one am constantly on the hunt, and constantly questioning. The fact that you’re jumping to conclusions about knowing my interior experience, and knowing me, through a cursory glance of the work I’ve done, just illustrates one of the main problems with modern ideologies–they give us the comfortable sense that because we have an explanatory framework, that we thus understand the “other” and they can be easily place inside a larger category and dismissed (such as the “x-buddhism” category). Are you not falling prey to the very things you’re critiquing? And so what if you are? We’re constantly, as one of my friends put it, teaching what we most need to learn. It’s an embarassing place to be in, but what’s not embarassing about not really knowing what’s happening here?
RE 37: I can’t understand the argument here. If pratityasamutpada were true about the universe regardless of whether or not we know it is true, why would that make it irrelevant? It would seem to me that it would then be very important to understand this concept.
This is going to revolve around how we define idealism. I rather like the explanation given in this article’s section on “Controversy over Vasubandhu as “Idealist”” here ~ http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/vasubandhu/#ConOveVasIde Pratityasamutpada, dependent origination, in my understanding, does point to a mind-dependent (idealist) position and not to a realist (mind-independent) one. Asserting the latter position as a truth negates that of the former.
Amrtakundali (#37). You might find the comments at the end of Raw Remarks on Meditation, Ideology, and Nihilism relevant to your question.
This question of an absolute contingency (which term is a good candidate for paticcasamuppada, I think) independent of the any human correlate, is being discussed by nihilists-realists such as Quintin Meillesioux and Ray Brassier. They want to dislodge the human as the primary determinate of what we may think. We may think, for instance, in ways that are counter to our narcissistic need to maintain our species’ self-esteem, as Brassier says. In any case, “dependent origination” or “radical contingency,” or simply “paticcasamuppada,” if it’s true, was true before the advent of humans and will be true after the death of the last man. Human need, human consciousness, has absolutely no bearing on its truth or falsity. Unlike science, I happen to be less interested in that particular time frame than I am in whether “paticcasamuppada” might serve as a name for an immanent truth, for a process that serves to define my existence. But shouldn’t we be interested either way? Maybe this paragraph from Brassier’s Nihil Unbound will interest you.
Yes, I’ve read a reasonable amount along the lines of speculative realism (sounds familiar here!) and object orientated ontology. For me, this kind of approach reasonably quickly slides in what has been called Meinong’s jungle. I also think that while human narcissism is a clear reality, denying a differential treatment of the human has the political tendency of obstaculizing the equally clear responsibility humans have towards sentient life on this planet. What is more, when we talk of consciousness we often talk of it in terms of a human characteristic, which again is nothing other than a narcissistic projection. For an interesting scientific speculation of the possible role of human-independent consciousness in physical reality you might like to look up Penrose’s Orch-OR.
Right you are squire, I should open a dictionary with my thick, calloused, yoeman fingers and acquaint myself with some long words before addressing such learned gentlemens as yourselves. Very soory guv, I won’t do it again.
Yes, John, I know, it is terribly elitist of me to suggest that you should understand the words someone is using before you tell them they are wrong. Of course you have the right to proclaim something is wrong without understanding it–that is the American way! It is as American as baseball, and motherhood, and massacring foreigners, and being a moron! What would the world be like today, without our constitutional right to stupidity?
On a more serious note, re 40: I still cannot see why you would say that dependent origination is an inherently idealist concept. I don’t really see what the definition of the concept has to do with whether Vasubandhu was an idealist or not. I guess what I’m curious about is what exactly your understanding of dependent origination IS? I cannot conceive of an understanding of this concept that would necessarily entail idealism. It seems to me that it would ultimately require realism.
Hi Vince (#38). Thanks for commenting. I really appreciate it.
Before I can be sure that my response to you is adequate, I need to establish a point of reference. I wonder if the Chapman interview would be a good place to establish such a point of reference. The thrust of the current post, the one under discussion, is that what goes as radical, provocative, post-traditional critique in x-buddhist circles is, from our standpoint, none of these things. In my own terms (Matthias Steingass and Tom Pepper employ their own language, maybe occasionally with overlap), what goes for critique in these circles is really just a case of spinning around together on the decisional pivot. I argue that none of you ever brakes out of that decisional commitment. I read (and hear) that literally—not virtually, literally—every time I go to a text or podcast, etc. So, if you can recommend an interview as an example of what you are calling robust critique, that will be helpful.
Yes, of course. I have conversations with x-buddhists virtually every day of the week. I stand by my contention: all x-buddhists play at dialogue with loaded dice. People with an interest in x-buddhist thought and practice but lacking the decisional commitment—that’s another matter altogether.
Don’t you have to admit, Vince, that our terms of engagement on this blog are the least constraining you’ve seen on a site dealing with Buddhist themes? Compare, for instance, our “rules” with, say, those of the Secular Buddhist Association.
Why, then, does the x-buddhism of the people in O’Connell’s list strike me as precisely all-too “traditional”? Many of the posts on this site argue, if often implicitly, that what constitutes “post-traditional” forms are insubstantial cosmetic elements only. The core belief system of x-buddhism, involving acceptance in The Dharma as the ideological grail, is never questioned. It is, rather, a question of getting the dharmic details right. Can you point me to someone—a text or podcast—who refutes this point?
Who, for instance? I’ll have a good listen and report back.
I agree. But I also think that certain x-buddhist/contemporary American values are playing an insidious role in the discussions that are taking place in x-buddhist venues. The discussion is profoundly constrained by an insistence of some form of “right-speech.” You yourself gave me shit for not speaking “from a place of common human decency and mutual respect.” I responded that “In my opinion, ‘common human decency’ includes directness, and doesn’t need to respect the kind of dialog-crushing preciousness we find in Buddhist circles.” Who is served by determining what tone is acceptable? Certainly not the person who does not already subscribe to the value system. So, how can we really create a discussion that is part of the process of unsticking from old models and ideologies if the very discussion itself demands a degree of conformity or conversion to those very models and ideologies? Hence, our anti-right-speech policy.
I think you mean “non-buddhist critique,” right? Of course it’s ideological! It’s not a case of no ideology; it’s a case of better ideology.
Please, point these out to us! That’s where the fun begins.
It’s figurative speech., Vince. It says: Some of us are not sitting content with the Dharma or any other pre-established system. We are not permitting a system of belief to determine the contours of our thought, or action. There’s an awful lot of daily real-world reality behind that not. That’s the reality that my figurative speech reflects.
Can you recommend someone who is not, point to a text or something? I’d appreciate that.
I am going by text and spoken word. But I agree that I have not spent too much time on your site. Again, can you point me to something that illustrates how you are in the cold, on the hunt?
I analyze texts, rituals, and dialogue, not “others.”
I’m sorry, but I really don’t understand what you mean.
RE # 38:
I for one am certainly always asserting an ideological position, and doing so aggressively.
There is no choice, Vince. When you think you are dealing with “reality” and not ideology, you are simply deluded, and when I point that out to you it will always seem to be aggressive. You take the standard rhetorical stance of the (usually right-wing) ideologue: you are being ideological, but I am dealing with reality directly—your “ideology” doesn’t “reflect” my “reality.” This is, for me, the primary error that Madhyamaka Buddhism sets out to correct.
I would like to echo Glenn’s request for an example of someone who is NOT offering some comforting dharmic refuge. I often listen to, or read, some new intantiation of x-buddhism fully hoping that this time somebody will really carry through on his promise, and every time I am let down—at some point, every x-buddhist I have come across ultimately resorts to the comforting belief in some world-transcendent and immortal atman. Who does not? Surely there is somebody? (I mean somebody, or some group, alive today—surely Nagarjuna and Santideva and Shinran reject the atman in any sense, but is there anybody who agrees with them today?)
Outside of the Critical Buddhist movement in Japan, I cannot think of anyone who would say “It doesn’t matter if it is in the Pali Canon, it is still wrong!” This would be post-traditional. Just not wearing silly robes is not a significant change. And rejecting concepts like karma because they require too much thought and might contradict what one already believes is not “post” anything, it is just being lazy, and producing the worst kind of ideology: an ideology masked as timeless truth about “reality.”
Tom, my understanding of dependent origination is based on what I have read of it in the Madhyamaka texts. Rather than referring you to a list of those texts, there’s quite a nice summary, again in the Stanford encyclopedia, in the conclusion of the article on Nagarjuna:
“It is apparent that Madhyamaka philosophy is opposed to the brand of realism currently found in much of contemporary analytic philosophy (Michael Devitt (1997: 41) characterizes this succinctly as the claim that ‘most current common-sense and scientific physical existence statements are objectively and mind-independently (deflationary) true’). Things that exist in a mind-independent manner exist with svabhāva, even though they might be dependent in all other kinds of ways. (Even if everything out there depended on every other thing, as long as the entire network of dependence-relations was mind-independent it would exist with svabhāva). Of course the Mādhyamika’s talk of “mind-dependence” does not refer to dependence on any individual mind, as a solipsist would assume, but collective dependence on all the minds there are.”
If you like I could point you to the relationship between svabhāva, paticcasamuppāda and suññatā, but I’m going to assume you understand this. As to Vasubandhu, I pointed you to that text merely as an example of a definition of idealism – as I said when I gave you the reference – with references to svabhāva and mind-independence.
So yes, I find it difficult to see how any reconstruction of the paticcasamuppāda doctrine can negate the necessity of a mind-dependent reality. Whether you prefer to call this idealism or realism is immaterial, in a sense, although the article on Vasubandhu clearly points this as being idealism.
How in God’s (or Nagarjuna’s) name was this conclusion arrived at?! What would the character, the nature, of that svabhāva be?
Here’s another one:
“Clearly to affirm the “conventional reality of phenomena” is to reject metaphysical realism and to endorse anti-realism. We can assume that by characterizing our designations and descriptions of objects as “conventional,” Garfield means to reject the realist tenet that there is only one true theory or description of reality. And to claim that no existent exists “from its own side,” independent of the knower, is to oppose the tenet that reality is mind-independent. It is to deny the theory that there are things-in-themselves, to deny that metaphysical realism makes any sense.”
Okay, now at least I see what your understanding of dependent arising is, and why realism migh make the concept seem irrelevant. However, I would say that Westerhoff is just dead wrong on this point. Something that is completely dependent on causes and conditions does not, by definition, have an essential “own nature.” That is just ridiculous.
I would make a distinction between the way in which conventional reality is dependently arisen, and the way in which the universe independent of human is dependently arisen–but that’s another matter. Conventional reality is also dependently arisen in a “mind-independent” way, in that it is dependently arisen even if we do not know that it is (which most human being do not, right?). Affirming the conventional reality of human experiences in no way requires that we reject realism–it simply requires that we reject correspondence theories of truth (on this point, I find Quentin Meillassoux quite convincing).
Quite simply, to use Badiou’s terminology, every truth appears in a World: everything (which really exists) is conventionally understood, but we cannot understand it as we please–there are limits, imposed by reality itself, on how we can divide it up into conceptual categories effectively. To use Westerhoff’s example in the article you mention, to say that Mt Everest is “dependently arisen” in no way requires a mind-dependent reality–we classify certain things as mountains, and certain places as part of that mountain instead of the surrounding countryside, and we could always draw those distinctions differently, or not at all. “Mt Everest” AS Mt Everest only exists conventionally, but the pile of rocks is not in any way dependent on the existence of any minds to continue, and to present Nagarjuna as suggesting some such thing is to assume he was a complete idiot, not to mention ignoring the force of his entire argument. The mountain and the earth are clearly also dependently arisen–this is much more obvious, though. What is the difficult thing about grasping Nagarjuna’s thought is to recognize that being conventionally true, and dependently arisen, does not make something either “illusory” (as most Buddhist scholars assume) or make it dependent on “mind” in any way that entails consciousness. There are many conventionally existent, and very real and powerful, structures, which would cease to exist wihout the existence of humans, but of which most of us, or sometimes all of us, are not consciously aware. They are, then, both dependently arisen, and independent of “mind,” in any conscious sense (although not independent of the existence of minds).
So, if you understand reality as being limited to human social reality, then certainly we could say that reality is mind-dependent; but I still cannot see how the existence of a mind-independent universe would, even on this understanding, make dependent origination irrelevant: it is still, even if we were to limit it to human social reality, an important concept in any realist ontology I can imagine.
I think you may have missed my reference to Penrose and his Orch-OR. This is interesting as a very specifically detailed physical hypothesis which proposed consciousness as a component part of the physical universe. Where would the mind-dependence/independence stand on this view? This is hardly a new concept to Buddhism, as I’ve read HHDL mention that for some people it may be useful to view atoms as having consciousness ‘neutrons’ as some ancient Buddhist schools did. My point is that, from the point of view of physics, we don’t have a clue what consciousness is. It may well turn out to be something akin to oxygen, making our brains a kind of consciousness-lung.
But back to your point of dependent origination being useless in the under the proposal of a mind-independent reality. I think it would be. And all of the modern Buddhist scholars I’ve read to date, like Chinn, are clear that “there is no doubt that a major target of Nagarjuna’s philosophical criticism is metaphysical realism”. Note here that I’m not asserting mind-dependence (idealism) as an alternative to metaphysical realism, but curiously I would reject Chinn when he says “but this does not mean that the critic must hold some alternative metaphysical view.” I don’t think the view-that-is-not-a-view is somehow outside of ideology (it is not concept-independent).
So does Badiou’s ontology propose a subject-independent reality? I can’t answer that question with any certainty, but if it does then I say that Nagarjuna’s pratityasamutpada would be irrelevant to it.
I did just ignore the Penrose reference, because I find the very idea that consciousness is a “component part” of the universe to be idiotic and a waste of time–it is just another silly form of attachment to our selves, to the idea that whatever we as humans happen to be must be how the world is constructed. I have a very good idea of what consciousness is, and so do many others–it is only hard to grasp if you hold onto the insistence that it must NOT be dependently arisen. The reductionists, of course, claim to have dropped this assumption, but it is always implied in any explanation they come up with. Consciousness is the structure of the symbolic/imaginary system that is produced by multiple human beings communicating symbolically. It is not “dualistic” with the material world, but is completely explicable–only once we give up the delusion that it either exists inherently or that it arises atomistically in each individual brain.
Chinn, I think, is just completely mistaken about Nagarjuna. He makes the same mistake as most people do about Hume: the assumption that if there is no ultimate explanation of causality, then there must be no causality at all. This isn’t Hume’s point–our explanations of causality can improve, but only so long as we recall that they are all models, metaphors, constructed for an intention, and not “correspondent” to reality. Hume is absolutely a realist. Nagarjuna, similarly, is a realist, and his claim is that we always know things in some World (in Badiou’s sense) or ideology–that we must recall this truth (which is an ultimate truth), but that we can never know things “truly” without ideology. Chinn wants to hold onto the idea that there can be fully ideology-free knowledge of the world, and so must misrepresent Nagarjuna as supporting such a claim.
Badiou is absolutely a realist, and the dependent origination of everything, particularly as Nagarjuna understands this, is extremely relevant, because there could be no possibility of any kind of change without it–and Badiou is ultimately most interested in a theory of how change is possible.
I have to admit, that I just cannot grasp what you understand dependent arising to mean. If one could say that something is completely dependent for its existence on causes and conditions, and yet NOT dependently arisen, as you have said, then I am at a loss–this just seems to me to be arrant nonsense. The “mind” is simply on thing that has arisen in the universe among others, like a star or a comet or a black hole, and has the same kinds of causes and conditions. It simply makes no sense to me to say that there could be any way in which the existence of anything depends on one of its contingent and impermanent parts–it would be like saying that a human body is wart-dependent. If you take Nagarjuna to be taking such a position, e.g. that something is only “arisen” at all if it is arisen in come mind, then I would say this reading requires misconstruing some of the MMK, and ignoring most of it.
We may be talking at cross-purposes due to different uses of “traditional” and “modern.” I follow McMahan in using “Buddhist modernism” to mean Buddhisms that incorporate key ideas from the Protestant Reformation, the European Enlightenment, and the Romantic reaction to the Enlightenment. “Traditional” Buddhism doesn’t have access to those ideas.
All Buddhist modernisms also incorporate aspects of traditional Buddhisms; that’s what makes them Buddhist, and not simply modernisms. They position themselves as having dropped, overcome, or transformed other aspects of traditional Buddhisms. The idea of a “post-traditional Buddhism” that doesn’t include anything from tradition makes no sense to me. So, maybe the point is that you want a Buddhism that doesn’t incorporate the particular features of tradition that you reject? And that is what you are calling “post-traditional”?
I think we mostly agree about the problematic features of tradition that have been retained in Buddhist modernism—equivocation about anatman; promises of salvation; and The Buddha and Dharma as possessing the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. So, I hope to be post-traditional in that sense too. On the other hand, I think that unthought, wrong assumptions from modernism are just as much of a problem now.
The Buddhist Geeks podcast I did with Hokai was an outline of a critique specifically of Consensus Buddhism, as a species of Buddhist modernism. As such, it mostly didn’t address the broader problems with modernism, and didn’t mention at all the problems retained from tradition.
I am one who does say “who cares what it says in that scripture, it’s wrong!” all the time.
But this is totally traditional of me. Buddhist scripture is massively contradictory. If you are going to engage with it seriously, you have to be willing to point out that most of it is nonsense. There’s an extensive critical tradition within Tibetan Buddhism, at least, which constantly does just that. That tradition has many dire problems of its own, but (for those who want such a thing) there’s plenty of precedent for arguing against scripture.
Relatedly, there are minority voices within tradition that criticize the traditional dogmas that you reject. For example, I’ve pointed out that the tantric charnel ground practice tortures, mutilates, and murders all fantasies of salvation, and then rapes the corpse. There are also sharp dissenters on the an/atman problem; and the tantric scriptures sometimes make fun of Gautama Buddha (as I wrote in “The Buddha and the necrophiliac witch“).
These views were suppressed by institutional powers, but their texts often survive. Such critiques from within may sometimes cast light that Western methods won’t. (Of course, the converse is also true.)
Between Vince and Tom, I think there may be some confusion around the word “ideology” also. What I am groping for—and I interpret Vince as sharing this aim—is an approach that abandons the attempt to adopt any coherent system of interpretation. That definitely won’t free one from all unthought assumptions—or even, necessarily, from any of them. It may, however, engender an opening in which surprising events are unconcealed; and a willingness to witness them without instantly smearing packaged meanings all over them.
David (#54). I have to run to my practice group in a few minutes. Real quick: I just don’t see the differences all of you do. Apparently, the discussion in x-buddhist circles revolves around the categories “traditional” and “modern,” is that correct? What is your impression, does someone like, say Meissner or Batchelor see himself as a proponent of the latter? Both of them, I think we agree, fit the description you give in your first paragraph. What do you mean when you say “’Traditional’ Buddhism doesn’t have access to those [modernist] ideas”? They do now. Of course they didn’t in the past. But they do now. The two categories mix together in the West. They do not make for tight, clearly distinct, categories.
Part of the confusion seems to be that we see different distinctions than you (and the others?) do. For instance, I work with a concept of “decision,” adapted from Francois Laruelle, that makes the traditional/modern distinction irrelevant. This concept makes it clear, as far as I can tell, that the differences between, say, Batchelor and Bhikkhu Sujato, produce only superficial variations, while the shared decision produces a profound sameness.
I’ll have to respond when I have more time.
I would take Meissner and Batchelor as prototypical modernists. I expect they would enthusiastically agree, although I could be wrong about that. I don’t know Sujato’s work well enough to say anything about him.
I think that you are right that the traditional/modern axis is taken as critical in contemporary American Buddhism. Most Buddhists define themselves primarily in terms of their position along a spectrum from traditional to modern. That is, the extent to which conflicts between traditional Buddhism and modernism are resolved in favor of modernism.
I take it that your objection is that even the most-modern Buddhisms still retain particular wrong aspects of tradition, and so aren’t sufficiently modern, and therefore aren’t interestingly different? I agree that those retained aspects of tradition are wrong. However, I still think the traditional/modern distinction is useful because we now also have modern wrong aspects to contend with.
To the extent that they do, they are no longer traditional. As I said, the most-traditional Buddhisms available to white people in America are already extensively modernized. This is a point McMahan makes well. You really can’t get a visceral sense of how alien genuinely traditional Buddhism is unless you go to backcountry Asia and talk to regular folks, though. They have essentially zero in common with any American Buddhist, even Americans who think they are highly traditional.
Although I think the traditional/modern spectrum is a useful explanatory construct, I also explicitly dismiss it because I think both ends, and all intermediate points are thoroughly wrong. I want to get off that vector entirely. I reject fundamental principles of both tradition and modernity.
By the way, I’ve just revisited my Consensus podcast. Although it doesn’t address all the issues we’re discussing here, some of it is relevant, and may resonate for you.
I look forward to reading more when you have time.
Hi David, you say in #1 Buddhism has been post-traditional since about 1850. What was Buddhism before this? Do you already wrote about it?
I would say, in the German reception, very roughly spoken, Buddhism has been interpreted since Leibniz in the same way all along: It is a move inwards to (re)unite, in the absence of any movement or thought, with god. Leibniz compared Buddhism to certain christian-mystic movement in the 17th century. His connotation of the Buddhist cult of “Nothingness” was truly negative. This negative connotation held until the 19th century when it become positive. So, in this reading Buddhist reception is stable over some three hundred years now – only its valuation changed.
Here is an example how Hegel describes the Buddhist “cult”:
He, and others find this “happiness” gruesome because it goes hand in hand with the dissolving of individuality – what then in the light of european enlightenment was the opposite they wanted.
Only later the valuation of this “subsiding of all movement and stirring” changed, but not the overall interpretation of Buddhism.
So I wonder, what Buddhism-before-1850 you mean?
Regarding Hokai Sobol (for example). There is something from/about him on this site here.
He speaks about three basic elements that move someone’s approach from traditional to post-traditional. I wonder if he really is saying anything at all?
In number one he says:
Yes, but what is dharma? If dharma is a metaphysical whatsoever, like the all-explaining basic law of the universe, some omniscience, than the meaning of “one’s life situation” only ever is seen in terms of this ‘dharma’. One’s own life situation is already pre-conditioned by this mystic dharma. If he does not define dharma in some exacte way, he is caught up in the “decision”.
In point number two it is basically the same. The last sentences refer to the “Buddha’s teachings” one must not give up. But what is this teaching? He does not say. But he should, to make a clear non-metaphysical statement.
In point three he speaks about “realization” and he says:
Again: what is “realization”, what is “spiritual”? I don’t know. So what is this “integration” about?
Basically it all revolves around some mystical terms which are not defined: Dharma, Buddha’s teaching, Realization.
I find this tiring, it is empty text. It is nothing substantial. It is bloodless. It sounds like the talk of a politician putting out phrases to reporters. Or it’s like J.R.R. Tolkien describing a landscape, it’s nothing real. It is all pale, the same everywhere the Hobbits come. That’s because Tolkien was inventing these landscapes. Its not real. He hasn’t seen it (and Sobol neither).
But on the other side, you over there in the U.S. are lucky to have such a discusion anyway. In the german speaking world there is nothing like that. Here you can still find true Buddhist talking about the bad karma of the jews, or the bad karma of the poor ones getting raped…
Modernity began in the West. All Western interpretations of Buddhism are modernist to some degree, because modernity was already dominant when Westerners first became aware of Buddhism. (Ignoring the contacts between Buddhism and the Ancient Greeks.)
Modernity had no influence on Buddhism in Asia before the mid-1800s. So anything earlier is traditional, or pre-modern. I’ve written about that here and here for example.
Yes, this is the Romantic interpretation, more-or-less—one of the three major aspects of Buddhist modernism. I think it’s a bad thing.
I don’t know what Hokai was trying to say there. I agree that it doesn’t seem very specific. I gather that he’s currently doing a major re-think, and look forward to what he does next.
Wow, I ask a question or two and get told all kinds of things about what I do or don’t know (and what I have or haven’t read).
After watching Vince try to make a nice effort to talk to folks, I’m going to mark this site as yet another pomo philosophical circlejerk and move on.
I’m sorry it is too much trouble to actually talk to people as human beings. Enjoy yourselves. I’m sure the half dozen or whatever of you will make great changes in the world and our culture (or, perhaps, not really).
Have a nice life.
Al (#59). No one writing for this blog is a “postmodernist.” Why go away so quickly? Why not simply respond to the points I made?
Why not simply be less of a prick? I know, so many questions and so few answers.
61. Poor Al didn’t realise this is you being nice Glen 😦
I’m not sure that Penrose is going to be that impressed by your critique of Orch-OR as an ‘idiotic waste of time’. I’m pretty sure that physicists like him would require slightly more sophisticated arguments to modify their positions. But there you are.
We all have a very good idea of what consciousness is, because we are all conscious and have access to our conscious experience. Just as man has known for millennia that there’s a ball of fire in the sky, the sun. Obviously knowledge of both these phenomena has accumulated over the centuries, and we can now say we have a much clearer idea of how they seem to work. To suggest, on the other hand, that the physical sciences now has a definitive understanding of how consciousness originates from organic substrates is simply false.
Without having read the entire opus of Chinn, or having communicated at all with him in person, I would venture to suggest that he, like Zen, realizes that ‘mountains are just mountains’, that conventional truth is not altered by realization of ultimate truth. In this sense yes, we could call this trivial assertion realism, and we could say that Zen and the Madhyamikas subscribe to it.
Maybe you’d like to indicate to me which of my comments lead you to believe that I think that phenomena can be both existentially dependent on causes and conditions and yet not dependently arisen. This is obviously absurd on its face – here you accuse me of contradicting the very definition of dependent origination. And again, you intimate that I may take dependent arising to be possible from only one of its contingent parts, clearly contradicting some translations of MMK 1:11 which start “An effect cannot be found in a single cause or condition”. These two arguments seem to me to be straw men, having nothing to do with what I believe I have said here and certainly nothing to do with what I actually think.
So, here we have reality, a complex of dependently arisen phenomena, none of which is independent from any other and none of which depends on only a single cause. And yet you would assert that this reality is independent from one of the phenomenon that occurs within it, namely conciousness, and that this consciousness has only one cause, the consciousness-independent reality on which is supervenes. This is the contradiction I see in your position.
thanks. I see better now what you mean. The reevaluation of Buddhism in the 19th century I mention fits well into what you call the “Invention of Buddhism”. In fact we speak about the same I think.
Of course the reception of Buddhism in Germany has been much more complex like in my rough sketch. There have been several phases since the early nineteenth century. But I think the seed for what you call “Consensus Buddhism” have been laid way back in the 17th century and then in the early nineteenth with the mystic turn-around of German romantic-idealistic thinking.
I speculate, the crux of it all is, that only in the nineteen seventies the material basis was there for “Consensus Buddhism” to blossom big scale. Only then there was the freedom to experiment with ones social persona, only then there was the material freedom (income) to finance such experiments and only then there was much more widespread better education so people could see more possibilities.
I guess Buddhists from the east coming into this setting often didn’t realize anything of this historic constellation and sometimes they simply began teaching the invented Buddhism from the nineteenth century. They did this in using a western terminology while not being aware of the full impact of its connotations. I see this in Chögyam Trungpa for example.
Buddhists wanting to be really “radical” have to lay to rest certain sacred cows. This does not mean to simply abase people like Chögyam Trungpa, but to put them into a proper and much more differentiated context. This would mean cutting through the solidity of their alleged omniscience.
Also difficult in this project might be that a lot of people would have to rethink their whole biography. If one has lived a long zen-life for example, it must be very difficult to see how suddenly a beloved person turns out to be a crook – or that s/he at least wasn’t the superhero one was dreaming about. I can imagine the emotional difficulties in such a process.
Hi Amrtakundali, I do not intent to intervene here in the name of Tom, but already yesterday when going through this thread a big question mark rose at one of your comments. In #52 you say our brains might turn out to be something like a consciousness-lung. Is this the radio-metaphor of consciousness? If I tune in good enough (meditate enough, am really realized) I hear the consciousness of the univers i.e. I get enlightened? Is there a consciousness out there independent of my brain?
Another point. I only want to point this out because you cannot know instantly where our discussion here stands. You say:
In the discussion here we are well beyond the point to accept introspection as the only means to get knowledge about consciousness. If you mean something like this… For Tom’s view see the link he provided in #31. Probably it is very helpful for a mutual understanding to depart from this text.
My point regarding this is, any introspective praxis can lead to very fine grained observations of consciousness, it can lead to certain trances and also to mystical experiences and there may be other phenomena one might produce (which all might be useful or not) – but at a certain point consciousness hits an invisible wall beyond which consciousness itself isn’t able to observe its own ground laying structures. We can describe that in psychoanalytic terms (Tom) or in terms of evolutionary-psychology or terms of cognitive sciences (Tomek, me), Glenn’s “decision” also is describing this phenomenon in yet another way (see here). Tom on one side and Tomek and me on the other had quite some controverse discussions about our respective points of view but we are of one opinion: we don’t accept introspection as the only means to know consciousness (I think I can say this at least for Tom and me, Tomek please correct me if I mistake your view).
I think, this leads necessarily to a more humble view one must have about oneself. It turns out that we, phenomenologically, know much less than we like to believe. This leads to a point of critique vis-à-vis certain kinds of Buddhism which regard mind as the one and only means of insight into the nature of reality. The Tibetan cult of Rigpa for example. Training in pristine, cristal clear utter lucidity might have a value, but it certainly is not the deathless, most subtile consciousness ‘HHDL’ might want it to be.
If I use the term “humble” other Buddhist coming into this discussion might point to our sometimes very direct language. I don’t see any contradiction. To realize that there might be a blind spot, to have good evidence towards a hypothesis about a blind spot is one thing – having people not looking at the evidence but them being convinced anyway that there is none and putting forward such ignorance as an argument is something quite unnerving.
So people coming into this discussion, please take your time and invest a bit in the evidence which is laid out here.
from the OP:
“Please, visit their sites and report back to me: are they not precisely beholden to that hegemony; are they not, in fact, renewing the warrant on x-buddhist consensus for the next generation?
If you are willing to read up on Buddhist history, you will discover that Hokai Sobol, Ted Meissner, Stephen Schettini, Vince Horn, Kenneth Folk, Ken McLeod and the others fit cleanly into the age-old trajectory of x-buddhist thought and practice.
Ok. Here you go. Test case.
Kenneth Folk Dharma: Genpe Roshi’s resignation, moralism, responsibility, and growing up.
Did you say beholden to misogyny?
‘Cause I challenge you to read through this entire thread without imagining the sound of beer cans being opened in the background or not to consider the thoughts or feelings of the women who have read this kind of stuff and never posted a single thought on the matter as they strain their mindfulness attempting not to repeatedly think, “men are pigs”.
Can you feel the healing happening? Or has something been awakened, in my boxers?
Interesting how prolifically syncretic misogyny is. Its like it will stick it’s thing into anything. Not as slick as anatman together with its (allegedly) closeted existence as atman but at least as adaptable and far, far more ecumenical.
Do you think, is the misogyny related somehow to the unexamined romantic idealism? Cause I’m with you on the Kenneth Folk as a Theosophist thing, I can totally see that. One should think he would be flattered. If you’re ever in the neighborhood you could try to arrange a seance and invite him and Blavatsky herself, maybe even Houdini could come if he can get away or his eternal bliss.
Which makes me wonder something else about the unspeakable omnipotenpokimon or whatever. How come, with all the chanellers and tarot card readers and oujiboard wielders and whatnot out there, how come no one ever channels the great all knowing buddha nature out of a tea cup anywhere. You would think there would be a market for that kind of thing if nothing else. C’mon people is this not the capitalist ideological battleground at the end of the world? Get in there and get competitive. I think the west is way behind on the modern stuff, you can buy a bottle of water that has been blessed by people that are blessier than you all over the place in asia. You can’t even get a breakfast cereal here with a buddha on it or anything.
Is it really that X-buddhism has got atman, or is it is this the best atman X-buddhism can offer? How about, hey everybody, look under your seats, buddha nature wants everybody to have a new car! Now that’s sexy. Millions in real estate, luxury cars and sycophantic lust not just for lamas and roshis, it’s only attractive if everyone can aspire to the same kind of unregulated power, unlimited wealth and unrestricted sexual gratification.
Religions that have much more hip and sexy atmans are far more advanced. Consider the longstanding support the Catholic church has had for pedophilia. I would look into the sexual preferences of the holy stuff more closely to determine if there is a modern vs. traditional buddhism. Was there a buddhism before se asia was the worlds largest contiguous outdoor brothel or were they traditionally joined at the hip. Is this what makes asia romantic or did the west have to romance it up a bit before it became this way? Can a history professor help me out here?
In X-isms with more grown up atmans they have whole libraries of policies about specifically how precisely not to ever acknowledge the abuse of authority. Jesus loves you so much he wants you to drive your Cadillac into your in ground pool if it makes you happy. In a free market how can X-Buddhism be expected to offer less and stay competitive?
At an absolute minimum there is a huge market for where did the bad guru touch you voodoo dolls. Not saying it is enough to save the economy but in these times don’t we have a responsibility to think of the jobs, jobs, jobs?
Nathan: I reformatted the link. Hope it’s ok.
Matthias (#65), phenomenological traveling can be very interesting, but I’m absolutely with you regarding not treating introspection as the only means to know consciousness. Third person approach brings very humbling data and will hopefully prevent many of us from crashing at that invisible wall of pristine awareness. It’s good to lean against it at times but thinking it solves all the questions about it is today unacceptable.
Thanks Matthias, most kind of you.
btw, I still wonder what the spec-non-x industrial strength anatta is going to look like is it straight up maoism as some fear or maybe is it some kind of a hells angel – ayn rand hybrid or what?
Hi Matthias –
No, not at all. That would be as absurd as breathing techniques being capable of acquiring ‘purer’ oxygen. In the lung-consciousness view, yogic techniques being capable of apprehending ‘purer’ consciousness would be equally absurd.
Neither would I assert that the only means to obtain knowledge about consciousness is introspection. That would be to negate the possibility of science (or analytic philosophy) to obtain any knowledge of it whatsoever.
Absolutely. “There are no absolute truths, but this truth could well be one of them” could be Nagarjuna, or a Socratic “I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance”.
Given MMKs own assertion that “An effect cannot be found in a single cause or condition” it also seems contradictory, within even the Buddhist paradigm, to focus on mind as the single cause or ultimate condition of reality.
So yes, I’m with you. That’s why I’m here reading and minimally contributing to this discussion. What I’m not interested in, at least what I am consciously not attempting, is to impose my understanding of the intersection of reality, as a twenty-first century subject, with Buddhist philosophy and praxis. I’m here to progress in my understanding, not to entrench myself (and others) in that which I already have.
RE #53: I wouldn’t expect Penrose to be convinced—I wasn’t presenting an argument, simply explaining why I wouldn’t waste my time trying to present on.
I don’t think introspection gets us far in understanding consciousness—it has always only gotten us as far as the realization that our consciousness does NOT arise from “organic substrates” (it is dependent upon them, but does not arise from them—there is a difference). “Science,” as you say, will never reach a “definitive understanding” of how this occurs, because it does not occur. It is like trying to derive the rules of baseball from the laws of physics. Nevertheless, it is not so difficult to understand what consciousness actually is, and what causes and conditions give rise to it.
I have read only one essay by Chinn, on Nagarjuna. I don’t remember all the detail, but I do remember he spends much time arguing against his own misunderstanding of Garfield’s reading of Nagarjuna, and that he does assume that there is the possibility of a completely ideology-free knowledge (which is a founding assumption of analytic philosophy). This may not be his position on the whole, it is just his position in the one essay I have read by him.
As for which of your comments lead me to believe that you are claiming phenomena can be dependent on causes and conditions and yet not dependently arisen, it was this comment in #48: “Even if everything out there depended on every other thing, as long as the entire network of dependence-relations was mind-independent it would exist with svabhāva)” Perhaps I misunderstood this statement, but I cannot see how else to read it. It seems to me to suggest that if there were no longer sentient beings, everything would then have essential nature–that somehow consciousness is what causes dependent origination.
As for your final assertion, well, you know this is sophistry, right? I can tell you aren’t stupid, so you must be just grasping at straws here. Clearly I am NOT saying that one element of reality is somehow detached from reality—that is obviously NOT the meaning conveyed by the term “mind-independent” in realist discourse. The term simply means that the mind cannot be taken to be the (single) cause on which all other things depend. The mind cannot even be taken to be the (single) cause on which my beliefs depend—since they must exist in practices. And clearly it is absurd to say that because I claim that consciousness arises dependent on conditions that I am therefore claiming it arises from ONE cause—you must see how absurd it is in you penultimate sentence to make the claim that all of reality is “one cause.” This is the weakest sophistry, and certainly not a “contradiction” in my position at all. Perhaps you are just clinging too desperately to the desire for there to be a transcendent consciousness?
Tom, no I’m not “clinging too desperately to the desire for there to be a transcendent consciousness”, what I’m doing here is moving the pieces around a little to obtain a clearer understanding of your position. I do indeed realize that last paragraph of mine in #63 is pure sophistry, it was written as such. I am glad to read that the result of this rather transparent ploy of mine is:
Indeed. I wholeheartedly agree. I even said as much in my response to Matthias (#70). Nothing is the single cause on which all other things depend. I might go far as to say there here we have the relevance of dependent origination to the twenty-first century subject. Matter is not the single cause of mind, and mind is not the single cause of matter.
As soon as we cut off phenomena from each other by imputing their existence as being independent from each other, we are saying that these phenomena exist in a ‘powered from their own side’ manner, as existing with svabhava. I would read this therefore as [mind-independent] reality, being independent from mind, existing in a ‘self-powered’ fashion, as existing with svabhava (as would mind itself, note).
Maybe its time to check in with where the predominantly atheist rationalists are at with calculating the probability of dependent conditionality or anatman. I mention this because they seem prepared to reject or reform almost every philosophical proposition ever put forth before the initial appearance of Darth Vader. Maybe y’all are soul mates.
Maybe theirs is merely an illusion of intellectual progress. However if so consider perhaps they may be able to teach others how to project the same illusion. Perhaps there is a probability that this could be better than nothing in your box.
Train Philosophers with Pearl and Kahneman, not Plato and Kant
Ask them to do the math for anatman in friendly and unfriendly AI or argue for and against transhuman eternal bliss or the presence or absence of karma in cryostasis, that may get them interested.
Amritakundali (#63). I haven’t fully caught up on your interesting discussion with Tom, but this statement caught my attention:
You don’t mean that “complex” necessarily entails “all-inclusive,” do you? Any X arises in conjunction with a complex nexus of additional factors and conditions, but not with every conceivable factor. Am I missing something here? I’ll read through the entire conversation and get back to you on this point.
No, beholden to x-buddhsit hegemony. But I enjoyed your comment nonetheless. Looking over Kenneth “people are getting enlightened here!” Folk’s site again only deepened my impression that he is a narcissist on par with the mighty Ken McLeod. If Folk “had just five minutes to give comprehensive instructions for awakening,” well, he’d ramble on for twenty, but start with this:
How do you do this? Well, first of all you have to “cultivate your witness.” Then you can get on with the enlightenment-producing business of “objectifying:”
Cue Houdini and Blavatsky: “hurrah!”
That’s a very interesting point. Maybe you can explore it more. We could finally quell the cognitive dissonance caused by x-buddhist simultaneous claim of anatman and incessant postulation of atman. Let’s ask rather, what is the nature of a given x-buddhism’s atman–what kind of person does it entail. That way, we’d be forcing x-buddhist transparency regarding its subject-theory and its ideology. That would force in, at least, out of obscurantism and into reaction–an advance of sorts!
I think that for many Buddhist schools this was their understanding of dependent origination, yes. Take the example of Indra’s net, with all the jewels (phenomena) reflecting each and every one of the others. No one phenomenon, therefore, can be seen to be independent of +any+ of the others.
David (#56). Sorry to invoke the “have to run” excuse again, but I really do. In the meantime, I thought that my statement about the “x” in “x-buddhism” would help to clarify why I find a synchronic analysis more salient than a diachronic one.
This idea of an “empty text” really helps to expose a great deal. We should employ it more often in our analyses. For those readers who missed it, Richard Payne’s recent post, “Putting Nothing in Boxes and Selling It,” dealt with a similar phenomenon of x-buddhism.
Glenn #77 — Hmm. I think that what you are seeing is at least in part a feature of specifically modern Buddhism, and is not characteristic of tradition.
“Buddhism,” a single religion with many sects, was invented by Europeans in the 1800s.
More important, the practice of referring all questions to The Buddha and The Dharma is part of the Protestant overlay. In traditional Buddhism, questions mainly do not arise (that’s what “traditional” means, in fact). Spiritual authority inheres in institutional practice, which requires no justification. It just is as it is. (Of course, “just is as it is” conceals all of the institutional politics that lie behind the scenes. But that has no significant religious content.)
Because Protestantism locates spiritual authority in the Bible, modern Buddhists are obsessed with scripture (“Dharma”), taking it as the word of God (“Buddha”). But scripture was almost entirely irrelevant in traditional Buddhism.
This may seem implausible to some. It’s an empirical, historical question, though. There is evidence; we could argue about whether the evidence is conclusive.
Just the fact that it is an empirical question seems to show that diachronic analysis is important. If your central complaint about x-Buddhism is a feature of Protestant Christianity, not traditional Buddhism, that might significantly change your strategy for addressing it.
Note that I am not suggesting that tradition is better, just that it is different. Tradition is even more unthought than the Protestant approach. But the practices of unthinking are quite dissimilar.
RE: 72: I’m glad to know the sophistry was intentional, meant to draw out the implications of my argument. It would be disappointing if it weren’t—given your other arguments it seemed, well, uncharacteristically weak.
In response to this explanation:
Now, I think, I can understand the fundamental disagreement. I do think it is the case that many schools of Buddhism would say that everything is completely interconnected and so nothing could be “subtracted” without completely changing the whole. In that sense, I can see how the existence of “mind-independent” reality would entail that there are essential natures (ie, if anything is not completely connected with everything else, then it would be necessary that some things, and so potentially everything, fails to be dependently arisen). I would disagree that every thing is an equally important cause. Not to reason by analogy, but just for the sake of clarification: surely every hair on my head is completely interconnected with the rest of me, completely dependently arisen from my body, but I can easily imagine a “hair-independent” body, right? Strictly speaking, cutting one hair of my head would change what the entirety of my body consists of, but not in any important way. I take the term “mind-independent” to mean that the mind is relatively insignificant, and that it will make little difference to the universe when all “consciousness” is gone—no more difference than it will make to my self when a few of my hairs fall out. It is true, as you say, that for many schools of Buddhism the idea of interconnectedness requires that even the smallest change would have universal consequences—I don’t accept that postion.
I take it that this is the major difference between our positions? That you see “consciousness” as somehow a much more significant part of the universe than I do? Ultimately, the ability of some phenomena to be less significant to the whole than others is probably an empirical (NOT empiricist) question, and can’t be settled by pure reason.
Amrtakundali and Tom. Doesn’t Tom’s point get the the heart of the matter, as it was originally framed here (maybe comment #24)?
The point was to identify x-buddhist candidates for truths. The value in Tom’s statement above, in our context, is that it establishes a thought-limit that vastly exceeds the x-buddhist limit of an over-determining “mind-dependence.” I wonder if you position, Amrtakundali, comes close to a sort of cosmic vitalism?
In any case, I am interested in seeing what happens in thought when a new horizon is presented. One thing that becomes painfully clear to me is that thought is perpetually bouncing off of the limit I give it. Unbound from that limit, it might form what Brassier calls an “adequation” with the newly established limit, become “bound” to that thought-limit. So, what does paticcasamuppada allow me to think (and see?) beyond what I am already thinking, and, perhaps, seeing or understanding? What kinds of effects does “mind-independent reality” have on my thought and understanding? What happens to my sense of self, for instance. What happens to our cultural myths about “value” and “purpose” and “meaning”?
Here’s a bit of Brassier, somewhat related, I think. Amrtakundali, I think you’d enjoy his chapter on vitalism.
Maybe the specific version of “Buddhism” we have is culturally dependent. But the idea of a single tradition with many sects is as old as “Buddhism” itself. terms like Sarvastivada, Sthaviravada, Puggalavada, Haimavata, Dharmaguptaka, on so on reflect a sectarian consciousness from the very beginning. Each saw itself, moreover, as offering the best version of the shared (single) buddhavacana. So, I’m not sure what you mean to say.
I don’t understand. Traditional Buddhists constantly refer questions to the Buddha and the Dharma. I agree that this tact is often disguised by a “that’s just our way” rhetoric. But this kind of referral is precisely constitutive of all forms of Buddhism. Of course, you and I can only observe this tactic second-hand since the moment we enter into the discussion we’ve skewed “the traditional way.” Still, we have texts.
Do you think that that’s true even in the broad sense of “scripture”–that is oral taeching? Really, I think, the question has to do with authority and justification. Traditional x-buddhist are perpetually standing on some form of “scripture” or text broadly conceived.
I agree with your conclusion, but not with the premise. I think that what you are calling “traditional Buddhism” is a flamboyantly egregious instance of “decision.” Critiquing, say, Sri Lankan x-buddhisms, would be about as pointless as critiquing belief in magical unicorns. The “modernists” (or whatever the hell they are) among us at least pretend to value critical thought. And they are here, where I am, in the West. So, I put my gaze on them. And one thing I am seeing, very clearly I think, is that they have not deviated in any significant way from the what I call “decisional reflexivity.” Ken Mcleod’s writings present a person no less beholden to the transcendent operator called “The Dharma” as the wonder-working siddhi in the forests of medieval India. Now, you may say that that contention is implausible, but that is what I am endeavoring to show. To turn your terms around a bit, I am arguing that the practices of unthinking of the traditional vs. Protestant approaches are, at the core, just the same.
ok bouncing off of this
“I see non-philosophers in several different ways. I see them, inevitably, as subjects of the university, as is required by worldly life, but above all as related to three fundamental human types. They are related to the analyst and the political militant, obviously, since non-philosophy is close to psychoanalysis and Marxism — it transforms the subject by transforming instances of philosophy. But they are also related to what I would call the ‘spiritual′ type — which it is imperative not to confuse with ‘spiritualist′. The spiritual are not spiritualists. They are the great destroyers of the forces of philosophy and the state, which band together in the name of order and conformity. The spiritual haunt the margins of philosophy, Gnosticism, mysticism, and even of institutional religion and politics. The spiritual are not just abstract, quietist mystics; they are for the world. This is why a quiet discipline is not sufficient, because man is implicated in the world as the presupposed that determines it. Thus, non-philosophy is also related to Gnosticism and science-fiction; it answers their fundamental question — which is not at all philosophy’s primary concern — ‘Should humanity be saved? And how?’ And it is also close to spiritual revolutionaries such as Müntzer and certain mystics who skirted heresy. When all is said and done, is non-philosophy anything other than the chance for an effective utopia?”
“Non-philosophy is the primacy of man as non-immanent over being and nothingness. It is to man and man alone, not to matter or religion that it falls to reduce humanism, for example, along with the problems of which humanism is symptomatic. Non-philosophy is the discovery that man is determining, and that he is determining-in-the-last-instance as subject.
Non-theological. Insofar as man gives the world while remaining separate from it –but not separate as an exception to it– non-philosophy invalidates all metaphysical problems such as that of the creation, procession, emanation, or conversion of the world –the entire philosophical dramaturgy. Man is a grace for the world. This is an inversion of the philosophies of transcendence and of the divine call addressed to man, because it is now the world that calls on man. Where philosophy knows exception, non-philosophy knows –dare I say it– the miracle, but one that has been mathematized, shorn of its theological transcendence.”
and in regards to your preferred Laruelle inspired non-philosophical approach
I’ve observed some qualitative distinctions in forms of religious and philosophical expression that could use some considered opinion.
Setting aside cremation for the moment as a dead end, even non-philosophically.
Setting aside the burning of oilfields and incense as insufficiently anthropological.
Here is a sample of a spectrum of possible thematic contrasts; ancient, contemporary, east, west.
eastern traditional and eastern modern
self-immolation – Moby Thesaurus II by Grady Ward, 1.0 (?)
93 Moby Thesaurus words for “self-immolation”:
altruism, blazing, blistering, branding, burning, burnt offering,
calcination, car of Jagannath, carbonization, cauterization,
cautery, cineration, collection, combustion, commitment,
concremation, consecration, cracking, cremation, cupellation,
dedication, deflagration, destructive distillation, devotion,
disembowelment, disinterest, disinterestedness, distillation,
distilling, drink offering, ex voto offering, felo-de-se, flaming,
hara-kiri, heave offering, hecatomb, holocaust, human sacrifice,
humility, immolation, incense, incineration, infanticide, libation,
mactation, mass suicide, modesty, oblation, offering, offertory,
oxidation, oxidization, parching, peace offering,
piacular offering, pyrolysis, refining, ritual suicide,
sacramental offering, sacrifice, scapegoat, scorching,
scorification, searing, self-abasement, self-abnegation,
self-denial, self-destruction, self-devotion, self-effacement,
self-forgetfulness, self-murder, self-neglect, self-neglectfulness,
self-renouncement, self-sacrifice, self-subjection, selflessness,
seppuku, singeing, smelting, suicide, suttee, sutteeism,
thank offering, the stake, thermogenesis, unacquisitiveness,
unpossessiveness, unselfishness, vesication, votive offering,
Self-immolation refers to setting oneself on fire, often as a form of protest or for the purposes of martyrdom or suicide. It has centuries-long traditions in some cultures, while in modern times it has become a type of radical political protest. Michael Biggs compiled a list of 533 “self-immolations” reported by Western media from the 1960s to 2002,…
…researchers have counted almost 100 self-immolations covered by the New York Times and The Times between 1963 and 1971. Most of these suicides occurred in the United States protesting the Vietnam War and Asia. In 1968 the practice spread to the Soviet bloc with self-immolation of Polish accountant and Armia Krajowa veteran Ryszard Siwiec, as well as that of Czech student Jan Palach. As a protest of Soviet rule in Lithuania, 19-year-old Romas Kalanta set himself on fire in Kaunas. Non-political suicides by fire also became more prevalent.
The practice continues with India leading – as many as 1,451 and 1,584 self-immolations have been reported in 2000 and 2001, respectively. A particularly high wave of self-immolations in India has been recorded in 1990 protesting the Reservation in India.Tamil Nadu has the highest number of self-immolations in India till date.It is considered to be the capital of Self-immolation in India.
Since 2009, at least 94  Tibetans have self-immolated, more than 40 have died  in parts of China since 2011.   The Dalai Lama has said he does not encourage the protests, but he has praised the courage of those who engage in self-immolation. However, the Chinese government claims that he and the Tibetan exiled government are inciting these acts.
A wave of self-immolation protests occurred in conjunction with the Arab Spring protests in the Middle East and North Africa, with at least 14 recorded incidents. These actions helped inspire the Arab Spring, including the 2010–2011 Tunisian revolution, the main catalyst of which was the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, the 2011 Algerian protests (including many self-immolations in Algeria), and the 2011 Egyptian revolution. There have also been self-immolation protests in Saudi Arabia, Mauritania, and Syria.
This is a listing of those individuals who have self-immolated, often in protest. It does not include suicide bombers, nor professional entertainers or stuntmen.
Subcategories 2 total.
► Self-immolations in protest of the Eastern Bloc (10 P)
► Self-immolations in protest of the Vietnam War (5 P)
Pages in category “Self-immolations”
The following 45 pages are in this category, out of 45 total. This list may not reflect recent changes (learn more).
Dying Without Killing: Self-Immolations, 1963–2002
IAICC Supporters Effigy Burn
November 21st, 2012 by Bhaskar Mallick
International Anti-Imperialist Coordinating Committee Members burn an effigy of US President and Israel President to protest against Israeli attacks on Gaza.
western traditional and western modern
to burn in effigy – Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48 (?)
Effigy \Ef”fi*gy\, n.; pl. Effigies. [L. effigies, fr.
effingere to form, fashion; ex + fingere to form, shape,
devise. See Feign.]
The image, likeness, or representation of a person, whether a
full figure, or a part; an imitative figure; — commonly
applied to sculptured likenesses, as those on monuments, or
to those of the heads of princes on coins and medals,
sometimes applied to portraits.
To burn in effigy, or To hang in effigy, to burn or to
hang an image or picture of a person, as a token of public
The Circle of Regional Effigies (CORE) is comprised of 34 wooden effigies created by Burning Man Regional groups from around the world. Guided by the Ten Principles, CORE teams work together throughout the Spring and Summer to create art that celebrates their Regional identities and showcases the collaborative artistic efforts of their community members.
Burning Man is a week-long annual event held in the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada, in the United States. The event begins on the last Monday in August, and ends on the first Monday in September, which coincides with the American Labor Day holiday.
It takes its name from the ritual burning of a large wooden effigy on Saturday evening. The event is described by many participants as an experiment in community, art, radical self-expression, and radical self-reliance.
Lance Armstrong’s career has already crashed and burned, now an effigy of the shamed cyclist has been burned.
Edenbridge Bonfire Society chooses a hate figure to make into a celebrity guy for their Guy Fawkes Night fireworks display.
This year Armstrong’s doping shame, which has seen him stripped of his seven Tour de France victories, earned him the unwanted honour.
A 30ft steel-framed model of the 41-year-old American was burned holding a sign saying “For sale, racing bike, no longer required”.
He also had a Jim’ll Fix It badge round his neck after the child abuse scandal which has engulfed late TV presenter Jimmy Savile.
The figure was stuffed with oil-soaked newspapers, packed with fireworks and torched in front of thousands of people last night in Kent.
Against this can be contemplated the now predominantly but not entirely secular worldwide post industrial practice of immolating other people for, but not limited to, political, economic, religious, philosophical or non-philosophical reasons.
Superficially it appears as if the west has lost its flair for publicly burning on stakes and generally prefers the straw dogs and semi-secret ritual sacrifices (are drone strikes secret, semi-secret or not secret? I’ve never looked that one up.) while the east identifies more intimately with the sacrificial fire.
The meeting place perhaps, the holy land, rockets and missiles raining down on everyone like manna to spite and in spite of race, religion or creed. People and places blowing up at the most inconvenient of times and so on.
Can’t be less than conclusive in some sense for those who are now ash. Transcendent? Romantic? Or bloodless empty text?
Empty boxes, be these filled with transcendental pronouncements or classified files, cratered commons, stupas filled with human ash, these don’t feel the same under the skin.
file under messiah, unknown soldier, passion, fire, nibbana, death, immanence, too soon?
OK… So then the central point is “all Buddhisms are inadequately justified, make bogus assumptions, and this is concealed by strategies of unthinking”? I’d agree with that, of course. But it’s true of everything.
It would seem that to do speculative non-Buddhism, as opposed to speculative non-everything, you need to look at the specifics of the strategies.
I believe that it’s productive to point to the ways those strategies are different in modern and traditional Buddhism. The reason it’s productive is that the modern strategies have been, to varying degrees, discredited in their Western context. I hope that when people see this, they will be willing to discredit them in Buddhism as well.
The point is that most of what people think is “timeless ancient wisdom of the East, handed down from the Buddha himself” was invented in Germany around 1800. And, German Romantic Idealism is deeply unattractive—if you recognize that this is what you are practicing.
Re specifics: As you say, Buddhism actually was a single religion with multiple sects in the Gupta period. Awareness of that was lost most of a thousand years ago, though.
Um, about scripture, I can clarify, but maybe it’s not worth going into here and now. That is, if your complaint is just that all Buddhisms involve some sort of unjustified authority.
Oh, and of course one also needs to look at the specific assumptions that are concealed.
Modern Buddhism is “going deeply within, to find the still place that is your True Self, in order to identify it with the Absolute Infinite, which is the Entire Universe.” Yes? And that’s straight-up German Romantic Idealism. And utter bollocks. And essentially absent from traditional Buddhism (although there’s some scriptural support in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra and the Lankavatara Sutra).
Traditional Buddhism is “paying monks to generate merit, which gives you good luck in this life and a better rebirth.” Also utter bollocks, but it’s different bollocks.
I’m sorry to hear that Al. This site has really helped me after I got over my initial reactions. No one is out to get you or me. I don’t think anyone really gives a shit. Discussion here is so liberating precisely because it is human and not some pretentious nice society/right speech forum. I see the response to you as an invitation and not assumptions. Alas, you take the time to come back and sling some shit. Open Buddha indeed. Now, I really want to make some sarcastic remark about circle jerks!
well in the interest of not being accused of concealing assumptions and full disclosure
I had thought it indelicate to mention but the german romantic transcendental idealistic mode of expression on the spectrum I presented is generally considered one of the more extreme forms of overreaching by a self described transcendent nobility involving the attempted immolation of entire populations.
I do. The specifics involve the particular features of x-buddhist decision. The terms I use to name these features are specifically Buddhist: The Dharma as the transcendent-yet-necessarily-immanent grounding of some version of samsara/paticcasamuppada, etc. Also, I do not see the importance or even necessity of a subject-specific strategy for going about critique. You do? But here, that point is moot since I am attending to x-buddhist-specific items. You’re interested in difference, I’m interested in sameness. One reason for my take is that where you see difference I see essential sameness. I want to identify the syntactical feature within x-buddhism that ensures replication of the same.
Oh, I do too. It’s an interesting and worthwhile project. It’s just not my project. (I’ll leave that to you.) I would just say: be careful of not falling prey to the x-buddhist detail fetish. Citing endless variations of dharmic-historical-doctrinal difference is one of the ways the x-buddhist juggernaut keeps on rolling. It’s one of the ways that x-buddhist perpetually validates itself and its specularity.
I think that’s true for the most part. But (1) that fact does not ensure that the same dependencies (on, for instance, the transcendental dharmic operator) are not in play. But really, my interest in confined to the current western forms of x-buddhism. Concerning the issue of “post-traditional Buddhism,” it would be useful to refer to a text where that idea is articulated. I understand that Hokai Sobol’s talk at Buddhist Geeks addresses that. Is that a good place to go to? I read the transcript a while ago. My use of “decision” renders the concept moot, as we’ve been discussing. But I will revisit it now, just to see if I missed anything important.
Excellent, I think I now have a much clearer understanding of what you mean by ‘mind-independent reality’ – firstly a limitation of the causal network whereby single effects do not have as causes the entirety of reality and secondly where there are asymmetries in dependence relationships between previously existing bases and the phenomena they support. Curiously enough, the first of these is canonical to MMK as the continuation of this translation of 1:11 shows:
“An effect cannot be found in a single cause or condition, nor can an effect be found in all causes and conditions together. How can something not found in causes and conditions arise from them?”
So in this sense yes, on this view it is clear that phenomena do arise dependently on a subset of the entire set of causes and conditions, that causal processes can occur in parallel (rather that in a kind of gigantic serial loop). This would seem to agree with your rejection of the idea that ‘even the smallest change would have universal consequences’. To this, for now, I’d like to leave a placeholder for a discussion of chaos theory as an example of a modern scientific hypothesis which on its face would seem to agree with the naïve ‘Indra’s net’ reading of interdependence.
The asymmetries in dependence relations, in modern terms that consciousness supervenes on matter, presents more difficulties in interpretation of MMK. The entirety of chapter X, ‘Examination of Fire and Fuel’ is dedicated to this theme, and at least with the help of Garfield’s translation and commentary we can see that this reductio is aimed specifically against the reality of such one-way dependency relationships. This is particularly difficult for the project of any hermeneutical mapping (or ‘truth mining’) of Madhyamaka philosophy into the present. What are we to do here? Which parts of MMK are we going to have to ignore to sustain the widespread realist assertion that consciousness supervenes on matter? Note here that I have no investment in rejection of this realism, but am simply restating that Nagarjuna used such belief as a clear target of one of his reductios.
Lastly, with reference to empiricism, I’d like to quote a favourite of my by Heinz von Foerster, “objectivity is the delusion that observations can be made without an observer”. Can you even imagine an experiment that could be run which could give unequivocal evidence for an observer-independent reality? You might say, and you have said Tom, that “if you understand reality as being limited to human social reality, then certainly we could say that reality is mind-dependent”. I see this as agreement with Foerster here. But where is this frontier between observer-dependent observations and observer-independent observations? We could reframe this question as trying to define the frontier between ideology and reality. As you yourself have observed, in comment #47, “You take the standard rhetorical stance of the (usually right-wing) ideologue: you are being ideological, but I am dealing with reality directly—your “ideology” doesn’t “reflect” my “reality.”” How do you see this trope relating to the movement from an observer-dependent human social reality, that is, ideology, to the subjacent ‘real’ reality of an observer-independent physical reality?
And no, with reference to your suggestion that I see consciousness as an a priori privileged phenomena, and similarly I would also reject Glenn’s comment in #80 that I subscribe some atavistic ‘cosmic vitalism’ (if it’s if it’s okay with you Glenn I’ll come back to your comments later).
Glenn #87 — Good, I think this is clarifying the relationship between our respective projects. Particularly “my interest i[s] confined to the current western forms of x-buddhism.”
I want to revisit the traditional vs modern thing again, in order to pose a question.
Let’s define “traditional Buddhism” as “what Buddhists actually believed and did, in Asia, circa 1850.” I make the empirical claim, backed with historical and anthropological documentation, that scripture had virtually nothing to do with that. Scripture is a collection of fantasy theories of what Buddhism ought to be, written by pointy-headed intellectuals an extremely long time ago. It does not describe what Buddhism actually was, anywhere, in 1850. (Or, I’d guess, at any other time, but we don’t have good enough records to know.) I assert that paticcasamuppada plays no significant role in traditional Buddhism. It’s not certain whether you could find anyone in Sri Lanka in 1850 who knew what the word meant. (See the quote about Sri Lankan priests being entirely ignorant of anatta.)
Let’s define “Buddhist modernism” as “taking a few carefully-selected Buddhist scriptures that seem relevant to modern philosophical concerns, and ventriloqually reinterpreting them to make the contemporary philosophical points you want to promulgate.” The strategy here is to give transcendental justification to dubious modern philosophy by invoking “the timeless wisdom of the East.”
I would say that this is the project of everyone on Matthew O’Connell’s list. (Including me, although maybe I’m a bit more up-front about it than some of the others, and also in that I’m trying to avoid system-building.)
So then, it seems there are two approaches to critiquing any one of those projects. One is to point out that Buddhism is essentially irrelevant. To the extent that the project is ventriloqual, “Buddha,” “Dharma,” etc., are just the ventriloquist’s inert dummies.
The other approach is to strip off the Buddhist veneer, to point out that whatever philosophy is being promulgated is a standard Western philosophy in thin disguise; and to attack that philosophy in its proper, Western context.
Now a question. Aren’t you then a Buddhist modernist just as much as any of the rest of us? (Where “you” includes Tom, at least, as well.) You are starting from contemporary French philosophy, and using that to develop distinctive stories about anatta, paticcasamuppada, shunyata, etc.
I think that’s great; I’m following it closely (I’ve read all the posts on this blog, and a lot of the comments), and I agree with many of the specifics.
My caution to you would be that if you do not know the history of Buddhist modernism, you may be doomed to repeat it. Better to understand what you are doing as a continuation of the same project that led to Consensus Buddhism and various other abominations.
as confused as everyone else? not yet adequately confused?
From what I gather, in simple layman’s terms such as the relation between dumb and dumber non-philosophy and speculative realism are more closely aligned with the dumber approach.
Spec-non-X is somehow vaguely similarly further constrained to disembodied meta-critique not of any ur-buddhism but of what rough beast it is that refers to any ur-buddhism. On the X-ism and ancestral ashes relation I more so seek to know if and if so how and why X-ism potentially might suddenly and violently emerge from the self-congratulatory chrysalis of its like-buttons into something demonstrably more traditional (even more progressively regressive?) such as scorch marks occupying wall street.
I wonder what is it with all the Buddhist teachers who came here in the last forty or fifty years?
If it is true that
as you put it in #58, this meaning all Buddhism in the West is suffused with a romantic-idealistic ideal of seeking salvation in the innermost sanctuarium, than what is with the teachers? Did they teach something different? And if so, who?
Glenn, #77, empty text…
you already said it all. It is “ventriloquism”.
I just looked at the site of Kenneth Folk. It is the point again when I ask myself: why should I still have to look at something like this? It is so silly.
Only one point, because it was mentioned today: the “invisible wall of pristine awareness” (#66). There is this video on his site. He speaks about the simple experience what happens if one asks oneself “who is thinking this right now?” The answer can be a kind of infinite regress: I am thinking that I am thinking that I am thinking etc. What he mentions in the video at around 2:00 is the point at which this regress implodes and leaves for a moment a blank, a thoughtless moment, like immediately after a sudden scare. It is possible to provoke this experience. In some Tibetan tradition it is called hedawa – shocked open – and is used as an initiation for praxis. Now, whatever it is, it is not “a transpersonal kind of I” as Kenneth puts it, “which doesn’t has a stake wether Kenneth lives or dies.” That is the point where he performs the magical transformation of a human experience into something holy to sell his product (100 $/45 min). In fact, to quote Tomek, he lets the client crash into the invisible wall of pristine awareness, charging him then a lot of money for a more or less trivial experience.
Well, and then the rest of the video… it’s a rhetorical trick to make one believe that there is only a detached knower and no subjective I. It is esoteric mumbo jumbo. At 4:15 he again makes the error to confuse bare awareness (he: awareness without sense of self) with “the entire manifest world.”
He confuses a function of consciousness, of which he only perceives the effect, with the fantasie about (re)union with the entire world. This function is the necessary ability of the cognitive apparatus to form somehow the possibility for a ‘space’ in which all perceptions, thoughts etc. could be consolidated into a coherent whole.
His fantasie could very well be of the kind we talked here about today. To reunite with the whole, to be whole again, not a separate expeled part any more – isn’t this the dream about salvation?
But it is nothing special, every one has it, it cost no money and it is surely not some transcendental nonsens for which one needs a Buddhist teacher.
This is not radical at all. It is naïve. It is selling water at the river bank. Putting nothing in boxes and selling it.
Matthias #92: Good question!
Zen and Theravada were forcibly modernized in the late 1800s by State command, as part of a nationalist, anti-colonial strategy. I wrote about this in Zen vs. the US Navy and The King of Siam invents Western Buddhism.
You might find the case of Zen particularly interesting, since the New Zen (which has practically nothing to do with traditional Zen) was explicitly modeled on German Romantic Idealism. And, it was developed as an export product particularly to send to America. Japanese Zen missionaries to America were often better educated in German philosophy than in Buddhism.
The Tibetan case is more complicated. The Tibetan ruling class had a policy of isolation up to 1959, specifically because they realized that allowing in modern ideas would erode their power. That means that there was not a long tradition of modernization in Tibetan Buddhism when the first lamas came to the West around 1970.
The most successful Tibetans, however, have been modernists. Chögyam Trungpa was the most important in the 70s and 80s, and then the Dalai Lama took over in the 90s. Trungpa’s work is a major influence on me; it’s a much more subtle and interesting synthesis of traditional and Western ideas than most others. The Dalai Lama, by contrast, is one of the major architects of Consensus Buddhism, and mostly teaches “the way to be happy is to be nice to everyone.” That suits his political agenda.
In the late 80s and early 90s, there was greater demand for Tibetan Buddhism in America than there were modernist teachers. And, Tibetans learned that you could make big money by touring around America. So some traditionalists came over, and mostly failed. They couldn’t understand Americans, and Americans couldn’t understand them.
Some have had modest success as textual scholars, though. Americans have the strange Protestant idea that reading and understanding scripture is important. So you can make money by teaching them Tibetan language, and giving semi-traditional interpretations. Some of those lamas also teach the rudiments of ritual.
That’s probably the most-traditional Buddhism available to white people.
Take the homepage of buddhistgeeks. There’s a video in which Kenneth Folk appears. He says,
Cut. Next take. But what is he saying anyway? It is a trivial proposition. It’s self-evident. Humans develop, so what? I could go on and develop myself. So, this sentence in itself is empty. He says something trivial. Read immanently, regarding only the content which I find in the short text, it says nothing new. It takes a certain word – enlightenment – defines it as “outdated” and gives a new word: “human development”. In fact, one could say, the one positive thing he does is putting to rest this outdated word. But than, if we have it to do now with human development, we could walk away and develop ourselves. We would be done with Kenneth Folk and Buddhism and we could even be thankful that he once and for all ended this enlightenment-fantasy. I think, that is the point why he looks like a radical new Buddhist for some. We are done with enlightenment. Pooh, finally somebody said it.
Looked at it in a nutshell, immanently, concentrating on the text as such, Kenneth Folk says something purely trivial and thereby revolutionizes Buddhism. Ok, but then there is context.
The video begins with a statement by Diane Hamilton:
Then, after Kenneth Folk, at 01:30 comes Shinzen Young:
I don’t want to go into a detailed analysis of this short promotional video. How it intertwines science and religiosity for example. I only want point to how the seemingly revolutionary message of Kenneth Folk, to abandon the raft, is framed in a way which makes it clear that the mighty transcendental dharma still lingers in the background – that there is still a “decision” unknown to the actors.
First, the opening statement by Dian Hamilton makes it clear that thaumaturgical authority is still in place (cf. “Thaumaturgical refuge” in Wallis’ Nascent Speculative Non-Buddhism). “Dharma for our time!” – That is the authority, with a straight look into the eyes of the viewer, telling the truth. And furthermore it’s classic marketing, evoking the desire to get this product which is “power packed [with] TED-style talks. […] The only events on the planet where you can participate at the intersection of Buddhism, technology, and emerging global culture.” – As it is written right next to the introductory video. And Dian Hamilton taking it for granted and asserting that there is “dharma”, forces the viewer by affect to trust her. The buzz word “dharma” and the trustworthy exponent of the sangha plus the comparison to the TED talks all make for a great product advertisement, all the while there is nothing to sell but human development. One could say that this is a powerful example of what Richhard Payne calls Putting Nothing in Boxes and Selling it.
Then there is the other side of the framing. A short putting into perspective by Vincent Horn, what, again, is nothing in itself to object to (…well, “time honed tradition of Buddhism”… but let’s make it short). After him Shinzen Young provides the other pillar of transcendental bubblegum to glue Kenneth’s seemingly revolutionary statement into good old Buddha-is-the-greatest: Buddha is the greatest scientist of human happiness. Behind Young is a picture with the Buddha as the central figure surrounded by Jesus, Mohamed, Euclid, Newton… you name it. Again it’s a trick. First the prerequisite that there was something like a Buddha. Second the assertion that he was literally the greatest.
What becomes visible is that Kenneth Folk’s statement is tightly enframed in the message that there is a great original superhuman being which stated the truth once and for all.
The result is, we are not simply humans who develop. For our development we still have to trust the superhuman greatest-of-all and his priests.
There would be much more to say. About the iconographic display behind Young for example, with the god-like Buddha in the center, like in a mural painting of a Baroque church, surrounded by little puttos. How this represents an imperialistic thrust to subjugate every other being under the rule of the savior. But this may suffice so far.
David, thanks a lot. This will make for some interesting examination in the future. I come back to this.
I am very glad to see discussions like these ones taking place. Glenn, Tom and Matthias have picked some powerful brands of tools (Badiou, Laruelle…) to test the gold of « The Dharma ». “As the wise test gold by burning, cutting and rubbing it (on a piece of touchstone), so are you to accept my words after examining them and not merely out of regard for me.” I can understand the need to stick closely to the terminology of Badiou and Laruelle, since it’s their methods are used, but these authors are not always (euphemism) easy to understand, even in French. So any vulgarization effort is welcome.
I was following the discussion about « modernism versus traditionalism » and happened to read the Wikipedia article (I don’t know who wrote it) on Buddhist modernism « (also referred to as Protestant Buddhism, Modern Buddhism and modernist Buddhism ». It cites David McMahan who cites “western monotheism; rationalism and scientific naturalism; and Romantic expressivism”. It reminds me also of some of the arguments in an article by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, The Buddha via the Bible. I expect that David Chapman is referring to this line of argument when he writes « Americans have the strange Protestant idea that reading and understanding scripture is important. »
What strikes me here is that a core « Buddhism » is implicitly posed, that seems to have been denaturated by Protestant and Enlightenment values and that is evolving into a modern Buddhism/Protestant Buddhism, characterized by detraditionalization and essentialization, and by the idea that reading and understanding scripture is important. It seems to me that the idea of a core « Buddhism » in reference to which Buddhist modernism detraditionalizes and essentializes, is already an « essentialization ». As I see Buddhism, there is not one but many Buddhisms. There are probably at least as many Buddhisms as there are philosophical schools in the West. Those Buddhisms have influenced and have been influenced by other philosophical and religious systems. « Buddhism » has been evolving since its first day, if there ever was one. It hasn’t been waiting for Protestantism, Enlightenment, German Romanticism and the Beat generation to detraditionalize and essentialize or to give importance to scripture and the reading and understanding thereof (Buddhist scholasticism, cult of prajnaparamita texts, dharanis replacing the Buddha’s relics in stupas etc.).
The cited Wikipedia article explains : « Buddhist modernist traditions often consist of a deliberate de-emphasis of the ritual and metaphysical elements of the religion, as these elements are seen as incommensurate with the discourses of modernity. Renunciation of worldly matters, devotional practices, ceremonies and the invocation of bodhisattvas among other traditionally widespread practices are often perceived as culturally contingent, therefore rather dispensable, sometimes inconvenient or impracticable. » It seems to me that some ch’an masters, siddhas, Advayavajra/Saraha, the radical Dzogchen (sems sde, kun byed rgyal po…) were not bad at de-emphasizing of the ritual and metaphysical elements and of emphasizing direct experience, more than 1000 years ago. Unfortunately, these more radical approaches had to yield (by being integrated and conditioned) for the traditional State & Church alliance (clad in mythology) where rituals, metaphysical elements and pedigree were emphasized. So « Buddhism » has already gone through various cycles of modernization and de-modernization.
Matthias (#93), I think that narrowing the attention achieved during “meditation” may cause a reduction at the level of cognitive activity and global workspace is cleared to some degree and therefore can be perceived without the usual “buzz of thinking” which anchors us in “the symbolic/imaginary system”. Hence the effect of the luminosity. It’s preposterous when you look at such fantasies, you mention, through the lenses of the cognitive science. This global workspace which is originally being embedded in the body, that emerges from the body can be magically transformed – in the minds of charlatans as Folk – into empty boxes that are than marketed and sold for millions. For some its crash, and for some it means cash.
David: I would have to insist that on any of the various definitions you offer of “Buddhist modernism” (I counted four), I am not trying to do any such thing. You seem to be assuming that the only “real” Buddhism is the ideological component of Buddhism (how it is actually practiced by the majority of practitioners), but this, for me, is the least important thing Buddhism has to offer. It is of some interest, I would say, to examine how Buddhism has served as an ideology throughout history, and how it is functioning to shore up failing ideologies now (I have, for instance, discussed this in an essay for non+X, with regard to the ideological practice of psychology in the addictions industry). However, the most important thing is not to find some text that, if tortured into obedience by the right translation, makes a present ideology seem ancient “wisdom.” This is certainly the prevalent use of Buddhism, but is not what I am interested in.
Instead of “shoring up” some “French philosophy” with some selective reading of “scripture,” the goal is actually to use both continental philosophy and Buddhist thought and practice to develop ways to denaturalize or distantiate ideology, to produce a subject capable of knowing its own ideology and still able to be motivated to act by an ideology of which it is completely aware.
To focus on what people “actually did” (eg, they didn’t “really” read texts), is fine–it can tell us about how ideology works. But it is not at all my primary interest. To me, that would be like saying that the “correct” reading of Shakespeare is the one arrived at by most high-school students in America, since that would tell us about the ideological function that Shakespeare really does serve for us today. It is interesting to know what ideological function it serves to make Shakespeare the only text still required in American high schools, but it will tell us nothing at all about what a Shakespeare play actually says, and whether it says anything of value for us today.
My interest is to emphasize what occurred in those few moments of real innovation and emergence of truth, and see how we can work to recover those insights and make use of them. Studying how these truths were suffocated by the actually daily practice of “traditional” Buddhism through most of history is useful, in that it can help us see what we need to avoid, but is not the goal.
Also, claims like ” All Western interpretations of Buddhism are modernist to some degree, because modernity was already dominant when Westerners first became aware of Buddhism” are, well, senseless. ” Modernity way dominant” is a meaningless phrase (and made more incoherent by your multiple, and contradictory “definitions” of “modern”). This sentence assumes a sort of monolithic “modern” ideology, and assumes that there is no difference between an “interpretation” and practice. I really don’t think it is possible to combine all “interpretations” of, say, Nagarjuna’s MMK that have ever been offered by western thinkers as “modern,” without simply reducing that term to meaning “somewhat recent,” and so to simple tautology: “All recent interpretations of Buddhism are to some degree recent, because they were done recently.”
RE #89: अमृतकुण्डली,
I cannot understand what you mean by the phrase “the realist assertion that consciousness supervenes on matter.” I’m not familiar with this assertion, unless I am understanding the term “supervene” differently than you.
As for any “movement from an observer-dependent human social reality, that is, ideology, to the subjacent ‘real’ reality of an observer-independent physical reality,” I would say that this is neither possible, nor desirable. We always know reality only with some intention, and if there were some way to know it outside of intention, it would just be a useless pile of meaningless stuff. There are no “observer-independent” observations, because and observation is done with an intention. It can still be “correct” about the world–it picks out those parts of the “meaningless pile of stuff” that are really relevant to some purpose, but the observation can still be correct about them. If I hear “music” while somebody else hears “noise,” we are both correctly detecting real sound waves really existing in the universe, that would still be there if we did not notice them (if we were deaf, or wearing headphones)–but we can only ever “observe” this really existing thing from within some ideology (noise-music). In Badiou’s terms, truths can always only appear in Worlds–but they are still truths. When our ideology requires us to ignore too much of reality, it will be forced into contradiction and become harder to maintain–we cannot stop reality from existing with a different ideology. (This is what I usually take “mind-dependent” reality to refer to: the belief that we will simply not be impacted in any way by things not included in our ideology–of course, this is false, and ideologies run into trouble all the time for this reason. We can easily bump into a wall we are not aware of).
Yes. That’s extremely valuable and I’m watching your progress with great interest.
This is where our projects most obviously overlap.
History (political, social, cultural as well as religious) seems useful in locating those moments, and helpful in understanding what happened then and how and why. That may help us in creating space for future innovations.
Regarding your last paragraph: rather than going into detail, I’ll just again invoke McMahan’s book. He points out the ways that various specific modern ideas have been thoroughly infused into Buddhism as now understood.
First, a clarification. I said, “my interest i[s] confined to the current western forms of x-buddhism;” to which you responded,
“Good, I think this is clarifying the relationship between our respective projects.” But what I should have said is that a part of the critical work I’m doing concerns x-buddhism in the present, here, in the West. My overall critical work takes “Buddhism” as its subject. I have to ask how familiar you are with my first attempt at working out my approach. I’ve explained it very clearly, I think, here. (Maybe you can likewise recommend something of yours for me to read.) Your use of the categories “traditional” and “modernist” permits you to see certain features and to be blind to or simply ignore others. My category of “decision,” as well as my fairly detailed heuristic, allows me to see certain features of x-buddhism while being blind to or ignoring others. I’ve purposely worked out my approach in the way that I have precisely because I wanted to see if there might something like an invariable constant operating within the varieties of Buddhism. I am arguing that I have discovered such a constant. So, to get at that, I ignore as much static–historical, doctrinal detail–as possible. (The “x” helps to do that.) We might also turn our theoretical Geiger counters toward each other. When you do so, you see me operating under the influence of “modernist” habits and assumptions. That’s neither here nor there, as far as I’m concerned. Similarly, I see you as operating under the influence of “decisional reflexivity” (it’s discussed in the article). That may prompt a big shoulder shrug in you. I don’t know. But in employing a traditionalist/modernist model to understand the work I am doing, as well as the work Tom Pepper and Matthias Steingass are doing, you will miss the most important, and certainly the most interesting, stuff.
Another tack: By your definition, our project may resemble aspects of Buddhist modernism. But your definition is too narrow to define an exclusively modernist approach. One reason that I say that is that I take exception to your claim (in the first full para) that ancient, medieval, and early-modern Buddhists did not engage in the same kind of fantastic textual fetishism as the current modernists do. There have always been pointy-headed Buddhist “intellectuals.” Similarly, there have always been unthinking superstitious idiots. It is true that most “traditional” Buddhists, now as then, subscribe to archaic belief systems concerning all sorts of issues, from cosmology to gender. But so do many “modernists,” don’t you think? In other words, “Buddhists actually believed and did, in Asia, circa 1850” roughly the same things that we find being believed and done in the current western x-buddhist scene. (Should I provide some examples? It will be like shooting fish in a tub.) I just do not see the temporal and doctrinal breaks as being as clean as you seem to. To my eyes, Ken McLeod is as much a traditional thaumaturge as as Maudgalyayana. Stephen Batchelor is as enamored a devotee as Sadaprarudita. Stephen Schettini is as devoted to The Dharma as Ananda, etc., etc., etc.
I think a careful reading of the basic texts of our work on this blog will show you that something very different from “a continuation of the same project that led to Consensus Buddhism and various other abominations.” So far, my impression is that you do not really understand what we’re up to. Continually invoking your categories here may uncover some data that’s significant for your purposes, but you are missing our point in doing so.
Tom, there’s a detailed article on ‘supervenience’ in the Stanford Encyclopedia, which contains the phrase, “For example, while the mental may supervene on the physical, the physical does not supervene on the mental. There can be physical differences without mental differences.” Of course supervenience, with respect to the mind, has its own problems in the modern literature which can be read about in the same encyclopedia’s article on ‘mental causation’. That is to say that when we think that we have told our fist to clench, in fact the fist’s clenching was not an effect of our will at all but merely the effect of the machine of our physiology. Thomas Huxley put it that mental states are like the steam coming off a train in that they play no causal role in the train’s moving forward.
So Buddhism could be right after all, especially in its more Zen forms: there is no mind whatsoever. It is an illusory, superfluous epiphenomenon. For effect, I could refer to Glenn’s comment #80 and re-quote the Brassier:
Here we are then, in the black mirror of zeroness. As Badiou would say, all philosophy has to pass through this point and all philosophy does, it is merely a question of recognizing it in any given philosopher’s oeuvre. From here we reconstruct, moving from the empty set to omega. As far as I understand, that is what we’re doing here, within the constraints we could call ‘finitude’ or ‘mind-independent’ reality.
Thanks; I’ve read that overview essay before. (Twice, I think.)
I realize now that I failed, at the outset of this comment thread, to say explicitly that I agree with your analysis of “decision.” I agree also that everyone on O’Connell’s list suffers from it; that this is a major problem; and that the problem is indeed shared across traditional and modern Buddhisms. I take all that for granted, and therefore forgot to actually say it.
What I’ve tried to do here, in discussing tradition and modernism, is to contextualize the list, to clarify what I thought his point might be. These are people who are breaking out of a particular hegemony of thought (the Consensus). It’s a narrower hegemony than the one you are interested in (x-Buddhism). Breaking it up is genuine progress. Is it adequate? No. Are we all insufficiently radical? Yes.
(I’m including myself because Matthew did, although I don’t necessarily think I have anything in common with some of them other than rejection of the Consensus. I find Kenneth Folk baffling, for instance, although he seems like a nice guy.)
Presumably none of us on the list can do better than we are doing. Maybe you can; I hope you do.
To clarify a minor: I’m not denying that Buddhism has always included pointy-headed intellectuals. Further, I count myself as a pointy-headed intellectual. And, I think most or all of the progress in Buddhism has been made by people like us. Rather, I’m suggesting that our role, and the role of texts, is hugely greater in modern than traditional Buddhism.
I see more continuity of your project with modernist Buddhism than you do. But “more” is unquantifiable judgement here.
They are “Atman Buddhists ?” – says hammerhead pepper – So what is this, a reassertion of anatma, a stance of true buddism, of “anatma “- “amen to all that” -says the cool guy-. Too simplistic, to easy, too floppy all along. All in the name of originality and differentiation. I have an hypothesis: it is call the attention thermometer. I think all revisionist buddists can be classified according to their desire for and and obtention of public attention, and thus a form of power. It follows that they compete for it. The more agressively they do so, the more they seek it.
Which is the most agressive of all revisionist buddists ? which is the least ? which is the most published ?, which is the oldest -which will probably die sooner -?, which the youngest ? What a fucking circus.
25 thousend children die each day of preventable causes. Wake up guys and solve some relevant problem !
David (#104). I just read, and re-read, a bunch of your articles at your blog. As far as I can tell, there is not much to disagree with in your careful analysis of “Consensus Buddhism.” I am now all-the-more curious about who you see as “breaking out of a particular hegemony of thought (the Consensus).” I don’t see the work of the so-called Gen-Xers as rising to the level of breaking out from the older hippie-buddhist norms. My inability to do so (to see that) may be attributable to my interest in “syntax” rather that “vocabulary.” I am beginning to see that our difference lies in the fact that for you “Breaking it up is genuine progress.” I am always getting into debates with people–especially psychologists, for some reason–about the merits of, in Buddhist terms, sudden vs. gradual approaches. Our debates center on meditation. I just throw person X into an hour of still, silent, no-frills, no-instruction sitting. “The sitting does all the work,” I say. “No,” says the gradualists, “you have to lead X slowly to this point. You have to break him in.” So, maybe you’re a gradualist and I’m a suddenist. I think person X can get the whole thing really, really quickly–if he works hard at it. I see the gradualist rhetoric as ultimately serving the interests, and continued hegemony, of the status quo. I see a genuine radicalism as our only hope of significant change. If it doesn’t shake the masters out of their complacency, it will at least reveal the fact that they are complacent.
About your comment: “I see more continuity of your project with modernist Buddhism than you do,” the more I read you on the subject, the less I understand how I (we) can be seen in this light. For instance, from your article “Traditional and modern Buddhism: an illusory duopoly:”
On modernist Buddhism:
I certainly don’t buy any of that, for instance.
[…] goal is in complete accord with much of contemporary modernist rhetoric produced by Buddhist “post-traditionalists” who correspond to the “free-thinkers and bohemians” of Schleiermacher’s […]
Buddhist modernism might be defined most broadly as any synthesis of aspects of Buddhist tradition with aspects of modernity. (“Aspects” could include values, practices, ideas, artifacts, institutions, etc.) It would seem that you are doing that.
Your project is distinctive in that the poststructuralism you draw on is arguably non-modern. And, as you say in #106, you reject many modernist dogmas. So maybe you are working toward a Buddhist after-modernism rather than a Buddhist modernism. That’s what I find most interesting here.
It may be that you unwittingly recapitulate aspects of Buddhist modernism, however. If it is ideology you are unaware of, it could be useful to recognize.
A possible example. You reject ritual, I believe. That is a typical characteristic of Buddhist modernisms, dating back to King Mongkut and Imakita Kosen in the mid-1800s. It is not traditional—despite mythology to the contrary in modern Theravada and Zen. Traditional Theravada and Zen had, and still have, extensive and elaborate ritual, which Mongkut and Kosen tried to eradicate.
Their logic for this rejection was explicitly borrowed from Protestant Christianity. They have long ago passed into obscurity, and Buddhist rejection of ritual is now largely unthought. It’s too “obviously right” to require rigorous thinking. The obvious rightness is now “traditional” (in the sense of requiring no justification, “it’s just how it is”) in contemporary Buddhism. It also “just makes sense” because Protestantism is the invisible bedrock of American ideology.
In order to understand why Buddhists reject ritual, you need to understand the power dynamics and intellectual history of the Christian Protestant Reformation, and then how that was recapitulated in Buddhism. And then you would want to ask whether the logic still applies now—particularly inasmuch as your political goals are mostly opposite Monkut’s and Kosen’s.
I suggest that the reasons contemporary Buddhists reject ritual are not only unthought, they are mostly wrong. I advocate restoring ritual to a central role in contemporary Buddhism. I would want to see quite different sorts of rituals than in traditional Buddhisms, serving somewhat different goals. One couldn’t go about creating those without first understanding clearly the role of ritual in tradition, the reasons it is now rejected, and the reasons those reasons are wrong.
Perhaps you have done this thinking-through, and still reject ritual for reasons of your own, that are quite different to those of Buddhist modernism. Perhaps you have also thought-through all the other unthought aspects of Buddhist modernism. That would be an impressive body of work.
David (#108). Although I have to yet again invoke “have to run; get back to you later,” I wanted to quickly respond to:
I think that ritual is as unavoidable as ideology. So, the important thing is to recognize it’s inevitability, and then employ it better. Everything we do in the presence of others, and much we do alone, is highly ritualized. Even something as seemingly “natural” as a conversation in a cafe is saturated by ritualized behaviors. I do, however, allow for a range of ritualization, roughly (borrowing Grimes’s categories) from barely discernible (because biologically determined) ritualization to full-blown liturgy. Maybe I should say more about this later. In any case, I explicitly teach ritual and ritual theory because of its ubiquity. Again, it’s never a question of no ritual. It’s always a question of things like which ritual components, why, to what ends, and so on.
Thanks! More later. I am off to a class in which we have been dissecting and analyzing ritual protocols so that the students might make more informed choices as meditation instructors and acupuncturist clinicians. Really! . . .
RE 108: Here you’ve offered one more definition of Buddhist modernism that is the most vacuous of all: if modernism is anything that employs any “aspect” of modernity, then of course there is nothing currently existing, not even “tradition,” that is not modernist. I’m all for producing abstract concepts, which always require some generalization, but this is equivalent to those postmodernists who say that Literature is “anything written, spoken, or employing any non-verbal semiotic system”: it eliminates the concept altogether, and is really disingenuous.
Perhaps instead of trying to list “features” of modernism, you could define it by function? One way to conceive of modernism is as an attempt to maintain, reproduce, and expand the capitalist social formation, by allowing “modification” at the level of ideology that prevent “change” at the level of economic structure. In looking at your website, this seems to be your goal–to produce a more satisfying ideology that will prevent the need change our social conditions of existence. MaMahan’s book sees change in the same way–he does a very nice job of describing how Buddhism functions as a capitalist ideology, but he does not seem to really realize that is what he is doing; ultimately, his account of Buddhist Modernism leaves us to ask only which ideology is best, which can produce the most enjoyable form of capitalism–while the economic reality itself is assumed to be as inevitable as biology.
RE 103: To say that there is no mind, that it is a mere epiphenomenon, is the worst kind of evil. It simply allows the horrors of humanity to go on, and suggests we should be passive observers, since the mind has no causal powers to change anything. Clearly, this is not the case–look at the changes in the world wrought by the human minds. The mind exists in the socially produce symbolic/imaginary system, it is impermanent and changeable, but clearly it has causal powers and it very real. An apple tree or a tornado are impermanent and changing, but both are real and have causal powers. The collective mind is of the same order as any other existing thing, and has causal powers particular to it–the powers to make the world more pleasant for the human bodies that occupy it. The only way we wind up with the idiotic idea of the epiphenomenon is if we cannot let go of dualism, of the insistence that the mind must be of a completely different order than anything else–and then the pointless attempt to try to explain how this magically transcendent “mind” could arise from individual brains leaves us with the same dead end of the mind-body problem. This is not a problem at all, once we understand that consciousness exists in the symbolic communication between individuals, in the symbolic system that structures and enable and contains all thought. This truth is as old as Buddhism, and as new as Spinoza or Lacan, and it clears away the perpetual problem philosophy exists primarily (in the Anglo world, at least) to keep in place–because as long as we insist on the wrong terms for the problem, we can insist it cannot be solved, and we can insist that there is nothing we can do to really change anything. This is the fundamental “decision” of philosophy in America: to play the game, you must accept our terms, so that the problem will always remain unsolved–nobody who sees the solution is allowed into the discourse of philosophy.
I think it could be that we are here at a very important point. With the discusion here about the origins of Buddhist thought today and with Richard’s post now (link #107) it becomes ever more clear that the whole time we are drinking old wine from new skins.
I think it could be of great reward to analyse the history of Buddhism in the West after the second world war and especially after 1968 in this light. I would suggest the hypothesis that Buddhist teachers coming here used our language unaware of the historical heritage it brought with it and thereby unintentionally pointed out something possibly very different than they thought.
This is nothing new. Look at Donald S. Lopez’ Prisoners of Shangri-La for example. But his is academic work which does not find its way into mainstream thinking. What is necessary though I think is to put into plain view the nacked emperor.
This might not be of interest for the generation of those who went to the east and build their whole life on what the think they found. Although some of them might be asked to go further in their consequences they already drew. I think more about younger people who search for solutions in Buddhism in regard of the current crisis of capitalism. They should be taught that there is really nothing, and that in fact, as we often times repeated here, it is the sleeping pill to sooth people. This goes too for all the other esoteric mumbo jumbo out there.
In hindsight Buddhism after 1968 was a total non-starter. This has been analyzed to some extent but the consequences are not drown. Certainly post-traditional Buddhism isn’t doing it. I have no clear idea how the consequences could look like. But this does not matter at the moment. The point is to put into clear sight the contradictions Buddism in the West is producing. For me the most glaring and most general is that it mimics liberation but in fact is prison.
I think we are here already shifting some balance towards a new thinking. I mean everyone contributing here – every commentator, every writer.
I can think very vaguely about a truly radical spirituality. This means the realization of the individual as a nodal point which is able to risk everything within and for the radical subject – literally everything.
This goes hand in hand with the development of a certain asceticism which learns to identify, to cut off or to use for its own purposes, the influences of consumer capitalism and all its norming mechanisms. This means the development of far reaching psychophysical abilities and the development of the intellectual abilities to identify the variables which make one what one is.
Is this just another romantic dream? I don’t know. What I now, thought, going on, asking questions, being curios and being able to through overboard outdated equipment is essential for developing the new and unforeseen.
You know that Lacan belongs to the same lineage of “machinic” thinkers that started with Von-Neumann (together with von Foerster) and cybernetics, passed through him and then went on through Delueze? In “The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book II” Lacan states that “the machine is the structure detached from the activity of the subject. The symbolic world is the world of the machine”.
The assertion “that consciousness exists […] in the symbolic system that structures and enable and contains all thought”, on this view of the machinic, does not free us from a sense of powerless determinism. “Man is a decentred subject”, according to Lacan, clearly implying the absence of human agency. The subject is a mere contingency of the play of production of the symbols within this machinic system, as real as the fleeting images which appear on the surface of a lake.
Reflections of the moon, perhaps?
I’m not sure this is the philosophy we need to generate the kinds of radical subjects required to push for change. I entirely agree with you that what we shouldn’t be doing is encouraging subjects to think that “there is nothing we can do to really change anything”. However, I can’t see machinic thinking of being capable of generating this subject.
I have to say that it is absolutely absurd to take a few passages (or a single passage) out of context and claim that Lacan is in a “lineage” of “machinic” thinkers. Nobody who actually takes the time to read Lacan would think this at all. It is like saying that Marx is in the “lineage” of classical economics, because he uses a few of the same terms, reformulate their problematic, etc. Certainly there is not “human” agency, no individual has true agency, but this does not mean that the symbolic system has not causal powers, and cannot contribute to freeing human bodies from their natural history, it certainly can–if you don’t believe this, go for a drive and look around! You don’t understand Lacan at all–spend some time reading him, and you might see that this dismissive misrepresentation of his thought, so popular with the conservative right, is as far from what he says as an undergraduate psych textbook is from what Freud actually says. What is so terrifying about the idea of non-self, that you would immediately dismiss any thought of it, even at the cost of asserting from ignorance that it says the opposite of what it does? That kind of recoiling in dismissive fear is the worst kind of clinging.
I am quite sure that this is exactly what we need to generate the kinds of radical subjects who can produce real change. And for this very reason, there is an enormous academic apparatus set up to insure that this kind of thought is misrepresented and dismissed in exactly the way you have just done!
I can’t really see how two or three quotes of Lacan’s extensive written works can be construed as my dismissing his work in its entirety, I would say that that is just as much a misrepresentation of my thought as you feel that my few quotes is a misrepresentation of Lacan’s!
My point is, and has been for a couple of posts now, that modern scientific realism involves, or certainly implies, a supervenience of mind on matter and a consequent negation, or at least a high degree of skepticism, of the causal efficacy of thought. This is interesting, as modern scientific realism quite definitively proposes a mind-independent reality, and here we can draw an association between the idea of a mind-independent reality and serious problems with respect to the causal powers of thought.
Lacan clearly thought that the symbolic systems you speak of were machinic, but to assert that my conclusion from that is that symbols have no causal power is absurd – on the scientific realist view, the machinic is the +only+ system type that has causal powers. At the same time I would like to make it clear that I do not subscribe to this view of scientific realism I describe.
And why do you think I am fearful of non-self and dismiss thoughts of it? I can’t see any reason in my text for this assertion. From this reaction of yours, it seems to me that some transference is occurring here. Maybe non-self sits well with you, but non-mind does not? Interesting.
Maybe you’re right, maybe machinic thinking is the answer. Let us not forget that Delueze’s texts have been used by military forces in the Middle East to improve their efficacy of urban warfare. Here’s hoping this is not the kind of ‘radical’ you mean.
RE 115: to begin with, I could not be misrepresenting your “thought,” since I am only objecting to this comment. I did not draw the conclusion that Lacan prevents the possibility of agency, YOU did, explicitly, in#113–where you say that “machinic” thought (under which category you very incorrectly place Lacan) cannot produce any agency–now, however, you say that it in fact can.
I have never heard anything so absurd as attributing to Lacan the version of “scientific rationalism” you propose–there is no way at all that Lacan is “machinic,” although he does use some terms, metaphorically, that taken out of context might give that impression. There is also absolutely no way that one could read Lacan as suggesting a supervenience of mind on matter–which you suggest in your last post. The idea of “mind supervening on reality” is still absurd to me–it is like saying that the wart on my thumb supervenes on the solar system. I could see how one might claim the mind supervenes on the brain–that, at least, would make sense as a claim, although it would be wrong (and absolutely incompatible with Lacan’s position). If you would stop obsessing about encyclopedia articles and actually read Lacan, you might understand things a bit better.
Projection is not the same as transference, but neither is what is going on here. i would absolutely object to the idea that the mind does not exist, because it is as stupid as saying that the sun does not exist, and for exactly the same reason: because it arose from causes and conditions, and will eventually cease to exist, it does not follow that it does not exist at all. The same cannot be said of atman, which did not arise from causes and conditions, and does not exist at all, and belief in it is simply a mistake.
You are terribly attached to a naive idea of science–to exactly the idea of science to which you claim you “do not subscribe.” Let go of it, stop reading encyclopedia articles, and read some actual philosophy–or really read Lacan’s seminars, or Ecrits. It might help you get over the ridiculous attachment to “supervenience,” which, by the way, is why I am sure you are attached to the idea of a “self”: all correspondence theories require the existence of a dualistic, transcendent consciousness of some kind, and as a result they all insist we cannot ever reach the point of making any actual change in the world–because it is theoretically impossible to do so from this postion, so we are supposed to believe it is actually impossible.
Okay, so ‘my’ body is the result of causes and conditions and will eventually cease to exist. The idea of thought and it’s content…that’s part of these causes and conditions. Yet, somehow we seem to be able to ‘manipulate’ thought (thinking?). I ‘get’ non self, I just sometimes worry about what i perceive to be it’s ramifications for thought and suffering. If there is no self, then what is thinking? How does the thinker break from delusion?
I’m trying to pull all this together. Sorry to be so dense. I know you have to write a lot of the same stuff to us until we get it, and then write it again 🙂 Thank you!
Just as YOU explicitly agreed that “certainly there is not “human” agency”. Or are you now suggesting that Lacan’s “decentered subject” does in fact imply it?
Equally absurd is your suggestion that I even implied that Lacan is in any way responsible for the view of scientific realism I describe. This kind of ridiculous straw-man building on your part is not only tiresome, it is also frankly boring. The idea of “mind supervening on matter” is a cornerstone of analytic (not “continental”) philosophy. Maybe you should get round to reading some yourself sometime.
Actually, I wasn’t referring to transference as a phenomenon, I was referring to transference as a technique. As far as Buddhism goes, the mind has no physical properties – the vipaśyanā practice, at least in the Indo-Tibetan sūtrayāna tradition, is all about looking nakedly at the mind for its physical properties (shape, color etc.) and realizing that it doesn’t have any. For this tradition, mind is not “physically existent”, or rather, its mode of existence is clearly distinguished from that of physical objects.
You being sure that I am attached to this or that really is not at all useful to a constructive, or even analytic, discussion. Of course you are quite welcome to your opinion, but from my side it would be much more interesting to discuss what you see as the specific reasons for these assertions, some sort of justification for them. I see none in what you write. My interest here is not determining who has the higher view, as if one of us was “enlightened”, but has much more dialogical motivations. I like to think of people as equals who are generous enough to share their knowledge and experience with each other in order to further their scope. Against this, of course, we have Lyndon B. Johnson who said, “If two men agree on everything, you may be sure that one of them is doing the thinking” or the Tibetan saying which goes, “If two philosophers agree, one is not a philosopher. If two saints disagree, one is not a saint.”
I know that Badiou is an important figure for important figures within the object orientated ontology movement. As Levi Bryant puts it on his blog:
So, rather than engaging in “language games”, why don’t we talk to each other about what we “commit passionately” to? This would seem the most adequate point of engagement for someone like yourself who has a strong interest in Badiou.
I am still interested in the discussions here, but yesterday things seem to have moved on pretty fast, for me at least. The house of Buddhism is burning. I agree and I thought that this idea was generally accepted. Should it be saved or should some of its furniture be saved? I don’t know, I thought that this question was part of the mission of this blog and that it is yet to be answered. But yesterday, as I saw it, some of us started to try and save some burning pieces of furniture from the house of Buddhism: sitting meditation, ritual, ideology and mind. Thereby already implicitly answering the question whether Buddhism ought to be saved. I hear a clear Yes there.
#106 Glenn Wallis: I just throw person X into an hour of still, silent, no-frills, no-instruction sitting. “The sitting does all the work,” I say.
#108 David Chapman: I advocate restoring ritual to a central role in contemporary Buddhism. #109 Glenn Wallis: I think that ritual is as unavoidable as ideology.
#111 Tom Pepper: To say that there is no mind, that it is a mere epiphenomenon, is the worst kind of evil.
I think that by the interest in this blog and its discussions, we show that somehow we do care about Buddhism, at least because of our identity, loyalty, teacher status, student status, past involvement, attachment, nostalgia etc. But is it still “really” useful? In its “traditional” hybrid forms, in its current hybrid forms, in the hybrid forms that some seem to be dreaming of? To what purpose should it be useful? I personally am at a loss there, but I am very curious to see what propositions may come up.
It seems to be easier to see what is wrong with the current hybrid forms of Buddhism, but that does imply a sense of what would be right. What gives us that sense of right? I would be very weary of it. The faithful, reactionary and obscurantist subjects have different opinions on what is right and wrong. Some feel “traditional Buddhism” has been attacked by post-traditional modernists since a set point in history. I believe the same sort of dynamics has been at work since the very beginnings of “Buddhism” and even before that. I rather agree with Tom at this point.
#110 Tom Pepper: Function of Buddhist modernism : One way to conceive of modernism is as an attempt to maintain, reproduce, and expand the capitalist social formation, by allowing “modification” at the level of ideology that prevent “change” at the level of economic structure.
As for the discussion about ritual, I have doubts about the function of rituals, that I see inseparably tied up with mythology and ideology and as maintaining it. What ideology will it be maintaining? Rituals also require individuals carrying them out correctly (professionalization) and can be surrogates or simulacra of real direct and efficient action.
RE 118: I agree, it is most productive to give reasons for our commitments. Sometimes, though, it is hard enough to make clear what they are.
You clearly suggest that Lacan accepts (I never said “is responsible for”) the view of scientific realism that depends upon “mind supervening on matter.” This is just absurd, and unless this misunderstanding is rejected, I cannot begin to explain how Lacan’s theory of the subject does in fact allow for agency. There is not agency at the individual level, but there is at the collective level—this is the implication that Badiou goes to great length to develop, and is why I find Badiou so important. “Agency,” of course, takes on a meaning very different from “free will”; it has much more to do with truth than with desire.
Certainly correspondence is the cornerstone of analytic philosophy, which is why most of it is useless. It is very frustrating to read, because even apparently intelligent people will repeatedly run into the exact same problem, and never consider the possibility of reframing the question. They cannot let go of two fundamental errors: correspondence, and the idea that minds arise individually from brains. I begin by rejecting both of these, and so get very little of use from analytic philosophers.
Clearly, there are some Buddhist traditions that teach that the mind has no physical properties, that it is not “physically existent,” but exists separately from the phenomenal world, as a transcendent “substrate consciousness” which will survive in eternal bliss once we stop trying to take actions in this world. This is always the kind of Buddhism I argue against; this is a rejection of the concepts (Truths!!) of anatman and dependent arising, and a retreat to Vedanta and delusion. It is always an error to say something like “as far as Buddhism goes, the mind has not physical properties.” I would rephrase this as “the reactionary/obscurantist attempt to destroy the truth of the Buddha-Event insists that the atman really does exist and we should stop being politically active if we want eternal bliss.”
RE 119: hridayartha: The faithful, reactionary, and obscurantist subject may have different ideas of what is right an wrong, but by definition the ideas of the faithful are true—that is what defines it as the faithful subject. You say that you are “at a loss” to decide “to what purpose it [Buddhism?] should be useful.” This is what we must decide, right? And since it requires decision, it requires ideology—it is inevitable. Ritual is inevitable in the same way. We always have it, and it is just best to be aware of it, and examine the ideology it is functioning to support. Ritual doesn’t just mean elaborate or ancient religious rituals—there is a “ritual” to a tailgate party or a first date, right? We can’t avoid rituals, they always support some ideology, and so we should just be willing to examine what function the ritual serves.
My decision is to try to reduce suffering—but this is clearly an ideology, right? There is no real “objective” reason that suffering is bad—the universe is indifferent to human suffering. It is my conviction that any ideology that requires deception or delusion will necessarily produce more suffering, and that not all ideologies require deception. We could have an ideology which we are fully aware is an ideology, and which we are fully aware can be changed—but like any ideology, it will require the establishment of certain social practices to produce and reproduce. We do want to be aware of what ideology our rituals maintain, and of when they are functioning in place of real action—critique is always going to be important, there is not “final” ideology.
What I would like is modifications in ideology that require, rather than prevent, real change in the social formation.
Craig: The problem is our misconception that “we manipulate thought.” There is no self to do this manipulating—there is only thought occurring in the symbolic system. Once multiple bodily individuals acquired the evolutionary capacity to communicate symbolically, they produced symbolic systems, which are the nature of consciousness. As individuals we are interpellated into these structures, and function within them.
What is thinking? It is the symbolic system increasingly coming to a correct understanding of how the mind-independent universe works, and enabling the bodily individuals it interpellates to function better in it. We can learn to build durable houses, grow food to avoid future famine, cure diseases, etc., because the truth of how the world works is acquired by the symbolic system. This allows humans to escape their natural history, and not be subjected to the difficulties all other species face.
We can break free from delusion, but usually only when we are forced to. If our construal of the world entails contradiction or includes error, it will lead to difficulties, and we can then try to correct that construal; of course, if the particular construal is beneficial to some bodily individuals, and they can forcibly dominate the rest and impose that construal on them, then it is much more difficult to correct our errors or face up to the contradictions.
My interest in Buddhism was always that it is, sometimes and in some places, a practice to distance our ideology and face the errors and contradiction in our thought. Unfortunately, this dangerous practice has almost always been contained and transformed into a conservative ideology. That seems to be the goal of the atman-buddhists in the U.S. today, and the only way to help them break free of their delusions is to force upon them an awareness of the contradictions and errors in their thought, and the world-wide suffering those errors function to support. This requires the existence of a collective (faithful) subject that can disrupt the delusions of the reactionary or obscurantist subject.
Thought is always a collective activity, occurring in language that requires multiple individuals. This is an important part of the attempt to break free of delusions. Pace Lyndon Johnson, one man can never think.
I would categorically reject the idea that Lacan subscribes to the idea of classic realism. Again, I’m not entirely sure how you reached the conclusion that I thought he did, but no, I do not and never have. I agree that it would be an absurd position to try and defend.
It is hard to make clear what these commitments are, I agree. Reducing suffering is one for me, as you also mention in #122. A commitment to an idea of finitude is another for me, related to the Buddhist idea of impermanence and finally I would mention egalitarianism, to name three.
Are you aware of Pete Wolfendal and his blog? He has written a lot about Brazzier, Harmann, OOP, OOO and Speculative Realism. I think you may be interested, to start with, in this post of his entitled ‘Hijacking Correlationism’:
Something to discuss, if you like, a common reference to clarify what we both mean by correlationism and a number of other terms we’ve used in our exchanges. Your rejection of the idea the minds arise from individual brains is a position I have sympathy for, much more sympathy than for the idea that minds do so arise.
I would agree with you that many of these Buddhist techniques seem to have degenerated into the desire for a personal experience of thought-free, non-conceptual bliss. I do not read the origin of these techniques necessarily in that light though. My intuition points to the possibility of a much more critically analytic foundation to some of these techniques, a way of short-circuiting the mind to generate an insight into the fact that things are not what they seem. I would agree with you that if these practices have degenerated in this way, then this has been a deliberate co-opting by the machinations of political power.
#121 Tom Pepper. Yes, I understand the purpose of this blog, as a thought experiment, to “decide” the purpose of Buddhism, the reduction of suffering being its classical objective, or sometimes the end of delusion (Sutralamkara). The reduction of suffering created through delusion sounds good enough to me.
Ideology is inevitable, I agree, and it is necessary to be aware of it in order to avoid delusion. But if ideology is not given by a Revelation or imposed by an elite (as has been the case until recently, and still is in different ways), how will it be shared? From what does an ideology derive its authority or adhesion?
As for ritual, it is a very loaded word. It doesn’t just mean elaborate or ancient religious rituals, but that happens to be its original and first meaning. Why pick that word to refer to a procedure, a social habit, or a custom? If we are to avoid using loaded dice, why use a word like ritual, which vehicles the whole of religious history? If it is to sacralize the ideology, one may wonder whether it’s necessary or skillful to do so in the first place? E.g. after the French revolution and the abolition of the worship of God, a cult of Reason was introduced and the churches were turned into temples of Reason with mitigated success. Isn’t a certain use of “rituals” preventing the real change in the social formation? Shouldn’t we make a distinction between natural and artificial (lite and hard) rituals, if the use of this word appears to be unavoidable?
Hridayartha (#124). Ritual studies a sub-field of the academic discipline religious studies. One of the founding figures of ritual studies in North America is Ronald Grimes. Catherine Bell is also an important thinker. Important European figures are, for instance, Arnold van Gennep, Émile Durkheim. Mary Douglas, Frits Staals, and Victor Turner. Grimes argues that because the study of religious ritual has traditionally been dominated by liturgists, the first step in the new sub-field had to been the generation of new theories of ritual. One of his many contributions has been to suggest what he calls “modes of ritual sensibility:”
He argues that it does not really make sense to speak of types of rituals as much as “embodied attitudes, that may arise in the course of a ritual.” To give a sense of how he attempts to reclaim ritual from the theologians and liturgists, I copied part of his explanation of “ritualization,” below. You can also have a look at his books Beginnings in Ritual Studies and Ritual Criticism.
I’m curious, what term would you suggest using instead of “ritual.” I agree that in engaging sitting practice or classroom work the way that I do (minimalist in every regard), the term “ritual” is overblown. But other ritual-studies-related terms are helpful in getting a view on what we are doing when we do these things–terms like decorum and ritualization. So, maybe you’ll agree that it’s a question of bringing some nuance to the term “ritual,” and only then giving thought to what is useful and what is merely the old “loaded dice” that serve to maintain the same old social formations. I can say one thing from experience: ritualized forms are extremely potent in terms of subjectification, transmission of ideological, and social formations; so messing with them is potentially explosive.
Here’s Grimes from Beginnings:
Thanks for the response. This may sound ridiculous, but how do we decide who’s right in terms of correcting the thought of others? You said in another response above that your focus on ending suffering is not some ultimate decision. That’s were I my ideology lies as well. Every intentional response I have to issues etc. is concerned with suffering of others. But that ideology is only found in ‘conversation’ with others, right? So correcting thought is part of ending delusion, but how to correct? It seems we need to put our cards out on the table and say to the deluded…’This is how I see things, I come from an ideology of ending suffering…what you are saying is encouraging more suffering.’ Doing this rather than arguing within the ideology of the deluded.
I’m not sure if I’m making myself clear. Thanks for your input.
Of rite and spring …
Buddhism has many archaic – unuseful features -. Contingency and solidarity are its core (contingency = anatma, dependent origination, non-self, no-mind, emptiness). The brutal poverty and exploitation during the times of Gotama or the historical Buddha all the way up to the industrial revolution, made all of humanity to look both for an escape from the world, and in a few good cases, to promote an individualistic focus on compassion. This was before democracy and redistribution of wealth (taxes) for social justice appeared. Only Republicans in the US and religious people including most Buddhists, still think compassion is the solution to inequality. Which is not.
The fact is buddhism is not necessary for living contingency and solidarity, for being an eskeptic or a cultural critic, or an effective agent of social change. We have serious problems as a planet as the 60 seconds video frightenly shows. And yet we seize the day discussing about rituals.
The best service budhism can do to itself is aknowledge its place as more or less a practice of personal wellbeing against the light of the current importance of democracy and social justice and thus lead the way for other religions to fade out, to be “privatized”. Some forms of meditation and sensibility practiced by buddhism may be worth keeping, at least for me and those people who may find them useful. If we are to solve inequality in this world, there is no room for religion and its achaic abusive tools of collective obedience. However science and philosophy are also used as religions. And thought to new generations as final Truths.
Only ethics without principles (as informed by prudence and sensibility), usefulness, dialogue, agreement and trust in each other about concrete endeavors, imagination and democracy can pull us ahead in real hope of a better future for all.
There is always room for beauty and poetry of course. But that is private, and who rightly gives a shit about any sort of personal motivation these days ?
We all want social change, so what is social progress, how do we get there ? If buddhism was to address these questions it might become more useful.
Thank you for the Grimes quote. Ritual occurs already at the level of the individual. When a repeated series or gestures is not simply the skill with which we carry out movements, but points to something else, helps to soothe, to reassure, to advert or ward off something. In other words when it becomes loaded with meaning, I guess one may call it a ritual. A group is a more complex individual and it may be necessary for a group to (re)affirm the group identity or recognize the members first before being able to function (again) like a group. All the noses have to be made to point into the same direction. A group is given a specific meaning. A group probably can’t exist without ritual. But if the rituals are carried out to soothe, to reassure, to advert or ward off something etc. then I wonder how that would fit in with Buddhism’s objective to reduce suffering caused by delusion.
If rituals come with any group, than there is no exception for Buddhism, although it’s not a characteristic feature of Buddhism itself. It is unavoidable, because it is inherent in any group. A group identity always has a story, a mythology, an ideology. Ritual is used to remind the group members of the ideology (sitting practice while adopting the posture of the Buddha is indeed not innocent…) Packs of ritualizing animals also have leaders whose authority is woven into the ideology, which is repeatedly reminded through rituals at specific significant dates for the ideology. It’s all very loaded. Is it unavoidable? I don’t know. But if suffering is linked to delusion, how much of that sort of delusion is acceptable?
The Buddha had to move out from his ideological milieu in order to achieve what he achieved. His followers initially lived in communities outside the ideological milieu, though still living of it. Unavoidable. And as a community, ritual was bound to creep back into it. The Buddha’s experience may itself have been a liberation from delusion, but as soon as he started to teach and to build a community, all that he condemned in Brahmanism crept back into his own system. The group, the mythology, the group leader and his “sacred” authority, the rituals. They were no longer freaks and could return to live within the bigger community and trade with it or even rule it. It’s unavoidable.
In Tom’s quiz about what sort of Buddhist subject one is, faithful, reactionary, and obscurantist, the word “subject” is loaded too. Bossuet, court preacher to Louis XIV, declared that “all men are born subjects” (to the king and God – the church). It’s as a reaction to this very statement that the French Revolution declared “All men are born free and with equal rights, and must always remain free and having equal rights.” It now seems we have become subjects again, but this time the subjects of an ideology.
Isn’t an essential part of the Buddha’s message not that there is a subject-free state, devoid of ideology? A state in which “one” is not a subject of any ideology? No doubt is it another illusion, or simply another idea, especially when one looks at it as a subject of an ideology. But still, it may be worth considering.
Thanks Glen for the info on your teaching of meditation.
I’ve been enjoying the ongoing discussions here both between you guys and Dave and about Anatman etc. I also think the issues that have emerged in the discussion resonate more closely with some of my own questions and have made the project you guys are following here much, much clearer. In reading through, it no longer seems necessary to post the points I raised at the Elephant Journal as the most important have already been discussed.
As if to confirm the contention that Buddhism in the west believes in a soul of sorts, I saw this this morning on FB from Reggie Ray:
“Buddhism talks about ‘no self’, which is sometimes even translated as ‘no soul’. But the fact of the matter is, in the Vajrayana tradition, each one of us is a human soul – meaning that there’s a fundamental part of us that transcends life and death and that is in evolution – spiritual evolution. And the thing about this ‘soul’ is that it is our essential quality as a person, our essential inspiration, our creativity, our fundamental way of experiencing the world and all of those things in us that really don’t seem to be ego.
“When we have a moment of truly selfless love for another; when we have an insight, even into our own neurosis, there’s tremendous clarity that sees where we’re stuck. That’s the soul expressing itself in our life. It may sound almost like a Christian teaching when I say it this way, but the body is how the soul can incarnate in human life and then can make its journey. As it is said in all the great traditions, it’s largely through the experiences we have as an embodied being that we grow spiritually and that our soul is nourished.” ~ Reggie Ray, Dharma Ocean Foundation
Reggie Ray . . now there’s a guy who has put his academic credentials to use in ways that would make Bob Thurman blush.
Amritakundali, re #123
What could “some of these techniques” be? Do you have some in mind?
I would see ‘vipassanā’ as a proto-‘absolute critique’ (and somewhat less dependent on institutional structures to pass on).
Thanks. But what do you mean with ‘vipassana’?
Good question. Taking this short wikipedia text as a base, my assertion is that the proto ‘absolute critique’ would be ‘inferential reasoning as our path’, that is, ‘to develop a conceptual understanding of emptiness and gradually refine that understanding through meditation’ (i.e. further inferential reasoning). On this view, I would see the taking of ‘direct experience as our path’ as a degeneration of the former.
Let’s try that link again …
Does anybody know of any teacher or group in the U.S. that teaches vipassana to mean this kind of conceptual or analytic understanding of emptiness? My understanding is that vipassana has, at times, meant the analysis of causes and conditions, cultivating the ability to determine the causes on which a particular conventional reality depends, and the consequences it will bring–along with, of course, the understanding that it is, in fact, conventional and so can be changed.
However, my experience with this kind of meditation has always been that in what is meant by vipassana is really samatha. The kind of meditation described, for instance, by Santideva is usually said to be “not really Buddhist” because it is very dependent on conceptual thought (Santideva privileges this kind of thought over the “calming” meditation which is popular in the West). At most, the goal of “vipassana” is said to be the “insight’ into the “deep and eternal reality” of things, the capacity to see with “pure perception”; this is the very opposite of what Madhyamaka Buddhists meant because, of course, they would argue that such “pure perception” is an illusion which prevents enlightenment, because it prevents us from analyzing the causes of what we think we are perceiving “outside of all thought.”
In the West, then, in my experience, vipassana is taught as a way to avoid any threat of actual insight, to prevent understanding of dependent arising, and to promote the comfort that comes from clinging to the illusion of a transcendent consciousness.
Can anyone offer an example of a “vipassana” teacher who teaches insight meditation that actually attempts to promote insight?
I seem to remember reading some Buddhist scholar (I think it may have been Mark Siderits?) saying that many people are bothered by Madhyamaka Buddhism because it depends on conceptual and philosophical thought for awakening; it also seems to trouble people because it is more likely to challenge than comfort us, and to compel us to put down our cup of tea and do something to change the world. These things may be true, but then, if you don’t want the truth, if you want mindless comfort, why bother with Buddhism at all? There are pills for that, right?
Tom, I would say that is more or less the standard approach of any conventional Gelukpa lama, teaching that kind of analytical vipashyana based on Madhyamaka reasonings.
It isn’t what is said, its what isn’t said.
In a continuing spirit of provoking the all pervasive roaring silence regrading the ongoing buddhist holocaust which stretches from the sucking black hole at the center of western X-buddhism to the vast reaches of the interstellar vacuums of speculative non-X buddhism, I think it appropriate to quote Robert Allen Zimmerman with reference to the bad robots of our better nature.
The Commander-in-Chief answers him while chasing a fly
Saying, “Death to all those who would whimper and cry”
And dropping a barbell he points to the sky
Saying, “The sun’s not yellow it’s chicken”
Mama’s in the fact’ry
She ain’t got no shoes
Daddy’s in the alley
He’s lookin’ for the fuse
I’m in the streets
With the tombstone blues
Yeah I said it, that bathrobe’s not yellow, its chicken$hit.
Correction, should have been.
…massive sucking black hole…
happy holidays and thanks for all the expert advice on how to milk a turkey
I understand: proto absolute critique is inferential reasoning is conceptual understanding of emptiness is meditation. And with this: inferential reasoning is to be refined through more inferential reasoning.
I like this. But why not stay with “inferential reasoning” instead of using an esoterically contaminated term like vipassana? And why go to Buddhism in the first place to learn about inferential reasoning?
Furthermore, it says in the citation “the approach in the sutras . . .is to develop a conceptual understanding of emptiness and gradually refine that understanding through meditation, which eventually produces a direct experience of emptiness . . . we are essentially taking inferential reasoning as our method or as the path.” Then it says “in the Vajrayana we are cultivating simple, direct experience or “looking.”
First: Regarding direct experience. Isn’t this a kind of tautology? That’s confusing. Is there indirect experience? Isn’t experience by its very definition direct.
Second. The same term direct experience is used two times. What is the difference?
Not that I can’t imagine the difference but in this case I think terms like direct experience of emptiness and simple, direct experience or looking are typical anglo-tibetan mumbo-jumbo terms. Either Thrangu Rinpoche doesn’t know what he is talking about (if he is talking english) or his translater produces typical x-buddhist confusion (because of the lack of english terms for Tibetan ones) made up to look like profundity, or, third possibility, its the kind of citation with a lot of “…” which corrupts the whole thing.
But I understand. You say vipassana is inferential reasoning. Thanks. Still, with the confusion about (direct) experience in mind, you say “direct experience as our path is a degeneration.” What exactly is it you see as degeneration?
As I see it, calming meditation narrows down the scope and the activity of the mind to the perception of sensory data (particulars) and to the basic mental activity of naming (universals). One can only perceive momentary unities.
In Vipassana, the more elaborate relational aspect (time, causalty, etc. the basic categories) of mental activity is added. IMO not necessarily full blown inferential reasoning yet (or else a limited and controlled inferential reasoning), but rather observing. Observing the arising and disappearing of mental facts/phenomena. Which implies one not only observes particulars (e.g. a specific sound) and universals (« sound »), but also admits or introduces relations (and a notion of time), which one then observes and experiences. Things AND moments of awareness (object as well as subject) appear and disappear, continuously. This allows the observation and « direct experience » of their conditionedness, transitoriness and oppressiveness. The continuous narrow adherence to continuously appearing and disappearing phenomena is extenuating. Their appearance-disappearance can’t be stopped, we have no control over them. These three caracteristics are the « nature of phenomena », their « deep and eternal reality ». If one integrates this « direct experience », one will be aware of, have insight into their « nature » and « deep reality ». Like in Ajahn Chah’s example, the glass we use to drink water in will be « already broken ». (http://dharmamoment.blogspot.fr/2011/09/ajahn-chah-on-beauty-of-impermanence.html) This allows for skillful use or enjoying of phenomena. Is mahasukha really different from this ? It won’t get more esoteric than that.
As for the specific claims of Vajrayāna for a different direct experience or “looking”, I will leave that to Vajrayāna to explain.
It is precisely this obscurantism you have already identified which arises through the use of tautological terms such as ‘direct experience’.
Sharf correctly indentifies this ‘religious experience’ fallacy and concludes “To put it another way, all attempts to signify ‘inner experience’ are destined to remain‘well-meaning squirms that get us nowhere’.” Here I am explicitly identifying ‘inner experience’ with ‘direct experience’ as I fail to see any non-tautological difference between them.
Why go to Buddhism when? In the 21st century it does seem absurd to go to Buddhism to learn about inferential reasoning – maybe it made a lot more sense to do so in the third or eighth or fifteenth centuries. But I think that even today it could be relevant. Not everybody can afford either the time or money to enter and study within academia. This isn’t the only limitation to doing so though – academia is not readily intellectually accessible to those outside of it without the map of sets and subsets and supersets of concepts academics have to navigate through it. Buddhism, with its more ‘limited and controlled inferential reasoning’ (as Hridayartha says in #139) could act as a kind of ‘inferential reasoning 101’ to enable people to get a relatively deep understanding of the kind of questions metaphysics and epistemology poses and the kind of tools they use to formulate responses. From there people could move on to more modern approaches to these questions with a proto-map of concepts to hand. A dangerous path, I admit, with falls to obscurantism on every side.
And as an addendum, please let me link to Alexander Galloway’s analysis of OOO/SR via Harman and Meillassoux passing by Badiou and Laruelle, a very interesting read for those interested in these philosophers.
Link mangled, here it is again.
RE 139 & 140: Just a quick comment on this idea of meditation. The idea that samatha is an attempt to “narrow down” the scope of the mind to a kind of aesthetics reification of our ideology seems to me to be correct. We can, in fact, learn to delude ourselves that our sensory perceptions are of real particulars and that our language is always the construction of inaccurate, if sometimes useful, “universals.” Of course, the reality is that our sense perceptions are always structured in advance by universals, and our language also sometimes names singularities. But the goal of samatha is achieved if we succeed in reifying our particular ideological position.
Vipassana can then begin its work with no danger of producing real insights. Ajahn Chah and his followers are very concerned to insist on a true and transcendent consciousness–the terms for this change, but they appear everywhere in his dharma talks. We can produce insight into the impermanence of something like a glass, and kid ourselves this is a profound insight, when any two year old knows that a glass is impermanent and dependently arisen without ever meditating: what we must avoid is any insight into the constructedness of our subjectivity, of our social system, of the delusion that we perceive concrete particulars, etc. Any insight that might motivate changing the social system, that might reveal that we are not transcendent consciousness but always and only effects of a structure, can be avoided if we stay in samatha meditation until the point at which we have so reified our ideology that we cannot possibly achieve insight.
Why Buddhism? Well, if you really think that this kind of critical thought is available in the western educational system, you are mistaken. The goal of academic discourse is ideological reproduction, not ideological critique. As an academic, my job is to create good capitalist subjects who are deluded about the real nature of the world, and about the ideological nature of their own beliefs and practices. When I stop doing this, I am relegated to the margins of the university–and if my discipline as a whole stops doing this, it is declared irrelevant and eliminated.
If we want to produce a practice which enables ideological distantiation, there are some Buddhist approaches to doing this. Most importantly for me, there are some Madhyamaka buddhist thinkers who emphasize that we can only ever do this as a group–because every subject is a collective subject, every mind is a collective mind, and the only way to be liberated from ideological delusion is in a collective practice. Without producing a faithful Buddhist subject, we are all going to be mired in capitalist ideology. Of course there may be other collective subjects equally capable of such awareness of their own ideology–I wouldn’t claim that this is only possible in Buddhist practice (in fact, we see abundant evidence that the reactionary and obscurantist subjects are enormously powerful in Buddhist practice). If anyone has another radical collective subject in mind, please suggest it–but western academic thought certainly is not one.
I don’t work as an academic, although I’ve heard such critique before. It is always so refreshing to hear somebody critique their own commitments. My hope for academe were the few philosophers we’ve mentioned, mainly French, who still work within the structure. I’m presently reading Serres, for example, and would find it fascinating to have him as a teacher.
That’s probably one of the most interesting definitions of a sangha I’ve read. Very interesting.
RE 137: the “standard approach” of any Tibetan Buddhist is always to delude their students, to do exactly what I have described in comment #145. Tibetan Buddhism has always been the most hideously oppressive ideology in human history, and continues in that tradition in its capitalist guise. No Lama could ever tolerate actual understanding of reality as it is and remain a Tibetan Buddhist. It is quite depressing that so many people in the west are so powerfully attached to the most evil ideology to ever exist (and yes, I would include fascism here).
Tom (#136, #145).
No, I can’t. And that’s after decades of dialogue with practitioners and teachers in the Vipassana (Goenka), Theravadin “forest” (anapanasati, satipatthana), and Insight (IMS) traditions. In fact, my very first exposure to Buddhism was through a Vipassana teacher. All of these people lay out the goods for a genuine practice of insight, but then perform the Flinch of the Unfaithful. As I understand it, in the Pali canon, vipassana always refers to the increasingly irrevocable knowledge (= wisdom) of the truths of fading/impermanence, non-substantiality/no-self, and unreliability/pain. Yet, in the Vipassana version, we have an obscurantist mysticism whereby vipassana enables a universally valid “seeing things as they are via its “technique [that] aims for the total eradication of mental impurities and the resultant highest happiness of full liberation.” In the forest traditions, this obscurantism is more explicitly tied to an unveiling, via the eradication of adventitious qualities, of the originally luminous mind (citta). The IMSers are reactionaries who reduce insight into the truth of phenomena to a pop-psychological insight into my problems or my “issues” or my “patterns,” etc.
I agree that the Tibetan Buddhists have a particularly hideous ideology. But I would take your statement even further and say that no Buddhist can “tolerate actual understanding of reality,” etc. That is why I am working with this idea of the necessity of disinterest. I was wondering if my idea might be at all consistent with Badiou’s “disinterested interest.” He says in Ethics, for example:
So, in our case, remaining faithful to the truths rendered transparent via insight–which, I would say, may be facilitated by an ideologically-starved silent sitting–necessarily causes us to be:
Can an x-buddhist as x-buddhist ever avoid betrayal of the truths identified by the conceptual-historical fissure known as “Buddhism”? In my reading of x-buddhists on x=buddhism, I always find that what defines them as x-buddhists is that they are humans who precisely refuse to “keep going.” They sell the truths short. They betray Buddhism for the misguided purpose of preserving “Buddhism.”
Tom, re: 147 – I was responding to your question “Does anybody know of any teacher or group in the U.S. that teaches vipassana to mean this kind of conceptual or analytic understanding of emptiness?” My response was limited in scope to those parameters – the Geluk do hold that vipashyana entails a conceptual understanding of emptiness, arrived at through reasoning, and this was historically a big point of doctrinal contention with other schools.
Whether or not in actually they promote an “actual understanding of reality as it is” in practice, or a “hideous ideology,” is another matter altogether, and I have no particular interest in defending their program, to which I do not subscribe.
It’s a bit difficult to follow you.
Asking you what vipassana is you point to a text in the wikipedia (#134).
Me pointing out that this text is less then clear (#140) you too say it is “obscurantism” (#142).
Why do you point to the wiki text in the first place?
Next, re “direct experience”, you point me to another twenty-something page text (#142). I think I can see your point: the problem is to signify “direct experience” = “inner experience”.
Ok, the conclusion is, direct or inner experience is difficult or impossible to signify and vipassanna is inferential reasoning (for you).
That is completely understandable. Why not stay with this? Why do you call inferential reasoning vipassana? Inferential reasoning is much clearer.
Furthermore you say (#142) “Buddhism […] could act as a kind of ‘inferential reasoning 101”. You seem to suggest that it is a way for people who cannot “afford either the time or money to enter and study within academia”. I wonder how this could work? What kind of Buddhism could work as a inferential reasoning 101?
Back to direct or inner experience. It is difficult or impossible to signify, that is true. Would you say it exists (qualia) or would you say it doesn’t (Dennet)? If the latter, well, no further discusion necessary. If the former, then we still have an individual with feeling, emotion, wishes, dreams, hallucinations, pleasure, pain…. Such an individual poses certain problems, not when it is in love but when it struggles to communicate in a meaningful way to solve social problems. If you take this position then you still have experience as something you have to work with.
In this case I would say, you have to walk both ‘paths’, inferential reasoning and experience.
What is presented as freeing of conditioning is indeed still subject to it. The initial Buddhist project is one of personal liberation (pratimoksa). Liberation of suffering caused by imposed conditioning through picking a conditioning of one’s own free choice. Like a person imprisoned in a small cage imposing on himself rules that restrict his movements even more, but would give him the sense of some freedom beyond his own restrictions. He can thus enjoy “freedom”, by having it and not using it. His freedom is of course a delusion, but in another way it is true as well. Taoists say that power that one uses is no power anymore. In a similar way freedom that one uses is not freedom anymore.
I agree that the whole structure based on “passive perception” has been caught up with by neurology. There is none such a thing as passive perception. But samatha is a technique to reduce the scope of reality and make it workable. Of course, one can’t reduce reality, and whatever becomes workable is not reality. That’s true for any ideology. Buddhism’s objective was personal liberation through reducing suffering. If suffering is reality, reducing it is also reducing reality. Keeping the guard at the gates, becoming an island, la citadelle intérieure of the Stoics. In theory, the reduction allows insight. Insight is not enough. Tom’s example of any two year old shows this. His/her toy is not “already broken” as Ajahn Chah puts it. I invite you to break any two year old’s toy to see what happens (or any grown up’s Iphone 5). Christmas will give you an excellent opportunity for my experiment and an occasion to offer genuine enlightenment to your family and friends.
In Tibetan representations of the samatha-vipassana path, you will notice the monk on the elephant turning back at the end of the path: the fourth stage of Bergson’s path of the “great mystic”. As far as I can see the Buddha didn’t really teach what to do with awakening. He himself chose to become a teacher and the manager of a beggar’s network. But in principle, any ideology could be espoused. One can see it in Buddhist history. Buddhists monks and laymen have practically done all that one can do on this earth. The method shows how one can cope with oneself (and thus to adapt to the situation, any situation…), but once that is clear, what does one do with that? Founding a religion seems to me one of the worst ideas, but hindsight is always easy and one lives and learns, or not… If any ideology can be espoused, why not one that tries to reduce suffering globally and if possible skilfully? As Tom points out capitalist ideology will not do, nor will communism as we have known it in the past. This is not a question only for Buddhists but for the whole of humanity.
So why Buddhism? Yes why Buddhism?
Why do I call ‘inferential reasoning’ ‘vipassana’? Maybe it would be more accurate to say that I identify the Buddhist practice of ‘vipassana’ with what we in twenty-first century Europe call ‘inferential reasoning’. Why not drop ‘vipassana’ altogether and just stick with ‘inferential reasoning’? Indeed, why not drop the entirety of Buddhism for what we see as its hermeneutical mappings onto twenty-first century ‘western culture’ terms?
When you ask, ‘What kind of Buddhism could work as a inferential reasoning 101?’ are you asking me ‘which extant school of Buddhism or Buddhist teacher could I study with which would serve as an ‘inferential reasoning 101”? If so, the answer is – I don’t know. I am not familiar with all the extant schools of Buddhism nor with all Buddhist teachers. I was merely asserting that in my opinion Buddhist ‘vipassana’ could theoretically serve as a ‘inferential reasoning 101’. I hope that makes my position clearer.
I think Dennett is right in objecting to qualia on the grounds of the homunculus fallacy, however, I cannot see this view denying that we have ‘experience as something to work with.’ Of course we do – all I am saying is that the only way we can meaningfully work with our experience is through the mediation of the symbolic realm. The path that believes it can bypass the symbolic realm is merely another symbol within in.
I understood what you were saying, and I was not disagreeing. I would agree that Buddhist meditation, as described in certain ancient texts, could serve this beneficial purpose–that has always been my point. My question was merely meant to point out that it never does so today–that it is always taught in the reactionary version which serves to reify a particular ideology and strengthen the belief in an atomistic and transcendent self.
Hridayartha: I would agree that for much of the history of Buddhism, it is true that “Buddhism’s objective was personal liberation.” This is what I mean by the reactionary response to the truth of Buddhism–an attempt to reify the individual, and reject the idea of collective change for the emphasis on personal comfort (hence, the inability of most x-buddhists to distinguish taoism from Buddhism). Glenn quotes Badiou on disinterested interest, and the passages he quote sound almost like they could be translated from Santideva. For Santideva, the goal is not personal reduction of suffering, but the teaching of the greater Buddhist truth–and as an individual, not must begin by becoming indifferent to one’s own contentment and comfort, and enjoy the strenuous effort of liberating all beings from delusion.
The rejection of the truth of Buddhism is, of course, the goal of the reactionary and the obscurantist. We must become convinced that what “Buddhism teaches” is the very opposite of the truth it forces into appearance, so that we can then realize how redundant and pointless “Buddhism” really is. Then, we can return to being caught up in the pointless debates about the liar’s paradox or the reality of qualia, all operating thoroughly in the paradigm of atomistic consciousness interacting in some external medium (language, in this case). These debates will remain pointless, and they serve their academic purpose well–almost anyone willing to spend years studying the tortuous and obscure arguments regarding the law of non-contradiction, and to speak fully within the discourse of the “professional philosopher,” would have to be, or become, stupid enough never to stay anything true at all. Anyone not willing to do this can be safely ignored, because she is “not a professional philosopher,” and doesn’t speak the proper reactionary language. So, we are left to abandon thought completely as a failed enterprise. Whatever we turn to, we will always have to work against the overwhelming inertia of the reactionary and obscurantist subjects.
If we abandon the Buddha-Event altogether, and think that turning to reactionary academic philosophy is somehow a better approach, then of course the reactionary subject of Buddhism has finally won out, and no new truth will appear in our World.
Half a century ago, Althusser proposed a radically dangerous theory of ideology–and the reactionary response was to overwhelm it with academic commentary, to make it the provence of the “professional philosopher” and bury it in willful misreadings, then to insist that unless one speaks of Althusser in the discourse of the reactionary capitalist ideologue, one cannot mention him at all. Then, since “ideology” became a confused and incomprehensible concept, it was decided to abandon it altogether, and the critique of capitalist ideology could be buried.
We could “bury” the Buddhist truth along with the reactionary response to it–that would be the typical response. Or we could choose to be faithful to it.
In a word, ‘parrhesia’. And about finding our own voices.
The ‘excluded middle’, with reference to the LNC, is the basis for the work of Serres’s ‘The Parasite’. I find this area of great importance, and would definitely point to the catuṣkoṭi as the area in which I see the truth of the Buddha-Event as being most clearly expressed in logical terms. Coming from science and working with logic everyday as a software developer, I have spent many an enjoyable hour reading Graham Priest and his works on paraconsistent logics, using them to analyse the catuṣkoṭi as expressed in Nagarjuna.
Capitalism, through the reactionary vectors you describe Tom, is sold as having the capacity to subsume all movements against it. The Green movement is paradigmatic in this regard. And I would agree with you that strenuous efforts should be made to resist the decomposition of the truth of the Buddha-Event. Here we are then.
I just want to mention that I was also very hopeful about Graham Priest’s “dialethism,” and after many hours spent reading his work found it disappointing. Paraconsistent logics are. of course, useful to make a system work when the information going in is unavoidably incomplete–that is, in computer science it may be very useful in keeping the system functioning. But then, of course, there is the danger that if we try to apply this kind of logic more broadly, it functions only to obscure contradiction and imprecision, and keep the system in place despite its many failures and aporias. This seems to me to be Graham Priest’s goal: to insist that we have reached the “limit of thought,” and should now accept contradictions as just “true” and stop trying to think further.
I would agree that we should always try to reach the limits of thought, and that Nagarjuna is a master at doing this–but the goal should be to force thought further, to recognize these limits as limits of existing discourses, of the present situation, and then force a new thought into existence. Dialethism seems an elaborate strategy to avoid this possibility. To take one of Graham Priest’s repeated examples, we could say that a person standing in a doorway is both in and out of the room, and leave it at that, or we could simply add the term “standing in the doorway” and recognize that the binary “in or out” is not useful in this situation and at best forces imprecision in language. Priest’s solution is to “save” the existing construal (there is only in or out, the binaries we have are the only possible ones in which to describe the world) by “accepting” contradictions as true. It strikes me that this reactionary attempt to avoid new thought is the absolute opposite of Nagarjuna’s project.
“Of course, the reality is that our sense perceptions are always structured in advance by universals,(1) and our language also sometimes names singularities. But the goal of samatha is achieved if we succeed in reifying our particular ideological position.(2)”
I’m willing to consider the evidence for 1&2, assuming these declarations are an indication that very strong evidence can be presented, but I’m not willing to simply take anyone’s word for it. Similarly with subsequent contention that vipassana is inferential reasoning. I don’t buy it, sounds like nothing more than yet another western conceit in drag as western X-buddhism again. Academia has exclusive rights to inferential reasoning and a divine warrant to define samatha-vipassana according to its whims? This is evidence of superior reasoning? It’s not even passable scholarship.
My point of departure was the citation I put in #131. There are some points which make one suspicious. “Buddhist techniques seem to have degenerated for example. Or “the original of these techniques". Sounds like "once upon a time" everything was good. Leaving this aside I only asked about what "some of these [degenerated] techniques" would be? You say it is vipassana. Then you say vipassana is referential reasoning. And you say referential reasoning is a conceptual understanding of emptiness and it is meditation (#134). But the only term which is halfway clear is still inferential reasoning – the rest is vague Buddhist parlando. Maybe you can define your terms more precisely but until now I can not see where. The wiki-text you pointed to in #134 you declare later obscure. Put this together with your second paragraph in #152. There you say " Buddhist ‘vipassana’ could theoretically serve as a ‘inferential reasoning 101". Now you effectively stated "inferential reasoning could theoretically serve as a ‘inferential reasoning 101". Well, I find that a bit confusing.
Either you say, for me vipassana is referential reasoning, then it is deduction, induction and whatever, or you say "Buddhist vipassana is a 101 to inferential reasoning", then you have to point explicitly to some Buddhist technique which is an introduction to inferential reasoning. What you did so far is that you only equated the two.
Matthais, I know I’ve made my point understandable, as there are others in this thread who claim to have understood what I meant. I’m sorry I have not been able to make myself clearer to you. As they say where I live, “ho puc dir més alt però no ho puc dir més clar” (“I can say it louder, but I can’t say it clearer”).
MN 2 Sabbasava Sutta: Discourse on All Āsavas
we have inferential reasoning and vipassana working together in the context of the four satipatthannas, which in the context of the full development of the seven enlightenment factors will lead to the fruitions of the paths. Inferential reasoning plays a role in relation to many aspects of the N8FP including in relation to vipassana, but to consider vipassana equivalent to inferential reasoning is simply another example of western X-buddhist nonsense.
Yes, I agree that paraconsistent logic can be useful in keeping a system working. Let’s take the wave-particle duality of physics whereby the explicative power of our understanding of matter would be reduced if we were to accept only one of these realities. This example, of course, isn’t one of paraconsistent logic in action but a logically unformalized situation in which two mutually exclusive properties are both said to be real, although in this case these two properties cannot be observed simultaneously. What I don’t fully accept is that this accepted paradox in the physical sciences would be more or less generative of new thought if the logic underpinning it was formally paraconsistent (the math behind quantum mechanics is not, in my understanding). That is to say, with respect to this example, would new thought be further constricted if this paradox was also a feature of its underlying logic? I would say that this is not necessarily so.
I’m not sure anybody here considers ‘vipassana equivalent to inferential reasoning’. In my comment #152 I stated that ‘I identify the Buddhist practice of ‘vipassana’ with what we in twenty-first century Europe call ‘inferential reasoning’’, but this is not the same as asserting an exact equivalence, as if we were talking about two identical sets. Keeping sets in mind, I was referring to an intersection, not absolute identity. I thought I made this clear in this same comment when I said that ‘I was merely asserting that in my opinion Buddhist ‘vipassana’ could theoretically serve as a ‘inferential reasoning 101′.’.
re: “Buddhist ‘vipassana’ could theoretically serve as a ‘inferential reasoning 101”
Where and how might this be remotely reasonable to expect in the context of western X-buddhism? Are you expecting people the likes of Kenneth Folk are going to have a road to Damascus conversion experience re: the virtues of logical inference? The closest I can imagine is Gandalf expounding on bayesian inference to a pict, a hobbit and a half dozen dwarves as part of a graduate seminar at Hogwarths. We would all be better served by impressing the significance of logical inference on those people working in neuroscience who now and in the near future might actually be expected to produce significant new data. It would be refreshing if, for instance, it was reasonably accurate and relevant data.
“The Blobology effect very simply said is that when you show people….when people see colorful blobs on a brain scan, they can be convinced of anything. They can be convinced of anything even if what you’re saying makes no sense or if it’s absolutly preposterous. And even further people will believe brain scans over their own experience.
And so there’s a study they found that the same brain areas light up when you see your cellphone as when you see your loved one. And so people have been concluding that my god I must be in love with my cellphone like I didn’t know that. Should I tell my wife? The Blobology effect on a deeper level is really a symbol of the imbalance between the inner and outer technologies. Our sense of ourselves, what’s going on in our own minds and bodies is so impoverished that we have to look to colorful blobs on a brain scan to tell us whether we’re in love or in pain.”
“So for example comparing long term meditators with binge drinkers. And this is one of the studies. Thai monks with American college students, an 8-week training in meditation or tango lessons. So how do these scales do? In all three cases, these groups were deemed more mindful by this scale. So this is just an exposure that these scales are not measuring something that we want it to be measuring and it’s just a nail in the coffin of McMindfulness.”
Mindful Binge Drinking and Blobology by Willoughby Britton
To an extent this begins to explain why I can get equivalent results with someone as Western X-buddhist samatha-vipassana does with a bag of Skittles.
Vipassana is the ‘magic bullet’ of western x-buddhism. Somehow, brute force and ignorance together with sufficient hours of heavy breathing can allegedly replace all 37 wings of the Buddha’s dhammavinaya. This would be like a contractor nailing one shingle to the ground in a vacant lot and saying, “There, I’ve finished building your house, pay up”.
I would expect all kinds of changes to follow if X-buddhists actually studied and reflected at great length and in considerable detail on all of the classical texts which their x-buddhist thinking is reputedly based upon all the while thoroughly employing the much lauded inferential reasoning. I would unreservedly put all of my money on that most always not happening now and for the foreseeable future.
I’m certainly not expecting anything like that to happen. Folk and his tribe (Batchelor, Wallace, Hokai Sobol, etc.) strike me as the well-meaning if extraordinarily deluded and potentially harmful (because perhaps not all-too bright) offspring of Dale Carnegie. One of my goals in writing on this blog is to expose people like Kenneth Folk to be, in Tom Pepper’s recent words, reactionary deniers or obscuring mystifiers of the violent truths offered up by x-buddhism. Extracting the human goods from the x-buddhist network of postulation is, of course, ultimately destructive to x-buddhism as x-buddhism. But that’s Folk et al’s problem, not ours.
You are obviously able to say a lot of smart sounding things but I am becoming doubtful if you say anything at all.
You are evading one simple and clear question: What is your understanding of “Buddhist vipassana”?
You keep saying “I identify the Buddhist practice of ‘vipassana’ with what we in twenty-first century Europe call ‘inferential reasoning’’”, like in #161.
I ask you again straight forward: What do you “identify” on the Buddhist side? What text, what praxis, what interpretation, what school, what kind of Buddhism, what reasoning?
Well, lets cut to the chase, what is YOUR problem? Are you having difficulties addressing it? Is this exercise a cry for help or simply a scream of frustration? I ask, because, in my case (and, granted, perhaps I am way off the bell curve in this) the interest in buddhism and buddhist texts, buddhist history, etc. is not nor has it ever been the least bit a social activity. Group think, in any form, gives me hives. I have been, all my life, overwhelmingly surrounded by sectarian theist fundamentalists and sectarian dialectical materialists. No one I have ever had to deal with from day to day has the slightest interest in buddhism or in my interest in it.
I have made efforts, to an extent, to determine what buddhism might mean to other people that have an interest; online and in their communities. For the most part it appears to be important to them as either a replacement for or a supplement to one of the above. Only rarely, does buddhism appear to be viewed by someone as some kind of radical alternative. Never has any two of these radical alternatives been identical.
Having from the onset been a naturally solitary sort and having specifically sought out precisely the inferential reasoning and cognitive science particular to buddhist texts, the literature is inexhaustibly interesting to me. Still, it makes absolutely no difference to me whatsoever what anyone else wants to think about it or do with it. I’m pleased that other people have thought about it and written about it. However I am entirely confident that in 2500 odd years no one has improved on it.
There is not, for example, a hair’s breadth more insight or understanding in everything attributed to Nagarjuna that isn’t already more clearly and cleanly presented in much older texts. Nagarjuna probably wouldn’t have perceived a need to write anything at all if he didn’t, like us, have to sort through centuries of ill considered commentary overlaying misconceptions about and misinterpretations of what had been said and remembered and recorded in the first place.
Similarly there is not so much as one word of advancement, progress or improvement in any of the thinking since day one of the Buddha Sasana to the present. If so moved we can heap more dust on that pile until we have built Mt. Meru on top of that original thinking. Reaction, counter-reaction, counter-counter-reaction. That is buddhism. There is no outside of that heaping up of sand. As already well said previously in this thread, buddhism is the thick high gateless wall built to enclose truths too terrifying to publicly contemplate.
If you want to excavate, to tunnel down to the seminal truth, in buddhism, or in your own mind and body, you are going to have to start to do it alone, persist in it alone and you are going to be alone if and when you get done. If that kind of total isolation isn’t for you, probably no profoundly consequential truths, however you come by these are for you.
Buddhism, as a social club, as a health spa, as a community college class, as a self improvement project or as a ‘connection’ with whatever only deepens my overall disinterest in the courses of corporate human thought and action. Based on all I have seen I have no interest in considering myself a buddhist or having anything to do with anything associated with the publicly acknowledged enterprise in any way.
As an individual human being who has been surrounded on all sides by ignorance, greed and ill will on an imponderably horrific scale all of my life I continue to find almost every word of these very old texts entirely pertinent and important in the cause of eliminating the ignorance, greed and ill will that IS me and my part in it. I consider it a responsibility to end my part in the corporate tragedy that is being and becoming. Beyond that I don’t read anything evangelical or messianic into or out of those texts. These and many other alien themes have been heaped on the pile with all kinds of other refuse and debris. It’s like repeatedly painting over a sheet of glass. If what you’re after is the now long lost original view, you do better with a brick.
It’s tempting to think some how, some way “we” – by some definition – can think “our” way out of “this” – name your crisis. This is like imagining I can think my way out of a two pack a day cigarette habit, a coke habit or a high speed multiple vehicle collision. Well reasoned thought plays its part, no more, no less.
Penn Jillette can be found on youtube saying that the cure for christianity is reading the bible. I concur and so here is a practical suggestion, no less so, the cure for buddhism or x-buddhism, if you’d rather, is reading buddhist texts. It has proven true for me. The bible demonstrates how theism is thoroughly repulsive and buddhist texts demonstrate how buddhism is thoroughly repulsive. Readings in continental philosophy demonstrates… etc..
On the Buddhist side we have Pramana, which is commonly translated as ‘valid cognition’, one of its twofold divisions being a ‘valid inference [anumana]’. How does this latter relate to ‘vipashyana’? Well, Alexander Berzin says here:
So my understanding, from the Buddhist side, is that vipashyana is a Buddhist practice designed to deeply perceive valid inferences.
First link to Pramana mangled, here it is again
Not sure if a comment of mine in response to #166 was lost in the moderation process. Here’s a screenshot of the original, if this message makes it through:
comments go to moderation if there are more than two links in them.
Thanks for the links. I know these sources and I was not asking for more links and the like. I was more interested in your opinion and your point of view. But thanks anyway.
As for ‘Buddhist inferential reasoning’ I really don’t know if it is a garantie for a geshe to become less dependent on all the occult stuff the Tibetans like so much. Certainly it did not heal the Dalai Lama, for example, from believing in personal reincarnation and similar stuff. But the same goes for the western academic education. I remember well the Ph. D. physicist in a so called ‘dzogchen retreat’ who wouldn’t even consider the question if reincarnation is implausible. I met this typ of true believer more than once. So the question is what makes one really more realist?
There are also Tibetans who strongly object occult stuff like reincarnation, the tulku system etc. Samten Karmay for example. Or Samdhong Rinpoche who said the tulku-system belongs to the museum. The latter shows how much tension there must be inside the Tibetan nomenklatura, Samdhong has been president of the Tibetan exil parliament – right next to ‘HHDL’.
I don’t know. I would say that Buddhist concepts that require human agency, such as karma and rebirth, have always between very difficult to explicate rationally within Buddhist philosophy itself thanks to anatman. I understand that such concepts were almost ignored when Buddhism was introduced to China, thanks to the pre-existing belief systems there. Having said that, doesn’t liberation, within the Buddhist paradigm, mean the reversal of the chain of the twelve nidānas with the concomitant cessation of karma and rebirth?
It seems similarly obtuse for a physicist to categorically deny rebirth when they know perfectly that the molecules and atoms that compose our biology will in all likelihood be used in future biological instances? Have a tree planted over our physicist’s grave and let’s have them categorically deny than none of their organic matter has been incorporated into the tree’s biology. How is this not rebirth, in some sense? Cannot a physicist see rebirth in the genetic makeup of our progeny?
I think you’re right, the tulku system must be under more pressure now than ever. Even the HHDL, from what I last understood, refuses to categorically endorse this system with respect to a future Dalai Lama. To add to your list of Lamas critical of this system I would add a favorite of mine, Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche.
If rebirth is the tree growing on my grave incorporating organic matter from my remains, then, I would say, it is a metaphor for biological metabolism. But the Dalai Lama makes it clear that he means personal, literal rebirth. You can see this in this document. He says things like “People can remember past lives.”
I think this document is also a good example how ‘Buddhist inferential reasoning’ can go wrong. Part of the typical gelug argumentation, as you will know anyway, that mind cannot depend on matter, is that an entity always must have its cause in something of similar ‘type’ – the immateriality of mind cannot depend on materiality. In the text it is formulated in this way:
What the gelugs evade with this ‘logic’ is everything we know today about the emergence of consciousness from a socio-biological organism. It’s all logic but it’s nothing about the evolution of mind as we see it today.
The argumentation goes on saying:
My hypothesis is that this is the gerat delusion of Tibetan Buddhism: The cult of Rigpa. That is what I meant in #65 saying “at a certain point consciousness hits an invisible wall beyond which consciousness itself isn’t able to observe its own ground laying structures.” Then Tomek said in #68: “Third person approach brings very humbling data and will hopefully prevent many of us from crashing at that invisible wall of pristine awareness. It’s good to lean against it at times but thinking it solves all the questions about it is today unacceptable.”
I think we could come to a consensus here that phenomena like “pristine awareness” are effects of a socio-biological organism which can be established by certain forms of concentration. It should be said, though, that these effects even in Tibetan meditation literature are often qualified as byproducts which are not of any value as such.
I think this shows, gelug style inferential reasoning can go terribly wrong. I would say some Tibetan forms of meditation are great phenomenal approches to gain more knowledge about the functioning of ones individual consciousness (if one cuts off all occultism). But they go astray when lagtong/vipassana comes to realize the ineffability of consciousness as such and induces that it is not bound to materiality.
Re Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche. There is a very interesting documentary by the son of Chögyam Trungpa, who himself is a tulku, about the problems he and other westerners have being designated a reborn Tibetan master. I don’t remember the name right now. Apart from several interviews with young western men and their difficulties how to cope with the huge expectations put on them by the sanghas they are entitled to lead, there is also an extended interview with Dzongsar Jamyang in which he talks about the problems with the tulku system.
One should never forget that Buddhism, all of it, is upaya. It is not trying to describe reality (e.g. the parable of the man hit by an arrow). But like any good work of fiction, it may try and sell its goods as “reality”. Higher attention grabbing and motivating potential. E.g. the parable of the children in the burning house (Lotus sutra). The whole Buddhism and science debate is therefore nonsense. Buddhism will of course try and exploit science to innovate its upaya. Tantra was all the science available to Medieval Buddhism, which it has completely incorporated.
“Rebirth” is simply another upaya. Buddhism actually rarely talks about “rebirth”, but rather about “birth, production”. In Buddhism, there is no “same” to be re-born. And even in Tibetan Buddhism, there is nothing “individual” left after the decisive dissolution process at the moment of death. When the gross and subtle elements, tattvas and skandhas have been dissolved, disappeared into thin air, whatever could there be left to be re-born ? From what? Anything individually karmic (causal relations) has to be mental (manas) and with the mind (manas) gone, gone, gone beyond, gone altogether beyond, on what will it act, and how does it sustain itself without any physical or mental support? Pristine awareness has the same problem. It can’t exist on its own, exactly like life. Life needs a life form, and the “form” of a life form is not a unity, but an ensemble of more life forms. One and one is not two but at least three: one and one plus the group constituted by one and one: the added value, the interaction, that either one on its own lacks. The added value, or the interaction can’t exist, independently of the “ones”. Of course, one isn’t one, though for upaya reasons it may sometimes be considered as such.
When Buddhism forgets upaya is upaya and starts to believe its own fiction, it turns into Tibetan Buddhism, or spiritual materialism as Trungpa called it, before he created his own family brand perpetuated by his son Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=8w3yBkalPt4#!), not the reincarnation of Hamlet (Ashoka Mukpo). “To be or not to be a tulku?” (http://www.onf.ca/film/tulku/trailer/tulku_trailer)
Matthias: I’m not sure what your concern is here. Is it surprising that the Dalai Lama is stupid and blinded by his ideology? He was raised from childhood exactly to be stupid and attached to delusion, to believe in his own enormous importance, and in the importance to the whole of humanity that he maintain a belief in absurd delusions. How would someone in this situation ever possibly learn to think? Of course this kind of logic can go wrong, and it generally will–the reactionary subject will always outnumber the faithful subject. That doesn’t mean that there is not truth there. it only means that the majority of individuals will be completely devoted to denying or obscuring the truth, to keep the existing situation from changing.
This is no different from you example of the stupid physicist. I’ve known many physicists, and most of them are quite stupid–probably the same proportion of stupidity as occurs in the general public. The education in physics (or medicine, or any science) as it exists in the U.S. is meant to filter out real intelligence, and to allow only those who have good memories and can do computations quickly to pass on to the highest level. Einstein or David Bohm would never get into graduate school in the U.S. today (Bohm was notoriously slow at math, and prone to computational errors). Those few intelligent people who sneak through (there are some) are the minority, and are far outnumbered by the intellectually limited concrete thinkers in the discipline. I can’t speak for other countries, but this is the goal of higher education in the U.S. We don’t want the intelligent people running things! Hell, we elected Bush twice.
It is not surprising to meet a stupid scientist or doctor–it is much more surprising to meet one capable of thought. Nevertheless, we wouldn’t want to abandon science completely, right?
There are some texts that I think work to demonstrate how powerful Buddhist thought and practice can be, but they tend to baffle most Buddhologists, who cannot imagine that these texts could possibly mean what they say. Consider the 8th and 9th sections of Santideva’s Boddhicaryavattara, as an example. He clearly privilege conceptual thought over the Jhanas as the path to enlightenment, and see the perfection of understanding, through analytical “mediation,” as the practice that will liberate us. If you read modern discussion of Santideva, though, it is almost universally accepted that he is obscure and that his thinking is poor and contradictory–no x-buddhist OR Buddhologist today can tolerate the possibility that he means what he says, much less that he might be correct. I would still say that to recover such thought is of use to us today–just as much use, and for the same reason, as, say, putting the communism back into Zola or taking Spinoza seriously.
re:173 “everything we know today about the emergence of consciousness from a socio-biological organism.”
What is a socio-biological organism? What do we know about the emergence of consciousness from it? I’m open to these ideas but there have been no replies to past questions in regards to similar statements. Until someone refers me to some relevant sources with compelling data these kinds of blanket statements are going on the same heap with everything equally questionable that someone like the Dali Lama or Uri Geller might say.
This is, again, the response of the obscurantist subject, tying to prevent the appearance of truth. Rebirth is very real, and can be explained–but only once we get beyond the attachment to atomistic “minds.” Skillful means should not be an excuse to delude people. When we teach children math, we use “skillful means” by leading them along gradually through concepts they can grasp, not trying to start with matrix algebra or multivariate calculus. When I teach students deconstruction, I need to begin with basic concepts and lead them along slowly–it is NOT skillful means to teach them a completely wrong (postmodern) misconception of deconstruction, because that is less troubling to them. Similarly, it is NOT skillful means to teach people that they have an immortal soul, and this is the true meaning of anatman, with the claim that they will later be able to handle the real concept. Deluding people only prevents them from ever grasping the true concept. As long as we accept that deluding people is a form of “upaya,” people will always remain deluded. There is a huge difference between teaching people skillfully, and deluding them to comfort them and make money off of them.
My concern with ‘HHDL’ came with Amritakundali giving links pointing to Tibetan Buddhist content and his assertion that ‘HHDL’ might “refuse to categorically endorse [the tulku] system.” Second, I think a lot of people are reading here and the document I linked to is a great example to see for themselves how the reasoning of ‘HHDL’ goes astray. Third, I think it is an example in inferential reasoning in itself to deconstruct such an argumentation. My point was not to dismiss such Buddhist thought generally.
Santideva’s text I read some time ago. His moral concerns looked like self evident to me but I remember giving up such texts mainly because I was fed up with Buddhists talking about selflessness and meditating about taking on themselves the suffering of the other while cheating the same other as soon as they left the cushion. Maybe I should take a fresh look at it from a different perpective I can now take. Perhaps we should translate it in a non-buddhist idiom.
hridayartha, #175, yes the title of the documentary I mentioned is “Tulku” the extended version of the interview with Dzongsar is in the extras of the DVD.
Nathan, #177, excuse me for using a shorthand like “socio-biological organism“. But at least it should be a term one can think about a bit more than about bent spoons… With the term I mean that we, obviously, bring with us some biological heritage while at the same time we as conscious individuals are, obviously, to a great extent formed by ideology. Take for example love. Mating is a biological necessity which evolution was kind enough to pack together with some great fun to fullfil the duty (well, not always), but only recently sociality began usurping the minds of young men that mating is best done with skinny-bonny-anorexic young females who look like bad replicas from hollywood films. That’s how a socio-biological organism works. For more detailed information please look up the term “thaumaturgical refuge” in Nascent Speculative Non-Buddhism (p. 22), please look up also my text “Biography of an X-buddhist Thaumaturge“, that is a bit more about the “causal essence” which plays a role in the thaumaturgical refuge, and please consult Tom Pepper’s Naturalizing Buddhism Without Being Reductive regarding ideology.
I agree with the usefulness of teaching, learning and using basic concepts, before starting to build (“letting them appear”) or deconstruct truths with them. Prior to declaring whether something is “very real” or not, it may be worth looking into what that something may be referring to. In this case (#173) “rebirth”. For many Westerners it means something like reincarnation, transmigration, metempsychosis, metamorphosis etc. In other words a sort of return of the same (mind, consciousness, soul,…) in another body. Therefore it seems a bit hasty to me to say that whatever « rebirth » means is a “basic”, “real”, “true” or even “very true” concept, because we don’t know what it refers to…
Is there any particular term in Pali, Sanskrit or another traditional Buddhist language that you had in mind? Jāti, utpatti, bhava? Or more specific Tibetan concepts like sprul-sku, yang-srid? Or a definition? Is only the Buddhist idea of “rebirth” very true or also the Hindu, Jain and other “rebirth” versions? So what should “rebirth” evoke in a faithful subject’s mind?
You are not thinking of “rebirth” as the Buddhist version of Paul’s resurrection event (Badiou)? Or are you?
Matthias: I can see your point. Many people think of HHDL as the Pope of Buddhism, and clearly his attempts at reasoning (inferential, analytical, logical, or any other kind) are quite bad. Poor reasoning will never help anyone, no matter how much of it one does.
In the essay I working on for the next issue of non+X, I am doing some translation of Santideva into my peculiar idiom, as an example of how full-strength anatman produces an ethics of truth. I expect it will be completely incomprehensible to most Buddhologists, but maybe some practicing Buddhists will be interested.
Hridayartha: the concept of rebirth I am referring to is the one I describe in my essay “Naturalizing Buddhism Without Being Reductive.” You can find it at the non+X site.
re: 179 Yes, thank you. I have read everything posted and linked to from here once and much of it twice or thrice. I’m very sympathetic to the intentions. However the continual claims to superior reasoning have thus far entirely lacked the demonstrable veracity which is their prevailing conceit.
I’m waiting for demonstrable supports in the form of logical proofs. What can be demonstrated and what can be falsified. Often times I will conduct multiple searches based on jargon and terminology employed here without success in any field. I’ve persisted because for days it can lead down many historically interesting philosophical blind alleys. However, if someone doesn’t equip the non-speculative emperor with a loincloth it will be more prudent to move on an not look back.
re: “In the essay I working on for the next issue of non+X, I am doing some translation of Santideva into my peculiar idiom, as an example of how full-strength anatman produces an ethics of truth. I expect it will be completely incomprehensible to most Buddhologists, but maybe some practicing Buddhists will be interested.”
I very much look forward to this as thus far the nonspec x-box has been no less empty than any other.
I am a bit lost what you’re at. I haven’t managed to read through all the stuff you posted, plus the links, the links in the links and the links in the links in the links… Can you say what specific proofs you need? And why give the emperor something to wear?
What I am saying is that loose references to Santideva, Nagarjuna, Althusser, Badiou, Lacan, Spinoza, et al and vague intimations of some kind of queer monism or whatever do not a cogent argument make.
I find the criticisms of x-buddhism are warranted and generally valid. I find the proposed alternatives thus far have been too vague to be meaningfully apprehended.
Loose references: Well, apart from my own writing, which can be even more unspecific than yours, there have been a lot of very specific points here. Re Althusser etc. for example I mentioned Tom Pepper’s text in #179. Why not discuss specifics there?
Proposed alternatives [to x-buddhism]: There are no.
Yes, I am reading it now, again, and run into the same issues that always arise in those contexts. Which is why I can easily concede the application of Allthusser, Badiou or Lacan to x-buddhism is interesting just as is the application of this thinking to Hitchcock or Hegel. Still these kinds of thinking have no track record of producing the kinds of results (ie. less suffering) in the world which these are typically and here again expected by academics to produce.
If Lacanian X-buddhism can prevent Tibetan school girls from lighting themselves on fire, then by all means lets have Lacanian X-buddhism. However if, for instance, a Lacanian X-buddhism means one more school of thought reduced to incomprehensible abstractions then to hell with Lacanian X-buddhism.
Frankly I’m comprehensively pissed about having to suck buddhist texts through the narrow straw of western philosophical thought regardless of which century the straw is from.
Why not try it intravenous?
I prefer crushing and snorting abhidhammas. Makes a nice uniform snuff. Seriously though, a far easier case to make is that X-buddhism is precisely buddhism through the lens of western thought beginning with the Jesuits and continuing through to the present. In that context, suggesting that the solution is more western philosophical thought is only adding more lukewarm bathwater to the mix.
I’m all for it at this point, having already labored hard to distinguish between the two, eastern thought, western thought about eastern thought, but I’m skeptical that continuing in this way will clarify anything about eastern thought.
The creative confluence of the two is frequently interesting (new modes of philosophical inquiry) and the mutant offspring are entertaining (Hokai Sobal, Kenneth Folk) however for those who attempt to determine what buddhist texts were attempting to convey it is almost always an unnecessary imposition.
Nathan (#167, #185, etc). You won’t find any universally applicable answers on this blog. But you will find a lot of material for both thought and action. How that thought and action manifests in your case is entirely up to you. But you make a point that makes me think you will get stuck in a rut of non-action, at least as far as this “buddhism” stuff goes. Namely:
I used to see Buddhist practice in those terms–as a solitary, somewhat ascetic endeavor. But, as long as you live anywhere but a jungle, cave or monastery, that approach is impossible to sustain. Many of the claims made in Buddhist literature about, for instance, the possibility of perfect one-pointed mental absorption or prolonged bliss, might–who knows?–be possible in such a sustained solitary practice, but who wants that? Like Cioran says about the ascetic requirement to deny desire: why cut life short? Or in this case, why cut out the social?
I can’t claim much for my activities on this blog. But what I can claim is worth every moment I spend here. And that is that many flesh and blood people within my tiny sphere of human activity are being affected in very real ways by the thinking that goes on here. They are not being ‘saved” in any way, of course–far from it. But they are being exposed, along with me, to the raw potentialities that thinking and doing can bring to life. The exchanges of ideas from everything from ideology to “meditation”–from Althusser to Zizek–can really only do that much, or that little. The rest is up to you.
What does Deleuze say–something like we must attend to the difference that thinking makes to thought. We can add, the difference that thinking makes to action, and that action makes to thought, and that action makes to action. No one can figure that shit out for you.
I’d like to hear what kinds of “alternatives” you think up–and enact–yourself.
re: 190 Interesting and refreshing, the humility I mean. Thanks for this. Very refreshing.
I am a strange duck/rabbit. I experienced the full series of “perfect one-pointed mental absorptions” the first time as an adolescent and the complete cessation of consciousness that is the highest form of that as well. That is what precipitated my interest in philosophy and ultimately the early buddhist texts – which I did not find until years later. I was simply keen to better understand what I had encountered and what the implications of it were. I was casually telling people that in my view the universe and every critter in it was a composed of entirely impersonal processes for years before I had ever heard of anatman. I do think western scholars almost always fail in their interpretations of the buddhist texts, in light of the actual experience of complete cessation. There is no eternal consciousness or eternal bliss, just release from being and becoming. Bliss disappears quite early on in the implosion that is the progressive unification of consciousness.
I was simply pleased to discover that anyone knew anything about what I had encountered entirely independently (so far as I know, unless, you think, gasp, maybe picked up something in a past life?). Which is why I was surprised to find that actual practicing buddhists are so phobic about this stuff. The suggestion that these concentrations or cessation are not so remote, not so impossible for mere mortals messes with their woo woo and ju ju and whatever.
I had hoped the pragmatic dharma bunch was going to be a bit more open to really examining this phenomena carefully but no, just as quickly settled into another dogma and the group think and the secret decoder rings and the whole nine yards.
So, I get it about the role of conscious and unconscious ideological group think and the generally robotic need human beings to establish franchises so they can get laid. Still, I was dissolved before I understood the implications of what happened and there is no putting Humpty back together. I can’t acquire any kind of an atman to play with under any circumstances. I’ve tried, I can fake it enough to pass for human in poor lighting, but its still an obvious fake.
I haven’t ever found it necessary to live in alone in the jungle, I just prefer it, it’s quieter. I recognize that my experience does not serve as proof of anything for anyone else nor should it. However based on the direct knowledge which I, fortunately or unfortunately, happen to have I am compelled to agree with the Buddha entirely. That’s just how it is. However, such as state of affairs, in the case of someone who has not been indoctrinated and processed and had the dead chicken waved over their head and all of that, is anathema to buddhists and x-buddhists and pretty much everyone else. Which is also fine with me, I’m no savior either.
Keep on thinking on.
Direct knowledge of and agreement with what, exactly? You mention anatman in your post, is this where the agreement is and of what you have direct knowledge?
Glenn, (# 109)
What does “meditation instructor” really mean?
“Direct knowledge of and agreement with what, exactly? You mention anatman in your post, is this where the agreement is and of what you have direct knowledge?”
As I see it, for consciousness to wise up to its own nature it has to observe directly what it is and why it is and how it is that this is that it is simply an impersonal mechanism for making contacts. When consciousness is withdrawn from sense contacts and attention unifies consciousness experiences an intense pleasure in that contraction. When it withdraws from contact with even the mental object which it focused on to become unified consciousness observes the qualities of its nature directly in successively simpler forms. When consciousness lets go of its actual phenomenal qualities it disappears altogether.
After this has occurred consciousness ‘knows directly’ that there is no soul, no self, no spirit, no permanent essence. Consciousness also directly knows that all of these kinds of contacts: with aspects of consciousness, with thoughts, with sensations, and with forms are all simply mindless phenomenal processes within processes.
After this the mind is aware that all that is built up out of these phenomena is a house of cards. The clinging and craving for the continuation of and the modifications of the process of being and becoming are significantly weakened and consciousness, knowing its nature and the unpleasantness of its naturally stupid and compulsive processes, inclines away from the continual re-acquisition of more consciousness and all which consciousness compulsively attempts to contact and influence.
The more superficial the aspects of these phenomena which together make up ones so-called being are the more obviously cobbled together, temporary and burdensome these are seen to be. Identifications with ideas like the self, the soul, the tribe, the team, identifications with ideas and ideologies and roles and routines are obviously and increasingly empty of the kinds of ultimate meaning that any sense of permanence and desirability affords such presumptions.
All this apparent manifest stuff is actual, it is occurring but it has lost the kinds of significances it had before it was directly seen and comprehended for what it is. Consequently much that previously was desirable is seen as undesirable. All that one held dearest, the body, the mind, consciousness, feelings and all that one previously loved or hated one instead sees as impersonal phenomenal processes that are all simply burdensome because consciousness has known directly for itself how much preferable it is when it abandons all of this and all of these processes stop.
I have no doubt that for people who have never experienced this the entire idea of it is probably going to sound counter-intuitive, nihilistic, enigmatic and paradoxical. As with an addicts inability to comprehend what it might be like not to compulsively need their crack, it is not possible for consciousness that has not directly observed its ending to know what a relief it is for it to cease occurring. It has to see it for itself.
Thinking about this, for some few people, might lead them to consider the possibility that this is what conscious beings are like and to undertake conditioning the mind to make these observations. That is the intent the Buddha had in explaining this to other people. But it does usually require mental training because like with any specific hypothesis, experimentation and observations the success of the exercise depends upon specific conditions, in this case, mental conditions.
The religion that has grown up around all of this existential knowledge is simply the same kind of institution and ideology constructing behavior that people engage in in their efforts to extend, reinforce and perpetuate phenomena that are always otherwise un-forming their compounds as rapidly as these are being formed. People attempt to preserve things they value and often they attribute new values and when social structures around some set of ideas or whatever get powerful enough they engage with those structures with every kind of motivation that people might ordinarily have.
I agree with the Buddha that ideas of self are bogus and I agree with the Buddha that the real problem is impersonal mechanisms which function on autopilot almost entirely below the threshold of conscious experience. I agree also that engaging in the foolishness of social rituals regardless of whether the governing ideologies are conscious or unconscious is counter-productive to cultivating the mental skills to put the impersonal mechanisms permanently to bed.
It is a process that is experiential and experimental. Thinking plays a part but thinking alone will not unify consciousness such that it can make these observations. It makes no difference whether consciousness is contingent on substance or substance is contingent on consciousness or whether both proceed from some other substance X. I agree with the Buddha in that with regards to the dilemma of bondage to existence and the soteriological path to release he was attempting to communicate most of conventional philosophical concerns and considerations are irrelevant if someone wants to know directly what he knew directly.
Thank you for your detailed answer.
Okay, now imagine we have thoroughly realized anatman and the nature of consciousness. We are fully awake to this. Now what? Does this make the finitude of the planet and the dwindling resources available to the ever-growing human population as real as rabbit’s horns? Is the exploitation of sentient beings and the spoliation of their means of well-being under the capitalistic/usurious mode of production of the same ‘one taste’ as living as a hermit on cold mountain?
“And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then?” from Luke 3:10, “What shall we do then?” also being the title of texts by Tolstoy, Lenin and Chernyshevsky. Is pointing out the nature of mind the +only+ wise course of action by the awakened with respect to sentient beings? Or are we going to defer the answer to this question until those others unanimously acclaim us as enlightened Buddhas?
“I experienced the full series of “perfect one-pointed mental absorptions” the first time as an adolescent and the complete cessation of consciousness that is the highest form of that as well.”
I always find these types of statements to be so slippery. The whole discussion about meditation, attainments etc. is just so damn slippery. How do we not know that these Dharma Overground dudes, for example, are just learning the lingo and just talking past each other, all the while being able to sit still for ridiculous amounts of time. I’m reminded of the local Zen Master (I almost worte Jedi Master:) who claimed all this stuff. He’s clueless about any type of basic empathic interaction and the crazy institutional pathology that plagues his center.
I guess my point is just a reiteration of my problems with buddha-speak and why this site is essential. To echo #194, one is not even close to ‘being awake’ if one does not see and attempt to do something about the suffering caused by capitalism.
Happy Doomsday! May your day be filled with apocalyptic thougts of zombies, floods and viruses!
re: 195 et al
From: Naturalizing Buddhism without Being Reductive:
“My final claim, here, is that we can thoroughly “naturalize” Buddhism, eliminating all supernatural and otherworldly notions from its profound philosophical insights, only if we see it as operating in the register of the ideological. That is, Buddhism has nothing useful to tell us about the neurological processes underlying contentment, or about ontology or the natural world. Its domain is the realm of humanly produced symbolic and imaginary systems, of Althusserian ideology, or Badiou’s “logics of Worlds.” It can teach us a great deal about how we produce Worlds, and about how we can more consciously transform them.”
This project seems worthwhile on its own merits as ideological world building certainly is what buddhism socio-historically and no less so x-buddhism today is mostly concerned with. On the other hand on the list of objects and ideas which serve as a base for ideological world building today I strongly doubt (x)-buddhism ranks anywhere in the top hundred. I agree about the process in general and a world in this sense can, and is, as readily built on the collection and distribution of apples. If one is interested in contemporary horrors I would suggest investigating this in relation to the collection of sugar from sugar cane, a process which has not shifted from its dependence on multi-generational human enslavement since the construction of that system. People do this stuff to other people because they are ignorant, greedy and avaricious so again I agree with the Buddha as to causes.
For a comprehensive set of discourses on contingent causes and conditions for being and becoming and the varieties of attendant suffering I refer you to the Sutta collections in the Pali Tipitaka.
195: “Okay, now imagine we have thoroughly realized anatman and the nature of consciousness. We are fully awake to this. Now what?”
After that recognition happens to consciousness the empty and contingent nature of the phenomenal universe (anatta) is exposed. However in order to entirely shut down the multiple feedback loops involved in being and becoming all of the previously unconscious processes whereby each moment of conscious phenomena clings to the next and on that basis further acquires contacts with bodily forms and sense data and the ten thousand things, all of the related similarly unconscious processes must be exposed. Exposed for what these are, the ignorance, the un-mindfulness of consciousness by means of appropriate attention (where logical inference and sound reasoning again plays a role) progressively becomes the comprehension, the mindfulness of consciousness. This, again as the Buddha stated, leads to revulsion, dispassion and ultimately to complete abandonment of all phenomena including consciousness.
The Buddha described a progressive education and training of conscious such that it shifts to an ever more comprehensive process of abandoning (which must be thoroughly developed before being and becoming comprehensively ends) where previously there were unconscious processes of acquisition. This nonspecx project fits right in to that overall education imho and considering where most people are at this kind of reasoning will probably do most of them more good than repeatedly mumbling koans will.
“Does this make the finitude of the planet and the dwindling resources available to the ever-growing human population as real as rabbit’s horns? Is the exploitation of sentient beings and the spoliation of their means of well-being under the capitalistic/usurious mode of production of the same ‘one taste’ as living as a hermit on cold mountain?”
Why would it? Doesn’t that seem like a false inference to you?
The process of abandoning the manifold causes of being and becoming can only ever be an individualized process as the investigation of consciousness can only ever take place in the individuated mind that has acquired the conscious phenomena to begin with. We don’t for example, for some kind of metaphysical reason, all have equal access to everything that is in everyone else’s pockets. Philosophically some might propose that we are all unified by some kind of monist nominal-x stuff. Others might propose we all live on the back of a giant turtle. I don’t care, I encountered exactly what the Buddha describes in the tipitaka so that text is useful to me. If you encounter a transcendent hair conditioner behind time and space or giant turtle I’d encourage you to deal with that.
If there is a solution to the downside of capitalism I strongly doubt it is to be found in buddhism. I would look to some new form(s) of globalized grassroots power with its bases on the local levels but which aggregated and coordinated on a global scale could oppose transnational capitalistic powers. I say this because nation states are dead apart from the funeral ceremony and necrophiliac politics are demonstrably futile. If people care about their particular pieces of jungle or savana they may have to earnestly start looking at organizing their defenses in some new ways.
The three knowledges of the fully liberated individual spoken of in the texts; the knowledge of successive past lifetimes of repeated phenomenal acquisitions, the knowledge of the ongoing arising and passing of beings according in various reams according to the qualitative natures of their kamma making – thoughts, speech and actions, and the knowledge of the complete extinction of all possible causes for one’s own future renewed being and becoming are all individuated forms of conscious comprehension. These kinds of comprehension are dependent on cultivating the necessary conditions, strict ethical self-discipline in relation to other beings, solitary contemplation of numerous rational inferences regarding the contingent nature of phenomena and the development of the kinds of concentration necessary to make the relevant observations and so on.
As a metaphysical propositions, ideas like rebirth, the impersonal nature of all phenomena, the comprehensive development of the mental faculties to observe such things firsthand and the consequences of doing so are merely ideological dogmas like any other and relatively useless as such things go. The metaphysical proposition that “we all deserve a break today at mcgrubers” is no different. One would have to go to mcgrubers oneself to verify or falsify, to determine if this is true or if mcgrubers is crap.
What is of one taste is the taste of cessation, extinction, nibbana. What is of one taste is the sweet relief from conscious existence and once that is tasted everything phenomenal also has one taste, everything phenomenal has the one taste of a shit sandwich.
” “And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then?” from Luke 3:10, “What shall we do then?” also being the title of texts by Tolstoy, Lenin and Chernyshevsky. Is pointing out the nature of mind the +only+ wise course of action by the awakened with respect to sentient beings? Or are we going to defer the answer to this question until those others unanimously acclaim us as enlightened Buddhas?”
What the Buddha offered was not a hammer and all mortal concerns are not nails. He didn’t offer a panacea, and he made that clear. He did present a comprehensive program for self-knowledge and liberation from being and becoming. He did not suggest the nature of the phenomenal universe or the natural inclinations of the ignorant beings bound up in it could be altered, only that individuals could abandon their involvement. He was quite pessimistic, and I think rationally so, about the number of people who could and would succeed in following up on this.
Here’s a quote back repeatedly employed by the Buddha “now is the time to do as you see fit.”
As I see it only Buddhas could meaningfully back up the claim that they are Buddha’s by actually being Buddha’s and everyone else is full of shit about being Buddhas. As a general principle people that wake up, even a little bit, avoid the stupid be they buddhists or baptists and the more they wake up the more they avoid the stupid. Buddhas, allegedly, are so compassionate and wise that they not only tolerate the stupid, they actually can provide suitable and appropriate assistance to them without this resulting in more harm than benefit, as is typical when the stupid attempt to guide the stupid.
“I always find these types of statements to be so slippery. The whole discussion about meditation, attainments etc. is just so damn slippery. How do we not know that these Dharma Overground dudes, for example, are just learning the lingo and just talking past each other, all the while being able to sit still for ridiculous amounts of time. I’m reminded of the local Zen Master (I almost worte Jedi Master:) who claimed all this stuff. He’s clueless about any type of basic empathic interaction and the crazy institutional pathology that plagues his center.”
Why slippery? Are you typically clumsy when handling secondhand information?
You don’t know. Its that simple. Would you believe everything you see on TV or read online? That would be stupid, right? Similarly, whatever I might say I know, that is merely my contention. I might say “I take buddhist text A to be saying B because I have had experience C. For anyone with any clarity of thought such a statement is one data point, one teeny tiny almost worthless secondhand data point which should be put on a huge stack of similar data points. What should matter to anyone with a molecule of self determination is what they can know and understand firsthand and then repeatedly test and retest in order to develop greater knowledge and understanding.
If someone wants to determine the veracity of the statements of others they are going to have to acquire their own verifications or falsifications. Screw me, screw the zen master, screw Yoda, screw Pepsico, screw the Party and kill the Buddha. If you are powerless and thoroughly stupid then you have my sympathy because you are at the mercy of forces which are brutal and unsympathetic. If you are not powerless and stupid then you had better get on it because you are at the mercy of forces which are brutal and unsympathetic.
With all due respect, this sounds rather like Freudian thanatos to me.
You know the HHDL considers himself half-Buddhist and half-Marxist and holds the faithful desire that in the future these two philosophies (individual and collective human emancipation) will further complement each other?
This doesn’t sound like the Boddhisatva vow I know, where we are to work for the relief and liberation of +all+ sentient beings as long as samsara persists.
Acting in a way to increase the global suffering of all sentient beings rather than decrease it would be entirely un-Buddha-like, I completely agree.
“This, again as the Buddha stated, leads to revulsion, dispassion and ultimately to complete abandonment of all phenomena including consciousness.”
“With all due respect, this sounds rather like Freudian thanatos to me.”
The Buddha’s contention is that craving for non-being and not-becoming (freudian thanatos) is as much as contingent cause for further being and becoming as is craving for being and becoming and I concur.
“You know the HHDL considers himself half-Buddhist and half-Marxist and holds the faithful desire that in the future these two philosophies (individual and collective human emancipation) will further complement each other?”
HH is not a particularly shrewd political operator at all as far as anyone has observed is he?
“He did not suggest the nature of the phenomenal universe or the natural inclinations of the ignorant beings bound up in it could be altered, only that individuals could abandon their involvement.”
This doesn’t sound like the Boddhisatva vow I know, where we are to work for the relief and liberation of +all+ sentient beings as long as samsara persists.
Afaik the boddhisatva vow originates in texts written in various centuries after the Buddhas death and imho is fancy supersessionist ideological bullshit which cannot be reasonably attributed to the Buddha. But if committing to an imponderably long period of social work appeals to you, go for it.
Within about a half millennia within the highly competitive socio-ideological marketplace on the Indian subcontinent anyone in the holier than thou business who might have been relying on a by then already significantly declining buddhist franchise for their daily bread and ghee was before long forced to compete with ideas like eternal heavenly bliss and messianic saviors from just across the pond. It wouldn’t have been good business to stick with betamax when vhs was what was selling like hot cakes.
Just to attempt to clarify, because on the surface it sounds irrational; the Buddha’s contention was that clinging to forms of being and becoming and forms of non-being and non-becoming and craving for forms of being and becoming and craving for forms of non-being and non-becoming are to be abandoned. Consequently the future not being and non-becoming is the consequence of having abandoned all phenomenological resorts both + and -.
My contention is that cognizance of cessation inclines consciousness to abandon the phenomenal without replacing this with a desire for the cessation of phenomena. My thinking is that only direct experience of the complete cessation of phenomena demonstrates this. As a mere hypothesis in the context of experience that restricted entirely to phenomenal processes the cessation of those processes and the resulting counter phenomenally inclined process is incomprehensible.
as I understand you know how to part a Buddha from a non-Buddha, to part his original word from the non-original. How do you do this?
I consider the earlier texts, the sutta and vinayas collections such as those in the pali tipitaka and the chinese and tibetan agamas to be more likely to more closely resemble the actual statements of the Buddha. The numerous early texts present a coherent and consistent set of doctrines and disciplines and do not display the significant deviations from this typical of everything later.
The later texts introduce a variety of novelties both to substantiate their claims to some form of authority and thereby the disparities in the thinking. The significant textual divergences in thinking appear to begin with the abhidhamma texts, which already succumb to the re-introduction of various samkhyan philosophical notions, and the coherence of the thinking goes downhill from there. The discourse texts have the highest level of overall consistency while the various existing codes of discipline demonstrate more of the impact of early sectarian divisions.
For my purposes, if I have the aforementioned direct experience I will consult any texts that do have something to say about it regardless of when it was written or by who. If it has relevance the texts can claim to have been written by elves or orcs for all I care. The presentation in the early texts have a high fidelity to what I have actual experience with while the later texts do not – unless I include interpretations which I take to have been misapprehended and misconceived.
Continuing with the same example I began with, I have encountered the eight kinds of concentrated conscious phenomena together with the complete cessation of conscious phenomena repeatedly mentioned and explained in the early texts and the consequences of encountering these phenomena and absence of phenomena has been as indicated in those early texts.
I have not encountered any kind of pure eternal consciousness or rigpa or buddha nature, etc.. Phenomena which are not consistent with either the presentation in the earlier texts nor with my direct experience. I’m not saying there is no pure eternal consciousness, only that I have no experience of it and that it is inconsistent with everything I do have experience of and the earlier accounts of what the Buddha reputedly said.
Much that is in the later texts matches up more closely with the magical thinking typical of various sectarian theisms or the notions of one or another philosophical schools of thought. The earlier texts reflect a way of thinking that contrasts very strongly with sectarian and philosophical thinking and explains very clearly both how and why this is so.
I’m not opposed to messianic interventions, just haven’t seen that approach producing in liberation from ignorance for individuals. More often it seems this thinking leads quite effectively in the direction of spawning various totalitarian ideologies and rigid caste systems. X-buddhism seems to be largely composed of an incoherent and inconsistent melange of very late buddhist schools of thought which typically bears very little resemblance to what is in the earliest texts.
This seems natural in its own way. Christians ignore what christ reportedly had to say in preference for something some self appointed Christian authority said yesterday. Not surprising to see Buddhists do the same thing. This is why I am not a joiner. I much prefer what the Buddha allegedly said according to the earlier texts wherein he strongly suggests making oneself an island and living like a lone rhinoceros or lone elephant far away from the herd, dependent upon no one.
In the first pericope of this sutta the Buddha makes a distinction between comprehension and conception.
“Perceiving Unbinding as Unbinding, he conceives things about Unbinding”
MN 1 Mulapariyaya Sutta: The Root Sequence
I refer to it here because one can note that in the first pericope regarding the uninstructed untrained mind the Buddha lists pretty much everything in the universe that a powerfully concentrated mind might encounter including nibbana. The important distinction being that apart from fully comprehending the nature of what is encountered what the mind naturally tends towards is forms of speculation, rationalization and conjecture.
It is not that such forms of thought are without use only that these are not the same as complete and accurate comprehension. I mention this primarily in the hope of undermining any perceptions of apparent claims to authority that might be inferred by my references to states of unified consciousness and experiences of nibbana.
I have referred to such experiences, however unlike many others such as some in the x-bud traditional or many in the pragmatic dharma scenes I do not wish to claim to have become some kind of an authority or a saint or to have attained or accomplished anything of significance. I am merely another ordinary person who is doggedly in pursuit of a complete and accurate comprehension which I am not at all satisfied that I nor anyone else I know of who is alive today can reasonably be said to possess.
I contend that comprehension of is a long way from experience of. For example we have demonstrable experience of quantum phenomena yet we are a long way from a demonstrable comprehension of quantum phenomena. I think far too much about personal experience with meditative phenomena or non-phenomena is quickly assumed to equate to some form of accomplishment which it almost assuredly is not representative of.
I make no claims to having attained anything, to have become any kind of saint, to be enlightened or to be awakened. I am familiar with much with which most people are seemingly unfamiliar and this has had consequences however I make no claims to have fully and correctly comprehended reality or my experience or to derive any authority or superior or special status on the basis of some peculiar knowledge or special mental qualities and so forth.
DN 1 – Brahmajāla Sutta: The All-embracing Net of Views
This is a very abridged translation with very few explanatory notes but it is available online.
This sutta discourse is fairly comprehensive refutation by the Buddha of other doctrines. It refutes pretty much every subsequent contention of official buddhism over the last 2300 or so years. It bears considerable study if one is interested in early buddhist thought. A good starting point if you don’t read pali is a short book titled “The Discourse on the All-Embracing Net of Views: The Brahmajala Sutta and Its Commentaries” by Bhikkhu Bodhi which includes a more complete translation along with useful comments.
Merry late December x hashtag whatever, everyone.
Well, thanks Nathan. I am baffled. Your claims and your disclaimers, your more or less subtle hints to your superior knowledge, that’s all a bit… overwhelming. I would have more questions, for example how you proof that a “coherent and consistent set of doctrines” isn’t the result of any kind of historical selective process or the result of your own selective preference, or how you can dismiss 2000 years of textual tradition in asia with just the two words “later texts”. I could ask how you cope with all the hermeneutical problems which arise when one speaks about the meaning of something which was said 2500 years ago. In this light one could ask too how you see your experience as the same as the one this guy spoke about. I am sure you would have elaborate answers for all these questions. But I leave it here. First because I detect hubris (despite your disclaimer). Second because it would probably be more circular reasoning (like when you proof your point that the old texts are the original ones by pointing to the old texts). But thanks anyway for taking your time.
These, yours, are all reasonable concerns. I think we should all have these and others as well. Always.
“Your claims and your disclaimers, your more or less subtle hints to your superior knowledge, that’s all a bit… overwhelming.”
Overwhelming? Seriously? Maybe sit down, drink a glass of water, take some deep breaths.
My descriptions of my experience is my firsthand knowledge, not some kind of superior knowledge on some kind of universal knowledge scale whatever that might be. As far as you are concerned I would think it should be considered inferior knowledge to whatever firsthand knowledge you have.
I’ve said I’ve been able to experience a series of concentrations of consciousness leading up to and including the conscious abandoning and cessation of all conscious phenomena. That is not a particularly unique or special statement, particularly if you are familiar with buddhism. I then referenced a text wherein the Buddha explicitly states that experiencing such concentrations and even experiencing nibbana is not directly equatable to having become awakened or enlightened or superior to ordinary human beings. I should think this would somewhat deflate the significance of what I have said and also the significance of similar statements made by other people who on the basis of such experiences claim to have become somehow superior.
“I would have more questions, for example how you proof that a “coherent and consistent set of doctrines” isn’t the result of any kind of historical selective process…”
It’s only reasonable that you do your own research and come to your own conclusions about this, these are mine. I don’t expect you to take anyone’s word for anything. I refer to them as early texts because that is the general scholarly consensus supported by the existing evidence. If you can find evidence of significant inconsistencies in the discourse texts let me know, I’m interested.
There are hundreds of these texts in four major collections and I have been studying them carefully for about two decades now. Like everyone else who has taken the time to do the reading and thinking involved I have found a high level of integration and such a singular voice in these texts that I would be surprised to find any form of analysis that can convincingly suggest otherwise. Again, let me know if you learn anything of significance to the contrary.
Given careful study what is very evident historically over the 2500 years is a process of degeneration of the coherence of the original doctrines and disciplines over time and this is reflected in later texts as one would expect from any communication which was originally an intact and well integrated whole and then began to disintegrate. The causes for the disintegration are also clear, had the guidelines in the original communication been followed the degeneration in understanding would not have resulted in the proliferation of contrary and conflicting new doctrines and disciplines.
If you can find evidence for the agama and tipitaka sutta and vinaya texts being newer and other texts being older I would also be very interested to hear about it. I refer to them as early texts because that is how scholars generally refer to them just as they commonly refer to later texts as later. If you can find any evidence for stratification in the early discourse texts over a period of any historical and doctrinal significance beyond the first or second century of the Buddhasasana I would also be interested to hear about it.
These kinds of issues and concerns have all been aspects of my studies for a long time now so I am always interested to hear of new challenges to the integrity of and the coherence of the thinking communicated in these texts.
“or the result of your own selective preference, or how you can dismiss 2000 years of textual tradition in asia with just the two words “later texts”.”
I’m not dismissing any of the later texts (they exist, and in relation to the earlier texts they contain interpretive errors, errors in judgement, logical inconsistencies, dogmatically sectarian and doctrinally heretical statements and so forth, what of it?) or anything known about the 2500 year history of buddhist thought and practice, I’m very interested in most all of it and continually learning.
The chronology of texts and evolution of buddhist schools, sectarian and heretical forms of buddhism together with analysis of syncretic retlationships with other schools of thought in asia is fairly well researched and a consensus of understanding amongst scholars within reasonably narrow limits is widely agreed upon at this point. If you have some otherwise unknown new or spectacularly controversial evidence of any kind to contribute I urge you to publish it.
“I could ask how you cope with all the hermeneutical problems which arise when one speaks about the meaning of something which was said 2500 years ago.”
Fortunately the pali texts are sufficiently extensive such that there is a more than adequately sized body of text to make sound determinations in regards to the definitions of terms and to clearly demonstrate the hermeneutic significances and overall consistency. Many of the pali discourse texts also have corresponding texts in chinese and tibetan which is also useful in these regards.
I continue to study all of the available related scholarly literature old and new in increasing depth and continue to think carefully and methodically through the many related issues at great length. At this point I am fairly deep into doing this in the actual pali but if I live a couple more decades I will be that much further into it and my knowledge of sanskrit would likely improve as well. I do many hours of reading in these areas almost every day, I take notes and communicate with knowledgeable scholars and fellow students and researchers.
What is your approach? Do you have any suggestions for what else might be beneficial?
“In this light one could ask too how you see your experience as the same as the one this guy spoke about.”
Which guy? If you mean the Buddha or one of the other bhikkhus who provide detailed descriptions of both how they entered into concentrations and carefully defined the phenomenology of those concentrated mental states, then, on the basis of those descriptions. I haven’t found any other descriptions that are more accurate or more of a match which is why I study those texts because they describe many other accomplishments as well, accomplishments which I consider far more significant and worthy of pursuing.
Do you want more references? If you want to really investigate properly for yourself I can recommend some of the better books as the material online is almost all highly abridged and somewhat limited. Would you prefer references to the original pali, chinese and tibetan texts or translations?
“I am sure you would have elaborate answers for all these questions. But I leave it here. First because I detect hubris (despite your disclaimer).”
You can leave it here at an accusation of hubris like a wuss or you can man up and probe further to see if it is really hubris on my part or something else.
“Second because it would probably be more circular reasoning (like when you proof your point that the old texts are the original ones by pointing to the old texts).”
I can refer you to the related scholarly work of which ever sort you might prefer.
“But thanks anyway for taking your time.”
Your tone is needlessly dismissive and kind of a dickish especially if you’re going to pussy out like that but your welcome anyways.”
Here’s the thing. If I understand correctly the central premise of this blog is that contemporary buddhist institutions lack credibility. I agree.
The overall reference to something loosely defined as “buddhism” is a relatively recent innovation as are headings such as Tibetan buddhism, theravada buddhism, zen buddhism and so on. Both the overall heading and the sub-headings don’t specifically refer to anything and are entirely misleading. Lumping all of these loosely affiliated sub-groups together as some kind of unified religious entity is completely wrongheaded and the whole approach should be scrapped by anyone who is serious about this stuff.
I contend that “buddhism” has had a credibility problem since the term was invented a few centuries ago as it is an entirely obfuscatory term. I further contend the institution founded by the Buddha had already fallen into sectarianism and decline and lost credibility at some point, likely roughly two millennia ago and has subsequently been superseded by dozens of other imitative institutions which have competed to replace it with one or another facsimilies.
So there is contemporary loss of credibility, loss of credibility in the modern era of the last few centuries and there is an ancient loss of credibility that extends back a couple thousand years. At the same time there have been efforts to reform these numerous institutions and regain some of the lost credibility that have a history that is equally extensive.
If one wishes to critique ‘buddhism’ one must undertake a massive disambiguation effort to do so.
If one wishes to critique ideological commodifications or sexual abuse or forms of interpersonal exploitation or cults of personality or whatever then perhaps it would be more effective to do it more inclusively and comprehensively by skillfully employing the methodologies of the actual forms of jurisprudence that are efficacious in the present or by teaching women kung fu or whatever.
I have given my reasons for maintaining a sincere ongoing and entirely solitary interest in what I find interesting and practically useful amidst the greater landfill known as buddhism. I do not participate in the group think or orgies on that mound and I share your disdain for the stinking miasma of it in general. I can either contribute my very peculiar and unconventional pov here from time to time or I can leave you all be if it bothers you so much that I give a shit.
Nathan, yes I am going to pussy out here. I wish you all the best.
As you will then Matthias. It is ironic how a self styled critical thinker is unwilling to move beyond ambiguous generalities and ad hominems and into constructive engagement with any of the actual details of the issues you profess to be so passionate about. It seems that you are an expert in hubris.
I suppose I would have to be publishing self aggrandizing books and selling expensive seminars to cultivate the perception of how much spiritual authority I have while exploiting others for sex, power and wealth before my uncelebrated meditative experience and lonely scholarship are worthy of engaging with in any meaningful way. Those of us who are willing to be frank and self critical simply aren’t worthy of your valuable time. The Deepak Chopras of the world beckon.
Naturally it is always going to be easier to criticize from a safe distance and then only those who refuse to earnestly engage at all. That supports the illusion of holding some kind of moral high ground and intellectual superiority without actually having to demonstrate it in any way. Seems your gurus have taught you more magic tricks than you realize.
Well, thanks for clarifying. I was under the impression that you fellows were capable of better than this but if limiting yourselves to mocking the pop starts of the mystical mumbo-jumbo self help circuit is what gets you off I wish you many years of hedonic bliss. I don’t see how it represents any kind of a meaningful contribution to critical thought, meaningful dialogue or the reduction of human suffering but I don’t begrudge you your fun time.
You guys asked for word blood and I’ve done my best to accommodate you. I apologize if I broke something. Get well soon.
Happy holidays and all the best in the new year.
Nathan, there has been a discussion here about The Original. I simply don’t accept its possibility. But its true, I shouldn’t have engaged with you in the first place.
Yes, I’ve read your comments there Matthias which is why a voluminous dissertation on why you are thoroughly wrong is rather pointless regardless of how many hundreds or thousands of citations it might incorporate.
You fail to see how you have replaced the magical thinking you perceive in others with a magical thinking of your own, how overall you are suggesting replacing homogenized whole milk with irradiated skim milk and calling it an improvement. Knowing in advance that you can’t do something is certainly the greatest impediment to accomplishment. It must be comforting to continually reaffirm to yourself how superior this approach is.
Here’s a radical thought that could easily expand your obviously claustrophobic educational horizon. Why not actually make a concerted effort to memorize and regularly recite something of considerable length and complexity. Pi to 500 digits and then a 1000 and so on. Or the complete works of William Shakespeare. Then get back to us about how unreliable a trained memory is.
As it stands, your entire argument is doubly, both orally and literally false, in reference to the relevant existing evidence. This is comparable to an invalid suggesting that the accomplishments of olympic record holders are purely mythical. The delusional conceits of the present era can be inexhaustible and yet such a claustrophobic habitat for those who uncritically accept them. As you submit to wholesale dependence upon these impediments may they serve you well as you stumble forth.
Can you say something more about yourself ? What is your experience or opinion of Buddhism ?
re: 212 No.
I’ve done this already (in a plethora of previous replies) in an effort to differentiate and characterize the nature of the view that one can be and become independent. Independent of self views of all kinds. Independent of organized buddhism and independent of both internally or personally and externally or socially constructed selves which are merely two sides of the same laundry token.
One can refer to ones direct experience as a necessary and primary frame of reference in order to determine for oneself the veracity of what anyone else teaches or believes. As when comparing historical accounts of what the Buddha allegedly taught. Evaluating these accounts in relation to direct experience to determine when and how that teaching has retained faithfulness orally and/or literately to human experience and when and how it has been mishandled and misinterpreted.
I take the view that intellectual and willful independence is a skill set and an important one in relation to liberation from oppression. A skill that apparently some here lack to the extent that they have come to believe they are entirely constructed by mysterious forces that exist only in one or another vaguely defined social space.
It remains to be demonstrated how the contention that some equally vaguely defined ‘we’ can somehow be compelled by yet some other unknown force to act to make some kind of constructive changes of some inexpressible yet presumably beneficial sort. I refuse to submit to this thinking and remain healthy and hostile to the suggestion that the cure for any kind of socially transmitted disease is the ingestion of an even stronger poison.
One can escape from bondage to ignorant and mindless internal and external phenomena.
I take it this view of autonomy as a form of alert and attentive individuated interior and exterior conquest of ignorance is objectionable to those who hold the view that they are mere imaginings of some kind of corporate organism. They would insist we must accept our enslavement and become as powerless as they are before we can, as some kind of mass movement of inexorably ideologically naive robotic lemmings, march off of the precipice which they are infatuated with as opposed to the precipices which they fear.
I maintain one becomes a free and autonomous individual through relentless self education, through direct firsthand scrutiny and awareness of the existential battlefield and by practicing strategically and tactically profound forms of resistance as opposed to capitulating to any and all forms of ignorant group think be these gross or subtle, internal or external.
Thanks. That is fine as a way of marking where you stand and how you place yourself in this concrete context of social interaction. I won’t bore you with many more questions or refer you to any other writings or teachings. I think you have trapped yourself in a quest of definitions. Sometimes that may be useful, most of the time it is a dead end and the expression of useless self aggrandizing anxiety (you know engaging in the veracity of things, of what the buddha said, being Free without defining from what, criticizing group think, well, etc, all very trivial things, which as I say, are not very useful except when left on the side).
You place a lot of importance in autonomy. Critical thinking, and/or critical buddhism as the result of applying critical thinking to buddhism, can be central to the process of autonomy, as I assume you would agree. I find that somewhat boring too.
I start by applying contingency to your concept of autonomy, of even better, to whatever concept of selfhood you may have or there can be. I move from there to solidarity, the importance of a big we -not the we you disdain. It is an ethical we. In other words each individual, autonomous or not, living on planet earth. And then things begin to get interesting when concrete problems regarding that we are defined, analyzed, and act about, in other words, a course of action is taken to solve them, to reach a better future.
Fundamentalist fixated beliefs, be them religious, scientific, philosophical or of the fourth kind, that get in the way fo doing this, and doing away with them – which not coincidentally are most of the time at the service of pure egoism – are part of what I consider a potentially important activity here. Not everything emanates from here; actually, exaggeration via narcissism is at the order of the day. Just ask this group how it meassures it success ?
I am a liberal through and through, thus for me “suffering” is something to be dealt with mostly through the State, democracy, and social justice and not Buddhism or any other private form of seeking personal happiness and virtuosity.
You are liberally welcome. I find the blood on the floor of the mosh pit here can be edutaining and as bored by cheering about team sports.
“I think you have trapped yourself in a quest of definitions.” Nice, semiotics and its discontents.
Not much room for any theory of language or intrinsic meaning of words on this side of the aisle.
I see language a a tool for getting to agree on concrete action.
I see, then your interest in all this de-concretion is curious. I predict disappointment as on my third read through of all the jargon salad here I am catching on to how it works. I think it is great fun, like when you construct a tower out of blocks and invite a child to knock it over or when someone beckons you into a box and once you are in their box they lecture you on how you are inside a box. I can see this approach leading to concrete action for sure, along the lines of assembling a deaf choir. I’m getting seasons tickets.
Indeed it is. There are some aspects of buddhism I simply like, such as the cultivation of sensibility and the uses of meditation. But I think your are probably right. Except for the possibility of contributing in its creativity and direction and perhaps, in genuine dissent, meeting other people that may share my points of view, and help test them out. I just practice pragmatism and my critique here and with regard to buddhism and non-buddhism alike is just a consequence of that. And this, my positions, get only clearer and stronger with every exchange. I like blood too.
Apart from the sheere fun of Well this is beyond fun for me.
Ah, how lovely to see the two stupidest people ever to have commented on this blog having a grand time discussing how their reactionary politics, ignorance, and sheer idiocy can triumph over any attempt at intelligent discussion of truth! Your pride in your stupidity and evil are quite refreshing–no attempt even to pretend to real thought, or to any compassion for humanity! You simply and frankly declare Buddhism to be the practice of open sexism, hostility, stupidity, narcissism and joyful ignorance! If only the x-buddhist sites around the web could be so honest.
I would suggest that you go have your chat on some reactionary x-buddhist site, but no doubt they would draw the line at this level of sexist insults and overt fascist ideology and censor you! At least you can serve, here, as one more piece of evidence (as if more were needed) that extreme stupidity, mental illness, and right-wing politics will always make a natural combination.
“Ah, how lovely to see the two stupidest people ever to have commented on this blog having a grand time discussing how their reactionary politics, ignorance, and sheer idiocy can triumph over any attempt at intelligent discussion of truth! Your pride in your stupidity and evil are quite refreshing–no attempt even to pretend to real thought, or to any compassion for humanity! You simply and frankly declare Buddhism to be the practice of open sexism, hostility, stupidity, narcissism and joyful ignorance! If only the x-buddhist sites around the web could be so honest.”
Thanks, this is high praise coming from you, the first person in history to ever think critically. Of course you must know it would be presumptuous of anyone else to attempt an intelligent discussion of truth employing ‘real thought’ before you finish deciding what real thoughts are and inventing how to think such things. Oh how I have longed to be a real boy like you, alas, here I dance at the end of my strings awaiting the day your magic spell will animate this lifeless wood.
“I would suggest that you go have your chat on some reactionary x-buddhist site, but no doubt they would draw the line at this level of sexist insults and overt fascist ideology and censor you! At least you can serve, here, as one more piece of evidence (as if more were needed) that extreme stupidity, mental illness, and right-wing politics will always make a natural combination.”
I’m adding sexist and fascist to my resume right now, you have no idea how long I’ve waited for well credentialed references like this. Expect phone calls from headhunters for fortune 500 companies. Such generosity, it must be the season, merry x-mas to you too Geppetto.
Nathan, I’m sorry to be blunt with you. I tried to ignore you, because it is clear to everyone here that you are seriously mentally ill. However, it is also clear that next to Luis you are one of the stupidest human beings to ever learn to type. I’m sorry that it makes you angry that you are so stupid. I know that it makes you feel better about yourself to try to disrupt any discussions that are beyond your capacity to understand, just as it makes Luis feel better about himself to label any attempt to help other human beings as foolish and immature.
At some point, Nathan, you will have to accept your limitations, if you want to stop being so miserable. And I really would ignore you if you and Luis would just go start your own blog, and write back and forth to one another about how stupid and foolish all those people who think and use hard words are. But you choose to write your idiotic incoherent offensive nonsense on this blog, so you get the truth. You are quite stupid. I’m sure many others have tried to point this out to you in your life. No doubt your mental illness makes your stupidity more challenging for you. But attempting to post enough stupid gibberish to disrupt intelligent conversations is not acceptable behavior, and someone needs to tell you this. I know that you need help, but a discussion on a blog cannot provide the kind of psychological help you need. You should stop posting, and go speak to someone in person.
Now I’m sure you will feel the need to call me offensive names and act like an angry eight year-old, so I will resume my practice of ignoring you, in the hopes that you will lose interest and to seek help. Please be aware, Nathan, that really every single person on these boards can tell how pathetically stupid you are. Your attempts to insult them are annoying, but mostly sad. Still, there is a limit to how much patience people need to have with idiots, even if they are troubled.
Its fine, I really do appreciate you taking the trouble to descend to my level. If one gives the creature in drag enough of what he demands and waits patiently the feminine essence of non-philosophy will eventually step out of the closet and explain that she really doesn’t want what she/he has been emphatically insisting on getting. Us sexist fascist insane simpletons need simple clear examples in plain language. I’m so sorry if I hurt you baby, you know I love you.
To all readers: I just want to make it clear that the assumption that calling someone a woman or a homosexual is the greatest possible insult one can offer is as offensive to me as it probably is to most of you. There has always been a policy of non-censorship on this blog, and I suppose that it is best to stick to that policy. I hope we can ignore such offensive language, let it serve as an indication to all readers that everything Nathan has written should be ignored, and move on with some serious discussion. I apologize for responding to him and provoking this offensive behavior, but it had begun to seem to me that the lunatic standing in the room shouting was putting a stop to all useful discussion. Please be aware that such insults are being made by a mentally ill man of limited intelligence, and try to be sympathetic.
Hi Hammerhead -still think you can predict the use of a hammer or a word-, you finally show up. Thanks to your compulsive need of attention and be read, it is always an easy and predictable task to expose your incompetence directly.
By the way congratulations and thanks for taking your name out of the tag cloud. Your really are progressing in selflessness!
Let me return your labeling and say that you are the most DOGMATIC idiot writing in this blog. Your inability to address real concrete complexity (you can only self validate your deluded chains of dissociations and when someone challenges them directly or directly you come up with your histrionic smoke) is only paired by you inability to generate any concrete change whatsoever. I already advised you once to come out of the academic closet. But your contumacy and fear of change beholds you.
Your sociopathic histrionic and unsophisticated egoism could do better in a post in Chinese or North Korean cleptocracies than in a decent university in the most important democracy in the world. You not only openly betray the least worse thing your country has, you also betray any hope of getting rid of the great damage traditional buddhism does every day.
Your deluded thinking cohonests the daily rubbery of the innocent, the abuse of power, the continuation of inaction about inequality all over the world. Why don’t you give as a little talk about reactionary Obama or reactionary Hollande ?
Your stupid intention of rebranding communism through buddhism is as unuseful and is irrelevant. As futile as any other academic endeavor of yours.
Your embrace of Platonic stupidities through Badieu’s concepts of eternal Truths are simply another way of sustaining abuse and egoism of the powerful status quo in traditional Buddhism. Seeing your self as the only self proclaimed witness of the”buddhist truth event” is as narcissistic and as deluded as it gets.
Your defense of Lacan “after six hard years of reading him” is well, armchair lacanism. Step on it, perhaps after another six years you may begin to grasp his thinking. Perhaps not since I am sure still is hard reading for you.
Your affection for psychoanalysis is an obvious aspiration of healing I advise you to follow.
Your love of Althusser and ideology is an archaism not even well recognized current day communists such as Terry Egleton recognize.
Your blinding to your own theory seems to be an incurable disease apparently shared by Wallis as well as he is unable to review critically and openly his own thinking.
The good news is there are people out there who can read this. And that this blindness that you embody is a phenomenon as well documented as the reproduction of ameba or the pernicious damage of cult following in buddhism and comunism are.
I will save this writing so next time I just cut and paste it. Your senseless and stupid repetitions are geting very boring.
I’d just like to apologize to you Tom and to the readership. It hadn’t occurred to me that you identify so deeply with non-philosophy that you now are non-philosophy. In my dim way I have finally come to see why metaphors are not play safe here as you are committed to whipping boys and despise those who practice sparring. I will withdraw, obviously not out of compassion, that would be beyond me of course, but because it isn’t entertaining anymore to kick sand in your puny face.
Oh I forgot, your aberrations will be now tranlated into french and german … perhasps that is the origin of your renewed aversion of your self-generated embarrasment and idiotic exposure here … well expect more of it in the coming years. After all you may grow up, or retire, who knows. Happy new year !!!
What are all you folks doing here? The end game is enlightenment, are you debating the methods used to attain that (attain is the best word I could come up with) or that enlightenment exists at all? Mental masturbation or as some Buddhists say putting another head on top of your own. I wish you all good luck as you boot each other around the block.
Ouch! you’ve been Pepper sprayed!
Flush repeatedly with cool water or whole milk, plenty of cool air for the skin burns. You may be tempted to rub your eyes but rubbing Pepper spray tends to merely spread it around and make burning worse as it more deeply penetrates the skin…lol
In all seriousness, we were getting tired of your silly shit. don’t you think got exactly what you were itching for?
Come on guys – where’s the Christmas spirit? Your mothers would make you all apologise to each other…..
RE 228: Another moron, just what we needed. Whenever anybody responds to something they cannot understand with the favorite phrase of the idiot anti-intellectual (mental masturbation!!), well, it probably isn’t worth pointing out that he (it is almost always “he”) is so stupid he should stop even trying to speak in public. Mr. McGeachie, you are a moron and a jackass! Thanks for adding one more idiot voice to the reactionary chorus–now run along and waste your time on Secular Buddhism or some such nonsense. How could a moron like you have a clue what might lead to enlightenment?
I am just completely fed up with every moron in the world shouting tired cliches and incoherent insults to try to prevent any real discussion from ever taking place.
John (#228). Is that a sincere question? I’ll gladly give you a short version of what “we’re doing here,” but only if you are genuinely interested. But first, I suggest that you read around on the pages (at the top of the blog). Then, let’s have your questions and response. That’s the way a dialogue begins. But if you’ve already decided that “mental masturbation” is a necessarily negative thing, then maybe there’s no point in even beginning a conversation. Whenever I ask people what they mean by that particular cliche, it always ends up sounding like some version of “I will only think up to a point,” or even “I don’t want to think beyond what I already think,” and so on. Really, if you think about it, there is a strange non-alignment between the metaphor and the usage. When you masturbate, don’t you go whole hog to the climatic end? Or do you just diddle with your dick, like it’s some inconsequential gadget? If by “mental masturbation” you thus mean thinking until a climatic explosion occurs, then you’re in, right?
We could have similar fun with your metaphors “enlightenment” and “boot around the block.” Are you in?
re: stupid stupid moron stupid insane stupid
Amen, you are the evangelists, I’m merely a lowly lifelong practitioner, and how then could you possibly know when you are preaching to the choir? I know its stupid, and far be it from me to expect any sympathy or respect when spending time cleaning the mirrors in the houses of the blind.
“To all readers: I just want to make it clear that the assumption that calling someone a woman or a homosexual is the greatest possible insult one can offer is as offensive to me as it probably is to most of you.”
Is this a case of the ‘tone police’ in action?
Why would calling someone a woman or a homosexual be any more insulting than calling them “one of the stupidest human beings to ever learn to type”, “seriously mentally ill” or “so stupid”, a ‘moron’ etc?
I think I understand where you are coming from re “right speech” but is throwing petrol on a fire likely to lead to constructive dialogue? Or am I missing the point – are you simply trying to drive away those you disagree with? What is acceptable disagreement without ‘moron’ etc being thrown back?
Is it simply a case of being able to dish it out but not being able to take it?
Tom, you are obviously a smart guy who makes some interesting observations but you can also come across as one of those precious tenured academic middle class armchair revolutionaries I remember from my uni days….lol
Geoff: I think it’s kind of funny that I “come across” that way to you–I can assure you I have never been a tenured academic, or middle class. I know plenty of them, and they certainly don’t perceive me as being one of their crowd.
I’m not at all interested in “right speech,” or in being the “tone police.” I don’t personally care at all if someone thinks I am homosexual. It isn’t a matter of being “more insulting.” The offense is in the assumption that being called a homosexual is the most horrible thing one could say about a person. Can you not see the difference, here?
I did not mean the term “mentally ill” as an insult. It is clear that Nathan is mentally ill. This is not an insulting label, but a statement of fact. I simply want to indicate that, while I do have sympathy for his mental illness, it does not give him permission to “shout” incoherent nonsense in order to prevent others from having serious discussions he cannot understand.
I can certainly “take it,” and don’t care at all about the childish personal insults. That’s why I ignore most of them. I just wanted to mention, for others who might be reading (if there are any left who haven’t simply stopped following, after the thousand of words of incoherent gibberish from Nathan and Luis), that attempting to insult someone by calling them a woman or a homosexual is generally offensive, even if it fails to actually insult the target.
I always welcome disagreement or argument. Unfortunately, the kind of disagreement we get most often lately is the kind you offer–attempts at personal insults that don’t make an argument (and that fail to insult–I only wish more people perceived me as a middle-class armchair revolutionary. Then I might actually be able to become a tenured academic!). I’m just tired of the argument from stupidity, the assertion that since we use big words and make arguments and think, that’s proof that everything we say is wrong and worthless. If someone dropped in on a blog on theoretical physics and asserted (for thousands of words) that it was all a bunch of pseudo-intellectual pretentious nonsense, how long would they be tolerated? If someone decided to post endless comments on a Dickens blog about how Dickens uses “too many words” and is just “academic mental masturbation,” how long would it be before their attempt to disrupt discussion would be removed?
So no, this is not a matter of policing tone. There is a difference between making an argument in a combative tone (which is perfectly fine with me), and disrupting discussion with incoherent nonsense. Nathan, Luis, and too many others lately are simply saying “I don’t understand your big words, and you shouldn’t be allowed to say anything I can’t understand, so I’ll shout angry gibberish to stop you from talking.” This is NOT argument. I’m sorry, Geoff, if you cannot see the difference. I am hoping to engage those who disagree with me, but I certainly would like to “drive away” those who want to assert that stupidity is good and thinking is always bad, and who will do anything they can to disrupt thought.
What I wrote was not ‘a personal insult’. The metaphor for non-philosophy is of a very butch woman begging for a fight and having received a blow responding with, “Hey what are you doing? I’m a woman!” Much simpler than a discourse on how applying the interpretive structures of Laruelle to Laurelle or of Lacan to Lacan or of Badiou to Badiou etc., etc. results in less than zero. I’m always in favor of discerning and negating ideology. I’m always opposed to adopting another ideology consciously or unconsciously. I am well aware that the result of liberation from ideology is always viewed as naive, stupid and mentally ill by the ideologically devout and I don’t care either. I am also cognizant of how historically, today’s ideological necessities are tomorrow’s ideological tragedies.
So when you also said Nathan is “one of the stupidest human beings to ever learn to type”, or “so stupid”, a ‘moron’ etc, this was not meant as an insult but as a statement of fact? Just like I’m simply stating the fact that you are a dickhead.
So was calling Nathan “one of the stupidest human beings to ever learn to type” not the most insulting thing you could call him? So long as it’s not in the politically correct no-go zone of sexuality – it’s open season on SNB.
I also find you disingenuous when you try to make out you are not middle class (what Marxist doesn’t?). I’m sure you have mentioned your comfortable lifestyle elsewhere ( I could probably find it if I looked). Maybe you are a member of the upper working class?
I have to say I haven’t been following what Nathan et al have been saying. Maybe it is incoherent. I just find your little outbursts rather precious: “why can’t these people understand what Glenn and I are on about?” and would stir anyone up (even TNH might get a little touchy).
To be honest I usually only read Glenn’s stuff because I enjoy his turn of phrase. Thought of throwing a bit more humour into your pieces? They can be a bit heavy going after a day at (non academic) work. (I wouldn’t know Badiou from Brigitte Bardot).
Anyway this little exchange just demonstrates the inevitable frustration for the Marxist / Buddhist project. (Capitalism probably would also be OK too if people could only be more generous and less power driven…..)
If only it didn’t involve the messy real world like Nathan and me….. once you have finally nutted it out of course ….
The Dickhead from Down Under (so you know what to call me in your response)
I am now resuming my policy of simply not responding to the reactionaries. I just wanted to try to put the brakes on what seemed to me to be a somewhat cruel goading and encouragement of a mentally ill person; hopefully, pointing out to him that most of us here can tell that he is spouting gibberish, that he isn’t fooling anyone, will help him break out of his delusion.
If you want to say capitalism is good, thinking is bad, and we should all embrace our capitalist stupidity mindfully, well–why not go to Buddhawheel or Secular Buddhism? You’ll get lots of praise there.
Of course, I’m not naive, and I know the reason for the abundance of such responses is that the attempt to overwhelm any real thought with defeatist attitudes and senseless platitudes is the reactionary subjects main strategy.
That and, of course, making endless personal attacks when there is no way to respond to an argument. Nobody can argue agains what I say (nobody even tries), and the response is simply to discuss what a horrible asshole I am. Yes, I am an asshole. It takes an asshole to tell the truth in this World of suffocating niceness, the tyranny of opinion, and the virtue of ignorance.
Hi Glenn. Re #46, your response to Vince Horn of Buddhist Geeks
Glenn: So of course you notice that you are forcing the dialogue to be held in the container of your construction. I still don’t understand exactly why? Also, what are the loaded dice? Maybe your conversations with x-buddhists end in frustration, go in circles, run into walls, etc., but you are still engaging in them, right? Why not give an interview for Buddhist Geeks? Do you think that it’s impossible that your interview would be fair? That you wouldn’t reach anyone? Maybe many people would dismiss you out of hand, but maybe many of them would come have a look at the site, maybe many of them would discover their decisional commitment and rescind it. Wouldn’t that be positive? You challenge x-buddhist leaders to come and engage with you on this site, and sometimes some of them do – why not engage them elsewhere as well?
I don’t know exactly what the “rules” on buddhistgeeks are, but based on the interviews I’ve heard, Vince generally just asks people for their thoughts and let’s them ramble. I understand that there is a stultifying insistence on “right speech” in much of x-buddhism, but why not see what you can get away with in the interview format?
Great point, and funny to me how obvious it is considering it didn’t occur to me until I started reading this blog. However, in the context of x-buddhism, couldn’t the search for the correct dharmic details be construed as equivalent to a more generalized search for the correct details of truths? In other words, when x-buddhists are discussing The Dharma, are they trying to find and articulate The True Dharma or are they trying to find and articulate truths, which are therefore The Dharma?
Tom re # 238
So after having fired off a few shots you have now decided to call it off….
It’s interesting to compare your response to #228 to Glenn’s:
Call me old fashioned but isn’t Glenn’s “suffocating niceness” more likely to lead to John being more open to the SNB approach? (Maybe this is the grain of truth to “right speech” that you guys are looking for – stripped of all its x-buddhist baggage)?
You said it. So are you saying that calling someone “one of the stupidest human beings to ever learn to type”, or “so stupid”, a ‘moron’ etc – not making personal attacks? There’s an argument against what you say.I note you didn’t respond to my previous comment #237 on this. You are as bad as Sujato (or a politician) in your selective / non response.
You have already labelled me a reactionary without really knowing my views at all (and more importantly, how open I may be to changing them).
I can’t recall there being an open discussion on this blog on whether there might be some aspects of liberal democracy worth preserving. For example can we owe the fact that we can have this discussion at all to liberal democracy? What about the problems when Marxism moves from its strength in critique to actual implementation? (ie is Marxism a good idea if only it didn’t involve real people?) I am sure you cannot point to many non-capitalist countries where any of us would rather live. This blog takes the prima facie view that capitalism is inherently bad (who decided that? I’m sure you had a big say in it).
Besides I can’t imagine getting very far with these sorts of questions on SBA etc.
I have to confess I haven’t gone to the trouble of swotting up on Althusser etc – and for that reason I will not dismiss any of what you say on the subject. I certainly don’t think thinking is bad and I think you guys may well be on to something. It’s just that you seem total unsympathetic to the fact that most people either don’t have the time, inclination, academic training etc to match you guys on some of these subjects.
How’s your attempt to overthrow capitalism going to get anywhere without recognising this fact?
And furthermore…. who the fuck are you? It’s not even your fucking blog and you think you can call the shots? (See I can do hissy fits too)
To me you are another Marxist who can’t resist having a controlling agenda (albeit one who has made some interesting observations re anatman / atman etc).
Maybe I should be more sympathetic to you (don’t you suffer from chronic pain?). That might explain your outbursts….
PS re #224: why were you so insulted by Nathan when you knew he had a mental illness? You said you were sympathetic but it didn’t restrain you calling him a moron etc. In comparison Sujato et al are looking appealing again – you can’t accuse him of behaving like that…..
Geoff: There’s a world of difference between responding to an idiotic bunch of nonsense by saying the writer is stupid, and responding to an argument by saying that, since one cannot find a flaw in it, the writer must be “gay” or “an armchair revolutionary” and so his argument can be ignored. I don’t take offense at Nathan’s insanity, I merely wan’t him to stop it. Now, I will ask the same of you–you are acting like a jerk; if you have no substantial comment to make about some specific argument I have made, then shut up, and go back to pestering Sujato.
I do have an agenda, and I will not deviate from it: my agenda is to force the appearance of truth. If your agenda is to obscure and deny the truth, I will continue to be so “controlling” as to point out that you are doing so (as you are doing now, obsessing about how terrible I am, refusing to deal with anything of import).
You have offered no argument, and no critique of my arguments, but simply the tired reactionary insistence that capitalism is natural, and communism is a childish fantasy. I cannot argue against this idiotic schoolboy’s position–you wish these things were true, that’s your entire argument! I cannot debate your wishes and fantasies. If you haven’t the “time or inclination” to do any real thinking or reading, then I cannot be of any help to you.
So is mine – when you say that calling someone “one of the stupidest human beings to ever learn to type”, or “so stupid”, a ‘moron’ etc – you are making a personal attack, despite criticising others for doing the same thing.
Maybe somewhat more modest than yours but you have to start with the basics….
So you do something as profound as “force the appearance of truth” – unfortunately it is delivered by someone who can’t even admit to being a hypocrite.
So the sage delivers “the appearance of truth”. Pity few pay attention as it is delivered by someone with TP’s charms.
BTW – do you really have the arrogance to believe you will find the final word on any subject?
I am not saying that. I am simply mentioning the obvious practical (as opposed to theoretical) problems with communism (and capitalism for that matter). For example, is there less starvation in liberalised China today than during Mao’s reign. You wouldn’t have to check as you are sure there couldn’t be – if you listened to TP’s theory.
Good luck with the revolution. I think I’ll settle for going to the beach – it was beautiful down there today…..
I know I shouldn’t, but I will, idiotically, give it one last try.
Yes, clearly, calling someone stupid is meant as an insult. Was that not obvious? I never said it wasn’t an insult. I simply said that I did not mean the term “mentally ill” as an insult. Stupid certainly is insulting. In my experience, mentally ill people are stupid in about the same proportion as the general population, and we don’t need to listen to them.
And I do no complain when someone says my arguments are wrong, or stupid, or naive, etc. What I object to, because it is meant to prevent real discussion, is the kind of argument that Nathan and Luis (and you, Geoff) offer–that is, the argument that since you cannot find anything to disagree with in my arguments (and won’t take the time to read them, because you lack “time and inclination” to learn), you will dismiss them on the grounds that I am a “woman,” or a homosexual, or a transvestite, or because you imagine I am a wealthy American capitalist teaching at an Ivy League school, or some such nonsense. My claim is that if someone repeatedly says stupid things, I will conclude they are stupid, and tell them to shut up. If you can’t see how this differs from the kind of “personal” response I object to (you are right, so you must be gay and therefore we can ignore you!), then I can’t help you. If this is what you understand the word “hypocrisy” to mean, then, again, I can’t help you–get a dictionary.
You say that communism cannot work with “real people,” and repeatedly insist on “practical problems” with communism, but don’t mention what they are. Well, I would disagree with your assumption that capitalist subjects are more “real,” less socially constructed, than any other human subject. If communism doesn’t work with capitalist subjects, that should not be surprising. And by the way, there is more homelessness and starvation in China, and in the U.S as well, than there was forty years ago. So, since poverty, starvation, and child homelessness is on the rise in the U.S., would you see that as evidence of “practical problems” with implementing capitalism? Or are the daily deaths of thousands of children from malnutrition and treatable illness just “natural,” while only deaths occurring under totalitarian regimes can be considered to be caused by the social system? You being from the assumption that capitalism is natural, and the capitalist subject is the “real person,” and anything else is an imposed “system.” This is terribly naive–but, as you say, you don’t have the inclination to learn about these things. Apparently, you only have the inclination to believe unquestioningly any sophomoric reactionary nonsense you hear.
I still don’t see why so many right-wing reactionaries keep posting on this blog, and then getting angry about the response they get. If you want to sing paeans to capitalism, go find Bill O’Reilly’s blog. If you want to go on about how Buddhism is apolitical and anti-intellectual and means being nice and accepting everything as it is, go post on Secular Buddhism or Tricycle. If you really don’t have the “time or inclination” to think or learn, then you’re wasting your time even reading this blog. Seriously, even in the x-buddhist world, are there teachers who would continue trying to teach you if you said to them you don’t have the “time or inclination” to pursue enlightenment? Maybe try the drive-through Zendo in Vegas?
I think Tom raises some interesting questions concerning ethics in the SNB schema.
As we all know, ethics is seen as an integral feature of x-buddhist practice. I am interested to see your take on the issue of ethics as Tom apparently sees it as a minor (at best) concern.
As Tom says #241
However in apparently pursuing his agenda he seems unperturbed by the following examples:
1) Hypocrisy: he accuses others of making personal attacks, yet denies doing the same (in fact often instigating it)
2) Intimidation: he makes derogatory, inflammatory remarks despite believing the person has a mental illness, thereby showing no sympathy for his condition. (Disingenuously, he claims later he does, when challenged. ) See top #243 for latest example – is it acceptable to call a mentally ill person, stupid, as they are even less able to do anything about their stupidity than the general population? People may well be stupid but is it always right to call them that? Is it right to call a young child stupid? If not what age is it permissible – 18 (Down Under ) or 21 (USA)?
TP also tries to bully those to leave this blog if he feels they might not fall into line with his Marxist ideology (after all we are wasting his precious time to “force the appearance of truth”). At least Ram Dass et al thought this was all “grist for the mill”.
3) Lack of humour: probably his greatest failing
Unlike Tom, I’m interested to know whether you see these ethical concerns as detracting from the agenda “to force the appearance of truth”? As you know, X-buddhism would see these issues cannot be left aside in the practice.
(I need to search the blog as I think you may have covered ethics some time ago – but I think it is a neglected subject .)
Maybe I could research and do a piece for SNB on this issue? (I’m on holidays so I have a bit of time on my hands).
A tentative title could be: “I Have Forced the Appearance of Truth – Pity I’m a Dickhead”. What do you think?
Thanks for idiotically trying one more time with me – I’m really grateful for your patience (at least that’s a virtue – one tick for Tom).
I have to say you are simply talking through your arse when you say I am preventing a “real discussion” – it just so happens to be on a subject you wish to avoid – as it exposes you as an obnoxious person who wants to control the agenda on SNB.
Again I didn’t say you were a “wealthy American capitalist teaching at an Ivy League school” (although it wouldn’t surprise me) but I am confident you are a comfortable, middle class academic who benefits from freedom of speech and a reasonable standard of living that your country provides
(however imperfectly). Name a communist country where you could be an outspoken critic of the current regime for a fraction of your income? If you can’t see what a privileged position you are in you must also be stupid (apologises if you have mental illness).
Per capita? You are right about the appalling disparity of wealth in the USA, even compared to Down Under. But what about the level of homelessness and starvation in the Scandinavian countries? They are still essentially capitalist. And what about Mao and his Cultural Revolution in the 1960’s when millions died through starvation and other measures imposed by the State? Have the same proportion died in the USA?
Yet again I never said (or believe) capitalism is natural and I realise it is as much a social system as communism (although self interest does appear to be a strong human trait and more in keeping with capitalism and might partly explain why communism is invariably totalitarian). I am no great defender of capitalism (I see its downside every day at – real world – work). I’m simply unconvinced communism wouldn’t be worse, as I suspect would most SNB readers (but would dare not mention it in the presence of the Enforcer).
You can’t stop yourself can you? Do you have any friends? You mustn’t if you talk like that to them.
That is just pathetic. Is that the best you can come up with? Because I might question your Marxist ideology, you assume I’m an avid supporter of Bill O’Reilly. You really do lead a sheltered life within your little university clique.
I like that. I take it all back – you do have a sense of humour!
re the company you keep
I was going to say you probably have quite a few friends but as they are Marxists so you wouldn’t have to put up with those who question Karl. However, from my experience the Marxists argue more with each other than with others, as they all claim to have found the pure version. (Sounds like x-buddhism…)
Monty Python’s Life of Brian: “There is only one group we (Popular Peoples’ Front of Judea) hate more than the Romans and that’s the Peoples’ Popular Front of Judea”
Don’t worry Tom – I’ll be going back to work soon, so I’ll be out of your hair…..
I have an idea of what Tom and Glenn might say in response to your ethical concerns. No one’s arguing with Tom or questioning him. In fact, all you doing is crying to the moderator that Tom doesn’t play nice. Just make an argument or move on. Let’s have a real conversation about Marxism intersecting with Buddhism. Here’s something I’ve been thinking about…I don’t see Maoism etc. as examples of communism. It’s all been totalitarian facist capitalism. Communisim resulsts when people’s values are such that poverty is unthinkable and unheard of. We have a long way to go. Unfortunately, I think we’ll probably die out before the ‘state withers away’. As far as Sweden et al. goes, they are capitalist through and through, but they have a huge safety net that America sees as tantamount to original sin.
So, how does Buddhsim fit into this. Well, I can’t think of another political system other than socialism that melds as well with buddhism. Capitalism is all about desire and greed…leave it to capitalism to turn a religion based on extinguishing desire and greed into an opiate of the masses.
Hi Geoff. I am out of town without a computer and it’s too frustrating to type on this iPhone, so I will get back to you when I get home, around the 2nd. Good questions by the way.
What is it with you guys and “having to make an argument?” Tell me, what are the specific rules of engagement I must follow to qualify for an acceptable ‘argument’? Why does every discussion on this blog have to be in this academic setpiece where ‘arguments’ must be made in a certain detached, theoretical manner?
Who has decided that? The bunch of otherwise unemployable academics on this blog? (That was a bit of a cheap shot, wasn’t it? – lol)
Quite frankly, I don’t give a fuck about the intersection of Marxism and Buddhism. I read stuff by Ken Jones & David Loy etc years ago on Buddhist social theory and that will do me.
Why? Because it never seems to get beyond a wank (climax or not) between a group of academics or wannabes – devoid of any real flesh and blood (isn’t flesh and blood what you are interested in Glenn?)
Why can’t we simply have a flesh and blood discussion (‘argument’ or not) on whether Tom is a dickhead – for the reasons laid out above?
I thought I might get Glenn interested as it ties in with sila which seems to have been neglected on this blog. Of course x-buddhism sees sila as integral to the Path. I was simply struck by Tom’s hypocrisy when he said he felt insulted by Nathan and thought I would point it out. I’m not upset enough to cry to anyone. (Just between you and me – I’m enjoying commenting on this blog as a break from work – so thanks guys for that.)
And there is no desire and greed in communism? Just look at how members of the politburos live compared to the average person – but then you don’t see actually existing communism eg Maoism as communism? So what is, except in your fantasies?
You’re a dickhead as well.
This is not a blog about Tom Pepper or getting quick answers. I understand to be a blog critical about buddhism and argumentation. Flesh and blood discussion…right on! As I said before, let’s do it. I’m curious about your take on Ken Jones & David Loy and how they relate to this discussion of neo-traditionalist x-buddhists.
Why move on when we haven’t covered the other subject first? Why are you more interested in Ken Jones et al than the subject of sila / right speech?
Glenn (when your computer’s working & get a chance I’d be interested in you take…),
At the risk of labouring the point, I think Tom (“I’m a Marxist ideologue but that’s OK because I know it”) Pepper has inadvertently raised some interesting questions concerning ethical conduct, in particular this question of right speech .
I’ve been following this blog for some time and refer to the little stoush you guys had with Ted Meissner’s gang on the question of the “tone police” etc
Like you guys I have been on the receiving end of the censorship of discussion in the name of right speech. However does this necessarily mean we should have an “anything goes” approach on SNB?
For Tom it seems to be the case unless of course….
At the same time TP, for example, seems total unconcerned with calling someone with an apparent mental illness ““one of the stupidest human beings to ever learn to type”, or “so stupid”, a ‘moron’ etc” – to which I (and I’m sure others) find offensive.
How can we resolve this? Or do you think it is a non- issue?
As mentioned, x-buddhism sees sila / right speech as an integral part of the practice. What role (if any) do you see it playing in the SNB schema? X-buddhism would obviously not take kindly to the way TP has talked to others. He seems to think he can ignore / interpret right speech on his own terms.
in his personal quest.
I’m interested in your take on this.
On another (but related )issue…
There is obviously a problem with the power imbalance between TP and myself (and others) on SNB. According to TP, I’m just a blow-in from Down Under who hasn’t swotted up on Althusser & Badiou and so is not in a position to comment on anything, except to ask deferring questions ( the assumption being if I had only done my reading I would have a “Saul on the road to Damascus” moment?).
Who decides that? The Enforcer of course, who will not let gadflys deter him from his epic quest ie “to force the appearance of truth”.
Simply from a practical perspective, those who differ from his views are simply less likely to pay attention if they have been labelled a moron or a jerk etc. As mentioned – might this also be a grain of truth to “right speech”, stripped of its x-buddhist baggage? (I remember Jayarava made some good points related to this in Come On, X-Buddhists, Pump Up The Polemos! March12). You would think TP would be smart enough to realise this – or doesn’t he care? (Pity people have to be involved in his Marxist / SNB project?)
TP, as a true ideologue, has decided in advance that anything that deviates from his particular ideology will be dismissed without any consideration. Yet when we move beyond theoretical ideology into a real world discussion – he reveals his analysis as pitifully weak. For example, when mentioning the issue of homelessness and starvation his ideology doesn’t allow him to differentiate between the capitalisms of USA and Sweden. It also means that as I question support for communism, I am labelled a Bill O’Reilly supporter. He doesn’t even respond to my suggestion that we can thank liberal democracy for even being able to have this discussion at all, which he apparently just takes for granted.
This of course raises the more general question about theoretical analysis. What purpose does it serve if it’s use in the real world is so limited? (What about “forcing the truth” in this sense?) If “communism doesn’t work with capitalist subjects, that should not be surprising” (#243). How then are we going to get around that without imposing a communist revolution (with TP as the self-imposed high priest I take it)?
I’m also interested in your take on this.
Thank you for letting me cry on your shoulder….
Also, my insurer would like to see the evidence for mental illness.
Sila is not the focus of the article in discussion. I was just asking a question and ignoring your name calling. You, on the other hand continue to complain. This blog is not interested in right speech. I think you know this. At the same time, you just dismiss anything anyone says here and call them names. Why not argue about a salient point in the article? But hell, what do I know, I’m just a dickhead…talk about right speech.
Of course something official, on stationary from the office of, must be, Dr. Pepper?
“One last thought: Since these figures [Kenneth Folk et al] are so serious about this business of becoming radically post-traditional, why don’t they engage us here at Speculative Non-Buddhism?” -Glenn Wallis
I’m your huckleberry.
Y’ know, I think you fellows have Dr. Pepper all wrong. Clearly he is making good on his promise to lessen people’s suffering. You have to admit this is pretty awesome; providing specialized medical services over the internet for free. Do any of you know which clinic he works out of or does he work out of his home? I need to pick up the diagnostic paperwork. Man, I am really going to enjoy having some paid time off. Thanks again Dr. Pepper, you have made a friend for life.
You simultaneously advocate for “flesh and blood” conversation and insist that Geoff desist because “Sila is not the focus of the article in discussion.” Do you not see the irony? Does not “flesh and blood” connote uninhibited and “free-flowing” conversation? The discussion has come to Geoff’s argument – why not pursue it, particularly when he is asking interesting questions (that do, by the way, go to the heart of the blog, and even the particular article, especially if you consider “right speech” to be at least partially a product of thorough and honest thinking (which the article accuses the “x-buddhist provocateurs of lacking)?) In other words, the blog must be interested in “right speech,” at least insofar as it critiques x-buddhism (as Geoff rightly points out). Although the blog is uncensored (I think), there are some guidelines for what goes as “right speech” around here, even if they are more implicit than explicit – right? SNB Right Speech is direct and it makes an argument.
Tom: Geoff’s accusations of hypocrisy and intimidation also seem to be well-founded. I won’t begrudge you your tactics, but do you find it ironic that they are also hallmarks of the historical failed communist projects?
All you and Louis and countless others do is come on here and complain that “Tom is mean!” And you never ever discuss the issues at hand, which for the record is not right speech. That has been gone over numerous times in other comment sections of this blog. Grow the fuck up!
I know I shouldn’t, but I will, idiotically, give it one last try……
When are you going to post a note to all readers instructing them to ignore all comments from me, labelling me with a mental illness and apologise on my behalf?
I certainly have no hesitation labelling you an sanctimonious, obnoxious (as opposed to nice) dickhead who fails to tip his hat to his Founding Fathers for entrenching his right to be so, while cumming all over his “forcing the appearance of truth” (to borrow Glenn’s reference #232). Sounds like a bit of S & M…
I like how you initially try to silence me by attempting to bully / intimidate me off this blog – and then give me the silent treatment a la Sujato, hoping I’ll give up and go away.
Why would I do that when I ‘m having so much fun?
In fact it’s more fun pestering you than Sujato because I know Glenn won’t censor me. Cheers James Madison & gang….
As Glenn says, we could have some fun. Are you in?
That’s funny – I thought this blog was interested in dissecting x-buddhism to see whether there is anything worth salvaging.
As you would know, sila (right speech) in an integral part of the Noble Eightfold Path, central to (all?) x-buddhism.
I have found this little exchange interesting because, for me, it exposes the limits to freedom and raises the old liberal / socialist debate about “freedom from” & “freedom to”.
As I asked Glenn (as TP is apparently incapable of engaging with anyone who questions his Marxist ideology without being a turd), perhaps there is something in sila worth salvaging.
Like everyone TP also believes in “right speech” but he believes he is the one who determines what’s right
Who determines what is ‘substantial’ and ‘specific’ ? – the Enforcer of course (from my experience Marxists can’t help the controlling impulse, after all how else are you going to have a revolution?…..)
I questioned what I think many (most?) people would see as unacceptable (not ‘right’) speech in calling someone who he thought has as mental illness, stupid, a moron etc – and get treated with disdain.
I’m interested in what Glenn has to say. Maybe I’m off the point of SNB. I know GW will set me straight!
I’m sure GW couldn’t give a rat’s arse if it’s off the topic or not. (Surely he must be getting sick of reading that pontificating TP commenting on everything all the fucking time – is there any topic on SNB TP hasn’t tried to put his mark on? Talk about a fucking know-it-all).
As I said before Glenn’s usually the only motherfucker I enjoy reading on this blog anyway….
(Is that flesh & blood enough for you Glenn?)
Happy NY – I’m off to the beach – 30 degree C & sunny – you poor bastards in the US – no wonder you are miserable – I would be too…lol
Please disregard my previous post if it should happen to survive moderation. It’s a reference to an old West gunfight and was intended as a joke, but one never knows how these things will be taken and I don’t want to start off on the wrong foot.
Thank you, Glenn, for this website. I just learned about it yesterday, but I’ve read several of the posts including “X-buddhist Provocateurs” and I find the clearly argued critique of X-buddhism to be a breath of fresh air.
I’m here to learn. To that end, I have a request for Glenn and Matthias: will you please listen to this talk and critique it:
The Power of Potty Training
The recording is 35 minutes long. I gave the talk in New York City in early 2011. Unfortunately, there is no transcript, but I think you will find the talk entertaining. Be sure to stay for the end, after the brief noting instructions, as I make some points there that are central to the theme.
Looking forward to hearing your views.
Yikes, messed up the HTML for the link. Here is the link undressed:
I’d be interested in hearing your own critique of the talk from the non-buddhist perspective. From a quick listen I hear the buzz words AWAKENING, TRAINING, ATTAINMENTS. Classic x-buddhist memes with little or no meaning or explanation. Not to mention the obvious infantilizing of your audience.
Hi Kenneth, I approved your link to Tombstone anyway. Great Western (and great showdown). I hear your talk tomorrow.
Hi Craig (#263),
re “awakening” and “enlightenment:” Yes, these words are problematic. I’m working on it, with limited success so far. Hoping you can help me with this. My working hypothesis, based on observation and personal experience, is that there is a kind of mental development that can result from contemplative practice and that this development can, at least theoretically, be plotted on a continuum from less to more advanced. I even think it’s reasonable to identify common developmental landmarks along the way and give them names. But I no longer believe there is one monolithic “enlightenment.” Rather, there seem to be discreet skills and specialties within the larger umbrella of what I’ve come to think of as “contemplative fitness,” using a physical fitness analogy. There are many ways to be physically fit, and you can be a marathoner or a power lifter, etc. You can even reliably target individual muscle groups. We haven’t yet gotten to that level of sophistication with contemplative fitness. The first step will be to debunk the monolithic enlightenment idea. The next will be to identify and describe the reproducible sub-skills that fall under the contemplative fitness heading, and then to match the training exercises with their corresponding outcomes.
re “training:” My approach includes a lot of techniques, including the noting exercise I describe in the talk, so that particular audience would have understood what I mean by “training.” For a broader audience, I would have to define it. The physical fitness parallel works again here; if you want to be fit, you have to train. Generally speaking, the more you train and the more efficient the training, the greater the results. In my capacity as meditation teacher, I’m essentially a personal fitness trainer for a particular kind of mental development.
re “attainments:” Another crummy word for which I don’t yet have a better option. The advantage of this kind of language is that it makes it clear that from one point of view there is something to get (i.e., contemplative fitness), countering the oft-repeated Zen teaching that there is nowhere to go and nothing to get. Both of these points of view are useful as teaching/learning devices depending on the situation. The disadvantage of the “attainment” word is as you say; it is a buzzword that is often undefined.
Can you say more about the infantilization of the audience?
The above quote is taken from your essay, “X-buddist Provacateurs?”
Speaking for myself, I’m not very serious about becoming radically post-traditional, although I very much appreciate Matthew O’Connell’s synthesis of what appears to be a growing movement within Buddhism.
If I were to characterize my own attitude, I would say that I am ruthlessly unsentimental, or perhaps just pragmatic. My agenda is to teach people how to develop their minds in a way that is generally overlooked in our culture. To that end, I use the tools I have. I have training in Buddhist language and techniques, so I use that when appropriate. But I’m also interested in viewing this through a neurobiology lens or using physical fitness parallels. If I find a way to talk about it that consistently brings better results than using Buddhist language, I will gladly dump the Buddha and Buddhism; I’ve been saying this for years, much to the discomfiture of my more devotionally minded friends. So far, though, Buddhist language works at least as well as anything else I’ve tried.
It’s worth pointing out that from a purely pragmatic point of view, even the most irrational religious language can be effective. And although I sometimes cringe, on hindsight, at my own use of “woo-woo” language, it would be hard to make the case for abandoning it entirely when it consistently fosters the kind of mental development I teach. For some people, at some times, there is no more effective technique than bypassing the rational mind altogether and going straight for the gut. The danger here, of which I am acutely aware, is that critical thinking will be suspended entirely and/or persistently, thus opening the door for abuse as well as regression in other areas of development.
“Hi Kenneth, I approved your link to Tombstone anyway. Great Western (and great showdown). I hear your talk tomorrow.” -Matthias
Much obliged. (Tips hat.)
Calling meditation instruction ‘potty training’ is infantile. Ironically, it also makes perfect sense. I used to feel like and infant in these types of meditation classes. None of this stuff works. You say you now don’t believe in one big Enlightenment. So at one point you did? Were you teaching at this point? Even before I ever dipped my toe into meditation/x-buddhism I knew there was no such thing as enlightenment.
Anyway, I’m just getting my head around this non-buddhist project. Like you, I’ll be interested in hearing what others have to say.
First, I’d like to say thanks for posting this. I really did enjoy it; at once educational, entertaining and even controversial! I know you didn’t ask for my critique, but after listening several times all the way through very closely, this is my take on it: Doc Holiday says, “I’m your huckle bearer”, not “Huckleberry”…an early 19th century southern term for pallbearer. Great film.
It will be interesting to hear what others think…thanks again.
Has the Tom Pepper beat down ended then? It was entertaining for a while and the issue of Right Speech has emerged nicely from it, which I hope will be picked up again and explored in less combative ways. In spite of your criticisms Mr pepper, Geoff has managed to make some clear points amongst the rumble of combat that would warrant response regarding hypocrisy. The usual complaints at aggressive speech expressed by the Secular Buddhists, Al Billings in this post, and others do seem to limit the scope for attracting active engagement from amongst the more sensitive souls to this blog, which at this point would make the conversations here more rewarding, at least for me: an engagement with the enemy so to speak.
Perhaps a different approach would help avoid the excesses we’ve seen from Tom so often and now from Nathan and to a degree Geoff in this posting? I don’t agree with censorship, or controlling people’s speech, but sometimes coming across as a cunt through the speech you use, may actually signify you is ‘bein a cunt’ rather than arguing from a place of intellectual superiority. Talk of ideology here seems to discount too readily the very human person and perhaps having a little bit of respect for others would take off some of the daft shit that gets thrown at visitors here. Or is that too x-Buddhist for you? Respect for others does not need to be based on Buddhist memes and obsession with avoiding them, or proving how intellectually tough you are. Because so much of the material on this blog is ‘a breath of fresh air’ as a prominent x-Buddhist has stated above, why not avoid indulgence in lazy word blood? As Craig has called for ‘a growing up to take place, I think it would not take such a stretch of the imagination to consider calling people ‘morons’ as juvenile and worthy of a shot of maturity.
And Geoff, I don’t know what Marxists look like in the USA, in fact I didn’t know they existed there. Most Americans seem to think that Western European democracies like France and Switzerland are socialist havens, which = Communist = bad/evil. How does a Marxist survive in the USA with its hatred of interference from government, where taxes are viewed as evil and where Marxist have suffered direct persecution in fairly recent history? It’s off the topic of this blog post, but I’d still be curious. I’m a Brit and my father has been a dedicated Marxist since as far back as I can remember and like most Marxists in the UK, he is highly intelligent, but poor, and quite the failure. In fact his failure has been a statement of pride regarding his unspoken refusal to kowtow to capitalism, which he is still expecting to be overthrown at any moment. Tenured, armchair rebel Marxists seem to only exist in France and Italy, where I currently reside. In the UK they have never been taken seriously.
And now we have Kenneth Folk joining in the conversation, which is what Mr Wallis was hoping for: participation from the new breed of ‘x-Buddhists’ I wrote about. One thing that seems evident in Mr Folk’s comments here is the spirit of openness to criticism that I see as common amongst these folks, which differentiates them from traditional Buddhist teachers and representatives of consensus Buddhism. Folk’s presence is coupled with a desire to learn. I’d be very surprised if any member from the list at the start of Glenn’s post would not express curiosity at much of the material in this blog, and as far as I’m aware they have all read material from here. Perhaps Brad Warner would be the only exception. In fact I should have left him out of the article as he is actually quite conservative in his attitudes towards Zen.
Kenneth I would like to hear your response to Craig’s claim that ‘none of this stuff works’. The challenge for you might be to explain your answer without referring to Buddhist jargon and provide very concrete examples.
RE 270: Thanks for joining in the “Tom Pepper” beat down. I guess you just couldn’t stand to see the blog move on to real discussion.
At any rate, in hope of facilitating some real discussion, I am going to stop commenting on the blog for a while. At least until I reach the level of maturity Mr O’Connell has, and can stop calling people “stupid” when they make stupid arguments, and begin calling them “cunts” whenever they are rude. Now that’s a level of maturity worth aspiring to!
I refer back to Geoff’s comments about control. You are exiting the discussion at hand, which has two elements worth responding to. The first regards Geoff’s comments on right speech, and the second is the arrival of Mr Folk. This being an open blog, you get what you get. Not all comments are going to centre around Badiou and ideology.If that’s what you’re after, perhaps you could start a ‘Badiou destroys Buddhism’ blog.
I hope you didn’t take anything personally anyway, that would be rather unfortunate, and indulgent to say the least. Surely this is all harmless play? You wouldn’t go and take it all too seriously now, would you? There is a difference between behaving like a dick and being a permanent dick. I certainly wouldn’t accuse you of the latter. I would also add though that being accused of being mentally disabled is less preferable for me at least. This does bring us back to right speech though, doesn’t it? It also reflects the issue of control, power and discourse that Geoff picked up on and perhaps presents material on which to discuss the concept of right speech, which if it were to engender a pragmatic purpose, might include the stimulation of not just productive discussion, but mutual understanding and clarification, as opposed to banishment for not following the rules, or the accumulation of phantom karma. Otherwise we could just return to the topic at hand: does ‘Post-Traditional Buddhism’ actually exist as a valid shift away from traditional Buddhism? Let’s see what Mr Folk has to say, especially if he responds to my question about Craig’s comment.
Everyone: I just read through the last zillion or so comments. I think a brief post on “non-buddhism” might go a good way toward dealing with the bulk of the issues raised (sila, right speech, etc.). If not, you can repeat your question on that new post. I’ll have some time later today, I think.
Matthew (#239). Have you read the transcript to the recent Buddhist Geeks interview on “contemplative design“? That one, like every other one I’ve read on Buddhist Geeks, is run-through with the spirit of celebration, self-congratulation, and mutual admiration. In other words, it lacks the most basic condition for a dialogue I would participate in: the thoughtful interplay–or struggle–of question and answer. In lacking this condition, the approach to dialogue there just re-creates and thus strengthens the current x-buddhist status quo. I’m not interested in participating in that project. Maybe we should start our own podcast here. Now, that would be fun. The fun would not be in people’s getting skewed. It’s that they would find themselves caught up in dialogue the likes of which they have never experienced. I’m pretty sure of that.
Ken Folk. Thanks for stopping by. I will listen to your talk. Maybe it will be interesting to critique with a post of its own. I should have some time later.
Just to clarify my comments above. My point about mediation not working is that the techniques and supposed results are so difficult to quantify. For example, how is ‘noticing my thoughts’ going to result in some sort of enlightenment experience? I’m just thinking of so many sessions where a teacher is teaching meditation (yet again) and we’re all nodding, but no one really understands what is going on…even the teacher. Trying to discuss this confusion with in the ‘dharma’ just lead to more confusion for me. Non-Buddhism, on the other hand, allows for a different approach with different assumptions (or lack there of). It’s a lot easier to be real, critical and open here in a non-buddhism context rather than a dharmic context. I think that’s the point of the article above. All of the aformentioned teachers are still discussing this stuff with in the dharmic context which leads to a very stilited discussion. That’s my basic, possibly reductionist, understanding at this point. It’s all absurd anyway 🙂
Hi Glenn. Considering the force of your argument, eloquence and smarts, surely you could challenge the style that’s presented on Buddhist Geeks as a participant by confronting the interviewer in the process. You don’t have to follow their rules. What’s the worse that could happen – they don’t air the interview? I personally am interested in the productive tension that can be created through such confrontations. Buddhist Geeks could be a good platform for presenting alternatives to the consensus if they’ll let you have your say on the show. At least they’ve invited you on.
My thoughts on the points you raise Craig are that it’s up to us to decide how we want to engage within these interactions. One can always challenge the teacher: what’s there to lose? I spent many years confronting fellow Buddhists about what I perceived as inconsistencies including a good deal of monks and nuns. Yes, they pretty much all ignored the criticism, brushed it aside with spiritual platitudes or deferred to a saintly teacher somewhere. But so what. At least I didn’t bend over and swallow their admonishments and managed to gain some clarity through the confrontation for myself and realise how much Buddhism is a means for creating a new persona for comfort reasons for most of the Buddhists I met. The scenario of head nodding you describe riles my blood by the way.
There are always unspoken agreements about how a person should or should not be in any group. If the group has some degree of interest in ‘forcing the truth’ then they will have to have a shared set of aims which are very explicit and agreed upon, as much as is possible. This is very tricky to achieve, but to some degree it can be done. It requires a certain commitment to brutal honesty and a willingness to expose failings in thought, assumptions, prejudices and so forth. In long-term relationships it is an ongoing process of trial and error and unflinching commitment to honesty. Most folks I have met are not the slightest bit interested in such a dynamic: it’s too threatening. I do believe though that it is possible to be respectful in challenging others and that this makes it possible in personal relationships too.
I consider it important to speak up though, challenge the status-quo and risk ejection, criticism and so forth. That’s why I would like to hear Glenn on Buddhist Geeks. So what if they don’t present the standards he would prefer. Fuck it, be yourself and challenge what needs challenging. See what happens. That tensions can produce all sorts of interesting turns of events. There’s a challenge in that dynamic which is just as valid as writing on your own blog.
Matthew re #270
Yeah – I am a sensitive soul but I’d still buy TP a beer – he’s probably an OK guy off this blog when he turns back into Dr Jekyll….
And Geoff, I don’t know what Marxists look like in the USA, in fact I didn’t know they existed there. Most Americans seem to think that Western European democracies like France and Switzerland are socialist havens, which = Communist = bad/evil. How does a Marxist survive in the USA with its hatred of interference from government, where taxes are viewed as evil and where Marxist have suffered direct persecution in fairly recent history? It’s off the topic of this blog post, but I’d still be curious.
In case you didn’t know I’m from Sydney Australia, where Marxist academics held sway at universities from the mid 1970’s until mid 1990’s. In the early 70’s the left(ish) wing Whitlam federal government intended to increase student numbers by removing tuition fees and take on more academics. For whatever reason, when I went to uni from the late 70’s it seemed you couldn’t study political science or sociology without a Marxist lecturer / tutor. As I understand it, many of these lecturers were given tenure and took generous redundancy packages when the departments were restructured in the 1990’s. (Meanwhile from the 70’s there was little increase in the participation rate of those from working class backgrounds, while the children of doctors and lawyers had no tuition fee to become the same courtesy of the taxpaying working class.) This has now also been removed and replaced by a fairer scheme whereby the student can postpone repayment of (interest free) tuition fees until / if they are earning over a full time wage.
I’m not involved in the academic scene now but from what I can gather, there probably aren’t enough Marxist academics as the university have become very corporatized, for example chasing full fee paying overseas students (with the resulting accusations of lowering qualification requirements).
Australia has always had a more moderate form of capitalism than the US but unfortunately is mimicking the US more in recent years, with notable exceptions such as greater restrictions on banking activity (hence Australia largely avoided the worse of the financial crisis such as the subprime mortgage problem) and greater gun control.
Again off the topic and as a little aside – the gun control issue again demonstrates the difference between capitalisms.
An excerpt article from an Australian newspaper following the recent massacre in Connecticut:
I don’t think I could be bothered rehashing the sila / right speech issue, if that’s what you are suggesting. (Remember I’m from the Lucky Country – “she’ll be right, near enough’s good enough” etc)
I just thought you might be interested in doing something with it. I just think there is more to the right speech (sila) issue than simply bagging the mindfulnistas & the tone police.
I’ve made my point – I might just disappear back into the woodwork again….
TP – the coast is clear, the floor’s all yours again…..
So as not to put too finer point on it…..
Do you think TP is a dickhead over the right speech issue? Or are you going to take an arms length approach? (Sending it off hoping to be buried by some subcommittee like the politicians do?)
Or doesn’t it matter if he is a dickhead so long as he ” forces the appearance of truth”? Or does it detract in some way? (as x-buddhism claims if sila is neglected?)
I’d love to see a stoush between you and your crony. I’d pay good money…..lol
Matthew O’Connell, you write in #270
I cannot see “the desire to learn” and “curiosity at much of the material in this blog”.
Only a short glance at the basic material on this blog, which has been linked to hundreds of times, would make it clear that a sentence like “moment to moment awareness leads to enlightenment“, is simply not regarded here as anything one would discuss anymore in ernest. The citation stems form the talk Kenneth Folk has linked to above in #262 (around 12:15).
I am not aware of any discussion within the group you mention about material laid out here. I mean a real discusion, a discussion which tries to understand an argumentation and tries to find a position vis-à-vis it. I don't see it, if you do, please give a link.
Kenneth, I don't know if you are aware of my critique in #93 and #95. If not please check it out.
Re your talk I already mentioned. As I understand you say being aware about the present moment is all you need. Towards the end you present a technique by which one could prevent being draged away into daydreaming. You seem to assume that this is enough to be a conscious and awakened being.
The critique is, cf. #93, that you assume implicitly that there are no other structures beyond being bare aware that produce this bare awareness. Furthermore there is the implicit assumption that bare awareness leads to insight into what constitutes our consciousness. This is definitely not the case and this has been an ongoing discussion here. This discussion ranges from the formation of the Buddhist narration in the West from (Leibniz and) the 19th century onwards, to cognitive and evolutionary-psychological considerations to, most pointedly, the ideological formation of the "subject" and the affective and cognitive aspects of the "decision".
Although you don't have to follow this discusion and its argumentations in each and every case, you must find a way to adress the question how the ideology you are looks like. Otherwise bare awareness, moment to moment presence or however one may call it leads only to The Sleep of Reason.
My short analysis in #95 is an example how a certain ideology works. Your statement is framed in a certain way which leads back into the metaphysics of the beyond although your statement, looked at isolated, seems to say the opposite.
“I cannot see “the desire to learn” and “curiosity at much of the material in this blog”.”
His blog serves different purposes to those you outline, that’s obvious. But he’s here isn’t he? Let’s see if he stays and engages with what you guys are doing on this blog. That in itself is already more than Jack Kornfield, Lama Surya Das and others from consensus Buddhism have done. I think Kenneth is the most New Age of the chaps from the list. I can imagine the material here will be quite disruptive to his views on Buddhism and enlightenment. I hope he comes back.
“I am not aware of any discussion within the group you mention about material laid out here. I mean a real discusion, a discussion which tries to understand an argumentation and tries to find a position vis-à-vis it. I don’t see it, if you do, please give a link.”
Me neither and if so it is in private. I just know most of them have visited and read material here.
Anyone aware of this site. It’s one of a few that ‘guide people to seeing no-self through pointing out instructions’. I’ve actually been chatting with one of the ‘guides’ there. It’s been interesting. However, I’m still left having to live a life that is mostly drudgery. My point being that people get into this stuff precisely because they’re exhausted and depressed. Unfortunately, this all ends up compounding the drudgery at some point…which has been my experience.
Hi Craig (#274),
“My point about meditation not working is that the techniques and supposed results are so difficult to quantify.” -Craig
Difficult to quantify, indeed, but that is very different from “not working.” It’s important to understand where I am coming from; meditation has profoundly affected my life. In 1984, my cocaine addiction vanished immediately following a unitive experience precipitated by meditation, LSD, and a desire to will myself to death. Much later, in 2004, the crippling bouts of depression that had continued to plague me throughout my adult life, stopped. (I had long since given up LSD and taken up serious meditation, including spending several years practicing intensively in Buddhist monasteries and meditation centers.) This persistent lifting of depression coincided with another shift in the way I viewed myself and the world, which in turn coincided with a silent meditation retreat in New Mexico. These are perhaps the two most remarkable of a long list of positive changes in my life that I believe are due to meditation. Together with countless similar stories told by others, this constitutes reason enough to continue practicing and teaching meditation with or without understanding how it works. Having said that, I would very much like to understand how all this works, which is why I participate in fMRI studies (at Yale and University of British Columbia) and why I collaborate with researchers at Yale and Brown to try to make some sense of all this.
I’m interested in this blog because I appreciate the stated willingness to question all assumptions and the clear feedback. If we’re all just dancing around in moonbeams and fairy dust, lets expose that. By the way, Matthew O’Connell (#280), I don’t subscribe at all to “New Age” thought or practice, as I understand the term. I consider myself a pragmatist above all.
Matthew (#276). I agree with you about the importance of speaking out, challenging the status quo, refusing to be one of the head-nodders, and all of that. I am doing all that in several ways. This blog is just one way. I do talk to x-buddhist practitioners and teachers, regularly even. While still transitioning from my “translate the teachings” (both literally and figuratively) phase, I even did a couple of interviews with the Secular Buddhist podcast. Based on the work done on this blog (and not in spite of it!), I have been invited to gatherings with leading x-buddhist figures on several occasions. I have been approached for interviews by people associated with the big glossies, and more. So, my decision to stay at a certain distance from the keepers of the Sanctus Dharmicum is a principled one. In the original version of my non-buddhist heuristic, I invoke the necessary critical practice of “fitting proximity,” which is:
So, that’s what I am doing–keeping my distance so that the glow is just right (for my purposes, of course). Buddhist Geeks are, in my view, deep within the dark underground vallation where, paradoxically, the dharma burns blindingly bright. Same with Meissner and all the others. I think I am beginning to see a difference between what generally counts as this “post-traditional Buddhism” and what Tom, Matthias, and I are up to. They are apollonian reformers. We are dionysian destroyers. But remember that the ritualized, chaotic madness of this outsider god led to unforeseeable–by the gods–abundant results. Reformers are timid creatures who never really reform anything at all. They just keep going around in circles, holding hands as they joyously bound. So, we’ll keep our drunken procession in the woods for now.
I don’t see things in such moralistic terms. What’s a “dickhead,” anyway? Is it someone who has hurt your feelings? Someone who uses language that offends you? If I were to use a term like that, I would reserve it for those super compassionate nice people writing on x-buddhist blogs and sites. To the person who fashions a sweet anodyne mixture of new age sentimentality and narcissistic self-help from potentially dark, dangerous, and powerful x-buddhist teachings, I’d say: “you’re a dickhead.” I don’t do that, though. It’s probably because x-buddhists have called me every imaginable name. Most recently, in fact, Vince at Buddhist Geeks used the words “dick” and “dickish.” That sort of thing just passes right over me, like a wisp of warm air. So, asking me whether I think “TP is a dickhead over the right speech issue” is like asking whether I still beat my dog. The question simply fails to land anywhere. If what Tom writes is considered dickheaded, then my prayer to the Almighty is that in 2013 dickheadedness spreads throughout this blighted land. And the blight here is inability to think, engage, speak, respond with whatever force and flavor you decide is required.
Craig (#282). That Liberation…Unleashed site looks like more just more x-buddhist snake oil for the soul. I’ll have a more thorough look later. Thanks for the link. How about that disclaimer:
May actually work, so watch the fuck out, bitches! Groundbreaking, my ass. What a bunch of dickheads.
Hi Matthias (#280)
Not sure what you are trying to say here, Matthias. I cannot, as a result of anything I learn on this site, retroactively change what I said in 2011. It remains to be seen whether I will stop saying that moment to moment awareness leads to enlightenment, but I am willing to consider the possibility. If there is a better way to say it, I want to know. Please note that the fact that those words offend your sensibilities is not a compelling argument.
Seems, at least partly, these are advaita-people. I am not sure but it could be that what they do is “satsang” via the internet. I don’t know. I looked through some videos and it is a gruesome experience. Perhaps they all have a certain genetic disorder. All what they are talking about is that they lost the sense of a self. That there are only thoughts, feelings, emotions etc. But what is extraordinary about this? I find it not very difficult to lean back and realize that I am thoughts, feelings, emotions. It is not difficult to train in watching one conscious event after another and to come to a point to realize that this is all what there is. The question is: What follows from this? For these people follows that there is nothing left to do. All is good as it is. Remember Janis Joplin?: Freedom’s just another word for nothing’s left to do.
But it is not all good as it is. There is a difference between a reality now and a thinkable reality in the future. It is possible to think another, better future. These people stop thinking about the future. What they practice is keeping the system as it is now. And they subjugate to those who have better knowledge about how to manipulate people for better returns.
Apart form this these people seem to have extraordinary big inflated egos. They are arrogant. They bath in the adoration of their disciples. They are subtly dismissive. They knowing everything better. And on top of it it is a gigantic delusion: The more I see this the more I think these people all talk about the simple experience of being conscious. They all wake up to the simple truth that they have consciousness. They just realize that it is possible to reflexively investigate the content of ones own individual consciousness. What’s the big deal?
I was saying this because you are pointing now to your talk. It seemed irrelevant to me to point to this talk from this blog.
As for “enlightenment”. What does it mean? I am very interested, as you, in the phenomenology of certain meditativ practices. I am also somehow sympathetic to the idea of mental training. But what is enlightenment apart from an empty signifier? What does it mean? If you say, well, I teach people how to be less compulsive, that’s a good idea. But on top if it, what makes me an addict in the first place? And how is an heroin addict worse then a drone operator? That are practical questions. But enlightenment? What is this? Why not throw it overboard?
It’s not that my sensibilities are offended. It’s for practical reasons. I like to talk about real things or at least about well defined ones, or at least about something about which I have the impression that it could be talked about in some reasonable way. But enlightenment? WTF?
Kenneth. The fact that you have combined Buddhism with neo-advaita along with some of the jargon you use as well as your promise of happiness on the site, well, all this is very similar to prominent new age teachers like Eckhart Tolle even if your message is not being expressed via Oprah. That’s not to say I am denying your ability to help people with what you do, or that your intent is to be pragmatic and that you are so. I wouldn’t even define New Age as bad, but the similarities are striking. Although x-Buddhism is the source of critique here, many of the themes that emerge in prominent x-Buddhism are essentially New Age and they seem to be part of your presentation.
I would agree with you that language is an issue in exploring these themes, but this site goes further than that.
Rupert Spira is one of the Neo-Advaita crew. I find them personally intolerable. The whole idea of playing a linguistic game in your head in order to wake up to ‘enlightenment’ is patently absurd. In the video you linked to Spira describes enlightenment as ‘not something that happens’, and ‘it’s not even an event’ ,so what is it? He seems to hold the keys to the magic kingdom much worse than any consensus Buddhism teacher, because ‘it’ is truly ineffable I guess he can keep people hanging on indefinitely. Talk about holding out a magical carrot, making promises about the simplicity of it all and yet the poor women in the video complains that she’s spent 40 years of dedicating her life to this allusive pursuit without getting anywhere near what Spira seems to hold.
Spira and co present themselves as calm and equanimous, perfect poise. I mentioned Adyanshanti in a previous post. My urge is to wrestle them to the ground or see how they react to a hard slap. I’d like to see how they react in a combat situation; something visceral and graphic. I don’t know what you see Matthias, but they seem obsessed with control to me. That is coupled with solipsist narcissism. And of course there is a price to pay:
Subscribe to video content from €146.15.
This babbling unicorn is not so cheap. I think your comment on them simply becoming aware that they are conscious is likely spot on and then the question of course is what comes next? Perhaps the lady has become conscious of being conscious, but as she says, she doesn’t like what she sees, so fails to grasp that the big event, was a non-event as Spira was perhaps inadvertently being honest about.
‘I am very interested, as you, in the phenomenology of certain meditative practices’
Me too. This is my main interest as a meditator. Can you recommend any good material on this that’s not Buddhist, or overly scientific?
I am unsure about what inspired me to do meditation in the way I do. I am thinking about it for some time now because of the fact that here is a lot of discussion about an/atman and enlightenment/awakening and I became aware of the fact that during me journey through Tibetan Buddhism these topics never bothered me much. There are biographical factors which made me a sceptic.
I am not sure what inspired me is of any value for anybody else. One example. I had an reading experience when I was 18 or 19. I got hold of the book The Electronic Revolution by William Burroughs. There is one short example in it about the importance of context: Change the soundtrack of a film about people running for a streetcar from city life to machine gun-fire – the whole impression will change radically. That, in context with other things, made a deep impression on me. Of course, it is trivial now but in a sense this resonates still with me when looking at the Buddhist-Geek video I mention in #95 and the framing of Kenneth’s words.
That’s a bit of an answer too Danny asked here. This might sound a bit off your question, but it is my feeling in the moment that there might be some seemingly off-topic topics which contribute a lot to how we practice.
Sorry, but this is all I can say at the moment. I am thinking about it, like about Danny’s question.
Just reviewed your post #95. I think you make some good points. I’m still taking it in, letting it rattle around. Your posture there is consistent with your idea of the “esoteric fallacy,” in which meditation is seen as the cure for every ill; I like the concept of the esoteric fallacy, and I agree that meditation is not such a panacea. On the other hand, meditation is quite a remarkable tool and I don’t know of anything else that can so improve an individual’s quality of life over time. So, the practical challenge for me remains how to teach and promote this mental development I so value while neither overstating nor understating the case. It’s a real challenge, one I’ve been struggling with for some years now, and I am grateful for your input.
I’m traveling now, visiting family, so I won’t be able to engage as much as I’d like over the next three days or so, but I will be following the discussion as best I can and responding when possible.
All of these supposed benefits of meditation are anecdotal. If it really relieved depression, for example, every private inpatient center would make that treatment modality number one! Same with addiction centers. Your claims seem genuine, but something doesn’t add up. Sitting still for a long long time is not the answer to all our problems. It’s simply a belief of yours and beliefs can’t hold to anything.
I’ve been one of those people looking for the answer. It’s all just fueled the fire of misery. Maybe I don’t do it right. Maybe meditation only works on cocaine addiction and not sugar addiction, which is one of my many issues :~)
Kenneth (#285). I just listened to your talk, “The Power of Potty Training.” If I were to employ a non-buddhist critique in a way that does not require what to many readers on this blog would amount to needless explanation and repetition, I’d have to use a bunch of terms and concepts that you are most certainly unfamiliar with. So, can I request that you do some homework first? In saying what I mean by that, I’ll be offering a mini-critique of your talk’s basic rhetorical frame, not the details. The reason I ask you to do this prior work is that I think that, once you do so, you will be able to see for yourself (wink, wink) what a non-buddhist critique would tease out of your presentation.
First, please read Richard Payne’s piece . That essay is a response to another one. by Matthias Steingass, called “Aggressive Buddhist Appeasement.” I see your presentation as a clear instance of an intangible commodity. I assume you will respond by saying, no, I am offering tangibles. To which I would then say, maybe, when it concerns the relatively trivial (if nonetheless potentially far-reaching) business of feeling sensation, knowing thoughts, etc. But these trivialities are encased in a rhetoric of (here comes the non-buddhist terminology) thaumaturgical intangibility. (See Matthias’s article “Biography of an X-Buddhist Thaumaturge” for starters.) This involves a rhetorical suggestion that some sort of special, wonder-working knowledge is on offer. Sure the figure in the parable claims to be offering the shit-stained fools something that is as accessible as it is obvious. But still, the fools need him to tell them that. Extrapolated out into the real world, it is you, of course, who are the dharmic thaumaturge. So, you commit what Matthias calls the “esoteric fallacy.” Recourse to this very common gesture in x-buddhist discourse is possible because of two (at least) additional facets, or really presumptions, of dharmic argumentation illuminated by the non-buddhist heuristic: the principle of sufficient Buddhism and anti-humanism. As human beings, the Shit-Stained are lacking something that only the dharmic thaumaturge can provide. And until the person subscribes to the dharmic path, however articulated by the thaumaturge (i.e., by you), he will remain insufficient. Your chosen simile in the opening parable that frames your presentation–that of the potty trainer–is not an innocent one. It is itself loaded with anti-human beliefs. It sets the logical stage for your thaumaturgy. Note that it–your specifically-chosen metaphor–and not reality, sets that stage. This x-buddhist axiom of human insufficiency, which I term humophobia, is in direct contradiction to the non-buddhist axiom of subject irreversibility, which states that “reversibility between the person of flesh and blood and the x-buddhist subject is impossible.” You can read more about that in my piece “Sutras of Flesh and Blood”. It is true that what follows the parable of the potty trainer is a discourse on satipatthana-ish coping strategies. Several of Tom Pepper’s essays are relevant to this quasi-psychological aspect of your rhetorical frame. Since those Shit-Stained Ones of the parable (and, you presume, of the real-life audience in front of you) are addicted to their shit-stainedness, you can start with “Cessation of Craving: Buddhism as a Cure for Addictions.”
Really, Tom, Matthias, and I have created a ton of tools for giving thought to x-buddhist material like your talk. I ask that you read around for a while. You will find common keywords such as subjectivity, subjugation, ideology, desire, praxis, alongside of more technical ones like buddheme, thaumaturgical refuge, network of postulation, rhetorics of self-display, and spiritual narcissism. I think you’ll find all of these tools useful in analysis of yourself as a modern-day x-buddhist thaumaturge. That is not to say that the message of your talk is not valuable and worth the saying. It is just that once you perform a non-buddhist self-analysis you will never say it like that again.
So, how will you say it?
Matthew, Glenn, Matthias,
Thanks for your responses about Liberation Unleashed. I just found this movement interesting given that it’s not explicitly in the x-buddhist world and focuses on annata…something that we discuss here a lot and seems to be a point of agreement. There is no self. I’ve asked this of Tom and still wonder…is there some sort of ‘seeing’ experience in realizing the reality of annata or is it just an intellectual understanding? Tom has said that understanding annata is a major part of buddhism. Anyway, it seems that this piece of ‘doctrine’ is assumed here and is probably something that will remain in the ashes of x-buddhism.
As a disclaimer…I’d like to say that I suffer in this life and as a result I came to buddhism. Seeing the non-buddhist critique has kind of left me feeling a little hopeless and ungrounded. Of course there needs to be a major system change…but is there anything that can help in the mean time. I have to say that I feel guilty about just wanting to do my little meditation/chanting practice and not read this or any other blog and mindfully live out my days…but that seems to be dangerous. I still have to deal with basic day to day suffering…ie: getting out of bed 🙂
I apologize for maybe sharing too much. I’m just curious about how we deal with the heart when the strings are no longer being plucked. (I know, heart is a slippery termn:)
Thanks for the hatchet job.
I thought you had said you had read the zillions of words on the right speech issue (#273)? (Which would mean you & Tom must have written a zillion – to the power of ten)
To spell it out yet again a dickhead (by my definition above – and I would think many others) is someone who describes another person with an apparent mental illness, “one of the stupidest human beings to ever learn to type”, or “so stupid”, a ‘moron’ etc.”
As opposed to those “super insensitive, obnoxious people writing on the SNB site”? I agree with you about x-buddhism but you keep rehashing the tired x-buddhist bashing ad naeseum.
And just like them you are incapable of turning the spotlight back on yourselves.
But I am but you are obviously just not interested (or wanting to avoid for fear of getting offside with your crony?) in discussing right speech (& sila more generally). Morality is hardly irrelevant to SNB (as TP keeps tells us about the starving people due to capitalism). You are apparently demonstrating an “inability to think, engage, speak”, which you and your mate accuse me of.
That’s OK – I hardly expected you to say anything critical about TP (where would SNB be?) Maybe TP would form a breakaway blog in typical Marxist fashion? That would get a big readership….
Incidentally, I thought you were an anarchist? To quote Wiki:
There you go Glenn, “anarchism has tended to be an ethical discourse”! There’s your lead into sila.
(And Marxism has tended to be a theoretical discourse – which might help explain why TP is such a wanker – climax or not).
For something different, why don’t you and TP debate that instead of going on with the mutual admiration you accuse SBA of? You’re beginning to sound like a cracked record.
You guys have done an excellent job of dissecting x-buddhism but for me are rapidly approaching your used-by date. TP demonstrates that admirably with the continuing enforcement of (his version of) the Marxist line.
Actually quite frankly I don’t give that much of a fuck. I’ve got other more important things to do like go to the beach…..
Craig (#294). I will risk sounding yet again like an arrogant asshole and emphatically proclaim the following: I live a non-religious version of St. Augustine’s dictum love and do what you will. Because I am capable of living a rich life in the midst of what must be, from what people tell me, unusual conceptual asceticism, I can freely partake of the riches of form. To use another image, because I can sit in an empty room, still and quite, I can freely partake of the most flamboyant rituals. Am I making sense? I think that as long as you know what you’re doing (aesthetic embellishment) and what you’re not doing (magically saving yourself from yourself), you can do it all–chant mantras, sing hymns, lie prostrate before the crucifix. I think we should explore this “form” side more.
Just to show you this other side of non-buddhism, as I live it, I mention a few things.
* I will be teaching a course this semester in which we will read St. John of the Cross, Angelus Silesius, Theresa of Avila and other so-called “mystics.” We will read them with an eye toward “the aesthetic.”
* In my Meditation 1 class, we will experiment with rituals and protocols.
* I recently held a vigil for the Newtown victims in which we sat in a huge circle and stared wordlessly into 26 candles.
* I want to turn my meditation group into a theater group.
* I am going to learn Gregorian chant this year.
* I recite mantras while driving.
* I attend Catholic masses and Quaker sittings.
* I am an incense junkie.
* I love witchcraft.
* I am learning to read Tarot cards.
* I work with herbs.
I could go on. My life is drenched in aesthetic beauty and complexity. But–here’s the thing, for me, anyway–this enrichment is possible because I have been inoculated by, well, let;s call it nihil. Nihil is love. Nihil is abundance. Know nothing and everything is yours.
Actually, your comment just gave me an idea for a post. I will write more there. Thanks. Now, go draw down the moon.
(I’d be happy to have a phone or Skype conversation with you. Let me know.)
Geoff (#285). I’m not sure what the issue is. Do you want me to address the issue of sila? of ethics? of morality? of right speech? of Tom Pepper? What? Ask me a direct question and I’ll answer it. And why “hatchet job”? Does that mean the same thing in Australian than it does in American?
About the “used-by” date, that just shows a misunderstanding of what we’re up to here. How can ideas, thinking, strategies for analysis, suggestions for critique, and so on have a “used-by” date. You can use this stuff endlessly. We are creating tools for work. Maybe the used-by date has to do with something like battery power. If you just let this stuff sit on your computer screen, sure, it will expire. But that’s your fault, isn’t it?
Maybe I speak for more lurkers than myself when I say: thank you for that. For making more explicit the, hm, shit-stained humanism (?)–for lack of a better, well, vocabulary–that has been implicit in much of what you’ve written here.
“explore this “form” side more”: hear, hear.
Ok – let’s go with sila – just to simplify things. Can’t you read between the lines? What happened to this great imagination of yours?
I’ve even got a title for you. Let call it: Sila, Anarchism, Marxism & Ex-buddhism
Interesting how evasive you can be. Every thought of going into politics?
PS “* I recently held a vigil for the Newtown victims in which we sat in a huge circle and stared wordlessly into 26 candles.”
The Australian Prime Minister (#277) actually did something to reduce the chance of it happening again.
But then he’s a capitalist and so part of the problem, not the solution….
You don’t seem to find me quite so edifying now I having a go at you and your cronies and not Sujato? lol
Anyway – better go slap on that suncream…
Thank you for your response. I’d love to chat off blog at some point. Skype, email…whatever.
PS Glenn #297
…. sorry I had to dash off – had a pressing engagement with the surf…
“I’m not sure what the issue is.” Fuck me dead! Amazing how stupid you can pretend to be when it suits you. Were you trained as a lawyer?
“Do you want me to address the issue of sila? of ethics? of morality? of right speech? of Tom Pepper? What?”
Any or all of the above. Take your pick. They are all interrelated.
“Ask me a direct question and I’ll answer it.” I did. I asked you (#279): do you think TP is a dickhead over the right speech issue? I again repeated how I defined “dickhead” (#295) – as someone who describes another person with an apparent mental illness, “one of the stupidest human beings to ever learn to type”, or “so stupid”, a ‘moron’ etc.”
You understood enough in #284 to say:”I don’t see things in such moralistic terms. What’s a “dickhead,” anyway? Is it someone who has hurt your feelings? Someone who uses language that offends you?”
So what do you see in moralistic terms? Do you see anything? That’s what I’m trying to drive at bringing in the issue of sila. Why assume I’m worried about my own feelings? Are you guys that narcissistic? (not that I’d be surprised). On a personal level I couldn’t care less but if someone has a mental illness and could be vulnerable – don’t you simply think it could be damaging to that person to talk to them in that way? Would you talk to someone you cared for like that?
If you can’t see that and are more concerned about being moralistic – then you (& TP) present an excellent case for less funding for academia….
(As an aside – I suspect many people who contribute to x-buddhist, SBA & SNB have mental instability – so best to err on the side of caution. With the exception of TP, GW & Sujato of course – they are fair game…..lol)
Hope you are enjoying your winter
I shall decline your invitation, kind Sir, but I do thank you. Or, in my preferred register: Why the fuck would I write an essay on that topic? You write it, if you find it so interesting. I don’t.
Okay, a direct question. No, I see nothing in moralistic terms. I am thinking of “a moralistic person” in its senses of someone (a dickhead, usually) (1) who seeks to regulate the morals of others, (2) who endeavors to live in accordance with those same necessarily narrowly defined moral principles, and (3) who is engages in casuistic discussions of matters like “right speech” and “right action.” I am not interested in any of that cagey, rule-worshipping business.
Do you think that you can know with even the slightest degree of certainty what effect your action will have a person? Is it possibility that that belief is a form of the narcissism you accuse us of? I make no presumptions about the effects of my actions the way you suggest one should. By the way, a basic feature of so-called anarchist ethics is that the kinds of transcendental principles operating in any system of ethics, such as x-buddhist sila, are to be avoided at all costs. In posing the question the way you do, you are asking for precisely such principles. I have no interest in such principles because I think they are anti-human, pro-institution, coercive, and subjugating (“sin” is one such principle, for example; so is “right speech”). Here’s a good way of putting what I just said:
Remaining immanent to the situation at hand, when making decisions about speech and action, instead of appealing to a transcendent institution requires a completely different perspective on ethics than the one you seem to be locked in to. If you read, you might want to have a look at Badiou’s Ethics as a way of budging yourself out of your particular ethical ideology.
Back to the top now: I have no interest in squaring any of this with x-buddhism or Marxism. Why not let that be your project, if it so animates you?
Matthew, re #289 & Rupert Spira.
Perhaps it helps if we look at two different components here. 1) Experience and 2) Interaction.
Regarding 1) I would not deny that anybody of these people have certain experiences which might be of more or less importance. I would not deny that they learn form these experiences and that they can be ‘transformative’, overwhelming etc. in a subjective sense.
I would also assert that these experiences belong (in an ad-hoc categorization) in two categories. a) Learning to watch the flow of conscious content.
b) Learning to recognize that in some way there is a unitary cognitive/social (?) function which integrates the content into one whole which is meaningful for the individual.
I speculate – re a) – that especially for people with a higher education (or some higher ‘IQ’, whatever that is) it is more easy to learn watching the content, because intellectual skills like inferential thought already work with the ability to be aware of ones own thought.
The other experience – b) – is the “invisible wall of pristine awareness” (cf. for example #98).
The question is what value do have these experiences?
a) could lead to insight into the fact the self is a conglomerate of stuff (thought, affect) coming together in a more or less arbitrary way. It follows that it is a necessary question to ask what functions are at work which constitute this self and what content is necessary or of positive value and what not? To go on “just watching” the content is not necessary beyond a certain point.
What is b) good for? I am not sure. Personally I can say it is a certain concentration which shifts at some point into a kind of relaxed hyper lucidity. But this is personal and I am not sure for what it should be good. It is interesting and, like Tomek, I like to lean against this invisible wall… but in speaking in this way I am getting close to the thaumaturgical farce in which I easily would morph in some kind of another Rupert Spira – which brings me to the second point.
Regarding 2) I would say this is the main problem. Interaction. If, as Glenn says in #293, “these trivialities are encased in a rhetoric of thaumaturgical intangibility” then this starts to become a powerplay between alpha and beta humans. Between Leaders and Followers. The leaders in this case are narcissistic neurotics who confuse trivial insights into the functioning of the individual psyche with profound discoveries about what all human life and sociality is about – all for their manic inflated cosmic ego farts.
In reality, only the learning which follows or goes hand in hand with such mental training would be of any value. Whereby one could also ask if such a training as such is necessary at all because, at least in the case of point a), learning itself would teach the ability to be aware of ones own conscious content, how it unfolds, what its origins are and of what value it is for the community.
Perhaps it is thus absolutely futile to try to relate ones own personal experience because it is coupled always with the individual level. It remains “solipsist narcissism”. In relation to Spira this reminds me of the socratic method. Spira tries to explain what he thinks is enlightenment. Socrates would try to find out more about the forty years this women was searching without finding something….
Kenneth, I find that your potty training simile is packed not just with anti-human beliefs (Glen #293) but with anti-canine beliefs as well. Does a dog have Buddha nature? I guess not.
I don’t know if I would go so far as to call this “humophobia”, Glenn; coprophobia, definitely. (Perhaps also a fear of the great cloaca, where we originate as flesh and blood and shit from our mothers and which is denied by x-buddhist institutions, i.e the Tibetan tulku system, as Gotama’s own mother died at his birth.) This might also explain to Geoff why potty mouth is so popular around here.
On the subject of “right speech”, I am no advocate of it myself. Taking the moral high ground to condescend to others it is a form of violence. But I do think there are other forms of violent discourse, and of condescension, that can stymie conversation.
In responding to what you wrote I may be in danger of slipping into some sinful behaviour for this blog, but here I go anyway.
A phrase used by Stephen Schettini in his repost to the dismantling of the Secular Buddhists here comes to mind when considering the relevance of chaps like Spira and other neo-Adviata proponents: ‘So what?’ was the title of his article. Unlike Stephen, I don’t want to state it as a dismissal, but rather as a question regarding what follows, So what’s next? or rather to quote an Arizonian friend of mine, ‘Does it grow corn?’ i.e. produce anything genuinely meaningful or worthwhile.
This is perhaps one of the issues I would be curious to hear more from Kenneth about as he has claimed to have achieved