By Adam Miller
Non-buddhism is instrumental. It’s a whetstone for chisels, a forge for hammers. Its tools are meant, as Glenn recently put it, to
deflate, flatten, and simplify the object of the application: x-buddhism. Then, you can place x-buddhism’s raw material next to mute reality. You can also democratize totalitarian x-buddhist material by putting it in dialogue with local knowledges. It is in enabling such acts of decommissioning that non-buddhism is a radical practice, “radical” meaning rendering some x-material minimally transcendental.
The aim is to “decommission” some religious material, to uncook a bit what’s been cooked up, and give us a peek at the x-meat when it’s still raw. This rawness becomes visible to the degree that the material has been rendered “minimally transcendental.” Such uncooking, Glenn suggests, can be accomplished just by bringing religious material into unprotected dialogue with other kinds of local knowledge.
Take the idea of “enlightenment.”
One straightforward way to render the notion of “enlightenment” minimally transcendental would be to assume the (not unlikely) hypothesis that “enlightenment” is, medically speaking, a pathology, a sickness, a defect, an accidental side effect of a bug in the human system.
If enlightenment is a kind of weird, local, peripheral pathology of my already strained humanity rather than the summum bonum toward which all reality bends, then . . . what?
That’s the non-buddhist question: then . . . what?
In her book, My Stroke of Insight, Harvard-trained neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor describes what it was like, from the inside out, to suffer a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain.
It turns out that, on Taylor’s own account, this kind of massive physiological trauma looks like “enlightenment.”
Anatomically, Taylor claims, the brain is composed of layered tiers that localize the processing of certain kinds of information in certain areas of the brain.
The brain’s right hemisphere, for example, is tuned-in to subtle variations in sensations, emotions, and physiology. Its apprehension of information is holistic, synthetic, empathic, and relational. And it is narrowly focused on what’s happening right now.
The left hemisphere, on the other hand, handles language. It is detail-oriented and analytic. It generates that nearly constant stream of “brain chatter” that evaluates, compares, categorizes, and differentiates phenomena. The left brain houses the “ego,” sorts the self from the other and, with its endlessly looping stories, holds the present moment together with a remembered past and projected future.
For most of us, our experience of the world, while composite, is dominated by the left brain. That is, our conscious experience is dominated by ego, by self-concern, by goals and plans and regrets, by judgments, preferences, and comparisons, by looping stories, and by a lot of linguistic noise.
When, on December 10, 1996, Taylor suffered a massive stroke, her left brain was flooded with blood. She remained conscious but with her left brain largely off-line. All that remained was a right brain world, and she was amazed at the character of her experience.
Even in the midst of this trauma, with her brain chatter stilled, an unconditioned peace and astonishing silence welled up inside of her.
As the language centers in my left hemisphere grew increasingly silent and I became detached from the memories of my life, I was comforted by an expanding sense of grace. (41)
I could no longer clearly discern the physical boundaries of where I began and where I ended. I sensed the composition of my being as that of a fluid rather than that of a solid. (41)
With this shift into my right hemisphere, I became empathetic to what others felt. (76-77)
Instead of a continuous flow of experience that could be divided into past, present, and future, every moment seemed to exist in perfect isolation. (49)
My perception was released from its attachment to categorization and detail. (50)
I understood clearly that I was no longer a normal human being. My consciousness no longer retained the discriminatory functions of my dominant analytical left brain. Without these inhibiting thoughts, I had stepped beyond my perception of myself as an individual. (63)
In a compelling sort of way, it felt like the good road home and I liked it. (41)
Now, brain trauma is bad. But Taylor claims that her wound wasn’t all bad because it allowed her to see an aspect of human experience that, while always a constitutive part of consciousness, is typically drowned out by the ceaseless, analytic chatter in our heads. It allowed her right brain consciousness to step into the foreground and it revealed the local contingency of the left brain’s collusion with the massive symbolic orders that enable it.
What if the induction of “enlightenment” by way of meditation is just a way of producing this same pathology but without the bloody trauma?
What if “enlightenment” is just a pathology, a glitch in your primate-grade neurology?
Would you want it any more?
Would you want it any less?
Would you put it to work differently?
Try answering such questions and, voila!, you’re a non-buddhist.
Reference: Jill Bolte Taylor, My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey (New York: Plume, 2009).
Image: Dale Frank, Umbilicus Bracket creep Brain Wash Dead Loss, 2007
Adam S. Miller is a professor of philosophy at Collin College in McKinney, Texas. He received his M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy from Villanova University, as well as a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Brigham Young University. His areas of specialization include contemporary French philosophy and philosophy of religion. He is the author of Badiou, Marion, and St Paul: Immanent Grace (Continuum, 2008), Rube Goldberg Machines: Essays in Mormon Theology (Kofford, 2012), and Speculative Grace: An Experiment with Bruno Latour in Object-Oriented Theology(Fordham University Press, forthcoming), the editor of An Experiment on the Word (Salt Press, 2011), and he currently serves as the director of the Mormon Theology Seminar. He contributes to the blogs The Church and Postmodern Culture and Times and Seasons.
51 responses to ““A Sickness unto Death””
Glenn and Adam:
Why “minimally transcendental”? Why not “not transcendental at all”?
Taylor’s sense of no-self– “I had stepped beyond my perception of myself as an individual”– seems entirely brain-based. I see nothing here about collective mind, social formation, imaginary/symbolic system, etc. that is always at the core of your explanation of anatman. What is your take on Taylor’s experience? Is it consistent with your understanding of anatman? Thanks.
Adam: Please describe in what way one becomes a non-buddhist simply in his or her attempts at answering questions concerning the potentially neurological nature of enlightenment and its consequences on the subject. Who or what would observe the “detachment,” “sense of grace,” “boundaries” of self, temporal “isolation,” and abnormalcy? And who or what would put the pathological enlightenment to work differently?
This is fascinating. What Taylor describes seems to be exactly the kind of “enlightenment” so many Western Buddhists are seeking, and is exactly the opposite of what I would understand enlightenment to mean. This is the illusory state of bodily comfort that Zhiyi warned against, that he saw as becoming a sort of addiction among monks in the sixth century. To me, this sounds exactly like abandoning any chance of awakening, and choosing to live as an animal, to become an organism with no capacity to enter into symbolic communication. Taylor seems to suggest that the ideal goal would be to separate completely from the collective symbolic system and live like an unthinking body. This is, of course, what we hear all the time from the Hahnies and the mindfulnistas: stop thinking, live in the pure perception of the body without/beyond language. Of course, as human beings, if we ever achieved this we would die–we just don’t have enough hard-wired instincts to stay alive even for a day without thought and a collective social formation.
Of course, part of the delusion here results from the fact that Taylor already belonged a fully developed symbolic/imaginary system, her “right brain” was constructed by decades of participation in a collective subject, and what she “lost” was only that one part of the collective mind most essential to the concept of sati and awakening: the capacity to recall the causes and evaluate the consequences of any particular experience or act. Sati is not “pure perception” but is maintaining in memory and thought the causes and conditions which create a perception. If we lose this, we are no longer human, cannot live “as immortals” or be awakened or enlightened–but we can, as Taylor wants to do, use such momentary abnormal states to convince us that there is an atman of some kind which could continue in permanent bliss outside of participation in the world.
And, clearly, she never did lose her language capacity completely–she seems, on her own account, to be just attempting to deceive or confuse her readers, since she says all language stopped, but also that she was thinking, in language, and recording memories, symbolically, the whole time. Either she is just being disingenuous to promote her project of delusion, or she is not a very good thinker. Either way, it is pathetic. But a good example of the level of stupidity most x-buddhists spend years “on the cushion” hoping to attain. Fortunately, barring traumatic brain injury, most of them don’t attain it and they abandon Buddhism just a bit more miserable than when they came to it.
Thanks for the comments. I’ll try a couple responses.
#1a, I’d be very interested to here Glenn’s own account of exactly how he’s using both the terms “minimal” and “transcendental” here.
My take would be that the “minimal” is cautionary: as a practical matter, it’s often extremely difficult to de-transcendentalize things that shape our horizons of understanding and the more convinced we are that we’ve succeeded, the more cautious we probably ought to be.
#1b. I think, as Tom suggests, that Taylor’s account, while neuro-centric, doesn’t rule out the collective dimension of the subject’s constitution. In fact, her account may inadvertently emphasize it. Regardless, I think we still want to say that a brain is a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for such constructions.
#2. Good questions, though I’m not sure I entirely follow their drift. As I understand it, speculative non-buddhism is straightforwardly a critical gesture made in relation to x-buddhist materials. The gesture’s strategy is to reposition us in relation to buddhist materials that helps govern our concepts and perceptions. Bringing such material into dialogue with situations shaped by different constellations of transcendentals can dislodge the x-buddhist materials from their privileged position and make them available for new work and exaptation.
#3. I’m in general agreement with your assessment, Tom. Though I’d want to be more generous in my assessment of what Taylor is doing. There may be some confusion in her project, but I don’t think it’s disingenuous, especially when read in light of the entire book. Taylor straightforwardly argues in the book that her experience, while powerful, was a kind of dying (literally: she was about to die and understood the experience as leading to exactly that) and to have lived the rest of her life in such a way would have been a disastrous loss. More than half of the book is spent detailing how she fought and scratched and worked for a decade to re-integrate herself into the complex of symbolic orders that make being human possible.
Still, on Taylor’s account, her stroke, though traumatic, had two beneficial effects: (1) it introduced her to the palliative power of contemplative practices, and (2) it revealed the local contingency of the symbolic orders that enabled her everyday consciousness.
I agree that we don’t want to get stuck in the first and that, as Zizek tirelessly points out, such palliation can easily be used as an escape from a demand for real responsibility (though I think we also probably underestimate the importance of this palliative dimension at our peril). The key is not to abandon the world to live in a such an altered state of consciousness (as if it were the true truth about who and what we are) but to leverage what it reveals about the constructedness of the symbolic orders that shape us for the sake of real change. With respect to waking up, its value depends on this leveraging.
Having worked in sensory physiology for forty years, I must say that there is quite a bit of an x-Buddhist mind set in the burgeoning field of neuroscience. Many of the comments by non-Buddhists seem to lack the imagination which all introspective journeys require. Has there been any discussion of the nature of imagination in both x and non-Buddhism?
Who or what would observe the consequences of a brain injury as something akin to enlightenment and make attempts to put this condition to work differently?
“Part of the delusion … results from the fact that [the victim had] already belonged [to] a fully developed symbolic/imaginary system … and what [was] “lost” was … the capacity to recall the causes and evaluate the consequences of any particular experience or act. … If we lose this, we are no longer human, cannot live “as immortals,” or be awakened or enlightened—but we can … use such momentary abnormal states to convince [ourselves] that there is an atman of some kind which could continue in permanent bliss outside of participation in the world.”
RE #4: Yes, I would agree that Taylor is probably not being disingenuous–I suggested this as just on possibility. It seems much more likely that she is just a poor thinker and deluded herself. We would not doubt disagree, Adam, about the value of the “palliative dimension.” I don’t underestimate it at all–I argue all the time that it is the most powerful tool there is to keep people deluded, to reify capitalist ideology, and to make it possible to oppress billions to produce idle luxury for a few million. Of course, if one believes in a transcendent dimension (a god, and afterlife, a “soul”), then my position would seem narrow and misguided–it certainly allows for no way to get into heaven. But if one doesn’t believe in any kind of atman at all, then I would suggest that the “peril” that would result from completely eliminating the palliative dimension is exactly what we should be hoping to produce. The more perilous the results, the better–for the overwhelming majority of humans on the planet.
To be honest, this experience sounds pretty good to me. I think the empathic part would lead to less suffering, no? Also, I’m curious about this notion of giving up certain practices as palliative at our peril. This is always my sticking point. I want my heart strings plucked 🙂
The world doesn’t seem to be changing soon so using a palliative practice might help while work for change. At the same time, this practice doesn’t have to bliss, but in tangent or a compliment to rigorous thought. I know for me that reading this blog is exciting, but also very depressing. I have to be able to make it through the day. Maybe there is a way to do this without reifying all these truths.
I’m not sure how a soothing practice perpetuates oppression? Is this the Longview? I’m not sure. Just throwing stuff out there 🙂
A couple of years ago I heard an NPR piece on anhedonia, a disorder in which nothing has any value. The descriptions also sounded very similar to what many x-Buddhists promote regarding transcending dualisms of good and bad, etc. I think that these are important directions for the neuro-scientific study of Buddhist practices, though because of the positive valuation of x-Buddhist enlightenment, they probably won’t be. I can hardly see someone getting a Mind-Life Institute grant to compare “this is your mind on enlightenment” and “this is you mind on anhedonia”—even if was going to use wires and everything.
Anhedonia is more akin to apathy, lack of interest in anything or doing anything. Also, a basic inability to do anything. It can be a major part of depression. X-buddhism can’t heal it. Nothing can except ultimately a radical sea change in the useless suffering in the world. Maybe a world where it is okay to be depressed and the common denominator is the happy, ruthless, polite capitalist. That being said, I see that some x-buddhist practices might help alleviate symptoms such as anhedonia while we work for change. Would this be something to ‘get into’ and concentrate on in order to deal with addiction?
Oh, and another aspect of anhedonia is not getting pleasure out of things you used to like. Anyone who thinks a little bit in this life is probably anhedonic to some extent. I know for me there was a point when TV, reading and music lost all pleasure. Some has come back…much of it not (TV).
I definitely believe in turning off the continual flow of linguistic diarrhea. Just feel.
God knows I’ve tried to ‘just feel’. It’s impossible for a reason as JRC says above. The fact that hundreds of teachers spout this inhuman nonsense and pretend to have reached such a state is sick. People following it is sad, as they bury their inclinations of the whole enterprise.
RE 5, 13: Those still naive enough to think that the “imagination” and “introspective journeys” are anything but ideological illusions, or to think that thought is “linguistic diarrhea” and we can “just feel,” are probably in the wrong place. They won’t get much from this site. It might be better to read the “warning” page, and come back when you are less, well, startlingly ignorant. For the ideological function of the illusion of “imagination,” a good place to start might be Clifford Siskin’s The Historicity of Romantic Discourse, particularly the chapter “The Unkind Imagination.” As for the belief that thought is “diarrhea” and we should live purely in feeling, as what Aristotle called “living tools,” as the slaves of the capitalist economy, well, there are at least half a dozen posts on this blog alone that could help with that particular delusion.
We can easily kid ourselves that we can do this (we aren’t really doing it, any more than Taylor was completely outside language when she had her stroke), but if we succeed in deluding ourselves in this way, we are nothing but the unthinking tools of the dominant ideology, the slaves of the modern world. Some slaves may live in relative comfort, and be satisfied with their situation–those Western Buddhists who love the mindful bliss of their flower gardens are not much more than the “house slaves” of the new empire. Their comfort comes at the expense of the brutal suffering of the majority of world’s population, who don’t have the luxury to stop thinking and enjoy the present moment, because their present moment is suffering, starvation, struggle, and oppression. Clearly, it is the goal of the capitalist hegemony to convince us that they suffer only because they foolishly try to think–if they succeed in thinking, they are much less effective as work beasts.
Instead of posting reactionary nonsense, why not take a bit of time to read around, and learn something?
Oh, come on Craig (#15), those hundreds of teachers just more or less accurately repeat what was presumably said by the protagonist, “Tathagata”, himself. Why not take a bit of time to read, for example, around The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha (Majjhima Nikaya) and remind yourself what the protagonist actually says about the practices the aspirant on the path has to follow and what states he has to work through to achieve buddhistic “liberation”. Chief among them are the so called “rapture and pleasure born of seclusion” and “rapture and pleasure born of absorption”. When the former is about leaving behind the life of householder (leading to social isolation) the latter is more or less about withdrawing the attention from many or all memory traces (both declarative and procedural) and to “just feel it” – mainly the body or breath – which is to be very often accompanied by intense pleasure. This regime has nothing to do directly with morality or vision of society whatsoever, it’s primary aim is just to calm the body tension and mind and then to transcend it altogether, that is, to end the cycle of rebirth, namely, all suffering. This transcending is to be supposedly done through a careful investigation (in seclusion) of any chosen trace (urge or memory) that the aspirant feels attached to. When this tedious work is done s/he is supposed to be completely detached from his/her form of embodiment that was previously constantly fueled by those unconscious, unrecognized traces of, well, among other things … “linguistic diarrhea”.
I have read these sutras an others. The jury is still out on what any of this means. Then we have heart sutra that says just use wisdom to see through. I had to give up silent sitting because it made me nauseous. I also worked at try to figure out these sutra instructions. Seemed like I could be thinking about more important things.
Reading the Pali canon alone, we can certainly choose sutras to create almost any kind of “original Buddhism” we want to find–they are enormous, contradictory, and seem to reflect a number of different theoretical or philosophical positions, some mystical, some realist. The all too common practice is to select the sutras that support one’s desired position, cite them as the “true word of the Buddha,” and then claim either that the others are apocryphal or that they must be interpreted according to some hermeneutical strategy which brings them into line with the core “true” sutras. One can play that game from either side, right? Here is the revealed scripture, believe in it or you aren’t a Buddhist! or Here is the revealed scripture, it is obviously stupid so dismiss all the rest of Buddhism along with it. Either way, its a stupid game.
The point is to read Buddhist texts the same way we would Western philosophy. Just because Aristotle once said something stupid (or, more correctly, there is a stupid statement in the text of his lecture supposedly preserved by his students), we don’t assume we must therefore throw out all of philosophy and start from scratch. Just because T.S. Eliot was an antisemitic, misogynist, and fascist, doesn’t mean we should never read any poetry again.
The problem for you, of course, is that that “something stupid” – or in other words, inconvenient for your ideal picture of Buddhism – namely, that protagonist urged his followers to abandon society and practice absorption, does not occur in the canon only once. The long passages like the following: “A householder or householder’s son … hears that Dhamma … ‘Household life is crowded and dusty; life gone forth is wide open. It is not easy, while living in a home, to lead the holy life utterly perfect and pure as a polished shell.’” (Majjhima Nikaya – Bhikkhu Nanamoli p.272) – appear twenty or thirty times in the early Pali discourses. How many times do you think the message has to be repeated to treat it seriously? 30 times is not enough?
Thank you Tomek, for once again reminding our readers what a fucking idiot you are. How stupid must one be to think that the indication of whether something must be taken seriously is the number of times it is said? Your stupidity is really painful to witness. You really think that the measure of what is the “official position” of Western philosophy would be arrived at by counting up how frequently a claim is made? No wonder you hold such ridiculous views.
# 21. No matter how nasty you try to be toward me, in no way you can question the fact of the paramount importance of the teachings about social isolation and absorption in early Pali texts. Only through abandoning of crowded and dusty life of the householder you could attain buddhistic “liberation” according to those texts. Vision of society had only minimal importance for those renounciates, namely, they might wish the society to be stable enough to provide them enough food or medicine to keep their bodies in shape to let them master absorptions, which was meant to be practical method to become “liberated”. That’s it, Tom.
It’s not a matter of nastiness, really, I am just astounded by your inability to think. It leaves me, well, in a kind of shock.
How could someone really not understand that “abandoning” a particular way of life IS a “vision of society,” that it is nothing but a statement about what kind of “society” is necessary for liberation? How could someone not grasp that my point is that we don’t need to treat the Pali canon as revealed scripture, but can treat them the way we would Literature or philosophy? It really, honestly, astounds me that you could be so stupid, that any human could be as stupid as you seem to be and function in the world. You just repeat the same idiotic assertion–and I mean this in the true sense of “idiot”–that since the Pali canon says this in many places, we must accept it or never even mention Buddhism again. I have tried to point out that this is like saying that since Aristotle believed that slaves were necessary to civilization, and could, even should, be treated like cattle, like “living tools,” we must then never read anything in the entire canon of Western philosophy if we reject the ideal of a slave mode of production. This is a simple point, and seems so obvious to me, that I cannot imagine how anyone could be stupid enough to not be capable of grasping it. That’s it, Tomek! You are either just trying to be a pain in the ass, or are truly an absolute idiot, and I never can really tell which it is! I’ll stop trying now, and go back to ignoring your nonsense–really, I can’t imagine how to make the point clearer, and if it is the case that you are just mentally handicapped in some way, I apologize for my impatience, and you have my sympathies.
I certainly don’t “question” that these things appear in Pali texts. That has nothing at all to do with anything. My point is simply that the exact opposite ALSO appears, very often, in early Pali texts. And we can judge what these texts say, and evaluate it, not treat it as divine word to be followed. If it is the case that you are as incapable of thought as these comments make you seem, perhaps you cannot imaging doing this kind of evaluating, because it would require thought.
#23 Your twisting of my position is pretty lame – this abandoning of life of a householder in the Pali canon is not some kind of metaphorical notion. It’s a very real move from a position of being a productive and physically present member of a society to the position of a mendicant who devotes all of his time and energy to get rid of his body shackles, and the only real currency he exchanges with the abandoned society is a magic of karmic merit in return for the food, clothing and medicine. And furthermore, that society was framed in completely different cosmological matrix, which was set not to progress toward any just future in a modern sense but to end the cycle of rebirth. This was the ultimate aim – to transcend the embodiment and disappear in an eternal bliss of nirvana not just society. That was the real liberation.
I don’t see any need to treat Pali canon in any eccentric way as you try to approach it – simply because I don’t belong to any x-buddhisitic WE. And that helps me to asses some of the recurrent themes in a cold way – they’re just reappear frequently and are a vital proof of what the dharmic teaching is really about. You in contrast, being a self-proclaimed “Buddhism” – are doing whatever you can to convince your audience that there really is some novel and worthy of note way to recalibrate it for the modern tastes. If you don’t see it approved in the eyes of your audience your whole project just fall to pieces. That’s why you react so furiously, foaming at the mouth, when I pierce your recalibrated x-buddhistic balloon with the contradictory evidence from the teaching of the very “Blessed One”.
By the way do you treat everyone that irritates you in your real life per “fucking idiot”? Or you rather fear that your x-buddhistic ass will be kicked in response? I’m pretty sure that you do.
#23 I didn’t say one more thing – show me you evidence of that very often appearing “opposite”. What do exactly mean?
I’m starting to understand this better. I too think it’s fascinating (stupid?) to rebut an argument against proof texting by proof texting. Not to mention that there is no consensus on what absorption and liberation are.
This has been eye opening and to quote my new guru Danny, “when we start reifying anything abstract we’re fucked”.
In plain German: Es ist zum kotzen!
Again we are reminded what styl of argumentation and what language is appropriate here.
This blog ceases to fulfill its function.
Craig (#26), I’m afraid that there is no other way to deal with such Buddhist fanatics as Pepper than to constantly remind them that their fantasy Buddhism has nothing to do with Buddhism as we find it in the formative texts. There is no other equally fertile ground than texts on which such fatasts may be prompted to reveal their hidden motivation, their core trauma that lies behind their fanatic involvement with recalibrating Dharma for the modern age. No historic or current ethnographic data can be used to convinced them to treat Buddhism otherwise – all those for them are just a corrupted emanations of the real buddhistic message, that only they know how to interpret and put into practice to improve our fucked up world. Their idiosyncratic ways of reading those texts is a primary channel through which x-buddhistic decision is endlessly recreating its hallucinatory potential these days.
RE 27: I agree, Matthias, that this blog has mostly stopped fulfilling its function, although I think we have different ideas of what the function is. I see the goal as dismantling the x-buddhist decisions, as taking the “non” in the Laruellian sense.
Almost every week I get an email from somebody who won’t comment on the blog because they don’t want to deal with Tomek or Geoff or Luis Daniel or whatever other reactionary moron is currently working to stop all conversation. I was wrong to respond to Tomek above–I know a child throwing a tantrum should be ignored. I responded out of impatience and anger, partly because I had just gotten an email from a lurker who sad that whenever she sees even a single comment from Tomek she “unsubscribes” to the comments to that post and stops reading the conversation completely, knowing that most of them will from that point on be Tomek saying the same thing he has been saying for over a year. This is, I suppose, Tomek’s intention. We have reached the critical mass of reactionaries here, who will tirelessly work to shut off all conversation and chase away interested readers by posting the same stupid arguments over and over. And I don’t help matters by responding to them. I’m not apologizing for my language or tone (did I offend your delicate ears, Matthias?), but for responding at all, instead of continuing to ignore the morons. I do it because I know they have really chased away dozens of potential commenters, who are clearly not driven out by my Rinzai approach (they aren’t afraid to email me) but don’t want to wade through hundreds of pages of reactionary nonsense to have a conversation. This is no excuse, or course. This is non-buddhism, it’s not personal, Sonny.
Tomek: In your discussion with Tom, have you responded to this often repeated question; here again from comment #23? Perhaps you have somewhere and I’ve missed it:
,blockquote>..my point is that we don’t need to treat the Pali canon as revealed scripture, but can treat them the way we would Literature or philosophy?… [ you say ] that since the Pali canon says this in many places, we must accept it or never even mention Buddhism again. I have tried to point out that this is like saying that since Aristotle believed that slaves were necessary to civilization, and could, even should, be treated like cattle, like “living tools,” we must then never read anything in the entire canon of Western philosophy if we reject the ideal of a slave mode of production.
One question from me: I’m curious if the nature your corruscating gaze against x-buddhist vallation is one of vivifying or hostile destruction?
I don’t see the texts as being anything other than part of the conversation. Whether intentionally or not, we choose a hermaneutic when reading those texts. If you see the texts as being some summary of ‘real buddhism’ then the converstaion ends from my end. At the same time, the comments you make about Tom seem to be exactly what Tom says about you. I’m not sure how you can call Tom and x-buddhist while also insisting that there is some a priori dharma that should not be ‘recalibrated for the modern age’.
I write this comment because I still struggle with ‘sacred texts’ and how they are used and abused and interpreted in many ways. I mean, I like the idea of Jesus, as a literay figure, same as i like Winston in 1984. However, these relgious texts have just become so off putting to me as people make interpretations of them claim they are true and having absolutely no clue that they sound aboslutely stupid. (can’t think of another adjective).
Danny (#30), for a x-buddhist person caught by a marketable fantasy of ending suffering or by one of its endless avatars like “deep joy” and the like my treatment of her fantasy vallation will always be seen as hostile. I see no way to change that fact. To me vivification is possible but only when the vallation lies in rubble. But it does not mean that helping it to change into rubble cannot be vivifying in itself. How could it be otherwise if at stake is to never hear “Buddhism” be mentioned again.
Well Mr. Pepper I’m in the process of catching up with all you’ve written, I’ll concede that total linguistic blackout may be impossible. But I very much disagree with the idea that people who lean toward emotion and away from analysis are necessarily reactionary. Being angry at your bosses, angry at the way the world is, wishing things could be different, these are the feelings that revolutions are made of. Many rather simple people have these feelings. Real revolutions are made of people who run the full spectrum from professional philosopher to illiterate, so I don’t think your political objection really holds up.
I think you were confusing me with the Buddhists who advocate feeling *only* and not thought or action *ever*, and the hippies who insist on only *nice* feelings.
Another mistake people make is to drift off into intellect/analytics *only*, rendering a person into a different type of robot who goes through the motions of life and has all sorts of sophisticated theories structuring their thinking but no core of passion motivating any of it, with the words running like a torrent through your head acting as a shield from feeling anything real. That has happened to me. My post was simply intended as a corrective for that.
I don’t understand the hostility, honestly.
Saturnite, the amusing self-contradiction in your comment is exactly the problem I suggest that you will never solve if you remain terrified of thought, with your silly pop-culture ideas of anyone who thinks turning into a “robot.” You say that feelings of anger are good, because they are motivations to change, but then end with a passive complaint about “hostility,” implying that it is mean to be angry at YOU, although it is fine to be angry at “bosses.” (Of course, you’ll deny this glaringly obvious implication, in the “bad faith” of all anti-intellectuals, but let’s not bother being disingenuous, okay?). There is no good that can come out of any “feeling” unless we understand what it arises from–the worker who “feels” angry and punches his foreman is an idiot and not doing himself any good; if he were not so terrified of becoming a robot if he stopped to think, he might understand a more constructive response to his situation. Nobody is “leaning” anywhere–this moronic “spectrum” metaphor just obscures things. We feel for reasons we can understand, and if we choose not to think we can go on living as pure automatons at the mercy of hegemonic ideology. If you want to do that, Saturnite, then go ahead, but you’ve probably come to the wrong blog. If you can be happy never thinking, you are no doubt one of the privileged few who lives comfortably off the oppression of others. So, of course, you wouldn’t want those whose oppression enables your pleasant’ “feelings” to do too much thinking, right? Drop the “only” and “ever” bullshit–that kind of sophistry is wasted here. Nobody wants to hear your crap about thinking once in a while, when it is necessary, and feeling the rest of the time–an emotion is always nothing but an unclear thought, and if you want unclear thoughts, go to a mindfulness retreat.
Stop clinging so desperately to your pathetic reification of your emotions. Or, if you really don’t want to learn anything, if you want to stay a reactionary moron, at least do me the favour of not addressing me–I am not the person to help you remain a deluded moron. If you don’t want to think, and like your delusion, and want to keep oppressing others, you’ll need to talk to someone else.
Alan (#1). I would add to what Adam (#2) says in response to your question that we can never live absolutely free of transcendence. Our particular language, our cultural representations, our effective ideas–in short, the stuff of our ideologies-ensures that we do not. But we can incorporate in our ideology the fact, or suspicion, that this so. Doing so is crucial to the non-buddhist project. For, if you don’t do so, you build into your ideology a delusion-creating opacity regarding the (transcendentally) formative structures of that ideology. It’s very fucking tricky. I want to express that in the simplest, non-technical terms possible. So, let’s say that language and representation implicate us in “weak or minimal transcendence.” But Laruelle’s technical usage of “radical immanence” may be useful. It may also push the notion of transcendence further. He says that, contra Deleuze, we can never live as absolutely immanent beings. We can, however, live as radically immanent ones. He makes this distinction to avoid the re-inscription of theology into his thought of “the real.” Absolute, like God or the Tao or The Dharma, introduces a differential term, one that separates the human from some essential feature of existence. Crucially, this feature is always said to be unavailable to both language and perception. It is “absolutely beyond,” “absolutely outside,” “Wholly Other,” “Altogether Other,” in short, the reverse of absolutely immanent, namely, absolutely transcendent. So, the way I think of it all is to plot where some idea is on the |absolutely immanent||||absolutely transcendent| continuum. For instance, where would you place our everyday social-symbolic constructors? I’d put them to the right of the dividing line, tilting toward the the right. Ironically, I think that Laruelle would place “absolute immanence” itself on the side of “absolute transcendence” because of the reason given above. For Laruelle, the most we can speak of is “radical immanence” (and, I would add, its corollary, minimal transcendence) Whereas “absolute immanence” is a differential term, one that points to something other than you, you are “radical immanence.” You are the radical identity of things in your lived world. As Laruelle puts it, you are one. I am one. There is no term legitimately separating your lived life from this world. But we think all of this–in language, concepts, representations, terms.
Richard (#10). You name another interesting example. In an earlier post, I pointed out the similarities between x-buddhist talk of non-reactivity, non-judgementalism, and present-moment awareness and that of lobotomy. People, of course, gave me a lot of crap for that comparison, even though I said I was citing a rhetorical, not actual, similarity. (In so doing, I was, of course, subtly rejecting the actuality of the mindfulness modes. But that’s another story.) I’d like to see more examples of the kind of comparison you mention, as well as more analysis. Thanks.
Tomek (#20). Can you say how your dispute with Tom differs from the exchange you and I had on another post? I will copy and paste that exchange here. I would really appreciate it if you can say how what I reply differs from Tom’s essential position on this issue. Thanks.
I forgot to mention that parts of my #27 are citations from an email I got. I get these mails with increasing frequency. I am sometimes not sure how they differ from mails by a well known London bank informing me that I won 120,000,000,000,000 $ in a lottery. But I see others get these mails too and it seems perfectly ok here to cite them. I was also reluctant to mention these mails because it might look a bit cowardly to hide behind such anonym statements. But I admit, this was wrong. I urge everybody else to tell us about such mails if you got them. And if you don’t get them, let your imagination play. Nobody will know.
Glenn (#35), please, with all due respect – how what you reply differs from Tom’s essential position on this issue?! First of all to me, to settle how it differs, you not need to focus on what is said in this case but who says it. Here lies the essential difference. Not to mention much lesser issue, almost insignificant in comparison to who is speaking, namely, how it is said.
And it’s simple, twofold, first, you do not call yourself “Buddhist”, he, of course, does, and that is the greatest chutzpah of all on this blog, the greatest source of voltage that is implicitly powering the network of all his reformulated x-buddhistic postulates. Second, the marker that we do not deal here with some clone “Buddhist” is that he is audaciously selling his dharmic good all over this blog. I don’t have to show you all the places where we’ve heard sermons about ending of suffering? You as far as I remember do not attract readers in such a pathetically x-buddhistic way. I think that such “nuances” are quite important, don’t you think?
I would rather ask, how essentially Tom’s position differs from that of Batchelor’s and the like? Except few details, mainly in the form of promoting the dharmic message – the main three pillars of decisional structure, namely buddhistic self-identity, hope for dharmic good and reflexivity – remain the same to me.
By the way, sort of curiosity – have you noticed that in all of his writings on this blog, comments included, Tom never uses one word, “Dharma”. Pusher of the dharmic good shunning the word “Dharma”! To me it’s a vivid symptom of how after all he feels uncomfortable here. But that is how he probably should feel, right? Non-buddhism does it’s job to certain degree, his reflexivity is not that hyper.
After all as you said once “The life of non-buddhism is the death of buddhistic pretension to specular oracularity. It thrives on the violent absence of the dharmic good …” So let it die.
Craig (#31), I see no point of approaching dharmic texts with such freedom of interpretation as you suggest. To me it just opens the door for that endless replication of x-buddhistic decision. Participating in this blog I take as a motto the first sentence from the summary of Nascent Speculative Non-Buddhism article, namely: “Speculative non-buddhism is a transgression against buddhistic transcendence—the dark concealment of an atavistic yearning to rise above the status of homo sapiens ape and to escape, unscathed, from empty reality.” In order to actually know what this dark concealment originally consist of, I try to pinpoint some recurring themes in the early or premodern Buddhism, like that about abandoning society and practicing absorptions or dependent origination not as a kind of empirical causality but a way of understanding the conditions for dissatisfactory life in the cycle of rebirth, so one can undo them and be released into the liberated state (nirvana) beyond all causes and conditions – beyond embodied life and temporality itself. Seeing those common themes I can than question those, like Pepper, to explain what exactly they’re taking about when they present their eccentric reinterpretations of those original themes so inconvenient for them. Is this to be a Buddhism? How so? I see no point to call the thing “Buddhism” at all – why not call that something “Pepperism”, wouldn’t it be more honest? But they usually answer, as Pepper did above, that because Pali canon, sutras “are enormous, contradictory, and seem to reflect a number of different theoretical or philosophical positions, some mystical, some realist” or that he “certainly don’t ‘question’ that these things appear in Pali texts. (…) My point is simply that the exact opposite ALSO appears, very often, in early Pali texts.” The problem for such people usually is that they really have difficulties to show any reasonable “opposite” alternatives to those common, recurring themes I mentioned – you can see that Pepper uttered no single word when I asked him to actually prove his bold statements and show his evidence to the contrary. He waits now until the question fades and then he will return to his usual relativistic strategy. All he wants to achieve is that those traditional texts – paradoxically legitimizing his project – will be treated as a relative mess of contradictory messages and that everybody just take at face value when he says that “exact opposite also appears”. But it doesn’t. Never mind, that’s not his problem. All he wants to achieve is to hook up to the mighty x-buddhistic juggernaut to promote himself as a new savior of presumably fucked up (suffering) humanity. That’s a pathetic but that’s how it is. Anyway, I wonder how long his truck will be able to withstand the uneven acceleration happening on this blog.
Last but not least (from Anicca as the Truth of Extinction):
(I see no point of approaching dharmic texts with such freedom of interpretation as you suggest. To me it just opens the door for that endless replication of x-buddhistic decision. Participating in this blog I take as a motto the first sentence from the summary of Nascent Speculative Non-Buddhism article, namely: “Speculative non-buddhism is a transgression against buddhistic transcendence—the dark concealment of an atavistic yearning to rise above the status of homo sapiens ape and to escape, unscathed, from empty reality.” In order to actually know what this dark concealment originally consist of, I try to pinpoint some recurring themes in the early or premodern Buddhism, like that about abandoning society and practicing absorptions or dependent origination not as a kind of empirical causality but a way of understanding the conditions for dissatisfactory life in the cycle of rebirth, so one can undo them and be released into the liberated state (nirvana) beyond all causes and conditions – beyond embodied life and temporality itself.)
This seems to me to be a classic example of x-buddhist transcendence. ‘Dark originality’, ‘Nirvana’, ‘Cycle of Birth and Death’, ‘Absorption’. These are the things we are flattening and coming to anew with out these preconceptions of what liberation is.
The rest of your post demonstrates a misunderstanding of Pepper’s stance. He is attempting to be aware and intentional about what ideology he is using where as you have these preconceived notions that the sutras and what’s written in them speak some kind of truth. They might, but who knows? Who really knows? They are just another conversation partner in the collective symbolic communication and to see them as anything more sacred than that is dangerous and leads to some of the claims you make above.
If you see no point in seeing the sutras from a freedom of interpretation, then you’ve missed the boat when it comes to non-buddhism i’m afraid. There really is no coming to texts with a blank slate. We have an ideology that we bring. However, it seems that we can call each other out on it and get to ‘truths’ intentionally. You, on the other had seem to be completely unable to do this. Practicing absorptions and escaping the cycle of rebirth is tantamount to the resurrection of Jesus. Complete mythology! Is it useful? We’ll see when all the flattening is done.
Adam (#4) and Glenn (#35):Thanks for your responses. They’re helpful. My conception of “transcendental” was too narrow.
Craig (#39) “Non-buddhism is a theoretical practice proceeding by way of classical-buddhist axioms yet producing theorems which are buddhistically uninterpretable.” Do you remember this key statement from Anicca as the Truth of Extinction? Buddhistically uninterpretable! And what Pepper does? He does exactly the opposite. His endless sermons about atman and dependent arising have just one goal, which is the so called end of suffering, to me an arch buddheme. And that’s how Pepper tries to pull on people heartstrings. I’m not at all surprised that he sometimes succeeds. Who after all can resist such a dharmic good, that most potent of all x-buddhistic hallucinogens? Or to put it differently, who can flatten that darkest of originalities? You?
You completely miss my point in tracing the traditional material. I do not try to elevate it or something – I leave that for the connoisseurs of such absurdities. I just want to contrast it with Pepper’s dark strategy of adapting some of those materials – atman, paticcasamuppāda, ending of suffering – in order to elevate himself as another narcissistic preacher in a certain “venerable” tradition.
Craig, just one more thing, don’t skip that review, which is not just about this superb movie, but what’s more important in our case, tries to picture the whole social and historical context which produced that “venerable” tradition.
Tomek (#37, 38). You are operating–thinking–around a potential breaking point. And that, I believe, is always desirable–for a critic, that’s exactly the place to be. In exile, you and I are camped not too distant from one another, but still not precisely on the same spot. From my perspective, Tom’s work, for instance, is an example of re-commissioning of x-buddhist postulates. So, I hear in his work the earth-hitting thud of non-buddhism. You are still hearing the vibrato that tugs at the soul’s heartstrings. Let’s say that that difference points to the unavoidable fact that all of this is very personal. One thing is certain, doing things with x-buddhism is like working with explosives. The material is volatile. That’s one reason that it has the effect that it does on otherwise intelligent, autonomous adults. That’s also why I don’t mind using violent rhetoric to engage with x-buddhism and x-buddhists. They themselves are quick to employ any of a number of weapons from their vast arsenal (from the promise of inner peace to rebirth in heaven). I want to say that this business of disinterest, or perhaps better put, of disinterested-interest, regarding x-buddhism is one of the many subtleties that a non-buddhist crafstman has to grasp. Without it, this blog, this entire project, would not exist. We’d all just be doing other things, looking to other material. There is an almost impossible imperative here. The imperative is to keep going with material that, for the exile, has been exposed as deeply flawed and, in many regards, fraudulent. In this sense, the non-buddhism project hangs on a thin thread: the possibility that genuine truths can be extracted from such material. I still think such alchemical transmutation is possible. But it involves interruption, rupture, disruption. Those can come in a variety of calibers. Rather than just say that Tom’s bang is not big enough for your liking, I would love to see what you yourself craft in the non-buddhism workshop. Maybe you can show what you think his work requires to meet your demands. Or maybe you can take a sutra, quell the vibrato, and see what you get. There is a shitload of potentially interesting and illuminating work to be done. But it requires, in the first instance, that we keep on going.
It’s not even vibrato, Glenn, it’s wailing. All this ‘suffering talk’ – look no further than, for example, Taking Anatman Full Strength. I’m disappointed to hear you try to steer the discussion toward “personal” and away from all this glaring hallucinogenic ‘suffering talk’. Are we so fucking poisoned by years of imbibing this distasteful message about “ending of suffering” that none is able to stop this staged wailing that has nothing to do with any re-commissioning but is aimed precisely to strengthen x-buddhism’s charismatic potency. And it’s working perfectly well. Has anybody raised any objections so far? No. How could anybody question such a “noble” and instinctive goal. And this is how x-buddhism works – it makes you hopeful to do away – suddenly or gradually – with all this painful aliveness. Everything depends if only you will take it full strength, with captain Pepper at the wheel, of course! Never mind that with infinite culpability in tow.
A slight variation on a reiteration of a variation on a theme: As the One is foreclosed to thought, a non-buddhist is compelled to think according to the One rather than of the One. The cessation of suffering implies a separation from or an identity-with-transcendence. Thus, any claims to the cessation of suffering are fictive, as any and all instances of suffering are inextricably born of the One.
So, what would it look like to think and practice according to suffering?
JRC (#45). It’s a good question. I read it as more koanic than purely interrogative. It says that suffering, or whatever is indexed by the buddheme dukkha, is not for the human to negotiate. That’s because, as you say, it is of the One. So, practicing according to suffering/unease/dukkha has to have as its first condition …
Or are we really so sure what dukkha indexes and what its status is?
Interesting question. I have asked this of myself. An entire post could be dedicated to this question. It seems perhaps the entire premise orbits around the answer to this. And what if dukkha itself is an invention, perception, of mind? What then? Is dukkha discomfort? Is it our perception/interpretation of discomfort? How do we define it? I always have more questions than answers…which is why I do not wade into these waters very much. How does one dialogue here with more questions than “answers?” The truth, I don’t mind more questions than answers. To quote an inane and popular movie, perhaps dukkha is as dukkha does. It seems my idea of dukkha is as impermanent and changing as the rest of it. Not much to base an argument on, I know. But, there it is anyway.
That seems to be the insidious genius of dukkha…it’s anything and everything all the time. Classic trascendental dharmic truth! 😉
I can identify with this very much: which is one of the reasons why I have curtailed commenting here… of course you could just endlessly ask questions but that is also a dialogue… the question I ask is a statement of sorts, expressing an orientation for instance. But it seems to me to be a bit disingenuous to continually question without risking an attempt at formulating a view…so Ive decided to shut up as much as possible and just read..both here and generally…seems to be the best policy for someone who’s got more questions than answers. Going over my own comments here I see that I have been too quick to make statements of (unexamined) ‘fact’, not to mention committing many of the ‘sins’ I have accused others of. It doesn’t help, of course, to be aggressively ‘corrected’ by others while in the process of trying to formulate the right questions (never mind the right answers.)
I also use questions, of myself and others, as part of my dialogue style. Too often these questions are misjudged as my NEEDING some correct and final answer. I do not need this…mostly because I am pretty sure that there is NOT a correct and final answer set in stone, except death of course. I enjoy using questions to help me muddle through my own thinking process. I am afraid, however, that my muddling through does not move fast enough for this particular forum. But, this blog does indeed help me ask questions, which is why I read. Oh I have views, opinions, ideologies…but am also aware that they are always shifting and gaining nuance. This is hard for me to convey in a prose form here, which is why I read what’s here and then usually stick to thinking about it and writing about it in a different/creative style. I remind myself that this form, while useful, is not necessarily the only and final word/structure to be used to dissect some of these ideas, it is one of many.
Thanks for chatting.