Speculative Non-Buddhism

ruins of the buddhist real

Pause to Reflect

Posted by Glenn Wallis on May 6, 2013

EndlicherLet’s take a moment to reflect.

I am always receiving advice on how to conduct this project of non-buddhist criticism. Nearly all of it  misses the point.  Nearly all of it is nonetheless worth considering. I would like to take a pause, and share some of that advice with you. I will also say what I will do about it.

Advice #1: Remain substantive
Advice #2: No naming
Advice #3: Stop trolling
Advice #4: Address alternatives
Advice #5: Moderate comments
Advice #6: Stop Tom Pepper!
Advice #7: Be more self-critical
Advice #8: Stop already! The blog has run its course

Matthew O’Connell’s recent comment is representative of the first four kinds of advice. He offers this:

I’m much more interested in that discussion [i.e., something more substantive] than bashing the likes of Lodro [Rinzler], which is kind of easy at the end of the day and gets tiresome. Aren’t you guys tired of it yet? Instead of trolling, I think it timely to invest energy and thought in considering alternatives and means for addressing what Buddhism had been considered as being able to do in the past and yet which obviously fails to do in the majority of cases today. I am extremely interested in that question. It seems to me that it’s time to move on. Expecting others to do it is a waste of time and cursing them for their inability to live up to your expectation, or desired mode of engagement is pointless…Disruption can be a powerful wake up call, but only if people are willing to engage and play the game. The opposite effect of course is the one Glenn has experienced: refusal and/or indifference. I feel like the force of your arguments, insights and understanding are more than sufficient without the trolling to eventually sway those who have taking a comfortable position within contemporary western Buddhism. If you bash them on the head with it though, the refusal is more likely to become permanent.

#4 is expressed in pithy terms by JRC:

And now moving on to the praxis of the “subject” … onward ho …

My response to # 1: Remain substantive. Agreed. I would like to hew closely to substantive analysis. Many of the posts here do that. So, maybe the advice is to do so exclusively. The implicit criticism seems to be that the substantive work is diminished by other kinds of posts (see #2 and #3). I am constantly inviting people to write up analyses of what I call x-buddhist rhetorics of display–some text, ritual, website, dharma talk, clothing style, and so on. I would like to make this site more of a workshop for that kind of work. So, agreed.

My response to #2: No naming. (Matthew doesn’t go so far as no naming, but it’s a good place to mention it.) It is impossible to analyze specific instances of x-buddhist rhetorics without naming people and organizations. But I agree that the naming should always be tied to a substantive case analysis. So, instead of just throwing it out there that Lodro Rinzler strikes me as an x-buddhist buffoon, I will, in the future, detail my reasons for saying so, and explain why I see such buffoonery as counter-productive or even harmful. I know that naming can be hurtful. I find doing so the most distasteful part of this work. I really hate it. I gives me a stomachache. But I also think it is important to be pointed and specific. Let’s also not forget that the people I mention are not innocent x-buddhist by-standers, seeking a little peace in the midst of a painful world: they are self-professed gurus of one variety or another. They are public figures who offer advice on the most serious life issues. Some of them are trying to make a living doing so.

This points to a more serious issue. When someone says that there are more important things to be doing “than bashing the likes of Lodro, which is kind of easy at the end of the day and gets tiresome,” we have before us several interesting data to be analyzed. For example, what is it about a Lodro that gives the impression that he is an easy target for criticism? Is it possible that whatever it is is itself deserving of criticism precisely because it comes across that way? What if we view “easiness” as a rhetorical ploy, and all its various features as the sum of a strategy, the strategy of “easy”? What would it look like? To me, to name just one example, it looks exactly what we should expect from the confluence of North American Buddhism and North American capitalism, where easily digestible comfort-food-buddhism is just what the market demands. In other words, that contemporary western x-buddhism looks “kind of easy” to “bash” is not a reason to leave it alone, it is a reason to go after it. The obviousness of the facile nature of our x-buddhism is a crucial datum for analysis. X-buddhism could take on many shapes and forms. So, why is it so enmeshed in the market of comforting panaceas? Why does it so easily graft onto the marketplace? Why does it produce figures like______? How many contemporary x-buddhist figures, whether a traditional rinpoche or roshi or a less traditional non-denominational one, can you name who would not be “kind of easy” to expose as either reactionary of obscurantist? The advent of Tutteji Wachtmeister should prove illuminating in this regard. So, in short: We must not take for granted that x-buddhism has to be the way that it currently is. We do not have to play with the loaded dice that our  x-buddhist figures hand us. That is tiresome.

So, partially agreed: no more easy, unsubstantiated shots, and more thorough case studies. And my apologies to those who have been negatively named without an explanation. I won’t do it again.

My response to #3: Stop trolling. This one is related to #2. I looked up several definitions of “trolling.” I get that word thrown my way almost daily. Sometimes it’s directed at me, sometimes at commenters on this blog. The Wikipedia definition is the most useful one I found because it leaves open the possibility that trolling can be valuable.

[1] someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as a forum, chat room, or blog, [2] with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise [3] disrupting normal on-topic discussion.The noun troll may also refer to the provocative message itself, as in:  [4] “That was an excellent troll you posted.”

By this definition, trolling has several features, which I’ve numbered 1-4.  The biggest question I have is: how do you determine whether  1-3  lead to a shut-down in communication, as Matthew says, and are thus counter-productive, or actually serve to advance things? The latter may be long-term. It’s long-term value may be wholly opaque in the short-term precisely because of the emotionalism and disruption involved. How can we know? The fact that people are disturbed can’t be an indication, can it? The point is to disturb. An unavoidable aspect of this work is disruption. In fact, it may be the very first task. I agree with Zizek’s comment from the previous post that the shift of perspective forced by truths such as non-self and perpetual dissolution “involves great pain; it is not merely a liberation […]; it is also the violent experience of losing the ground under one’s feet, of being deprived of the most familiar stage of one’s being.” Let this statement by Thomas Szasz sum up my feelings about this issue of “trolling:” “Men are afraid to rock the boat in which they hope to drift safely through life’s currents, when, actually, the boat is stuck on a sandbar. They would be better off to rock the boat and try to shake it loose, or, better still, jump in the water and swim for the shore.” Maybe a good troll can convince you to jump.

My response to #4: Address alternatives. Partially agreed. It is always great advice to make suggestions for how things might be different. Several of our discussions have generated many, many comments on practical matters, such as what a non-buddhism-inspired practice group might look like. Maybe the suggestions in these comments can be collected. Some of them are quite concrete. But I would want to be careful not to get prescriptive. I don’t want to create more x-buddhism. That danger is never far away. Having said that. maybe it would be useful to have a page sharing ideas about practice (or praxis or whatever it should be called). A couple of readers of this blog and I are going to sit down soon and try to re-configure our own practice. As I have mentioned in several comments, our practice went from more or less traditional (western) Soto Zen to non-denominational x-buddhist to unformed, dark, ideologically-hesitant sitting and dialogue. But then everyone stopped coming! So, yes, we can share ideas on “praxis.”

My response to #5: Moderate comments. I don’t want to go down the slippery slope of “right speech.” I really feel that “right speech” is just a convenient way to maintain control, and to prevent real change from occurring. Neither do I want to cut off dialogue, and make this a one-directional information site. But I do want to stream-line the discussions some. I want to keep the comments somewhat on topic. Even here, though, I am a bit hesitant. You never know what direction a discussion will take. Unlike my undergrad students, I don’t believe there are “tangents” in dialogue, just explorations. Or maybe there are tangents, and I just happen to value them. Some of the most insightful, creative ideas come from seemingly off-topic remarks. And, true, sometimes they just steer the thing into quicksand. So what can we do? A good solution might be to disallow certain comments, but email the person and explain why. Maybe I can even suggest some edits to make the comment more relevant, then post it. That may get tedious real fast. So, I don’t know. Suggestions?

My response to #6: Stop Tom Pepper! This advice comes in several varieties, spanning calls for an outright ban to asking him to be more polite. By way of explaining why I will just ignore this advice, a comment by Matthias Steingass is helpful.

Glenn recently said, without any apparent irony, as far as I see it (Glenn you might correct me), that Tom is some kind of Rinzai and that we should be thankful for Tom’s compassion for us. Craig also mentioned, without any irony, that we should be thankful for Tom’s compassionate teachings. Tom himself seems to find this title – the new Rinzai – right to the point for him.

My response: There was some irony, of course. But it was mixed with sincerity. What I am about to say does not, I imagine, apply to some readers. But the point is still not entirely moot. It applies generally, to x-buddhism across the board. One feature of x-buddhism is its ability to romanticize its potentially destructive elements. Think of all the tropes in x-buddhist literature that open up the possibility of a radical break with tradition: kill the Buddha; abandon the raft; leave the collapsed house in shambles; the finger pointing to the moon, and so forth. Yet, the radical break never occurs. Or perhaps it does occur, but the preservationist/conservative leaders of x-buddhism quickly and deftly deny the force of that break through various forms of reaction and obfuscation. So, even a Nagarjuna, who pushes rationality so far as to show the contradictions in the very ideas of the four noble truths and the tathagata, becomes yet another defanged, wise and kind x-buddhist bodhisattva. Same with destructive iconoclasts like Rinzai and Bodhidharma. I see “Tom Pepper” as a living, breathing demonstration of this crucial aspect of x-buddhism, the dialectic of radicality and its denial.

This explanation will not be helpful to some readers. Some of you wouldn’t accept a Rinzai as your companion, much less as your teacher. You want an exchange that assumes equality, and that exhibits all the proper decorum of mutual respect. That is understandable. But what will you do when your interlocutor refuses you that? In that case, can’t you just bypass the person? If you can’t, why not? That’s a real question. I should quickly add that I hope you’ll carefully consider engaging even the most difficult of interlocutors, at least until you’re certain there’s no room for growth. And, as we’ve already seen, growth can at times involve “the violent experience of losing the ground under one’s feet, of being deprived of the most familiar stage of one’s being.”

I think that it is valuable to have a full range of flavors, tones, and emotions in play in dialogue. One of my major criticisms of the contemporary right-speech ethos is that it drastically reduces the range of expression. This blog exhibits a broad range of expression, from warm-hearted gentleness and agreement to ferocity and adamant disagreement. I want to keep it that way.

What I will do from now on, though, is take to heart some advice that I received by email: “In short, maybe, as opposed to censoring anyone, stop encouraging and defending Tom.” So please don’t ask me explain Tom Pepper. Both Tom Pepper and “Tom Pepper” can speak for themselves.

My response to #7: Be more self-critical. Another of Matthias Steingass’s recent comments is a good representation of this advice/criticism:

What we have seen here since summer 2011 is a group process without any reflection about the process itself. Like in any other sangha. The process has been more or less with out any rules. What is typical of such processes, is that a social configuration emerges which reflects unconscious power structures. In this regard we are here now at a point many other internet forums come to sooner or later. This is not to say that this blog hasn’t its own qualities. It definitely has! What it lacks is a reflection about its power structure.

I agree, but I think it is the job of an observer to offer such reflections. I consider it a form of generosity to reflect on some group’s power structures. It’s hard work to do so.  So, I would like to see someone else do the work. Seth Segall posted a critique on his blog “The Existential Buddhist” a while ago (link at bottom). It received 97 comments. Stephen Schettini write a post called “So What?” for the Secular Buddhist Association. If I remember correctly, there were hundreds of comments. (I can’t provide the link here because I am 403 Forbidden to enter that site.) Maybe you could use those as starting points. Having said that, I think that we have in fact produced a good deal of process-reflective text here. The pages themselves are really process-oriented. Tacit predictions about power dynamics permeate the pages. Most visitors to the site probably don’t read them, though. In any case, power structures are unavoidable, as far as I can tell. As soon as there are two people engaged with one another a power dynamic emerges. Is that not the case? I’ve never been in a situation without a power dynamic. How could this blog be an exception? If I were commenting on a philosophy site, I would be pretty low in the power rankings. I could improve my power relationship to other commenters through study, hard thought, better thinking and expression, perseverance, and so on. I don’t know of any other way. Do any of you?

My response to #8: Stop already! The blog has run its course. I’d say we are just getting started. Tom Pepper, Matthias Steingass, and I have a book coming out soon. That should inaugurate a new phase of the project. Hopefully, it will help us get back to the concerns of Advice #1. For this project to work, though, its ideas and tools have to be used by others, by you. Like I’ve suggested many times before, why not take one of the ideas given in virtually any of the posts here, and see how it functions in some dharma talk or Shambhala Sun article. If it does function, how, and to what end? The point of this project is to produce tools for you to use in performing your own analysis and producing your own insights. I’ll do my analysis and share my insights, and others will do and share theirs. You have to do yours yourself. And you are always welcome to share them with the rest of us. I hope you will.

The day will come when this blog does run its course. But it won’t be because all the critical work has been done. It will be because I personally am sick and tired of dealing with x-buddhism and x-buddhists. I often think about turning my attention exclusively to music, creative writing, and (non)philosophy. I will. It’s just a matter of time.

So, as with all things, time is running out here. Let’s get to work. 

In the meantime–any advice?

_____________

Link: Seth Segall, “About ‘Speculative Non-Buddhism,‘” at The Existential Buddhist blog.

Image:  Michael Endlicher. Contemporary German artist. Text reads: I remain silent/I speak. Next to the image, he writes: Unentschieden existieren? Entschieden leben! Entscheiden Sie selbst. Two possible translations: (1) Existing ambivalently? Live definitively? Decide for yourself. (2) Undecided how to exist? Decide how to live! Decide it for yourself.

42 Responses to “Pause to Reflect”

  1. Great post and what a privilege Glen, to show up in not one, but two posts here at the blog!

    So, partially agreed: no more easy, unsubstantiated shots, and more thorough case studies.

    I obviously could have articulated further what it is that leaves me wanting with some of the criticism that takes place here and the first point you make hits the nail on the head. I would add that my reading here has always been partial. I tend to switch off when the in-fighting emerges and try to dredge the comments sections for points that are getting at, as you state above, substantive arguments. The point you raise clarifies this, that criticism should be better articulated, from you towards Rinzler et al, and from me towards you. It seems to me the blog has drifted a little far from this recently & I’ve found myself bored.

  2. Craig said

    Matthew (1):

    It is precisely because of this blog and my attempts at not flinching that I’ve all but quit reacting to what were once ‘mean’ words to me. I either look beyond and ponder the meat of the argument or I ignore it or I reflect on why that adjective was used in response to me. I’ll say that a lot of the time it’s transference to some extent. I have a hunch that my/our issues of shame play a role here as well. That might be a blog post. Shame in practice.

  3. I am at a loss. I canot read the statement re #6 other than the typical self-immunization of cult leaders: Every objection is based on the inability of the critic to understand the true qualities of the saint leading the cult.

    Glenn, you say above:

    And my apologies to those who have been negatively named without an explanation. I won’t do it again.

    You compare Tom Pepper to Nagarjuna, Rinzai and Bodhidharma. You just compare and name him. No explanation. Shouldn’t there be any explanation too for somebody who is positively named?

    What are the specific qualities of Tom Pepper other than being the “living, breathing demonstration of this crucial aspect of x-buddhism, the dialectic of radicality and its denial”?

    —–

    There are some other points but those are minor ones compared to the self-immunization. For example this is not about politeness vs. non-politeness and it is not about power structures vs. something without them. These are false dichotomies.

    This blog is at the point where it will descend into an endless spiral of statement vs statement. Yes it is about power structures, no it isn’t. Yes he is Rinzai, no he isn’t. It is about transference, no it isn’t. I understand it right, no you don’t…. What is left then is a performance game. Mostly male white middle class men struggling to gain a yield by trading more or less educated opinions. It’s classic – and it’s not different from any other power and performance game in our society. In this way it is nothing but another capitalistic pastime leading to alienation.

    I will be positively surprised if this project does not crashes after descending into this pit. But for this we will have to see if there is something developing beyond Glenn’s original idea.

    —-

    Re the question Patrick pointed at here about how we three (Tom, Glenn, me) interact outside of the blog. I wondered when somebody would adress this. I am not going to comment on internal matters. The only point I say is that we have a project together and we bring it to completion together. The texts we produced will stand for themselves. Of course personal matters will interact with their interpretation, but this is an entirely different thing way beyond this post.

  4. Geoff said

    Stop Tom Pepper!

    Heaven forbid! After another day trying to muddle through, its refreshing to read the fantasies of academic, armchair revolutionaries.

    Makes me nostalgic for my undergraduate days uncluttered with the messiness of the daily workplace.

    KOTJMFs!

  5. Craig said

    Matthias, (#3)

    I don’t think I mentioned ‘without irony’ that ‘we’ should be thankful for Tom’s teachings. I’m grateful for my interactions with Tom, Glenn, Matthias, Patrick etc. Those dudes ain’t my gurus though. And as far as the performance game, I don’t see this happening. Why engage Pepper or even talk about him in this post if you think it’s futile. Also, isn’t a blog basically a spiral of statement vs. statement? Everything is a downward spiral at that. No?

  6. I appreciate this post, Glenn, as it shows a willingness to stop and think, and respond to criticism. But isn’t the inability to respond constructively to criticism linked to the failure to really take it in?

    Re: #6 “Stop Tom Pepper”- it is fairly common knowledge that Gurdjieff at Fontainebleau asked one of his students to deliberately act as a shit-disturber to help others face into their “reactivity”. Ultimately, one can’t, as you say, “grow” by bypassing obstacles and problems along the way. Every day mind is the way, the only way out is through, and all of that.

    That said, Tom is a “difficult interlocutor”, not because of his lack of decorum in his presentation of speculative non-buddhism but because, like the x-buddhists you criticize, there is a tendency in his (inter?)loquations to ”romanticize potentially destructive elements”.

    I agree with Matthias (#3), that the problem is not impoliteness or wrong speech, or even violence. The problem is the romanticization of all of these in the hagiographical treatment of ourselves or our teachers, whether x-buddhist, non-buddhist, Marxist, Rinzai, etc.

    How can we encourage a “range of expression” without also inviting the dirty bath water back with the baby? Perhaps we should stop expecting interlocutors and critics to engage with our project and/or its spokespersons, and instead demand of our project and leaders that they engage with critics and criticism.

  7. Patrick said

    Hello Glen,
    Re the following:

    In any case, power structures are unavoidable, as far as I can tell. As soon as there are two people engaged with one another a power dynamic emerges. Is that not the case? I’ve never been in a situation without a power dynamic. How could this blog be an exception? If I were commenting on a philosophy site, I would be pretty low in the power rankings. I could improve my power relationship to other commenter through study, hard thought, better thinking and expression, perseverance, and so on. I don’t know of any other way. Do any of you?

    I think an important point is that the uncovering of that dynamic is part and parcel of the non-buddhist project..I mean its not as if there is xbuddhism and xbuddhist power dynamics over there, centered on ,for instance, a cult of some sort of esoteric insight possessed by a ‘guru’ figure and a fawning non-critical acceptance on the part of the ‘disciples’,on the one hand , and over here a non-buddhist dynamic free from such ‘taints’…What ,for instance , is the the difference between the aura of authority surrounding a guru and a person with an adherence to a Marxist philosophy that seems to bestow an authority akin to ocularity…in so far as he is in command of a methodology that bestows on him possession of a ‘truth’ that is confirmed by being the revealed ‘dialectic of the real?… how does someone who disavows that truth function visa vie that person..is it even possible to share a space for instance without conflict. Also how is such a person able to avoid or pass over that person in the context of a project whose function is to disable those very xbuddhist tropes now appearing in a ‘secular’ form.

    It seems incredible that you made that statement about Tom and that you here reiterate it in a new form

    “Tom Pepper” as a living, breathing demonstration of this crucial aspect of x-buddhism, the dialectic of radicality and its denial.

    You put Tom in exclamation marks so I think I can comment without any offense to the ‘real’ Tom since he has now become a force of nature? history? or philosophical radicalism? What I find so interesting is the relationship between the Stalinist cult of the personality on the one hand (the aura of ocular authority surrounding Stalin and Mao for instance)and the aura of ocular authority surrounding the figures you mention,Nagarjuna,Rinzai and Bodhidharma, as they function in their role in xbuddhist sufficiency as unique living manifestations of ‘Truth’. Both Buddhism and Marxism display so many similarities… how strange that they should come together in the figure of ‘Tom’ and that you should perform the work of being the one who ‘cries in the wilderness’ to use a Christian trope, or more to the point the work of a lin pao figure pointing to the phenomenon of Mao’s person as that necessary manifestation of the ‘dialectic of struggle’ and even putting his name in exclamation marks.
    Since we all know that ‘the emperor has no clothes’ and that tom in his real self is no such thing ( not to mention Mao, Stalin, bodidharma, nargarjuna, Rinzai) are we then playing some sort of esoteric game in which aspects of ‘the real’ can be personified in ‘Tom’ for our edification? Have we entered the realm of the Gods?
    Please don’t think this is any form of attack …its more an admission of astonishment at the richness of the underlying implications of what you are doing here and the way it can become a microcosm , or a sort of clone for the ‘material’ we are actually trying to work on…please don’t stop any time soon …I agree with you that the fun has only just started! For one thing in the new landscape of the blog we need not again complain to Tom concerning Toms statements but can analise the function ‘Tom’ is playing here as a manifestation of forces within the ‘real’ just as (how astonishing ) Marx , could analise Napoleons role in terms of social forces over which Napoleon had no control and of which he was not even aware. Or if you want to use an xbuddhist trope we can regard the person of bodidharma and his statements as a manifestation of the suchness of reality, a natural event .spontaneity incarnate! But we can do it in awareness….and so too with the person of ‘Tom’…a living breathing koan.
    I think we have entered new territory and can now put all our names in exclamation marks and simply manifest… as social forces within Immanence or as spiritual forces within suchness ..take your pick…am I joking? partly…still its fucking rich to put it mildly! Cant wait to see how the plot thickens… can we enjoy ourselves while doing ( trying to do in my case ) serious work? I think so!

  8. Patrick said

    Read analyze instead of ‘analise’.. but an interesting Freudian slip!!!
    Also re Craig #2
    I think you raise something very interesting here …its my experience too.. what exactly though is the difference between ‘not flinching’ and ‘mindfulness… I mean when we strip xbuddhist mindfulness of its ‘excess’ and pluck it from its position within the xbuddhist phantasmagoria how does it look? like ‘not flinching’ and then ‘pondering the meat of the argument’? I think that is exactly the residue that is left when the xbuddhist trope of mindfulness is put in the forge, melted down and reconfigured into something useful… that is something that can withstand the “ violent experience of losing the ground under one’s feet, of being deprived of the most familiar stage of one’s being.”
    I find it amusing that you list me along with Glen, Tom, Matthias…Ha Ha ..I will now manifest as the Riddler …Riddle me this… Whats the difference between Gates and Neely and Crosby, Stills, Nash and young?…Answer coming soon! and while I’M at it what would Patrick’s comments look like if he could only drop the bullshit? answer Craig Neely’s of course!
    Re TOM; the fucking pain of it is I agree with at least 70% of what he says and can learn from the rest… cant however ‘not flinch’ when he lays into someone ‘Rinzai style (Apologies Tom for speaking about you in the third person but I’m following precedent…will ‘exclamationmark’ you if it helps)

  9. God be praised, and vanity!
    In a dream it came to me
    the smug x-B authorities
    and Tom and Glenn are having tea
    laced with gobs of LSD

    Let the talking thinkers see
    a vast and teaming cosmic sea
    excretes their thought and PhD

    Illusory?
    Hmm…probably
    Just like—ho ho, ha ha, hee hee!
    their consequentiality…

    John O.

  10. Craig said

    Patrick #8,

    Good point. My comment above, even I tried not to be, was quite reactionary. Why do I feel like I have to tell people what to ignore and what to engage in? It’s ridiculous and actually shows more about the than anything else. And there in lies my fear. How can we really ‘know’ or discern what is authentic or true if our actions/thoughts/reactions are so deluded from the get go? For example, I want everyone to like me and I want to please everyone. In order to deal with this ‘neurosis?’ is to be more assertive and try to sit with (be mindful?) of my feelings rather than projecting them. Ironically, this just sets up a new set of issues for me. I really don’t have any authority or great reasoning for what I say in these assertive efforts. So when I follow up, I’m at a loss and usually retreat back to smiley faces…seriously. It’s nuts. Alas, even though we are part of this collective, ‘I’ still have to make it through the day.

    I’ve really gotten a lot out of everyone’s posts here…Tom being one among many. I want to understand where Tomek, Luis, You, Matthias, Geoff, Tom are coming from and try to find truth and I just find it easier to navigate that with curiosity and questions. Not sure if any of this makes sense. I will say that the biggest difference between Gates and Neely and CSNY is Neil fucking Young! 🙂

    Craig

  11. Matthias (#3), Patrick (#6), Patricia (#7).

    RE: The case of Tom Pepper, I am at a loss, too. I think I see a way out. But since I said I’d let Tom Pepper speak (or not) for himself, I’ll respond in more general terms.

    I really do think the most important question for me to ask myself when I am particularly animated, positively or negatively, by someone’s comment is “why?” If I continue to engage that person to my apparent detriment, the question becomes: can’t I just move on? If I can’t, why not? I don’t need to know anyone else’s particular answer to this question regarding Tom and power structures and so on, but, doesn’t s/he?

    One way out is this: see it all as acutely personal. Some of you are at a loss as to why I can let certain things stand. I am equally at a loss that you can’t, especially since I’ve articulated my reasons for infusing this blog with a Dionysian spirit. So, a way out is to look at our own personal reactions to what’s happening. As Camelia Elias says, criticism may be done in two steps. Step One: What is happening here. Step Two: How do I feel about it?

    So, you have to answer these questions for yourselves. What is happening here (X is being nasty or romanticizing destructiveness or whatever–again, you have to answer). And how do I feel about? (Stupid; angry; bored; sad; like shit, etc.).

    It is always personal.

    Here’s an example. I think I understand at least something of my own personal toleration for chaos, destruction, nastiness, strong language, pointed criticism, and so on. In short, I came of age on the streets of Philadelphia during a particularly rough period–the Carter and Reagan years. This is a very rough city even in good times. On top of that, I moved in circles of aggressive hard-core-anarcho punks. I then threw myself into cut-throat, sink or swim intellectual environments. Maybe I did that because of my coming-of-age experience. He-whose-name-I-dare-not-utter speaks in relatively mild terms here compared to what I experienced in grad school, not to mention in my creative arts circles.

    I am offering this autobiographical bit to underscore my conviction that, in the very first instance, at least, it’s personal.

    I also think many comments on this blog, about this matter and others, show a basic misunderstanding of my intent. As I put it in “Sutras of Flesh and Blood” at non + x, rephrasing a statement by Georges Bataille:

    This is not the manifesto of a movement, but rather the expression, among other things, of someone determined to expose a façade, signing the expiration warrant of a doctrine composed in the language of dreams, preferring a speech disheveled by the wind and pitted with holes, but with the kind of authority that a ruin cannot help but have and that no mere movement can ever possess.

    I can add in more concrete terms that I hope to attract five or six other people to work with some of the tools and ideas presented here. I want to produce texts that stimulate others to their own thoughts, their own critiques and insights. The last thing I am interested in is hearing my own ideas echoed back to me. The book that Tom Pepper, Matthias Steingass, and I did together is a good example. When I saw that Tom and Matthias had interesting contributions to make, I asked them to join me as co-authors. I never dreamed that they would simply produce some version of my own thinking. And of course they didn’t. The point was to take a rough prompt—immanent critique of x-buddhism—and see what three very different people do with that prompt. They did not write anything near what I would have. That was the point of inviting them!

    I am thinking that each new commentor should be given an expiration date. Like: you may comment here, say, ten times. Then, you have to create your own forum, write your own essays, produce your own experiments or whatever. If you do, let me know, and I’ll link to it from here.

    I am not interested in followers or believers. I am interested in scoping out the terms of a critique of x-buddhism. I am going to continue doing that. But I will return to my original abstract approach. I remember now the reason I made that decision in the first place. It was to ward off the kinds of issues I see us getting bogged down in now. This isn’t a club. Quotes on the “Before you Read” page are meant to make clear my appreciation of abstraction, quotes like:

    “Plain speech is essentially inaccurate. It is only by new metaphors that it can be made precise” (T.E. Hulme)

    and

    “A text is not a text unless it hides from the first comer, from the first glance, the law of its composition and the rules of its game” (Jacques Derrida).

  12. Craig said

    Glenn,

    This makes a lot of sense. Thanks for posting. Maybe I’ll start a blog!

    “…not to mention in my creative arts circles.”

    This is interesting. Punks criticizing punks? It’s punk, anything goes, right?

  13. Craig (#12).

    You might get a kick out of “Rainer’s” two comments here. You have to scroll down pretty far. I think he is very astute.

    By the way, I love Gates and Neely’s futility rock. My favorite line from my favorite song:

    There’s no sense in letting go
    There’s no sense in holding on

  14. John All Things From God (#9)

    “Stand up straight into Heaven
    Throw yourself upon Earth
    Give ’em everything you got”–
    John O, have you been ignoring
    The wisdom of the dirt?

    Your intellectual insecurities are showing their roots. I understand that. It’s okay. But why not practice what you preach:

    With sincere altruistic motivation and coordination of body, speech and mind, prostration can help anyone:

    Free energy locked in addictive patterns
    Transform false pride into basic dignity
    Transform paralyzing shame into humility
    Open narcissism to love and compassion

  15. Craig said

    Glenn,

    Thanks so much for listening! I love that line too. I like writing about ambiguity and paradox, albeit, in a more straight ahead way rather than poetic. I toyed with another line for that second chorus reading:

    There’s no such thing as letting go.
    There’s no such thing as holding on.

    Thanks for the link. Checking it now. I’m also going to do some prostrations!

    Craig

  16. RobS said

    Hi,

    My reply is not a direct response to this post, but was rather inspired by it. I have wanted to share my experience with x-buddhism on here for some time, and reading this helped me to find the words to do so.

    When I began my second year of college in Montreal I was also experiencing my second relationship break-up. I didn’t take it well. I suffered. I probably ended up suffering longer than most. Half way through the school year, I had the misfortune of discovering western buddhism for myself.

    Prior to that moment I felt alone in my suffering. I’m sure some of my friends were experiencing similar emotions at the time, but we didn’t sit around and talk about it. It was then I read my first Buddhist text, Ajahn Sumedho’s A Handful of Leaves(1). It began:

    “What is the Noble Truth of Suffering? Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, sickness is suffering, dissociation from the loved is suffering, not to get what one wants is suffering: in short the five categories affected by clinging are suffering.”

    Dissociation from the loved is suffering. An authority figure legitimizing my feelings. And further down the same page:

    “Suffering or dukkha is the common bond we all share. Everybody everywhere suffers. Human beings suffered in the past, in ancient India; they suffer in modern Britain; and in the future, human beings will also suffer. What do we have in common with Queen Elizabeth? – we suffer. With a tramp in Charing Cross, what do we have in common? – suffering. It includes all levels from the most privileged human beings to the most desperate and underprivileged ones, and all ranges in between. Everybody everywhere suffers. It is a bond we have with each other, something we all understand.”

    I think that for the most part, when people get emotionally hurt, they pull themselves out of it (or others help pull themselves out of it) and they re-join the world of people who are doing OK. Instead, what happened to me was that I got hurt and I was pulled into the world of other people who are not doing OK. And that’s not a pretty world. Because in that world, the x-buddhist world, people convince each other that everyone else in the world isn’t doing OK either, and that people are just ignorant about being OK.

    I wish someone had thrown me a rope before I was brain-washed into believing that I was suppose to feel bad.

    1. http://www.buddhanet.net/4noble.htm

  17. Danny said

    Glenn re:13

    Despite his Ph.D. in Buddhist studies from Harvard, and despite his having written several books on Buddhism, it seems to me he’s still more of a punk rocker than a Buddhist scholar.

    God that’s beautiful–I wish I could put that on my resume…

    Danny

  18. Danny (#17).

    I was just about to post this passage from that comment:

    I sense in [Wallis’s] seeming turgidity and ornery bite a desire to imbue his language with the visceral immediacy of music. And it’s a desire that engenders itself in frustration. It’s a frustration familiar to poets: to be enthralled by the power of words, and yet disheartened by the sad impotence of language in the face of… well, everything. That frustration with language seems to mirror his uneasy relationship with Buddhism. It seems like he has been trying to negotiate the revolutionary potential he sees in Buddhism with the stultifying effect its sanguine vocabulary and trappings of religiosity have on it as a possible force for combating the “grayness, uniformity, and boredom” of technological society (quoting his website).

  19. jonah said

    That Rainer guy is smart. I’m half convinced he’s a GW alter-ego.

  20. Jonah (#19). Rainer really is extremely perceptive. He did his homework, too. But the one thing he gets wrong is the one thing that proves he’s not me: he says I was the singer in the band. Even if it were true, I’d never admit to being a singer! I played guitar.

  21. Luis Daniel said

    I think Matthias point is about dialogue, about genuine construction.

    Self-inmunization, another performance game … projections of you own insecurities about your own buddhist practice.

    The object of your “analysis” turns out to be yourself.

    I just began reading a new book. The Psychoanalytic Mind. From Freud to Philosophy by Marcia Cavell.

    When reading her ackwoledgements it stroke my attention when she says every time she presented her work “thoughtful responses from the audience prompted needed corrections from my part.” And so on. Her humility shows. Not the kind of acknowledgement you ever made.

    You always seem fired up and defensive. And self-inmunization -or just plain lack of genuine openness – a sort of being critical for the sake of it seems to be just an overiding personal necessity for you, not any kind of analytical tool. It is all personal as you say. But only to a point of convenience I add.

    You seem to have had an idea for justifying your buddhist knowledge – and your liking of buddhist practice -, expose your singular talents and angers and have a good time. You reached out and wrote a better book.

    But time goes on. The big we is really the only meaningful worth living for.

    Essentialism (truth as a pre-existing thing to be found and not made) be it in budhism or non buddhism, philosophy or non philosophy, capitalism or anti-capitalism, and a general pervasive lack of practicality, frames, contradicts and taints your own work with the traits of the objects (ideas and people) of your critique.

    But this has been a wild, culturally rich and very free blog. Your contribution is thus acknowledged. Your decission to shut it down is also timely and right. I hope the distance allows you to not see better.

    Thanks and good luck.

  22. And so it suddenly imploded.

    Glenn, #11

    I really do think the most important question for me to ask myself when I am particularly animated, positively or negatively, by someone’s comment is “why?” If I continue to engage that person to my apparent detriment, the question becomes: can’t I just move on? If I can’t, why not?

    First thing, again, is that this question – to adress ones own position and think about it – is put to everybody except Tom Pepper.

    Now, again, you will ask me why I couldn’t stop to engage with Tom Pepper.

    Well I for my case can say that I did not engage with Tom Pepper for the better part of the last year. I think it was somewhere around the thread commencing from my No More Meditation that I decided that to stop to argue with Tom Pepper. I only entered into a certain discussion with and about Tom Pepper this March. Ask yourself, why I did what I did and did not.

    Now for everybody, re power structures: Look how Tom Pepper is reacting to me as long as I keep my mouth shut and how he reacts as soon as I begin to question his position. It is really a great example how the candidate is caressed as long as the s/he conforms and how s/he is shunned, ousted and degraded as soon as s/he formulates critique. The prognosis is: everybody can repeat this game.

    Glenn, your act of crowning of the new Rinzai might very well be an act within this play of the power structure which emerged here. It is a peculiar one and it really astonished me. For some time I thought you just won’t engage with Tom because of his forseeable dysfunctional reactions to critique. Now I think it might be possible that you really dream about a new Rinzai.

    Both possibilities might be wrong. But if the latter case has some truth to it, I am guilty of a stark missinterpretation of some thing you say in your inaugurational text: (in my words) It might be – if we truly get a new handle on Buddhist material – that we might render it unrecognizable.

    I took this literally. And that might have been the point that I projected something into this project which isn’t there.

    What happens if Buddhism becomes unrecognizable? In turn, that is the question: what happens if some thing new occurs? How does it occur? How do we recognize the new?

    As for Tom Pepper: look if he really produces something new.

    If he doesn’t, remember the word about killing the Protagonist. Just shoot him in his head and move on.

    That’s it about him.

    you have to create your own forum, write your own essays, produce your own experiments or whatever.

  23. Patrick said

    Hello Glenn
    Re : Go fann on calls,
    Shite to it…oh well thats life…like everything I lose I look back on it and bemoan my own stupidity for not embracing it wholeheartedly and making the most of it before the inevitable loss…like less reactivity, laziness, obscurantism, plain ignorance…was only just settling down to the show and the lights go up and its time to go home…
    genuinely sad, sad, sad.

  24. Patrick, isn’t this also a relieve? I think basically Glenn’s decision is a very good one and it might free us to read every new text without any relation to the person writing it. If I wouldn’t have to comment about it I simply can read on and look it if it really gets me. No BlaBla, oh what an interesting text again.

    I think text in every form of incarnation is more important than the personal stuff. In this regard I also want to object to Glenn: it is not in any case personal. Any text might be much more useful if we abstract from the person who produces it and /or if we free ourselves somehow from our individual relation to the author.

    One could even go as far to anonymize texts. One would recognize after a while certain features, of course, of a writer, but it would be interesting what would happen if texts would consequently be freed of any hint to its author besides what is written in them.

    One could even think that people would write much more freely because they are freed, for example, from the threat of being embarrassed, criticised, or the expectation of more ego-stroking.

    What if someone would go through the texts on this blog, and there would be no authors, only abstracts, and s/he would have to choose from them?

    What if I read this text without knowing the author?:

    This is not the manifesto of a movement, but rather the expression, among other things, of someone determined to expose a façade, signing the expiration warrant of a doctrine composed in the language of dreams, preferring a speech disheveled by the wind and pitted with holes, but with the kind of authority that a ruin cannot help but have and that no mere movement can ever possess.

    I would be forced to think about it and if it really has to say something because I hear the famous name ringing in my ears.

    Also I would say “remain substantive” has to with this too. Substantive critique can be the best critique and the most devastating. It must target the vital spots. Ad hominem is laughable as long it is not real blood which flows. The real blood of a text is its argumentative structure, or its poetical force, or its sheer allusive suggestiveness which triggers the reader wether the author meant it or not.

  25. Matthias (#22) and readers generally:

    I cannot possibly begin to tell all of you readers how liberated I will feel not waking up to comments like Matthias’s here. It’s not that the comment is critical. By far the most exhilarating time spent here has been responding to intelligent criticism. No, the comment is tedious. It is tedious to a degree that I don’t even experience with undergraduate college students.

    Part of this blogging experiment has been to see how people with specialist training in Buddhist studies and other humanities disciplines and those without either might mutually benefit one another. Even when I worked in the mainstream university system I attempted to bridge the gap between specialists and intelligent non-specialists. We have people writing and commenting here, some on a regular basis, with Ph.D.s in, for instance, philosophy (3), psychology (5 that I know of), English literature (3), Buddhist studies (3), mathematics, and the sciences (3). We have also had traditional monks and teachers comment here. And then, mostly, we’ve had non-specialists with an interest in x-buddhism. Maybe that part of it, that mix, caused some of the teetering we’re experiencing now.

    I’ll try to make my points clear and succinct.

    And so it suddenly imploded.

    Step One. Matthias: What is happening here?
    Glenn: Making room.
    Step Two. Matthias: And how do you feel about it?
    Glenn: Great: A bit disappointed—but relieved!

    Step One. Glenn: What is happening here?
    Matthias: An implosion.
    Step Two. Glenn: And how do you feel about it?
    Matthias: _____.

    It might feel like an implosion to you, Matthias. To me it feels like a decluttering. As with all things, the metaphors we choose are very revealing about the personal, not the universal.

    Now, again, you will ask me why I couldn’t stop to engage with Tom Pepper.

    If you want to know my opinion, you are fixated on Tom Pepper pure and simple. I don’t know if you intended what you wrote here to be an explanation, but it strikes me as an evasion. But I’ll leave that to you to sort out. Regarding Tom—and me, for that matter—you come across as someone like Jeffery Moussaieff Masson. If you don’t know his story, you might want to look him up. He’s a sort of classic daddy-fixated figure. His basic pattern is, first absorb daddy’s wisdom, then tear it down. He did this with people like Paul Brunton, Freud, his own father, and a few others. He’s an interesting person.

    By the way, I mean “fixated” in the colloquial sense. But you might also want to look into the psychoanalytical idea of “transference.” I mean that sincerely. But with that, I hope you’ll permit me just a bit of sarcasm, too: Maybe your defender Luis Daniel #21 can help, now that he’s “reading The Psychoanalytic Mind. From Freud to Philosophy by Marcia Cavell.” (With defenders like Luis Daniel, who needs detractors?!)

    your act of crowning of the new Rinzai might very well be an act within this play of the power structure which emerged here. It is a peculiar one and it really astonished me. For some time I thought you just won’t engage with Tom because of his forseeable dysfunctional reactions to critique. Now I think it might be possible that you really dream about a new Rinzai.

    Your inability to grasp the irony in play here is nothing short of astounding to me. That fact that it “astonished” you makes it all the more deplorable. In fact, for the record, it was the final straw for me in pulling the plug on the comments for now. If even our most intelligent readers miss irony, jokes, subtleties, allusions, references, plays on tradition, in short, the more nuanced features of critique, then it’s time to retreat into the workshop and try again.

    Maybe this can help: Matthias Steingass is Shugden. When I say that, I am not “crowning” you anything. I am playing with—Jesus, do I really have to explain!—I am playing with the fact that the material of our critique, x-buddhism, holds up these figures as exemplars of particular forms and functions of wisdom, and then it disables those forms and functions via something like a an absorption-apotheosis. Thus, neither is saying “Matthias is Shugden” to “romanticize potentially destructive elements.” “Matthias is Shugden” is a kind of joke. But a joke that, like all good jokes, makes a serious point. The point—Jesus, do I really have to explain!—is mostly about tradition, the object of critique; and it is partly about how a person can be seen to function within that critique. Remember, it’s immanent critique. It is submerged in the material it aims to expose. The two are in close, even intimate, relation. Maybe someone else can take a stab at making this point to Matthias. The point is so obvious to me that I am, apparently, having difficulty. But maybe there is something to the fact that even intelligent readers are missing it. Maybe it requires a post!

    I am guilty of a stark missinterpretation of some thing you say in your inaugurational text: (in my words) It might be – if we truly get a new handle on Buddhist material – that we might render it unrecognizable.

    You seem to have understood a good deal, and not understood certain important features.

    {As for Tom Pepper: look if he really produces something new.
    If he doesn’t, remember the word about killing the Protagonist. Just shoot him in his head and move on.

    Do it already, Matthias! Take your own advice. What are you waiting for?

    Matthias (#24):

    I think text in every form of incarnation is more important than the personal stuff. In this regard I also want to object to Glenn: it is not in any case personal. Any text might be much more useful if we abstract from the person who produces it and /or if we free ourselves somehow from our individual relation to the author.

    I am saying—Jesus, do I really have to explain!—that your response to the text is always personal! Oy…

  26. oh oh – finally triggered

  27. No, Matthias (#26), nothing was “triggered” here. I’ve said it all before, to you and others, either directly or indirectly. This need for constant repetition and clarification is exactly what I mean by tedious.

  28. fionnchu said

    May I say thanks to Glenn and colleagues for the ride (so far); the fact the rollercoaster’s stalled midway makes it all the more a thrill. As newbie observer more than participant, this blog found me at the right time (the teacher enters when you need one) last year. Glenn welcomed me, Matthias thanked me when I shared a post. I appreciate that, as a punk-reared outlier peeking in. While my own earnest efforts to rouse response about Buddhist anarchism (vis-a-vis “A Spectre Is Haunting Buddhism” recently) met with total silence, at least they’re up here, archived. SN-B will eat itself. Website as burned-over district.

    Certainly others will dig through these ruins of treasure to ponder the flash-fried or freeze-stiffened shards. Reminds me of Beckett’s “How It Is” as I continue slogging through my/our phenomenological mire. Here’s one Ph.D. (English lit) who comes to and away from SN-B somewhat weary and wary but stimulated, like a passenger stumbling off the rickety contraption back onto terra (in)firma. Pax vobiscum.

  29. tomo said

    Only just got started here but can see the logic in your deicision. Even with best inentions I was in the crowd that was using this as a quick and easy way to chime in on the topics without having to invest the time or effort to create a space of my own / that I had to own. It’s like taking a nasty shit at your neighbours place – it’s healthy, and makes sense, but isn’t really good for them.

    In regards to the new don’t comment page:

    Finally, the accumulation of comments by obviously intelligent readers who were nonetheless not very sophisticated thinkers made me doubt the value of mixed-audience blogging.

    Without any sarcasm: if you have a short primer or field guide to better logical or critical thinking, could you post it up? I’m an x-buddhist educated, mostly unremarkable thinker. I’d love something to help get my head around the necessary topics to be a better contributor in spaces like this.

  30. Patrick said

    Matthias, RE #24 you may be right…we’ll see…but I think there was something valuable here despite the difficulty or even because of it ..for me at least

  31. Patrick said

    Craig ,
    Like Glen those two lines from ‘dusty porch’ are my favorite… don’t stop writing lines like that!…keep the sound as it is though!…Hope to hear more soon …although I know it don’t come easy brother!

  32. Craig said

    Patrick,

    Thank you so much. The fact that you and Glenn listened and even noticed lyrics means a lot and is much, much appreciated. I will remember your words of ‘keep the sound’ when I think my sound is not so good. This positive feedback has got me motivated to record and post more stuff in the near future. Also, a great thanks for your contributions here and on other blogs. Great stuff for me to chew on. See you in on the blogosphere!

    May all be well with you.

    Craig

  33. jonah said

    Glenn #20: That’s just the kind of mistake someone who was trying to cover their tracks might intentionally make…

    and All, on the eve of The End:

    Thanks for all the goodness. I myself never got too frustrated by all the, er, heated discourse–but I wasn’t part of it, and I guess I can see how it could get exhausting. Whichever way, I can say that I’ve learned more from you all arguing the same things over and over in various threads (and even generously responding to my occasional questions (part of that non-thinker comment accrual, I guess, without the intelligence part–whoops)) than I have from a lot of–most–other places. For better or for worse.

    So thanks, again, for sharing all the knowledge/love/questions/etc. I look forward to more jams being kicked out (motherfuckers), somewhere, some day.

  34. Liam said

    Hi Glenn, and everyone else. I am an ex-Buddhist (rather than an “x-Buddhist”). I came across this blog just a few days ago. While I obviously don’t agree with everything, I think it’s a treasure house of sophisticated, independent thought, much of it very insightful.

    I was looking forward to contributing, but it’s your show, and I understand that it getting involved in online debate can get time consuming and tiresome.

  35. Alan said

    Jonah #33: Ditto

  36. Patrick, #30. I hope there will be some kind of reflection about this blog and its project in the future. About its values and about its aporias. CU sometime in another world.

    Fionnchu #28. That was an interesting contribution in this thread, as from others too. You posted some links which did not work. Snyder’s Buddhist Anarchism for example can you post it again?

  37. Jonah (#33).

    It’s true, what you say–and yet it’s not!

  38. […] which in itself was an evolution of a discussion/struggle which found its end in a thread at the blog Speculative […]

  39. […] utilizing his background in naturalism that are not pro-Buddhist and that do not have the usual ‘loaded dice’ that Glenn speaks of. They take the form of the sorts of questions that I myself have posed, and […]

  40. […] utilizing his background in naturalism that are not pro-Buddhist and that do not have the usual ‘loaded dice’ that Glenn speaks of. They take the form of the sorts of questions that I myself have posed, and […]

  41. […] Back in May 2013, Glenn Wallis listed pieces of advice they’d received regarding the non-Buddhism project, a subtext of which was the advice that they should “do something productive.” I’m paraphrasing here, mostly points #1 and #4 of that piece that call on the non-Buddhists to be “substantive” and “address alternatives.” This sort of reaction to criticism, this advice that one should “do something,” is one I’ve seen in other contexts, and it’s one that always gives me pause. […]

  42. [Oi, peeps. That http://www.djbuddha.org is s good blog. have a look. My comment to the post:]

    Hi Scott. I fully agree with you; with, for example:

    I’d argue that it is not the critic’s job to come up with alternatives. Rather, the critic’s job is criticism. This isn’t to say that the critic shouldn’t offer alternatives; maybe s/he should. But this is not the critic’s responsibility. It is the responsibility of those who have a vested interest in the systems being criticized to come up with alternatives.

    About being late to the party–well, it’s just beginning! I just made some punch and spiked it with booze and acid. I also left a bunch of noise-makers for the revelers. So, let the party begin!

    Seriously, one reason that I am going away is that as long as I am shooting off my big mouth, people just listen (or don’t, or just pretend not to). I want people to think through the issues of creation that you talk about in your post. The key work is, as always, think.

    I see you’re at the Institute of Buddhist Studies. Please give Richard a warm hello. I’m at a Buddhist-inspired institute, too. Maybe we can compare notes sometime.

    You probably know about these blogs similar to mine, but just in case: The Non-Buddhist, The Faithful Buddhist, and Tutteji Wachtmeister.

    Anyway, good luck with your work.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

 
%d bloggers like this: