Is Explication the Root of X-Buddhist Stupidity?

Explication is the annihilation of one mind by another…whoever teaches without emancipating stultifies.” –Jacques Rancière, The Ignorant Schoolmaster

A good teacher imparts a satisfactory explanation. A great teacher disturbs, unsettles, invites argumentation. –Richard Sennett, The Craftsman

X-buddhists easily throw around phrases like innate intelligence, the dawning of insight, inborn clarity, natural wisdom, pure mind, fundamental buddha nature, and so on. Apart from revealing the (perverse) pervasiveness of atman in x-buddhism, such phrases would seem to entail a deeply-rooted conviction among x-buddhists concerning the capacity of people to know and understand. Yet, the opposite is true. Contemporary x-buddhist teachers harbor a profound cynicism regarding ordinary people’s ability to arrive at significant insight into exigent human matters. This intelligence-phobic cynicism is founded on a teacher-student model that has accompanied x-buddhism from its inception down to the present day, from Shakyamuni Buddha to Stephen Batchelor.

The x-buddhist model is, in short, that of the master explicator. The most basic assumption behind this model is that there are two types of people: ignorant and enlightened. The latter are the teachers, the former are the students. The protagonist of the Pali canon, the Buddha (a literary figure), certainly appears to be a master explicator par excellence. Yet, there are good source materials to suggest another model.

I am thinking, for instance, of the ancient initiation “ritual,” which, in apparent mockery of the labyrinthine Vedic rite, consisted merely in the Buddha’s uttering to the prospective newcomer “come and see!” (ehi passa). The Kalama Sutta offers lines of exploration for an alternative model, too. The Anapanasati Sutta, in my estimation, is very promising in this regard. Zen literature, too, has some unruly people throwing potent stink bombs under the Patriarchs’ thrones.

The problem with primary x-buddhist materials though–from the Pali canon to current Wisdom Publishing books–is that they are always self-censuring. No sooner does the Buddha say “come and see!” then he starts rambling on about what, precisely, you should be seeing. No sooner does the Buddha figure encourage the Kalamas to “know for yourselves” then he tediously explicates what it is they must, in fact, know. The same can be said for current teachers. Even those preaching the value of doubt and skepticism–of “not-knowing”–inevitably lapse into definitive explication.

If you have an example to the contrary, please send it along to me via the comments. But before you do, look closely at your example with an eye to the often subtle distinction between rhetoric and reality. As I’ve said, there is a thread of self-reliance running throughout x-buddhism. Many current x-buddhist figures weave this thread into their teachings. If you look more closely, however, I think you will discover that this thread eventually fades into x-buddhist positivism or, in a phrase, into dharmic explication. What I am describing, in other words, is an absolute x-buddhist rhetorical device, one that is so certain, so predictable and inevitable, as to constitute a sine qua non of x-buddhist communication. Nowhere in the textual history of x-buddhism are the seeds of “innate” intelligence permitted to sprout. Or, put the other way around, their sprouting invariably takes the form of the very explication. The reason is that this potential is always, without a single exception, determined by the logic of two intelligences: inferior vs. superior. In x-buddhist terms, that of the ignorant and that of the enlightened.

Readers may be asking themselves, “And what’s wrong with that? Some people are more intelligent than others. So, why shouldn’t they determine the shape of things?”

In The Ignorant Schoolmaster, Jacques Rancière tells the story of Joseph Jacotot (1770-1840). In 1818, Jacotot had been invited by the  King of the Netherlands to lecture in French literature at Louvain. Thinking it would amount to a protracted vacation after the tumult surrounding the return of the Bourbons to power (Jacotot had been a minister under the Convention), he accepted. What he found instead of rest and relaxation, however, was an exhilarating “intellectual adventure” (1). For, Jacotot knew no Flemish and his students knew no French.

Determined to engage the students nonetheless, Jacotot gave careful thought to the matter. He concluded that, in the first instance, “the minimal link of a thing in common had to be established between himself and them” (2). It just so happened that a French-Flemish bilingual edition of Fénelon’s Télémaque was coming out in nearby Belgium. This would do. He had the book delivered to his students, and, through an interpreter, asked them to refer to the Flemish text only as a means to understand the French. He had them work hard at it. He provided the environment for learning, but they did all the work. Those students who had the self-motivation to persist to the end were then asked to write, in French, a detailed account of Télémaque. The results were nearly impossible to grasp, given the counter-intuitive nature of the experiment. Rancière quotes an early commentator:

He expected horrendous barbarisms, or maybe a complete inability to perform. How could these young people, deprived of explanation, understand and resolve the difficulties of a language entirely new to them? No matter! He had to find out where the route opened by chance had taken them, what had been the results of that desperate empiricism. And how surprised he was to discover that the students, left to themselves, managed this difficult step as well as many French could have done! Was wanting all that was necessary for doing? Were all men virtually capable of understanding what others had done and understood? (2)

Deprived of explanation. Left to themselves. These are the keys to understanding what Jacotot would come to call his method of “universal education.” Let’s leave aside the question of whether Jacotot’s method is an adequate pedagogical approach across disciplines. My contention is that his method has great value precisely in relation to the kind of knowledge in which x-buddhism ostensibly deals: acute insight into human subjective experience. But what stands in the way of the adoption of this method by x-buddhist communities is a pernicious hindrance, the same one that Jacotot had to circumvent before realizing his method of effective education. The prevalent model of x-buddhist teacher is that of the stultifying explicator. Read this account from The Ignorant Schoolmaster and see if you don’t find a clear image of the x-buddhist teacher.

The stultifier is not an aged obtuse master who crams his students’ skulls full of poorly digested knowledge, or a malignant character mouthing half-truths in order to shore up his power and the social order. On the contrary, he is all the more efficacious because he is knowledgeable, enlightened, and of good faith. The more he knows, the more evident to him is the distance between his knowledge and the ignorance of the ignorant ones. The more he is enlightened, the more evident he finds the difference between groping blindly and searching methodically, the more he will insist on substituting the spirit of the letter, the clarity of explications for the authority of the book. Above all, he will say, the student must understand, and for that we must explain better. Such is the concern of the enlightened pedagogue: does the little one understand? He doesn’t understand. I will find new ways to explain it to him, ways more rigorous in principle, more attractive in form – and I will verify that he has understood. (7)

The master explicator operates by deploying the countless examples derived from tradition, typically as recorded in authoritative books, books from which there is no escape. In any case, the explication, derived as it is from the master’s superior knowledge, wisdom, and experience, always prevails over the insights of the inferior intelligence, that of the student. For Rancière, this priority of one intelligence over another constitutes stultification–stupid-making. Yet, Jacotot’s experiment succeeded precisely because the teacher refused to instruct, relying instead on, indeed, insisting on, the intelligence of the students. This reversal of the received pedagogical image raises two crucial questions: “Were the schoolmaster’s explications therefore superfluous? Or, if they weren’t, to whom and for what were they useful?” (4) The quick answer to the first question is: yes, wholly. The answer to the second is: to the status quo and to those who benefit from its maintenance.

Can you imagine what would happen if x-buddhist teachers began to relinquish their roles as master explicators?  Put another way, can you imagine the changes that would occur if x-buddhist teachers began to value the intelligence of practitioners? It would, I imagine, lead to a complete re-ordering of every aspect of x-buddhist community. Virtually nothing would remain as it is. I would predict that all of these changes would result, in the first instance, from removing the mechanism through which x-buddhists are made stupid: master explication. First, though, we need more critical work that uncovers that mechanism. Toward that end, we can consider Rancière’s somewhat complex depiction of the all-too-subtle means through which stultification takes place. It should be easy to see the application of this depiction for x-buddhist modes of explication. (“Book” works well, but you might also read it as “proposition, idea, claim,” and so on.)

Consider, for example, a book in the hands of a student. The book is made up of a series of reasonings designed to make a student understand some material. But now the schoolmaster opens his mouth to explain the book. He makes a series of reasonings in order to explain the series of reasonings that constitute the book. But why should the book need such help? Instead of paying for an explicator, couldn’t a father simply give the book to his son and the child understand directly the reasonings of the book? And if he doesn’t understand them, why would he be any more likely to understand the reasonings that would explain to him what he hasn’t understood? Are those reasonings of a different nature? And if so, wouldn’t it be necessary to explain the way in which to understand them?

So the logic of explication calls for the principle of a regression ad infinitum: there is no reason for the redoubling of reasonings ever to stop. What brings an end to the regression and gives the system its foundation is simply that the explicator is the sole judge of the point when the explication is itself explicated. He is the sole judge of that, in itself, dizzying question: has the student understood the reasonings that teach him to understand the reasonings? This is what the master has over the father: how could the father be certain that the child has understood the book’s reasonings? What is missing for the father, what will always be missing in the trio he forms with the child and the book, is the singular art of the explicator: the art of distance. The master’s secret is to know how to recognize the distance between the taught material and the person being instructed, the distance also between learning and understanding. The explicator sets up and abolishes this distance—deploys it and reabsorbs it in the fullness of his speech. (4-5)

This account explains so much about how x-buddhism operates in our twenty-first century West. I’m sure you can see that for yourself. I’d just like to draw out one implication.

As the picture shows, what establishes the distance between explicator and student–between sensei and you–is that the former is authorized to think and you are not. (What sensei is doing, of course, does not really constitute thinking since his explications are a result of his institutionally authenticated mastery of the prescribed line of reasoning of Y, and not of his own labor of thought.) This fact reminds me of that scene in the movie Slumdog Millionaire. Remember? Jamal is an impoverished and uneducated chai wallah. Yet, his observant wanderings around the slums of Mumbai result in his acquisition of vast knowledge. He eventually finds himself on the TV game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? His tremendous success on the show raises suspicious of fraud or of his cheating. For, as the police captain asks one of his subordinates: “What the hell can a slumdog possibly know?” To which Jamal, overhearing this, replies: “the answers.”

Rancière, Jacques, The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991 [first published 1987]).

See also Mitra’s Hole-in-the-Wall experiments, which indirectly inspired the movie Slumdog Millionaire.

38 responses to “Is Explication the Root of X-Buddhist Stupidity?”

  1. wtpepper Avatar

    Interesting post. I always think of this in terms of Jameson’s distinction between “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” criticism. The intrinsic critic seeks to redouble and intensify the “official” message of the text, smoothing over the gaps and difficulties and trying to convince the student that this is a final and complete answer to everything. The extrinsic critic seeks to point out those gaps, failures and aporia, to demonstrate that more thinking can still be done, that the supposed “solution” needs more work.

    On the other hand, it is important to be careful of giving students too much free reign. The postmodern assumption that every belief is equally true, and every opinion is good, is an even worse kind of oppression than the oppression of the explicator/intrinsic critic. If any assertion of a truth is seen as an act of violent oppression, we forget that the failure to think at all, the discouragement of real thought, is how oppression really works best in our society.

    I would say that most of the time students today (and not just students) have been too encouraged to assume that their uniformed and naive impressions are “just as good” as anything the experts tell them. So we have idiots refusing to vaccinate their children, proclaiming that acupuncture can cure cancer…all the way to claims from functionally illiterate students that their subjective impressions of a text are “just as valid” as anyone else’s–even if they don’t know what any of the words mean, and can’t literally read the sentences. You get that all the time here, right? People who shout that you are wrong, with cheap neoliberal rhetoric but no argument or evidence, and become angry when you ask them to actually consider the argument they are dismissing, or look at the evidence for themselves. They can just assert that they are right, and you are oppressing them by suggesting they consider an opposing argument, or even account for the glaring contradiction in their own.

    I’m not such a fan of Slum Dog myself. Sure, he knows the answers, but they are answers to the questions of the Other. He still can’t pose new questions, and look, now he’s rich! So, if one is just a good enough (mindful enough?) slum-dwellere, he will attain instant imaginary plenitude. I find the movie offensive and depressing.

  2. matthewmgioia Avatar

    Tom, your bit about “the postmodern assumption…” is right on the mark as usual, but I think it’s out of place here. The point is about pedagogical method (or, lack thereof – “non-pedagogy”?) Jacotot, by necessity, gave his students nearly free reign. Apparently, they produced work that satisfied him greatly. There is no indication in Glenn’s post that Jacotot was under the influence of the postmodern assumption of the equality of all views (he would have been ahead of his time!), and therefore it seems fair to say that the products his students produced were accurate in his estimation. I know you are a professor; did the promotion of this non-pedagogy threaten you? I have no idea how you actually teach your classes, but the point of the post as I read it is that the best results are achieved when a student/learner is left to his devices, fully trusted, expected to be competent, given that the he is eager. This doesn’t mean that feedback must be withheld though, I think.

    Glenn, really interesting post. I agree that explication is the root (or one of them) of x-buddhist stupidity, and I would add it is also one of the roots of stupidity in general, considering that most of us have been compelled through an educational paradigm based on authority and instruction. Jacotot’s pedagogy calls to mind Sudbury Schools; do you know them?

  3. wtpepper Avatar

    Nice rhetorical strategy there, Matt–I’m a professor, so I must be threatened by these radicals because I’m secretly a conservative old teacher, so you can just dismiss anything I say? As you say, you don’t know anything about how I teach, so how bout we drop the ad-hominem argument against your fictional version of me? And no, I’m not actually a professor anymore.

    I didn’t want to get into Jacotot, who was a complete fucking moron, and was just pointing out one danger, in our pomo world, of this kind of non-directive teaching. For Jacotot, since the truth was in each student’s soul, direct from God, and had only to be let free, nobody needed much instruction. And, surprise, his best students always wound up thinking exactly what he did (their products were “accurate”? what does accuracy have to do with real thought?). The real lesson is that given the right material conditions, all your students will wind up repeating exactly the hegemonic position. And certainly, that happens most of the time.

    Non-pedagogy is pretty much what happens now in most schools anyway. No need to be threatened by it, unless you want people to learn to think and change the world.

    I remember having to read Jacotot’s nonsense in education classes thirty years ago. I haven’t changed my position on him. His neo-platonist emancipation of the soul is just more Romantic ideology. Concepts are socially produced, not already existing in the soul, and nobody would ever arrive at most of the currently existing scientific concepts just by self-directed exploration–they are not already in anyone’s “soul”, but produced by social practices, and can only be learned socially.

    Sorry, as I said, I was going to leave aside the stupidity of Jacotot and just focus on the present-day difficulty.

    I’d agree that students can actually learn better when they have an open question instead of preformed answers to commit to memory, but that’s a whole different issue, and assumes that truths always appear in a World, and that some Worlds are better than others.

  4. Whimsy Leigh Avatar
    Whimsy Leigh

    In an experiment, first-graders were handed paper and materials for drawing, then asked to make a simple illustration of a bird in flight. The drawings were collected and put aside. The children were then instructed by an expert who drew a (rudimentary) bird for them on the blackboard while talking about ‘the fundamentals’ of drawing. The children were then given more paper and asked to try again at the bird. Later, the two sets of drawings were compared. The former set of drawings were inspired, beautiful, free-flowing inventions of a bird in flight. The second set, inscrutable, stultified lines. Artists looked at the two sets of drawings, cold. The lack of inspiration was glaringly obvious, without prompt. Children learned that they needed to copy mastery, not indulge creative inclinations. (If they don’t want to make fools of themselves, that is–because that’s what stops the creativity–fear of reprisal, ridicule, rejection, humiliation, isolation…)

    Buddhists muttering mantras under their breath at top speed because they hope that after 800,000 of them things will magically change, don’t have to do the work of thinking, they just need to keep mumbling and rolling around on the floor. Catholics don’t need to read the bible, a male ruminant in a dress does that for them. They don’t need to do any soul-searching, they need to go to confession instead, and do penance.

    The teacher as a guide, instead of an instructor, is not a dynamic that finds a home in the academic milieu, nor out there among the religious ranks. It’s tacit that the student knows nothing, is a sinner, is ignorant, riddled with discursive habits and in need of expert assistance and instruction from a qualified teacher.

    Two big problems in the dynamic here are the elevation of assholes to positions of power and the obsequious inclinations of those who put them there, whether by vote or fanciful thinking. They are the obstacles to visionary learning and thinking.

  5. Tutte Wachtmeister Dai Osho Avatar

    Tom #3,
    I know you’ve been teaching some kind of Buddhist Sunday school. Any ideas on how to teach Buddhism in a better way than is on offer on the x-buddhist market?

  6. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Matthew (#2). I did attend a Sudbury-inspired school for high school. The school was founded on the Sudbury Model, but deviated here and there. If anything, the deviations produced an even less structured environment than “pure” Sudbury schools.

    Tom (#3). I agree with you about Jacotot, on the whole. He was very much a man of the Enlightenment, and in the typical (crypto-Catholic) French style at that. I certainly do not agree–who could?–with his first two principles of universal education–that all intelligences are equal and that God is what’s behind our capacity to figure shit out for ourselves. But his experiment produced interesting results regardless of these beliefs. His neo-Platonist beliefs didn’t–and don’t–matter to me. I am just curious about the line of thought suggested by the outcome. His experiment also got Ranciere thinking along these lines. And I think they are worth following for a while. The fact that I went to a school where the teachers refused to play the role of master explicator, coupled with the fact that I conduct myself in a similar manner, whether in the classroom or the meditation hall, fuels my interest here.

  7. matthewmgioia Avatar

    Tom (#3) What I meant by saying “I don’t know how you [taught]” was that I have no intention of imagining a “fictional version” of you or of making assumptions about you – I was asking in sincerity if you felt threatened – I thought you might be, based on your statement “it is important to be careful of giving students too much free reign,” etc.

    You write,

    Non-pedagogy is pretty much what happens now in most schools anyway. No need to be threatened by it, unless you want people to learn to think and change the world.

    I think that’s incorrect. Schools teach children how to be “good Egyptians and take their place in the pyramid,” as John Taylor Gatto writes, and they do so very effectively. Comparatively, no pedagogy would be terrific.

    You also write,

    Concepts are socially produced, not already existing in the soul, and nobody would ever arrive at most of the currently existing scientific concepts just by self-directed exploration–they are not already in anyone’s “soul”, but produced by social practices, and can only be learned socially.

    I think you are missing the point. Jacotot (all I know about him comes from this post/thread) provided material and asked his students to engage with it without explication. The method of pedagogy (again, if it can be called that) is not expecting students to learn in an informational vacuum – it is relying on students’ own abilities and desire to learn. So, learning can still (as you point out, must) take place socially; what’s different is the absence of explication/authority.

  8. wtpepper Avatar

    Tutte: I don’t teach Buddhist Sunday school anymore. The sangha decided they wanted to have a “mindfulness” Sunday school based on the teachings of Think Not Hanh. I just won’t do that. I really do believe it is the worst possible thing we could do to kids.

    Kids are much more able to handle the truth than adults. What else is there to teaching them Buddhism? As I see it, the principle is to accept the social construction of our concepts, morals, conventions, and to avoid reification. Anything else (the endless Buddist lists, smells and bells, etc.) is just window dressing.

    What most people want for their children, though, is to teach them not to think, and to protect them from truth.

    Consider the drawing experiment mention by Whimsy Leigh in #4: What do we want from our children? What would count as a beautiful, artistic, and “inspired” drawing? The kind that a 6-year-old has already learned to draw, just from observing their cultural conventions (picture books, cartoons, etc.). These aren’t the child’s “inspired” depiction of some platonic idea of a bird–they are reproductions of our culture’s standard depiction. Then, offer them some instruction in what a bird really looks like, instead of the stereotyped little squiggle in a blue sky, or whatever, and what happens. Now, they try to depict reality with their discourse (art is a kind of symbolic discourse after all), and they are told they are “stultified” and uninspired. Reality has interfered with their reified, stereotyped depiction of birds, and we don’t like that at all.

    What I would suggest is to teach them bird anatomy, and let it ruin their cliched pretty pictures. When these kids start producing perfect representations of real birds, would we still say they are “inscrutable and stultified”? The art experts no doubt will–their goal is interpellation, not truth.

    Glenn: I can see why you would be frustrated with the “explicator” model of teaching. In English departments, this is the model for teaching poetry or Shakespeare. But keep in mind that the students in the experiment were not without instruction–they had a book in their hands. And that is a kind of instruction–they could learn from whoever wrote that book. All learning is part of some social practice. The real problem is the motivation part–and if the students think that the only thing they will get from doing all this work is a good grade and then everything stays as it is, if they don’t think they can find an answer to some as yet unanswered question, then why would they ever be motivated at all? That, it seems to me, is the problem to sort out. What motivated the students in this experiment? Were they motivated to please the teacher? Is that why he found their answer “accurate”? Aren’t there better motivations that this?

  9. wtpepper Avatar

    Matthew: I don’t think I’m missing the point at all. Unfortunately, I do know a bit more about Jacotot. I had a (not surprisingly, French) education professor as an undergrad who made us study him in a methods of instruction class. The students were not in any way free of either explication OR authority–they had already had quite a bit of both. And as for motivation, they were very motivated to do well for the distinguished visiting professor from France–but there is no indication they were at all interested in the book in question, none of them was eager to study this particular French text for any reason. So, motivation to behave as good students, on top of lots of authority and explication for many years…I just don’t see how that’s any different.

    But what horrifies me is that this “experiment” which never actually took place might not be “replicated,” with students who don NOT have the years of training, and have no motivation to please the teacher, with disastrous results. Free reign is a problem for most young people when it come to thought. They spend far too much time chasing down dead ends and trying to reinvent the wheel–life’s too short to have to come up with calculus from deep in your soul in every generation. It just doesn’t work like that. And nobody would ever realize that the wealth of Americans depends on the oppression of billions of wage-slaves in other countries just by being left to their own motivations–empirical facts are not in our souls, and are not in the hegemonic language we absorb from television and graphic novels. Someone will have to tell them these things.

    Matthew, you can cling to your Romantic illusions if you want, many do, but it’s a lot of nonsense and a sure way to prevent the oppressed youth of the world from getting the ability to really think and take action.

  10. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Tom (#8,9). I think “pleasing the teacher” is a horrible motivation. In fact, I think it is one that severely limits, maybe even disables, the kind of learning that I am hoping to explore. The question I am posing is fine-tuned: is explication, the unvarying model of x-buddhist pedagogy, the root of x-buddhists’ particular brand of stupidity? I followed a line of thought derived from Ranciere’s treatment of Jacotot’s experiment in this particular post. I didn’t do so because I am aligned with Jacotot’s project. Jacotot could be a fictional character as far as I am concerned. I am interested in the line of thought that his “experiment,” real or not, stimulated me to follow in considering this issue of x-buddhist modes of training/indoctrination. I just want to use the rough idea of Jacotot’s experiment to see how it might help destabilize and de-stratify a particular x-buddhist foundational slab.

    I really do wonder what would happen if this one feature–master explication–were removed from x-buddhist community practice. After all, the content of x-buddhist discourse supposedly concerns nothing other than subjective human experience. Surely, that is a field of inquiry that can dispense with the ex cathredra pronouncements of a master explicator, if ever there was one.

  11. Whimsy Leigh Avatar
    Whimsy Leigh

    TPepper #8: Re: “What I would suggest is to teach them bird anatomy, and let it ruin their cliched pretty pictures. When these kids start producing perfect representations of real birds, would we still say they are “inscrutable and stultified”? The art experts no doubt will–their goal is interpellation, not truth.”

    The experts may have the goal of interpellation, but an “outsider” artist, much like a speculative non-buddhist, sees a “truth” (whatever the hell that is) beyond the constraints of expectation, ideologies, competition, and the (Borg-collective) milieu. Children are like that too, until directed otherwise.

    According to your rhetoric, cameras should have rendered art obsolete, however, clichéd pretty pictures happen to be more interesting to look at than graphic art, for some, thank goodness. The point I was making is that expectation, competition, instruction, and ideology do not foster imagination, but you ran roughshod over that, presupposing that the child made art using the memory of cartoons and books depicting birds. Did you ever consider that maybe, just maybe, they were thinking of a bird? A real one? Interpreting it as they saw fit in that original moment, using their imagination? That when someone else entered the picture and told them “how to draw a bird” it made their next drawing sucky because the imagination had been dampened with self-doubt placed there by another? Because that was the point I made. Somehow you put my words into some neo-tech, antihumanist meat grinder and came out with those remarks, but my point remains solid. When people stop using their imaginations, we are in serious trouble.

  12. Strange Detractor (@vajramrita) Avatar

    Interesting. Some of this is similar to determining the truth value of the phrase:

    “This is an explanation”

    this determination, of course, being itself an explanation. I think there may be some logical parallels here with the liar paradox and even the ‘Gödel sentence’, but I’m not sure.

  13. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Strange Detractor (#12). Yes, a very good point. This is why I always say that x-buddhism can only explicate x-buddhism. It claims to be a specular authority, looking down onto the whole of the world–indeed, onto the cosmos–discerning the world’s patterns and forms and categories (dharma), and prescribing norms (dharma) that optimize accord (dharma) between humans and cosmos. But like Narcissus his beautiful visage, all that x-buddhism ever sees in the pond of the world is itself–its own perfect face. In short, it, and no other authority, not even ostensibly allied ones such as philosophy or psychology, determines the correctness or not of its explanations. If this is a variety of a Gödel sentence, I wonder if its crucial flaw is not one of contradiction as much as ideological opaqueness.

  14. Alan Seltzer Avatar
    Alan Seltzer

    I don’t have firsthand experience with x-buddhist teachers and “spiritual leaders” (other than through a few books), but I wonder what motivates people to seek them out. Are they looking for a “master explicator” to lead them to the promised land of “imaginary plentitude,” as Tom puts it? Some who have written here have said they have engaged with x-buddhism until they couldn’t take it anymore and left. I would imagine they are not in the majority. So one concern may be that the x-buddhist master explicators have a willing audience. That pairing would work well to maintain delusion.

    I taught high school English in a public school for twenty-five years. I don’t know how closely that domain parallels the domain of x-buddhist teaching, but I am sure there are some similarities. (One obvious difference is that I had a “captive audience.”) I’ve always had an inclination to reject the role of “master explicator,” and in the last eight or ten years of my career, I made a conscious effort to do so. Two major aspects of the student/teacher relationship that I found to be crucial are that the relationship is a very personal one and that, despite our different roles and years of acquiring knowledge, we are all learners. Tom, of course, is right that a post-modern, anything goes approach is silly (many students maintain that a poem can mean anything they want it to mean), but the position of many teachers– “My explication is right, yours is wrong. Period.”– is equally bad. Argument, persuasion, critical thinking, dialogue– none of that needs to entail “master explication.” I have been persuaded many times by my students, and I have emphasized to them that they should never accept anything I say just because I say it.

    There is much more to say about all this, and I realize there are important ideological implications, but I’ll stop for now. But how much of x-buddhist teaching applies to “x-education” in general, and vice-versa? That’s my question. The “ignorant and enlightened” fallacy seems to operate in both.

  15. Steve Lee Avatar
    Steve Lee

    There is a great story of a teacher who refuses to be an explicator in Chapter 15 of “On Becoming a Person,” by Carl Rogers. The chapter is entitled: “Student-centered Teaching as Experienced by a Participant.” The adult professionals come to a Rogers symposium expecting Rogers to explicate. He refuses. Instead, he “disturbs, unsettles, invites argumentation” but doesn’t give answers. Pissed at his failure to be “the sage on the stage,” the students ultimately take control of their learning, and when they finally approach Rogers after assuming responsibility for their own learning, they find him to be a willing collaborator in their learning, a poser of questions, not a giver of answers.

  16. Chris Chandler Avatar

    Unfortunately even Carl Rogers has been co-opted into the favorite auxilliary mind-fuck of Buddhists, i.e. ‘non-violent communication’ many of x-buddhists have certified themselves in this ‘way of communicating ‘ developed by Rosenberg who much be making a tidy fortune in franchising his ‘censored communication and groupthink techniques’ to get people to believe they are “deeply communicating” feelings, while holding ‘smiley face icon baloons’ over they heads and making sure no real emotion is every expressed again. As if it wasn’t bad enough to have x-buddhists censoring communications within their own sanghas, now they go and and censor communication outside their ‘sanghas’ and are hired by ‘local planning boards’ for example, to have people come to a ‘consensus’ i.e. predetermined outcome by the planners , to replace votes. There are much worst things x-buddhists are doing these days, than just censoring each other. They have ‘infiltrated’ into schools, universities, are handmaidens of corporations, even the military now. This is already a Brave New World with x–buddhists as the groupthink police.

    See: Leon Wieseltier: “The new Tao-Jones Index article:

    Sooo. while you all are ‘speculating’……

  17. Strange Detractor (@vajramrita) Avatar

    Glenn Wallis (#12). I agree with you on x-Buddhism, I just wonder how exclusive ‘specular authority’ is to it. Couldn’t we also say, ‘all that mathematics ever sees in the pond of the world is itself’? Mathematics, to its credit, does assert its own incompleteness, but then doesn’t Mahayana Buddhism? Graham Priest has a nice article on the Catuskoti in which he uses paraconsistent logics to affirm the possibility ‘that there are no ultimate truths being a most important one such’. Of course this is not to deny the ‘master explicators’ of Gödel and Priest in these cases.

  18. angelasumegi Avatar

    I don’t know for sure, but I think I would not have gained as much from Buddhist thought as I have or feel I have, had there been no explication whatever. The Buddha’s invitation is to “come and see” whether his teaching makes sense or is useful or beneficial for the individual, so it seems to me not unreasonable that he should make explicit what exactly it is he is inviting a person to come and see. Similarly, the injunction to the Kalamas is to “know for yourselves” whether or not the Buddha’s teaching is true or worthy of adopting – to make that decision, one needs to know explicitly what the Buddha is teaching. It is certainly possible to discover something on one’s own or know something for oneself, but we are always working with what is given us to know; we see as we have been taught to see – and then based on that, there may be those who see beyond what they have been taught, and come to knowledge beyond their subjective experience. The question is: Is explication the root of x-Buddhist stupidity? I would say not. Explication is a methodology, stupid people engage with it stupidly. The question still remains: What is the root of x-Buddhist stupidity?

    I tried to find myself on the list of x-Buddhists and I think I fall somewhere between an accommodationist and a comparativist, but it’s quite possible that I am one of the more horrible kinds – you always need a friend to tell you when you’ve got bad breath.

  19. wtpepper Avatar

    I would agree with Angelasumegi–explication is not the problem. It is essential, if we are to make any progress in thinking, to not have to start all over from learning to make fire with every generation. The explication may come from a book instead of a teacher, but it is still explication, and still part of a social system, and to fool ourselves that this is “student-directed” instead of socially constructed is a grave error. It can only lead to applauding students who “on their own” become properly interpellated into the hegemonic ideology. If the teacher feels the need to insist on the “truth” of a book, because it doesn’t make the case on its own,–to “enforce” belief with grades or testing–then that’s not really explication at all anyway. This was how I was taught American history in college–with textbooks advancing a grand narrative of America in which we have, from 1492 on, steadily increased human equality, prosperity, democracy, and knowledge, each stage having its “failings” which would be overcome eventually. The teachers role was only to insure that we repeated this narrative, in these ideological terms, in our papers and exam essays. This isn’t explication, though.

    All learning, all thought, is social (although Jacotot wouldn’t think so), and occurs in the symbolic system, not in individual souls. For this reason, we need to be brought into the discussion by someone already participating in it–or, at least, this can help make our entry easier. We could, of course, just listen until we get the “gist” of it, but that’s much more difficult, and may never work for many people. When I was teaching an “Introduction to Literature” class, I could have wasted my time doing what many of the textbooks suggest, and asking students to look “deep within” and come up with some kind of platonic definition of “true Literature”; instead, I just tell them there is no such thing, LIterature is a socially constructed practice, and then I give them some things to read explaining what counts as “LIterature” and what function this social practice was invented to serve–they could spend years (as I did) coming up with this “on their own,” and most would never get there, floundering endlessly with vague floating signifiers trying to pin down a universal definition of a term that doesn’t have one–like looking deep in their souls to divine the “true” border between Pennsylvania and Ohio or something. The real thinking comes when they then get to decide whether this is a social practice they want to participate in, whether they think it is worth perpetuating, or maybe needs some changing–and that was the paper assignment, and the focus of our reading for the semester. So yes, my “explication” of a poem by Wordsworth or a short story by Kafka is always the expert or “right” one–I can tell them what social meaning the work of literature has had, and still has–then, they can decide if this is a social meaning that is in some way contradicted by their World.

    Whenever this kind of pedagogical question comes up, it is so easily embraced by most well-intentioned folks on the left, who fail to recognize that they are just turning their students over to be educated by the dominant ideology, in the existing discourses. Then we get this kind of nonsense about children’s art being “pure expression” of their true and unconstructed experience of the world, or the Rogerian crap, even worse. Carl Rogers was so popular, IS so popular, because he is the ideal bourgeois ideologue, making psychology into a purely emotive/empathic practice, completely free of intellect, working to restore bad subjects to proper functioning as good capitalist subjects–and, of course, they do it completely by themselves! Just a touch of unexamined transference to shore up the failing big Other, and you’re a good subject again. Rogers didn’t need to be coopted by the mindfulness movement–he beat them to the punch on this one.

    If I am “threatened” by anything in this whole discussion it is the horror that purely Romantic ideology is being mistaken, once again, for some kind of escape from the horrors of capitalism–and this on a site where I really thought we would be beyond such naivete.

  20. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Strange Detractor (#17).

    I don’t think “specular authority” is exclusive to x-buddhism at all. In fact, I think it is a common, even necessary, feature of all totalizing systems of thought. It is this feature that allows the system to organize itself in a vertical relationship to other systems. Specular systems always claim the highest vantage point. The never cede that position to another. If they did, the system would eventually lie flat, horizontal to all others, and lapse into mere cultural material.

    I like the sentence fragment that comes before the one you quote:

    Madhyamikas often say that there are no ultimate truths, but then go on to enunciate some of them! –that there are no ultimate truths being a most important one such.

    Nice quote, thanks. I think I echoed that all-too-common tactic of master explicators in general and x-buddhist ones in particular in the para beginning “The problem with.” If even the Sons of Nagarjuna are prone to such a move, what can we expect from Roshi Joe Jikyo Jones?

    The Priest article can be heavy going, with all of its formal logical symbolism. But it is still readable. Readers should be able to find it here. Its title is “The Logic of Catuskoti.” It’s in Comparative Philosophy Volume 1, No. 2 (2010): 24-54. Open Access / ISSN 2151-6014

  21. Gerald Rubin Avatar

    How can one impart an understanding of concepts, phenomena, or experiences that are illogical, intangible, subjective, debatable, inconsistent with known workings of the universe, and are not understood and have not been experienced by the teacher him or herself. This is a case of the blind leading the blind, but x-Buddhist teachers are, bye and large, too invested, too confused, or too arrogant too see their own folly in all of this.

  22. Steve Lee Avatar
    Steve Lee

    Glen Wallis #9

    I really do wonder what would happen if this one feature–master explication–were removed from x-buddhist community practice. After all, the content of x-buddhist discourse supposedly concerns nothing other than subjective human experience. Surely, that is a field of inquiry that can dispense with the ex cathredra pronouncements of a master explicator, if ever there was one.

    Exactly! So, after having learned something about anicca, dukkha, and anatta–through both explication and inquiry–my current practice is to query these terms in the context of daily life.

    Here’s how it works:
    1) I have an experience that is troubling in some way
    2) When I sit the next–after having gained a minimal state of concentration–I interrogate the experience: Was my ignorance of anicca, anatta, or dukkha present? How so? If those features were present in the experience, did my ignorance cause further suffering? If that was the case, what strategy could I use in the future to become aware of all this before I added to the misery?

    Such self-discourse has been most useful. Once being made aware of the concepts of ignorance, anicca, dukkha, anatta, paticca sammupada, etc.–as TP sketches in # 19 above–I do not need a teacher to study this stuff in my own life. Of course, my understanding of the concepts can always be refined and enlarged. One of the values (to me) of your project is a way to “test out” and verify realizations that occurred to me that seemed at odd with x-buddhist “wisdom.” Example, I could never understand how dharma itself was immune from conditioned arising. My intuitive (yet scorned!) understanding of dharma has been enlarged and refined through the writings and conversations that radiate from the SNB project.

  23. Matthew Gioia Avatar

    Glenn: All systems require explication, right? Even if the system is DIY, each newcomer needs some teacher – or at least some text, presumably written by a teacher, to explain how to follow the system. Is there any Buddhism at all without explication? Or, as you say, does it “lapse into being mere cultural material?” and – why “mere”? Isn’t “cultural material,” or material that has lost its transcendental glamour, more valuable?

    Tom, what is the romantic notion you think I am clinging to? I already agreed with you that the notion that all knowledge exists inside a person’s soul is nonsensical. I support models of education that are free of master explication – not free of materials (so, of course calculus does not need to be rediscovered by each of us), not even free of explication, but free of authority and coercion. So “master” in the sense I am using it is a guardian/gatekeeper of wisdom – an authority.

    From the point of view of a student, there is a specific problem with explication. if the explicator gets it into his head that I may not be following his prescriptions – or developing my own lines of thinking alongside his explications, he will take direct action to correct, coerce, seduce, or threaten me to be different. He may firmly rebut me – if he is feisty he may even call me a stupid moron. As a last resort he may ignore or excommunicate me. This threat is at the heart of the explicator/coercive model that pervades Buddhism and most of education besides, and it may create all kinds of psychological, emotional, and intellectual obstacles for the student. So, perhaps the root of x-buddhist stupidity is not explication per se but explication from a position of authority, wherein a student relies on an expert and is thereby able to avoid difficult thinking. In other words, master explication models support laziness, and of course simultaneously enrich the master.

    Moreover, it seems that the model of master explication is simply disrespectful. Master explicators have a particular end result that they are aiming for with each student, so they need to ensure that their curricula are followed – they can’t tolerate deviation from their narratives. They do so with a clean conscience, because they are content that changing the world is more important than treating students humanely or respecting them as independent people.

    I agree with Tom that the main issue is really motivation. Does the learning of students ever move beyond the superficial when they are coerced to learn against their will, or if they are working for approval and affection? Is the root of x-Buddhist stupidity the motivation of a majority of participants to find relief from guilt and stress, and to be special? If so, could root be cut by putting an end to x-buddhist master explication?

  24. lisa Avatar

    Hello Glen,
    I agree with you and the narcissist comment #13.
    I see a ‘teacher’ as basically mouthing off for his/her OWN benefit: Using students as a ‘sounding board’ to inculcate THEMSELVES.
    Over and over again, the teacher mouths off — to be sure they ‘have it right’. Have they got the truth, the jist, the kernel. Have they had they’re own ‘ah ha’ moment today, a little better than yesterday, perhaps?

    Teachers teach for teacher. Like an obsession, this mouthing off.
    Students make a convenient mirror (water body).

  25. Gerald Rubin Avatar

    Tutte Wachtmeister Dai Osho (#5) Why did you send me a friend request on Facebook after I made such a negative comment about x-buddhist teachers (#21)?

  26. tuttewachtmeister Avatar

    Gerald (#25),
    Because I am not an x-buddhist, but a proactive, Transintegral™ teacher, always on the lookout for promising students. (If you have any further questions, please contact me directly; this is Glenn’s blog and this thread is not about my work.)

  27. Gerald Rubin Avatar

    Tuttewachtmeister (#26)
    I don’t know why you think I would be interested in Buddhism. For your matter, I consider myself to be a scholar of Buddhism and psychology. I practiced Zen but left it because I do not see that esoteric technologies have anything to offer, with the exception of working with strong emotion (e.g., Joko Beck), a practice that is discarded by a preponderance of spiritual teachers. I have looked at your blog and determined that your technologies have nothing to offer me. I remain to be convinced that anyone’s claim to enlightenment, however it is phrased or framed, has the truth of experience behind it.

  28. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Matthew (#23).

    All systems require explication, right?

    Yes, all systems require explication. The moment we open our mouths we show ourselves to be implicated in some system of thought or another. Althusser is helpful for understanding how this implication–or “appellation”–occurs. X-buddhism rhetorically presents itself as a vehicle that leads to the real. According to its own account, the material that comprises x-buddhist thought–its postulates concerning mind, reality, perception, self, etc.–is openly available. This rhetorical position is easily refutable. In fact, the x does the work of refutation because each x offers a different version of some postulate y. So the question arises: “what, then, does any given x-buddhism have on offer?” My answer is: “x-buddhism.” “The real” remains deaf and dumb, hence, indifferent to all dharmic proclamations.

    Is there any Buddhism at all without explication? Or, as you say, does it “lapse into being mere cultural material?” and – why “mere”? Isn’t “cultural material,” or material that has lost its transcendental glamour, more valuable?

    I don;t see how there could be Buddhism without explication. I can see how there would remain certain human cultural materials. These may be employed in this or that manner. But they would then belong to an assortment, an array, that could not possibly add up to a form of “Buddhism.” That’s what I am seeing, anyway.

  29. angelasumegi Avatar

    Glenn Wallis #28 said – “The real” remains deaf and dumb, hence, indifferent to all dharmic proclamations –

    Oh! Well said. The hilarity of proclaiming or denouncing or presuming the Real never fails to tickle me. I know we’re not supposed to mistake the finger for the moon, but honestly, the only thing the moon is good for is so you can see your finger or anything else you happen to be stumbling over in the dark.

    I’m quite disheartened (for the moment, anyway) to think that ALL Buddhist teachers are quite as useless as made out on this blog, and if that is the case, does half the problem of X-Buddhist stupidity rest with the teacher or the method of teaching? I think we can safely assume that the other half of the problem lies with the student. Or is there some other problematic factor that is missing – like the teaching itself, or the nature of linguistic discourse, or the structure of the human brain, or god forbid, “the real”?

  30. M. Steingass Avatar

    I think we can safely assume that the other half of the problem lies with the student. Or is there some other problematic factor that is missing – like the teaching itself …

    Both, the teacher and the student – but the teaching too.

    After wading through fifty years of documents in the shimano archive I can say (at least regarding the US Rinzai stuff), nowhere is there to be found any insight from Rinzai-Zen which helped the involved people to tackle with their problems. Just sitting seems to be just that, just sitting. At least this tradition is seriously flawed. Discard it, go on.

  31. Gerald Rubin Avatar

    Modern stories of enlightenment lack credulity and are often outright silly. At one time enlightenment was the ultimate bliss, free of suffering, filled with compassion, never aggressive. Current depictions of enlightenment are so mundane as to be hardly worth engaging in practice. Descriptors such as happiness, joy, and bliss are no longer uttered. Many “enlightened” beings exhibit a sense of anger and embattlement. Chogyam Trungpa, a 20th century figure who was the exemplary of enlightenment, was an alcoholic who demonstrated many signs of mental illness. His absurd and harmful behaviors are well documented and legend. A billion gullible people accept claims of enlightenment at face value. The x-buddhist community has 2 components, the hoards of grasping students who get nowhere with the teachings which is apparent from their comments and verbalizations, and the few people that claim to be enlightened. There are very few people that claim to reside on the path at intermediate levels of accomplishment. The suffering in most students presents itself clearly; the confusion, the lack of awareness; the disengagement, the denial of a world that is unravelling. It is scary to see the havoc that x-buddhist practice has caused in so many lives. All of the self-described “enlightened” teachers that I have seen demonstrate strong narcissistic traits or other mental pathologies. They show to have had no mental advantages that would guide a successful Buddhist practice. Suddenly someone comes into the scene from nowhere and claims to be enlightenment. At some point the dichotomy of having a few enlightened teachers, with no perceptible advantages in character structure, and hoards of grasping students has to convince one that all claims of enlightenment are fraudulent.

  32. interpretive theory Avatar

    There are too many interesting problems being raised here and they are ‘cross-contaminating’ others and I think this is creating a very loose bag of issues that are changing shape so much it’s hard to know where to intervene. Is explication inherently not a good thing? Well – this seems to have been answered in a variety of convincing ways in previous responses – but is it bad when (for example) it comes to injecting obsolete content into folks brains? Well, probably yes – but isn’t teaching any subject matter and even more advanced critical thinking skills really not much more than providing stimulation and care until students eventually catch on through some serendipitous conflation of developmental and environmental factors? The severest potential for harm is not contingent on the precise content of our heads either is it? History would suggest that most harm is done through unchecked dysfunction at the macro (socio-political) levels coupled with technically advanced and highly motivated military forces, not the stock-in-trade indirection methods of self-helpers like x-Buddhists? So isn’t this all just a tad overblown? It just might be… @WTP’s declaration that all concepts are socially constructed should not be passed over without some further discussion since that has not been settled. The cognitive trajectory between seminal, indeterminate percepts and more vivid, (intersubjective?) concepts – at least from the perspective of neurophysiology is not yet fully understood is it? Much more research I think is required on how concepts are formed in the brain to be able to assert that all conceptual thinking is socially constructed. It seems reckless not to wait until more evidence has come in before committing to a particular approach to teaching or lecturing? I am not sure how anyone coming to Buddhism would think of it in any other way than a ‘teaching’? In the same vein, a fan of the New York Giants could hardly be taken seriously if she asked for a refund on her ticket on the basis that she didn’t understand that they were an American football team? Buddhism is firmly in an ontology that has strong links with education of one sort or another, and so @Glenn is right, but it also makes me wonder why anyone feels it needs to be stated quite so explicitly? Do we really think that folk are in any danger of not recognizing Buddhism as first and foremost a teaching? And if they don’t, then how else could it be categorized? Thanks for the opportunity to comment though at some point I think it might be more useful if some of these issues could be explicated (sorry) in more detail and eventually ordered more systematically on the blog because some of the answers given seem to be worthy of clearer focus and deserve more attention and priority- esp. for your visitors that don’t have the patience to wade through the more discursive elements? Finally – the challenge then on this analysis amounts to: ‘find me a Buddhist who isn’t in the set of Buddhists and I’ll consider backing down’. In this sense, isn’t this a bit like the New York Giants fan who is stubbornly refusing to go home until she gets her refund?

  33. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Interpretive Theory (#32).

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    Do we really think that folk are in any danger of not recognizing Buddhism as first and foremost a teaching? And if they don’t, then how else could it be categorized?

    Yes. Buddhism has a long history of scrambling received categories. In ancient India, it did so by taking positions that manifestly contravened the rules of the religious game. In doing so, it was classed as part of a larger non-Brahmanical, largely atheistic, movement, called the shramana. But its tenets even created difficulties for that categorization. Skip ahead to the present day. One reason that Buddhism is so popular in the West today is the virtually unchallenged belief that Buddhism is not a religion. You must have heard it said: Buddhism is a philosophy, a way of life. Even the Dalai Lama says so! He says, for instance, that you can–in fact, should–remain a Jew or a Christian and practice Buddhism. I recently told an ex-colleague of mine–a professor of German literature, whom you’d think would know better–that I am working on a critique of Buddhism. With a look of innocent concern, like I was telling him Santa wasn’t real, he went on and on about how that’s not possible, for Buddhism is just a simple way of life. We see this premise operating in many–most? all?–of the recent western developments of x-buddhism, such as the secular forms, post-traditional, agnostic, atheist, progressive, and so on. The premise is a tricky one. It is, in fact, deceptive. It goes something like this: Buddhism is a teaching. But what it teaches is open to full view. What it teaches is just how things are. What it teaches is phenomenologically available, self-evident, empirically verifiable. Hence, it doesn’t teach so much as bring into view that which is always and already the case. It is, I believe, largely because of this rhetoric of naturalness that people are duped into views of the sort that Buddhism is not a religion/teaching/ideology/worldview. This pervasive x-buddhist rhetorical move is meant to render it–x-buddhism–impervious to criticism. The secular-buddhists are not the only ones who wear Empiricism as armor. They are also not the only ones on the current scene to hold the shield of a facile Science to protect its armor from nicks and scrapes. Hence, the necessity of some form of immanent critique.

    at some point I think it might be more useful if some of these issues could be explicated (sorry) in more detail and eventually ordered more systematically on the blog because some of the answers given seem to be worthy of clearer focus and deserve more attention and priority- esp. for your visitors that don’t have the patience to wade through the more discursive elements?

    The book Cruel Theory|Sublime Practice: Toward a Revaluation of Buddhism* serves this purpose to some extent. There is still some streamlining to do. We are thinking about gathering together some of the essays from this blog, The Non-Buddhist, The Faithful Buddhist, and non + x, for a non-buddhist reader. But, on the whole, I prefer the rhizome to the tree, chaos to order. As this post should indicate, in the end, I prefer that you wade in, get dirty, and figure shit out for yourself.

    Finally – the challenge then on this analysis amounts to: ‘find me a Buddhist who isn’t in the set of Buddhists and I’ll consider backing down’. In this sense, isn’t this a bit like the New York Giants fan who is stubbornly refusing to go home until she gets her refund?

    No. (As you wade in further, you’ll see why I answer that way.)

    *Latest word from a reader on Amazon:

    This is, perhaps ironically, a book more true to dharma than any other I have read in ages. It’s alternately scathing, funny, and deeply destabilizing but consistently heretical. Egged on by the ghosts of Artaud and EM Cioran, it’s a devastating and necessary corrective to the hybrid secular Buddhism which predominates in the US and Europe today. Huge props to Matthias Steinglass for teasing out how this Buddhism implicitly mimics the most fundamental tenets of Christian salvation.

    I’m calling 2013 the Year Punk Broke Buddhism.

  34. interpretive theory Avatar

    Glen (#33) What you’ve given here feels a bit muddled. Just because some folk are unclear as to which category Buddhism belongs to from the perspective of an analysis of faith/culture (ie. is it Hinduism? Is it Protestant? Is it Buddhist? Is it New Age/ Secular/Atheist/Indian/Thai/Tibetan and so on) doesn’t to really suggest that folk are (at the same time or subsequently) being massively indirected in terms of it’s putative, educative/non-educative/mis-educative character does it? Your specific complaint about explication (and the related remainders of obfuscation/transparency and so on) seems to hinge rather more on the general dilemmas found in education, that specifically round on deficits in educators and education of one kind or another. The points you make about educational theory, practices and the best means to impart procedural knowledge (as in guru->student) are not at all controversial, but to suggest that this is something of a problem more to x-Buddhism than anything else we might imagine that could take it’s place – IS. I am not sure that yours is an especially substantive point – there doesn’t seem to be any supplementary risk to the products of the Bayesian aspect of our functioning whether we go down the formal education routes or any guru/anarchist/x-Buddhist/snb routes. You admit in #33 that everyone thinks it is a teaching – so we agree – but your objection is that folk are being seduced into x-Buddhism as both a teaching and panacea for deficient (other) teachings – which I do recognize – and your make the point well – but then education is nothing if it is not adversarial.i agree with your other points but they seem trivial to the main thrust of your argument which is that folk are being duped because they don’t see it as a teaching. I think what you are actually wanting to make visible is something like; x-Buddhism might not be quite as good a teaching as the x-Buddhists say it is and of course that is not controversial either either in India, Greece, America or Continental Europe. I presume you have invested some time in studying Buddhism, and in this sense – I think the SNB project is pretty much along the lines of the analogy of the grievance of the New York Giants Fan isn’t it? (#32) Doesn’t SNB want everyone to see how they are getting ripped off by x-Buddhists? Fine – there are plenty of reasons to think that – but suggesting that is is because they are not seeing it as a teaching would not be an ideal candidate to demonstrate that. i would think that the thousands of dollars being asked for access to these x-buddhist masters on retreat at some exotic location would be the place to start – and then maybe their service delivery model of proprietory literature would be another maybe – I am sure there are many others too – in the meantime like you we are so busy cleaning all the muck off our boots from many years study to even think about wading in too much more – have you heard of the phrase ’tilting at windmills’? It might be worth spending some time sharpening up your critique on x-buddhism and sticking to the more obvious faults rather than spinning more convoluted arguments against it that although may have some merit, seem mostly to miss the point that x-buddhism is might actually be little more than saffronized, internalized, x-neoliberalism?

  35. wtpepper Avatar

    Re 33: I just came across a mention of Buddhism similar to your experience with the professor of German literature. In an essay on the problem of literary theory and the crisis of the humanities, entitled “Reading Dialectically,” Carolyn Lesjak addresses the problem of the recent “return to formalism”–to “close reading” and “surface reading” which claim to “just read what is really there” instead of “reducing” the text to a theory. She sees marxist ideological critique as the opposite side of this problem, assuming the abstraction, and leaving us unable to actually change anything. And then, surprisingly, Buddhism comes to the rescue, in the form of Sogyal Rinpoche’s “Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.” Buddhism, we are told, attends to the “lived experience” without forcing abstractions on us, and so can solve this current impasse. This is possible because Buddhism does not “teach” us anything, takes no position, makes now “decision” in Laruelle’s sense; instead, we are told that a reader of Sogyal’s book is not “interpellated into Buddhism” but into a “rich relationality” that is “transindividual.” We can’t critique this position, because unlike the “surface”readers OR the “deep theorists” it leaves nothing out, and sees reality just as it really is–which, apparently, is the timeless truth of our affects, which are not constructed but outside of all time and history and culture and offer us access to the ultimately eternal and true.

    I doubt this maneuver, this attempt to rescue the humanities with a little (western) Buddhism, will be as effective in English departments as it has been in psychology, but it is interesting to see that it is being attempted.

  36. Tomek Avatar

    Glenn (#33)

    The premise is a tricky one. It is, in fact, deceptive. It goes something like this: Buddhism is a teaching. But what it teaches is open to full view. What it teaches is just how things are. What it teaches is phenomenologically available, self-evident, empirically verifiable.

    Is the following a good example of the “teaching” that you mean?:

    When I give newcomers meditation instruction, I usually tell them to sit down and face the wall as if they were facing a mirror. I tell them that as they sit, their mind will automatically appear and display itself. When we sit in front of a mirror, our face automatically appears. We can’t do it right or wrong; the mirror is doing all the work. When we sit in meditation, right there in front of us is our mind. All we have to do is be willing to look and experience what comes up.

    What could be easier? The good news is you can’t miss it; it’s right there all the time; looking into the mirror your face automatically appears. The bad news is that is not at all what we were looking for when we came to practice. We are not at all happy with the version of ourselves we wake up to every morning — that’s often why we’ve come to practice. (B. Magid Ending the Pursuit of Happiness, p. 4)

  37. Alan Seltzer Avatar
    Alan Seltzer


    Do you really mean x-wife, or do you mean ex-wife?

  38. swimoutfree Avatar

    I refuse to X-plicate. You have o figure it out for yourself. Trust me, it’s to your benefit.

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: