Non-Buddhist Blotter, Anyone?

psychedelia.jpgBy Glenn Wallis

Oi, readers! I’m just going to accept comments that flow out of the critical work that is fostered on this and a few other blogs (links below). Dealing with general questions and uninformed criticism is just too fucking tedious, yo. Besides, we have now placed a veritable shit-load of texts, tools, concepts, acids, acid, and weapons of crass destruction at your disposal. It’s just a matter of your picking something up and getting on wif it.

Contrary to every single x-buddhist teacher whom I have known, read, or listened to, I actually still believe in the liberating potential of x-buddhist concepts. To unleash the force of the concepts, of course, you have to cancel their specifically x-buddhist warrant and find a way to re-commission them. Think of what you could do with re-calibrated primary classical-buddhist concepts such as requisite disappointment, flesh and blood humanity, ancestral anamnesis, vanishing, social symbolic identity, nihility, thinking, contingency, world, surface, perspicuity, unbinding-extinction (nibbida, bodhi, sati, anicca, anattā, suññtā, papañca, paticcasamuppāda, loka, sabba, paññā, nirvāṇa). Imagine the kinds of subjects and social formations that could emerge from a robust, comprehensive, and intelligent inculcation of such values.

Don’t expect x-buddhist teachers in the West to do much with these concepts, though. If I am sure of anything concerning x-buddhism, it is that its teachers have created a self-perpetuating network of safe, conventional, middle-managers. I recently witnessed a recursion of this time-tested pattern. The teacher in a Zen center that I keep my eye on “transmitted” to one of his students. He had two long-standing students to consider. One was a feisty, gutsy, super-intelligent, creative, unconventional, and out-spoken young women. The other was a plodding, fuddy-duddy of a middle-aged man. This dude is really nice. He’s really likeable. He’s a paragon of compassion and right-speech. But, my god, is he an uninspiring, rule-worshiping, lame-ass of a human being. (Don’t worry, he’s a sensei; he can handle it–right?.) So, guess who received “transmission”? Yep. Maybe what is being “transmitted” is, after all, the mind of milquetoast or the lifeblood of the anemic Patriarchs. Anyway, this is an ancient pattern in x-buddhism. It goes a long way toward accounting for the abysmal failure of x-buddhist teachers throughout history to unleash the force of their received thought. Indeed, our non-buddhist critical apparatus may make it difficult for you to avoid the sad conclusion that x-buddhist teachers, the heirs of “The Enlightened One,” simply perpetuate “a form of deep stupidity,” as Matthias Steingass put it in a recent comment.

But, then again, once you get to work for yourself, you’ll certainly make your own discoveries, and come to your own conclusions.

Patricia Ivan made a comment here that can be used to make some more points. Patricia was responding to Matthias Steingass’s comment, in part, that:

Glenn, you mentioned recently that you would like to change the discussion into something more like a workshop. I think that’s one way to go and we should think about how this this could be implemented. At least this would mean that people taking part would have to confront themselves with the material which is talked about. There are more problems to go in such a direction but personally I don’t think that this has to be discussed any more in the open. I mean, our ‘critics’ do not even see our own most weak points, our own very stupid actions. They are really not worth [letting] look at our own internal discussions. (#72)

Patricia Ivan:

Yes, a “workshop” where you train followers in using SNB tools is what you are really after, not a public conversation or debate about the tools themselves. That, in essence, is what some of are trying to say. Thank you for clarifying it. (#73)

Read in the context of Patricia’s other comments in that thread, the last line is ironic. Okay. My reply is right below, rather than in the comments section.

Yes, that’s it, Patricia. I don’t mind a conversation about the tools themselves, but it has to flow from the user’s effort to craft something in his/her workshop. (Actually, I think in the future I’ll use war metaphors. See “Sutras of Flesh and Blood.”) You can train yourself. Like IT people say of certain computer programs: the theory is “intuitive.” Its features really do a certain kind of work when applied, and its not too difficult to navigate the apparatus. Also, its easily transferable to domains of interest other than the ones we identify, including x-buddhism itself. Maybe you can use it to critique non-buddhism. But why bother? I would hope you’d use it to dig into the more important issues that you have addressed here and elsewhere, like power dynamics and abuse of  authority in x-buddhist circles.

One last point, the word “follower” only works up to a point. Obviously, by entering our arsenal, you are taking our lead. Quite early on, however, you will look back and find yourself completely and utterly on your own.

Maybe we can alleviate some of the loneliness by turning this blog into a forum for  nomads and exiles. I don’t know. Maybe. Probably not. I don’t know.

By way of trying to disabuse readers of the belief that critique is quixotic and even futile (how many times have I heard that accusation!), I’ll just throw out the claim that, no, it’s just the opposite. Critique is always the prelude to real-world change. Every new form of some x, buddhist or otherwise, began with a sufficiently sustained critique of x. Some critiques are explicit, such as, say, the Frankfurt School’s or Marx’s. Others are implicit, such as the Secular Buddhist Association’s or Dogen’s Soto Zen. (I guess we could come up with some explicit x-buddhist critiques of x-buddhism–Nagarjuna is an example–but they are, without a single exception that I am aware of, ultimately self-defeating; for x-buddhism in the hands of its x-buddhist critics, is, in some form or another, inevitably salvaged and preserved as x-buddhism. Why is that?)

I am offering a course this semester called “Topics in Theory: Ideological Critique of Contemplative Practices.” The basic idea is to read through Cruel Theory | Sublime Practice, collect concepts and ideas–in short, tools and weapons–that enable the students to critically tinker with/attack some material of their choosing. “Contemplative practice” is conceived very broadly. Students are looking at texts by, for instance, Jung, Emerson, Beckett, x-buddhist teachers, and western acupuncture figures. Another student will analyze the website presentation of the Mind and Life Institute. Another will look at a book on creative writing. One will look at mindfulness/MBSR material. This is just the starting point. a point that, really, is already in the midst of things; for, the one condition is that the student choose material that lies close to his/her heart.

I’ll share with you some texts that we read in class as a kind of rough outline for the critical work we’ll be doing in the class. The texts serve equally well for the non-buddhist-oriented work we’re encouraging you to do. The specifics can be found on our blogs, non + x articles, and book Cruel Theory | Sublime Practice: Toward a Revaluation of Buddhism.

This statement by Deleuze is a good starting point. Some of you might be offended by his imagery. Deleuze, I’m sure, wouldn’t give a shit. (Think: style and attitude as integral features of one’s critical apparatus. The Secular Buddhists’ dogma of right-speech is an example of a style. Bataille’s scatological rhetoric, etc.)

What got me by during that period was conceiving of the history of philosophy as a kind of assfuck, or what amounts to the same thing, [as] an immaculate conception. I imagined myself approaching an author from behind and giving him a child that would indeed be his but would nonetheless be monstrous.

So, please, go forth, dear Readers, and beget your very own monsters of sublime cruelty.

Here’s some shit you might want to bear in mind. Think of these concepts as bricks to use in constructing a critical image of your material. That reminds me:

A concept is a brick. It can be used to build a courthouse of reason. Or it can be thrown through the window. ― Brian Massumi, “Translator’s Foreword: Pleasures of Philosophy,” Deleuze and Guatarri, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. xii.

General concepts

[Critique] is not the promise of happiness, nor the promise of freedom. It is always immanent critique, the turning of thought back upon itself…This is the way that some of the so-called “social truth content” comes out of critique: It exposes the authority that concepts have over us. My suggestion is that one way to think about critique is in terms of looking for ways in our thinking to break the authority our thinking has over us. In that sense, there is nowhere to go outside of our own capacity to think. —Lydia Goehr

[The goal of critique] consists in wresting vital potentialities of humans from the artificial forms and static norms that subjugate them. —Marjorie Gracieuse

When someone asks ‘what’s the use of critique?’ the reply must be aggressive, since the question tries to be ironic and caustic. Critique does not serve the State or the Church, who have other concerns. It serves no established power. The use of critique is to sadden. A critique which saddens no one, that annoys no one, is not a critique. It is useful for harming stupidity, for turning stupidity into something shameful. Its only use is the exposure of all forms of baseness of thought. . . . Critique is at its most positive…as an enterprise of demystification. ―Gilles Deleuze (I replaced “philosophy” with “critique”)

Anyone who is close to him and enters into conversation with Socrates is liable to be drawn into an argument; and whatever subject you may start, you will continually be carried round and round by him, until at last you find that you have to give an account of your entire life; and when you are once entangled, he will not let you go until he has completely and thoroughly sifted you. —Plato

No one is more ridiculous than a [critic] who wants to be liked. —Friedrich Nietzsche

Critical theory at its most abstract and general level … begins as a formal ‘negativity.’ As a dissenting motif, it selects some tradition, ideological premise, or institutionalized orthodoxy for analysis. As immanent critique, it then ‘enters its object,’ so to speak, ‘boring from within.’ Provisionally accepting the methodological presuppositions, substantive premises, and truth-claims of orthodoxy as its own, immanent critique tests the postulates of orthodoxy by the latter’s own standards of proof and accuracy. Upon ‘entering’ the theory, orthodoxy’s premises and assertions are registered and certain strategic contradictions located. These contradictions are then developed according to their own logic, and at some point in this process of internal expansion, the one-sided proclamations of orthodoxy collapse as material instances and their contradictions are allowed to develop ‘naturally.’ —David L. Harvey

Destruktion/deconstruction. When tradition thus becomes master, it does so in such a way that what it “transmits” is made so inaccessible, proximally and for the most part, that it rather becomes concealed. Tradition takes what has come down to us and delivers it over to self-evidence; it blocks our access to those primordial “sources” from which the categories and concepts handed down to us have been in part quite genuinely drawn. Indeed it makes us forget that they have had such an origin, and makes us suppose that the necessity of going back to these sources is something which we need not even understand. —Martin Heidegger

Subjectivity. [In critiquing The Hunger Games,] I’m going to try to avoid the simplistic assessment of moral content, and discuss ideology in the sense I have defined the term before; specifically, what kinds of subjects do the readers of these books become by reading and enjoying them?  What is the function of the practice of reading The Hunger Games in the reproduction of the existing social formation? It is my argument that this novel serves to produce and reproduce a subject of late capitalism willing to consent to live in ignorance and delusion, happy to give up its right to live as a human subject in return for the mere fantasy of imaginary plenitude.  In the terms of the echoes of Roman Empire that run throughout the series: The Hunger Games trilogy serves to produce good slaves for the global empire of Capital. —Tom Pepper

Plenitude. In Lacanian terms, the resolution of the Oedipal complex depends upon entry into a Symbolic system.  The individual must move out of a more thorough immersion in the Imaginary and into the Symbolic system of the Other, into language.  The Imaginary, in the Lacanian sense, is the realm of bodily experience of and interaction with the world, the organization of our perceptions.  As the individual enters the Symbolic, there is a sense of loss, a sense that the language requires a level of abstraction causing us to lose some of our direct experience of the world.  This loss can generate the fantasy of “Imaginary plenitude,” the desire to return to this (never actually existing) state in which we had a direct, unconstructed, pure and “full” perception of the world, as well as the instant and effortless gratification of every wish through thought alone.  The entrance into a Symbolic order does require the acceptance of some loss, the loss of the possibilities of the nearly infinite other Symbolic structures we could have entered; in addition there is the necessary exclusion, the reality that no Symbolic system can ever fully include every possible experience of the world—a Symbolic system is always incomplete.  Accepting this loss, and entering the Symbolic system, requires containing the fantasy of Imaginary plenitude (often perceived as a female or maternal excess of threatening incoherent presence), usually with the help of the moral restrictions or code of the superego (often in the form of the forbidding law of the father).  When this works properly, we are interpellated into the ideology of our social system, and we become good subjects, working as we should, perpetuating the system that has created us. —Tom Pepper

Utopia.  Q. Why should students study utopian thought? A. Such thought requires that we, students and teachers alike, dare to ask what we mean when we use the concept “ideal”? What is it that is truly preferable? This a question and topic whose consideration enriches every current subject in modern sociology. The study of utopian thought uncovers hidden assumptions about possibilities about “human nature,” the workings of history, and the ability of humankind to craft a society and life that honors us all. It helps us better appreciate how long and hard humankind has wrestled with certain deep-reaching utopian questions of a sociological bent; e.g., how can a society provide fairly for all? How can we craft a society closer to our heart’s desire.

This work requires that we look unflinchingly at society’s dystopian aspects, both on-going and preventable possibilities…lest we be blindsided by horrific scenarios we might have avoided sharing. No amount of preventive and humanistic preparation is too much. It teaches what is necessary if we are to get there (“utopia”) from here; that is, if we are to artfully combine directed social change with valuable aspects of social stasis. Or, as Andre Gide said,”People cannot discover new lands unless they have the courage to lose sight of the shore.” — from “Utopian Thinking in Sociology: An Interview with Art Shostak”

Rhizome. Let us summarize the principal characteristics of a rhizome: unlike trees or their roots, the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature; it brings into play very different regimes of signs, and even nonsign states. The rhizome is reducible to neither the One or the multiple. It is not the One that becomes Two or even directly three, four, five etc. It is not a multiple derived from the one, or to which one is added (n+1). It is comprised not of units but of dimensions, or rather directions in motion. It has neither beginning nor end, but always a middle (milieu) from which it grows and which it overspills. It constitutes linear multiplicities with n dimensions having neither subject nor object, which can be laid out on a plane of consistency, and from which the one is always subtracted (n-1). When a multiplicity of this kind changes dimension, it necessarily changes in nature as well, undergoes a metamorphosis. Unlike a structure, which is defined by a set of points and positions, the rhizome is made only of lines; lines of segmentarity and stratification as its dimensions, and the line of flight or deterritorialization as the maximum dimension after which the multiplicity undergoes metamorphosis, changes in nature. These lines, or ligaments, should not be confused with lineages of the aborescent type, which are merely localizable linkages between points and positions…Unlike the graphic arts, drawing or photography, unlike tracings, the rhizome pertains to a map that must be produced, constructed, a map that is always detachable, connectable, reversible, modifiable,, and has multiple entrance ways and exits and its own lines of flight. (G. Deleuze and F. Guattari)

Some examples and texts:

Matthias Steingass

Tom Pepper

Tomek Idzik

Tutteji Wachtmeister

Patrick Jennings

Adam Miller

non + x

48 responses to “Non-Buddhist Blotter, Anyone?”

  1. April Avatar

    Can you clarify something for me? I am confused about the tone, context, intention of Tom Pepper’s quote regarding plentitude. Is he arguing for OR against retreat from what is being labeled imaginary (bodily experience and our relation to the world around us) into the symbolic? I want to make sure I understand that point before I wade in, comment further. Thank you.

  2. lisa Avatar

    Thanks for this. Good work/effort at putting forth/out.
    Duly noted (great bullets to get into that age old war metaphor) –and now the ‘duly noted’ placed ‘into the hopper’ –and being processed, hehe.
    ** LIke so much fodder/meat.
    — Best ‘example’ yet given to aid the speeding of a ‘like mind’ with you (and you and the iteratives).
    Thanks again.

  3. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    This is Tomek’s comment #36 from the previous post. It’s a good way to get this thread rolling, too.

    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)

  4. Tomek Avatar

    These days I tend to see such seemingly ordinary “teachings” – let’s no forget that it’s the Ordinary Mind School “lineage” – as a tacit acknowledgment of what Sellars calls “the myth of the given” and Brassier defines in Lived Experience and the Myth of the Given paper as:

    (…) the claim that certain privileged experiences possess an absolute epistemic authority that does not depend upon any other beliefs. More exactly, it is the claim that all inferential knowledge rests upon a foundation of non-inferential knowledge consisting of “self-authenticating” mental episodes through which reality is directly intuited or immediately apprehended. (p. 15)

    On the basis of the above one might think that this “absolute epistemic authority” (“mirror” in Magid’s words) is a kind of correlationists buffer that allowed phenomenologists, as writes McMahan, “to reclaim [ordinary] things from their merely instrumental value in a different way: they attempted to reestablish the primordial intimacy between persons and objects in their everyday interactions. Heidegger’s explication of things as “ready-to-hand” and Merleau-Ponty’s explications of the body’s relationship to objects both were attempts to recover the prereflective experience of the physical world from the representational model of consciousness by asserting a subpersonal and tacit intertwining of consciousness and objects.” (The Making … p. 220)

    What do you think?

  5. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    April (#1). I think that imaginary plenitude is a kind of deep-seated, unfulfillable yearning that stems from the person’s having matured out of the Imaginary stage and into the Symbolic. It’s a kind of lingering residue of a misremembered lost world. Lacan is presenting a model of human development. He’s situating subjectivity in a matrix of individual perception and dialogue with the external world. I just see Tom Pepper presenting that idea. His tone seems straight-forward indicative to me. He’s just laying it out for us. The fuller context of the quote is his essay “A Buddhist Reads The Hunger Games.”

    You can read more about Lacan’s ideas here.

  6. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Tomek (#3). Yes, that’s a good example. Magid is, to my mind, one of the best examples of the tack I referred to, namely, it’s self-evident, it’s how things are; now let me explain how the Dharma show you precisely how that is. I think my old post on “Flinching” spells out this move, common to Magid, with a specific example.

    April raised a question about Lacan. That makes me wonder about Magid’s usage of “the mirror” and Lacan’s “mirror stage.” Magid claims that we see ourselves fully in this mirror. In Lacan, the child sees his whole image in the mirror, but it is an imagined image. S/he is seeing another in the mirror, an imaginary other.

    Anyway, I have always seen Magid as an x-buddhist teacher who should know better. I had students read an article by him once, in a class on Buddhist psychology. His piece was in a collection of essays on psychoanalysis. It had to do with the metaphor of “the deep.” The gist was that the metaphor was not apt, and in fact was the basis of a good deal of error and misunderstanding. Yet, as we turned back to the book you refer to, we found depth metaphors all over the place, albeit suspiciously implicit.

  7. April Avatar

    Thank you Glenn. I did read the Hunger Games article on Tom’s blog, and am reading the Lacan paper now. Perhaps that will clarify some things. I will say that my initial confusion was whether we are being asked to retreat from the world of “bodily experience of and interaction with the world” or simply to view it in another way, perhaps without language, as the Lacan paper suggests. Isn’t this what we attempt to do with simple sitting? It is what I attempt to do. For example: Calling the breath “beautiful breath” instead of just sitting with the breath, definitely produced the “gap” that is discussed in the Lacan paper. (see below)

    I have to say that I hitch up at some of this stuff when it even hints that we retreat from bodily sensations, as if that is some higher form of truth/existence, healthy, or even possible. I think perhaps changing our relation to the body, its sensations, and its relation to the world/language is possible. Our view of it as some fixed truth could definitely use some undermining. But, from experience, I spent the last 3 decades making every attempt NOT to feel, experience sensations, or relate those to the world around me and I can tell you that is was most definitely not some higher more intelligent existence. I will also say that the whole mother/father bit of the Lacan paper seemed a bit odd, outdated, and quite frankly typical. But I did find I could very much relate to the following quote from the end of the paper:

    “There is no final fixed meaning or truth that would offer a guaranteed support to the entire system. The Other seems to be a closed, consistent system, but there is always a
    gap. We have to believe, however, that our culture corresponds to some truth, in order to live a normal life. For a psychotic person the introduction in the Symbolic Order has
    somehow failed. Therefore his relationship with this Order is not sound. Everything in the world has to be interpreted, has to fit in a plan.”

    I see the simple truth of anicca, anatta, dukkha in that quote. I also see some kernel of how to use this idea in the practical sense. Because I like the idea of “workshop,” as in talking about how we can work with/apply some of the ideas talked about on this blog and “see what happens” rather than just talking about the ideas. Let’s try them out and see if they “work.” I think for me, that is what has been missing here, application. Which is why I have stayed away. For me, I need something to work with along with the thinking part of it. Perhaps that makes me less intellectual, but quite frankly I have a busy life, as we all do…and I would like to have some of these radical ideas/tools presented and then let’s get to the business of using them and see what happens. Some instruction on how to use these ideas would speed the application along, other than just “think about things differently.”

    Just my initial thoughts. Thanks for the Lacan link, it helped very much.

  8. April Avatar

    Just a clarification in case it was not clear: the added language of “beautiful” to breath was NOT a useful addition to my practice. The language mucked it up, made it other, created a gap, the language in that instance was a terrible idea for me…it carried too much crap with it. Which I think was some of the point of the Lacan paper, no? Or did I misinterpret it?

  9. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Tomek (#4). I think it would be very interesting to apply the ideas you present in your comment to current meditation, and particularly mindfulness, rhetoric. Isn’t meditation in western-buddhism founded on the dogma of “the given”? Zinn-buddhism (aka. MBSR), is even explicit about it, with it’s talk of “pre-reflective, non-reactive, judgement-free” interaction with free-floating phenomena. I think you could do a lot with this tack you present. Can you write something up for us?

  10. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    April (#7).

    I will say that my initial confusion was whether we are being asked to retreat from the world of “bodily experience of and interaction with the world” or simply to view it in another way, perhaps without language, as the Lacan paper suggests. Isn’t this what we attempt to do with simple sitting?

    I have to admit that my grasp of Lacan is still pretty poor. But, for the sake of further conversation, I’ll try. Anyone please correct me where I get it wrong.

    Lacan is not asking anything of us. He’s presenting a model of human development whereby entrance into the Symbolic is a necessary and inevitable aspect of living within a given social order. To explain the person’s relationship to others and to the would, he looks less to bodily “reality” (such as Freud’s ideas of libido, instinct, drive, cathexis/interest, etc.) than to the role of language and ideology. I think he is saying that the acquisition of our social order’s language inevitably brings with it an irreparable break from “pure” materiality, bodily or otherwise. Our language–and all of the social, cultural, ideological, etc. ramifications that language entails–enables “reality” at the cost of “the real.” The former is our shared imagination of the world, our shared fantasy, our common mis-recognition. The latter is brute materiality, no longer knowable of expressible because of the intervening function of our specific language.

    Here’s where I think your question becomes very interesting, and worth further exploration. “Reality” can not, of course, stem “the real.” In fact, it cannot touch the real in any sense of the term whatsoever. (I think Laruelle’s notion of “radical immanence”–also called the One, the real, the Real, One-in-One, vision-in-One, determination-in-the-last-instance–must be drawn from Lacan.) Because our shared sense of reality is just that, a communally created sense, reality cannot prevent eruptions of the real into our lives. Since we have invested so much in our linguistic and ideologically saturated sense of reality, eruptions of the real have the psychological force of a violent tectonic displacement.

    Enter your question: Can a practice of silent sitting be devised that somehow, and to some degree at least, operates at this point of dynamic tension between the real and our social-linquistic conventions?

    We’ve posed a similar question before in asking whether meditation/x-buddhism can be used as a sort of science of ideology, or must it remain a function, a mechanism of inculcation into, ideology. But as you pose it, in this particular context, different lines of thought emerge. For instance, we can no longer speak of, say, “insight into” some blind spot or hidden belief or the unconscious. For, in Lacan’s thought, even the unconscious is structured by our language.

    Do you want to do some work in this area for us?

  11. April Avatar


    First let me say thank you for the further explanation of Lacan. That was very helpful, and indeed confirms what I thought I was getting out of his general idea. (Never mind the weird/dated mother-child-father stuff…which is another conversation entirely. As in, where are the modern day Lacan’s that speak/investigate ideology of systems without the baggage of dated cultural/gender/sexual stereotyping? Although no way around these ideologies, current ones might be more useful.)

    Second I would say I think I understand what you are exploring about the “real” vs. “reality.” Reality we create endlessly from the momentary real that shows up…so much so that in fact that we often miss, or immediately ignore the real. Even here language gets in the way. But, I would offer the suggestion that, although it seems counterintuitive, the arts: music, poetry, painting, dance etc…may do a better job of getting closer to the real than prose explanation. Or maybe it does a better job of evoking the real, through the use of a “slanted” reality. I think very often “imagination” gets thrown out with the bath water. There is a process by which we can use imagination, without completely buying into the imaginary world. (I also think that the topic of sex/sexuality gets ignored by Buddhism (x and non) because of the ethics layered on and because of this idea that it must be “craving” instead of it also being the “real”…but again that is another conversation…but one worth having, somewhere, at some point.)

    In what way to do you suggest I “work with this.” Through meditation, writing, both. Just wanting to clarify you idea of “work with.” And, I am assuming you mean exploring the relationship between our “reality/language” and the “real?” If that is what you are suggesting, I like this idea. It is one that Adam and I have regular conversations about. In fact, I found out last night that he is very knowledgable about Lacan.

    Also let me say that I appreciate you approaching my questions as though I may be intelligent and capable of understanding, even if I may still be trying to understand…it is refreshing.

  12. Alan Seltzer Avatar
    Alan Seltzer

    Glenn (#10), April (#11)

    Fascinating discussion. I don’t really see a way, including meditation or art, to directly encounter “the real.” Doesn’t ideology, language, socially constructed mind, symbolic system necessarily preclude the possibility? And even if we were somehow to encounter “the real” directly, how would we know it is “the real” and not “reality”? Would encountering “the real” be something like experiencing the truth of death or extinction, for example? I tend to think of one aspect of sitting practice as gaining insight into “the reality” as ideology (not that I’ve gotten that insight!). At the same time, it would seem that “the real” would be one cause of “the reality.” So, Glenn, I’m not sure what you mean by “eruptions of the real” and “their psychological force”– do you mean, for example, deterioration of the body and death? What is the “point of dynamic tension between the real and our social-linguistic conventions”? (I’m not sure how clearly I’m expressing myself here; these are just first reactions.)

    Regarding introductory material on Lacan, several books have been mentioned in comments on the current post on Tom’s blog, including ones by Bruce Fink, Lionel Bailly, and Malcolm Bowie. Based on Amazon reviews (for what they’re worth), they sound interesting. I found a book by Bowie called Freud, Proust, and Lacan: Theory as Fiction. I’m reading Proust now, so I ordered a copy of that book. Sounds good. I have found articles in the Stanford U. online Encyclopedia of Philosophy helpful. The one on Lacan is at plato/

    Speaking of Proust, he seems to have something to say about “the real”/”reality” issue. Here is a passage:

    Names, no doubt, are whimsical draughtsmen, giving us of people as well as of places sketches so unlike the reality that we often experience a kind of stupor when we have before our eyes in place of the imagined, the visible world (which, for that matter, is not the real world, our senses being little more endowed than our imagination with the art of portraiture–so little, indeed, that the final and approximately lifelike pictures which we manage to obtain of reality are at least as different from the visible world as that was from the imagined.)

    (The Modern Library Classics), p. 166

  13. fionnchu Avatar

    Catching up with the recent SNB entries, chiming in at perhaps “a forum for nomads and exiles”. I wonder if this happens to those who search, find Buddhism, and then walk on, pondering what they’ve cradled, fumbled, discarded after that middle passage. I’m studying Marxist sociologist of social movements Laurence Cox’s new book on “Buddhism and Ireland,” how what seemed to him but a few pages of a chapter turns into a long grappling with a phenomenon that intersects with this project’s perspective, if glancingly. I have a long way to go in this stimulating survey, but his initial, methodological chapter, as critique, merits reflection.

    He contrasts the academic focus on who controlled the means of intellectual production with both “grey literature” in Asia (e.g., tracts and agitprop as produced by 19-20c Irish bhikkus who deployed anti-Christian polemic to rouse natives against missionaries) and how “experience breaks up the smooth flow of discourse” as authors and activists wander East to West and vice versa unpredictably. He highlights his book as “a history of people in relationships, rather than a history of ideas; it is a history of empire not so much as ideology but as lived practice, and it is a history of social change as anti-colonial struggle and as counter-cultural transformation.” He arrays his research findings to emphasize from this material what E.P. Thompson asked about Marx: “the question is not whether we are on Marx’s side but whether he is on ours.”

    Similarly, Cox asks “whether particular choices and actions mark a step forward in relation to people’s previous situation and in the direction of greater personal clarity, interpersonal solidarity and capacity for transformation” regarding globalizing systems and ideologies, from the two tips of Eurasia–and everywhere beyond and between as the dharma spread, often centuries delayed in transmission. He distinguishes ancient and medieval glimmers of Buddhist content as consumed by Westerners from early modern contributors (as Orientalists and as missionaries and a few as propagandists) and then, since the middle of the 20c, a shift back to Westerners consuming Buddhism. He cautions against overly reliant textual emphases for interpretation; trinkets, amulets, pop culture may as they do nowadays convey for many far more product labeled “Buddhist” rather than books. If meditation as with many New Religious Movements tends to dominate over dogma or “official” devotees, that too needs reiteration, for the fluid nature of identification with Buddhism leads many to a revolving door. In the Irish case, where some interviewed here still fear “outing,” the pressure of conformity and the impositions or allegiances of a dominant culture must be included, and the ability of Buddhist identification and practice to elude facile equivalences. He never assumes a devotee of X zendo can be summed up by the precepts of that zendo, as if affiliation sums up one’s entire outlook.

    Which brings me back in this brief (!) excursus to the nomads and loners, as well as the intellectuals. Cox cautions that the two+ millennia of Buddhism accrue vast knowledge and claims, but that these “make it harder for researchers to hear the ‘needs’ which bring people to Buddhism, the problems they are grappling with in their own lives or the hegemonies they are attempting to dismantle.” Rather, organizations step in to “impose their own interpretation and articulation of these needs.” This occludes what people on the everyday level mean by Buddhism, and “we cannot take accounts formulated within this language at face value–contra both the guardians of Buddhist orthodoxy and the left-feminist critique of ‘religion’ per se”…Lots to reflect upon here. That is, Westerners often drift into Buddhism as converts or fellow travelers and insert or fixate their own predilections. These may often not be what “official” proponents desire. They, schooled and approved as the establishment no matter their counter-cultural claims, may crack down on the experimenters. The hierarchy may be imported years or decades later as a witting or unwitting force to push heterodox practice towards uniformity. Cox suggests instead examining practice “as a pointer to needs,” as a corrective to too much text.

    Text cited from Deleuze warns that philosophy’s to sadden, maybe deployed as a corrective acid wash to dump on or near the stupid among us. Compared with Thich Nhat Hahn, whose oeuvre my acerbic friend called “Rolaids for the soul,” the acidic or scarifying encounter marks a few but repels or confounds the rest, for whom bestsellers and inspirational literature comfort. That leads me to the question raised on a recent thread: how does happiness fit in to SNB? What needs are those here finding fulfilled which replace contentment with lonely longing?

    If SNB seeks (as I read the direction asserted by some here correctly) to move beyond a project examining the works produced by those with the “means of intellectual production” for the few able to hoist its formidable rhetorical “tools and weapons,” what can it offer those who want to “do” something better (happier?) with its precepts and rejoinders, to act out ethically its prescriptions? What can SNB convey from it to help less glib folks who, having read TNH, the DL, and peddlers of x-buddhisms, find them lacking and themselves wanting? How, some are asking lately, do we build on this material to dismantle hegemonies, and to solve, let it not be discounted too rapidly as we label this weapon as “critique,” the problems we grapple with?

  14. Patrick jennings Avatar
    Patrick jennings

    Fionnchu :
    Great comment. You probably already know about the Dhammaloka project but for anyone else here’s a link to the website. I am fascinated by the intersection between Buddhist ideas, the anti colonial struggle, and Marxism. It being the case, for example, that there was a rich cross-fertilization between articulations of anti imperialist and anti colonial perspectives in Ireland, especially during the revolutionary period at the turn of the last century, and the spread of anti— imperialist ideas to India, Burma, Ceylon, and southeast Asia in the wake of the Irish rebellion against British rule, since these countries and Ireland shared a common imperial master. How Buddhists responded to this and what sorts of unique perspectives they brought to the struggle is interesting. There was also the cross fertilization occurring in the Anglo Irish context. Many Anglo-irish served in the diplomatic bureaucracy and brought Buddhist ideas, texts, and artifacts back with them to Ireland. The Chester Beatty library in Dublin and its unique collection of pali texts, artifacts and ritual objects, thankas etc being evidence of the strong connection. There is also the connection between Blavatsky, Steele, and Yeats and the whole anti imperialist counter– cultural Celtic revival and the way that impacted on Ceylon, Burma and their own revivals (connected of course with the creation of modern x-Buddhism as primarily a religion of ‘inner experience’. ) This is very much connected with the way anti imperialist or anti colonial movements intersected (and still do) with ‘western’ Marxism, One of the fascinating aspects is the way reinterpretations of Marxist ideas by Asian Marxists(often incorporating a strong Buddhist influence. ) African Marxists, and south American Marxists tend to be sidelined by European and American Marxists as a sort of adjunct , or even anomaly. Robbie shilliam’s essay, reblogged on the non-buddhist explores particular aspects of this academic hijack of marxism . There is one other aspect that is hard to find information on— the influence of x-buddhist ideas on the inmates of the H-Blocks in the eighties, especially in the context of the use of the hunger strike as a weapon of political struggle and later the cross-fertilization of ideas in grass-root loyalist and republican traditions, leading to the abandoment of armed struggle. Is there anything on this in Cox’s book?. Lastly theres the influence of early buddhist ideas on celtic monasticism before the inposition of uniformity by Rome (mostly of acadamic interest I suppose)
    Anyway its a big subject.Maybe you could review Cox’s new book for the Non-Buddhist?

  15. Patrick jennings Avatar
    Patrick jennings

    Hi everyone,

    I agree with Alan:

    I don’t really see a way, including meditation or art, to directly encounter “the real.” Doesn’t ideology, language, socially constructed mind, symbolic system necessarily preclude the possibility? And even if we were somehow to encounter “the real” directly, how would we know it is “the real” and not “reality”?

    As far as my understanding of Lacan goes the ‘real’ is just that which escapes representation, a negative about which we can say nothing positive whatsoever— This seems to intersect with Nargarjunas analysis of emptiness. Perhaps there’s work to be done on the way Nargarjuna’s perspective on emptiness can be brought into proximity with Lacan’s concept of the ‘real’. Also theres the Yogachara perspective and the way that seems to intersect with Lacans understanding of ‘reality’ as social/symbolic creation. Dan Lusthaus (often cited by Tom) is the best source for insights into the ‘representation only’ school (often translated as mind-only and dismissed as a form of idealism —a disastrous confusion of terms).
    There’s the way in which Marx treats this problem , especially in his thesis on Feuerbach, as a question of the limitations of a materialist perspective and the need to conceive of thought as an integrated aspect of ‘practical sensuous activity’. This maybe has something to do with thought as philosophical abstraction and thinking as just an integrated aspect of ordinary human activity. And that certainly intersects with Laruelle’s concept of the ‘real’ and his insistence on the minimaly transcendent nature of philosophical postulates.
    Lastly there’s the whole areas of the body as an aspect of the ‘real’ and the body as delivered up to thought as ‘the thought of the body’ ,and its expression as ideology in gendered discourses, body/mind dualism, and forms of thought conditioned on humanist/Anthropocentric discourses.

    A huge load of work here for non-buddhism

  16. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Alan (#12).

    I don’t really see a way, including meditation or art, to directly encounter “the real.” Doesn’t ideology, language, socially constructed mind, symbolic system necessarily preclude the possibility? And even if we were somehow to encounter “the real” directly, how would we know it is “the real” and not “reality”?

    I agree, and I’m not sure what the answer is, in Lacanian terms. “The real” sounds like a condition of pure materiality and need. I think Lacan uses the term “nature” to name it. Only babies are fully absorbed in it. As we know, the acquisition of language severs us irrevocably from this condition. For us, Lacan says bluntly: “the real is impossible.” But I am not sure what that means, exactly. Is it impossible only because of the over-determining role played by the Symbolic? In that case, the “impossibility” would lie in expression–it just can’t be adequately expressed. For, to give it–or let’s say to give a real event rather than “it”–expression would be to suffuse it with the meanings, beliefs, constructs, etc. of the Symbolic. But two issues bother me here. One, I dislike this it exists but it can’t be expressed in language move. This is a common rhetorical tack of New Age tripe. It’s the move that makes metaphysics, in the worst sense of the term, go round. Second, it aggrandizes something that can only be absolutely mundane. A “real” that is only lived by neonatal human beings can not involve any sort of grand state of affairs. In fact, I wonder if Laruelle’s “lived” is helpful here. He speaks of “the real” as well, of course. But since, contrary to psychoanalysis, he’s not interested in a theory of human development, but rather in an account of the human being emancipated from the subjugating forces of transcendental representations, he moves quickly on to “the lived.” (Laruelle’s uses of “lived” and “algebra” have parallels with Badiou’s “bodies” and “language.” But Badiou adds, at the very beginning to Logics of Worlds, that, in addition to bodies and languages, there are also truths. For Laruelle, there are not also truths. There is just “the algebraic objectivity of human lived experience.”) In Laruelle, I think, symbolic materials haunt the real, but never really inhabit it. The real is, again, by definition, impervious to any and all incursions. It exists unilaterally–on its side only. Yet, we live it all. If–since–it’s real, it has an influence on us, on our lives. How could it not? Lacan indicates that the real is something like the shore onto which all of our symbolic constructions ultimately wash up, tattered, torn, and failed. So, how might this massive real erupt into our everyday lives? I think for both Laruelle and Lacan, it occurs when we are somehow forced to acknowledge materiality, or maybe the material basis of human existence. As that term suggests, encounter with the real are trauma are closer intertwined. (But so is encounter and joy.) Anyway, on that note, here’s something I found. I haven’t read through it yet. Maybe it’ll help.

    Lacanian Trauma

    In psychoanalytic theory, trauma is marked by “an event in the subject’s life defined by its intensity, by the subject’s incapacity to respond adequately to it, and by the upheaval and long-lasting effects that it brings about in the psychical organization” (LaPlanche and Pontalis, 465). There are some distinctions between notions of trauma for Freud and for Lacan, and the theoretical direction contemporary scholars take can be largely influenced by which version resonates with them. For Freud, a trauma is retroactively induced when excess psychic excitations penetrate the ego defenses, and can be worked through in the analytic setting by binding the excess forces together.

    For Lacan, however, a trauma occurs when there is an encounter with the Real, which is that which denies signification. Lacan notes, “there’s an anxiety-provoking apparition of an image which summarises what we can call the revelation of that which is least penetrable in the real, of the real lacking any possible mediation, of the ultimate real, of the essential object which isn’t an object any longer, but this something faced with which all words cease and all categories fail, the object of anxiety par excellence” (Lacan, 164). These encounters with the Real are traumatic experiences where the “link between two thoughts have succumbed to repression and must be restored” through moving the event into the realm of the Symbolic (Fink, A Clinical Introduction, 49). For Lacan, this was accomplished through analysis where the analysand would symbolize “that which has led his or her desire to become fixated or stuck” (Fink, A Clinical Introduction, 49). The desire is not to symbolize the entirety of the Real (as if such a thing were even possible), but rather to symbolize that which the analysand has become fixated on, the traumatic Real.

    While Lacan makes reference to the encounter with Real as traumatic, his theory suggests that this encounter only acts as a place-holder and the true trauma only occurs belatedly and through repetition. This repetition of the event can activate symbolic meaning where the “scene was traumatized, elevated into a traumatic Real, only retroactively, in order to help (the patient) to cope with the impasse of his symbolic universe” (Žižek, 73-4). This notion of belatedness creates a mathematic chain of parentheticals that Lacan makes reference to in his seminar on “The Purloined Letter.” There is a Real(1) corresponding to a Symbolic(1) that creates anxiety in a person who has become fixated on the Real(1). Through analysis, the patient signifies the event draining a portion of Real(1) away and into the Symbolic, creating a new Symbolic(2) and Real(2). It is from this chain that Lacan develops his theory of interpretation. For more on this residual, see Fink’s “The Lacanian Subject” pages 25-30. (


    Fink, Bruce. The Lacanian Subject: Between Language and Jouissance. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995).
    Fink, Bruce. A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis. Theory and Technique. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997).
    Lacan, Jacques. Seminar II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis. Trans. Sylvana Tomaselli. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988).
    Laplanche, Jean & Pontalis, J. B. The Language of Psycho-Analysis. Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. (New York: Norton, 1973).
    Žižek, Slavoj. How to Read Lacan. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2006).

  17. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Fionnchu (#13). I second Patrick (#14). You raise many really interesting points. The Cox book sounds promising. Here’s a link for readers who want a closer look. I already ordered it. Thanks. I noticed, by the way, that in the US Amazon description on the book page, Cox is characterized as “a practising Buddhist” (he probably wrote it himself, considering that “s”). That adds to the interest factor. I very much like this approach of the subject via “a history of people in relationships, rather than a history of ideas.” I think some of the questions you put to non-buddhist theory could serve as a gauge on how some of us are attending to the relationship side of matters, as opposed to the idea side. As a corrective, that distinction is extremely vital. So, thanks for that.

    I want to give more thought to these two points. But maybe I have something to say briefly now.

    (1) Cox cautions that the two+ millennia of Buddhism accrue vast knowledge and claims, but that these “make it harder for researchers to hear the ‘needs’ which bring people to Buddhism, the problems they are grappling with in their own lives or the hegemonies they are attempting to dismantle.” Rather, organizations step in to “impose their own interpretation and articulation of these needs.”

    (2) how does happiness fit in to SNB? What needs are those here finding fulfilled which replace contentment with lonely longing?…If SNB seeks (as I read the direction asserted by some here correctly) to move beyond a project examining the works produced by those with the “means of intellectual production” for the few able to hoist its formidable rhetorical “tools and weapons,” what can it offer those who want to “do” something better (happier?) with its precepts and rejoinders, to act out ethically its prescriptions? What can SNB convey from it to help less glib folks who, having read TNH, the DL, and peddlers of x-buddhisms, find them lacking and themselves wanting? How, some are asking lately, do we build on this material to dismantle hegemonies, and to solve, let it not be discounted too rapidly as we label this weapon as “critique,” the problems we grapple with?

    (1). I can follow that in two directions. One direction would take me into looking at how x-buddhist communities manufacture desire. That they do so, I think, is easy to show. I talk about this aspect of x-buddhism in the book. But I’d rather follow your comment into the non-buddhist lair (coven?) and see what happens. The “Warning” page arose out of a sympathy for the needs, whatever they may be, of newcomers to x-buddhism. I never recommend this blog or the other non-buddhist blogs to newcomers. In fact, I would say that I have told probably 5% of the people I know who have an interest in Buddhism know about the blogs and our work. I even support an on-going mindfulness-style introduction to meditation at the institute where I work. I really mean it when I say the practitioners needs to spend a lot of time at the warm hearth of his x-buddhist sangha before he can access the non-buddhist material. The work we are doing is for those who now should know better. Non-buddhist thought is meant to, among other things, catalyze a person on the verge into x-buddhist maturity. Again, x-buddhism itself has tropes that are intended, but fail, to do this work–killing the buddha, abandoning the raft, and so on. Still, your comment requires further exploration in regard to the non-buddhist approach because even the practitioner on the verge or who is fed up, had and still has needs. Of course, these needs are now an amalgamation of the manufactured x-buddhiet ones and/and in relation to those generated by the life-experience of the practitioner. So, the disentanglement becomes even more complex.

    (2) Or does it? Can non-buddhist thought-practice serve as an explosive that opens a clearing, a weapon that, with the pull of the trigger, annihilates a battalion of beliefs? (Again, x-buddhism suggest this possibility for itself. Think of Manjushri’s sword, for instance, or of violent Mahakalas and their murderous dharanis.) Is happiness to be found in that clearing? I don’t think with that category. I don’t know what it means or entails. I prefer thinking in terms of potentials, satisfaction, realness, integrity, fulfillment, contentment. In any case, what happens when a certain kind of work is done is not for me to say or predict.


  18. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Patrick (#14).

    I am fascinated by the intersection between Buddhist ideas, the anti colonial struggle, and Marxism.

    In my eyes, one of the most curious evasions perpetuated by western-buddhisms is the political ramifications of their practices and beliefs. I addressed this topic cursorily in “Extrapolating Equanimity.” See also Tom Pepper’s . It’s not very difficult, I think, to figure out which variety of political ideology is operating in some x-buddhist community or image of thought. It seems obvious to me, for instance, that American x-buddhism is saturated in neo-liberal capitalist forms of thought, relationship, and practice. Of course, many American x-buddhist dogmas insure that the issue is never addressed. (Those dogmas stem, of course, from x-buddhist principles, but are suffused with neo-liberal pro-consumer-capitalist assumptions.)

    Anyway, on a related note, what do you make of the fact that x-buddhists virtually pass over in silence the Dalai Lama’s proclamation that he is a Marxist–albeit not a Leninist? Sure, some x-buddhist communities have nothing to do with the man. But, here in America at least, he is as close to being universally admired as possible, by x-buddhists and non-Buddhists alike.

  19. Patrick jennings Avatar
    Patrick jennings

    Re 16#

    In Laruelle, I think, symbolic materials haunt the real, but never really inhabit it. The real is, again, by definition, impervious to any and all incursions. It exists unilaterally–on its side only.

    In my understanding of this point ‘unilaterally’ includes the move we make to symbolize by means of language. Thinking just is the ‘real’ on its ‘own side’ and as a ‘for us’ in terms of our symbolic system. Thoughts are ‘thought objects alongside other objects’. In other words there is no outside view, no possibility of a transcendent overview; but the existence of ‘ a transcendent move’ on the part of philosophy, no matter how delusional, does have causal consequences; the minimally transcendent postulate allows us to work on philosophy without making the delusional move. Maybe the difference between immanent critique and metaphysics.

    Here’s three mind-bones to chew on. Two from Dan Lusthaus and one from Zizek:

    What is the case is beyond description not because it is something ineffable residing outside or behind human experience, but because it is the very sensory stuff of human experience whose momentary unique actuality cannot be reduced to universalistic, eternalistic language or concepts. To interpret this position itself as a metaphysics of particularity is to remain trapped in a conceptual framework and hence to miss its point.

    Tellingly no Indian Yogācāra text ever claims that the world is created by mind. What they do claim is that we mistake our projected interpretations of the world for the world itself, ire., we take our own mental constructions to be the world. Their vocabulary for this is as rich as their analysis: kalpanā (projective conceptual construction), parikalpa and parikalpita (ubiquitous imaginary constructions), abhūta-parikalpa (imagining something in a locus in which it does not exist), prapañca (proliferation of conceptual constructions), to mention a few. Correct cognition is defined as the removal of those obstacles which prevent us from seeing dependent causal conditions in the manner they actually become (yathā-bhūtam). For Yogācāra these causal conditions are cognitive, not metaphysical; they are the mental and perceptual conditions by which sensations and thoughts occur, not the metaphysical machinations of a Creator or an imperceptible domain. What is known through correct cognition is euphemistically called tathatā, “suchness,” which the texts are quick to point out is not an actual thing, but only a word (prajñapti-mātra). Lusthaus


    This kind of retroactive displacement of “real” events into fiction (dreaming) appears as “compromise,” an act of ideological conformism, only if we hold to the naive ideological opposition between “hard reality” and the “world of dreaming.” As soon as we take into accunt that it is precisely and only in dreams that we encounter the real of our desire, the whole accent radically shifts: our common everyday reality, the reality of the social universe in which we assume our usual roles of kind-hearted, decent people, turns out to be an illusion that rests on a certain ”repression,” on overlooking the real of our desire. This social reality is then nothing but a fragile, symbolic cobweb that can at any moment be torn aside by an intrusion of the real. At any moment, the most common everyday conversation, the most ordinary event can take a dangerous turn, damage can be caused that cannot be undone.


    All of this, I think, is not manageable as comment—its just too complex—-Maybe we can break off pieces of the bone, go away into our corners and chew on it , and come back with a report on the experience in the form of a short (or long) post/essay?

    Re 18#

    My response to the statement by the Dali Lama that he is a Marxist would be that he blocks the force of his Buddhist thought by way of his avowal of Marxism, but his disavowal of Leninism.
    By that I mean that Leninism was the unleashing of the force of Marxist thought in particular historical conditions ( Tsarist Russia in the early 20th century) Its the absence of that Leninist insistence on the necessity of a critical practice that makes possible his failure to expose the way in which x-buddhism is a form of late-capitalist co-option. Buddhism needs Marxism and they both need a critical practice (which is what Leninism means to me). His Marxism and his Buddhism are versions of x.

    As far as all of this is concerned most people will not be interested until the roof falls on their head.
    He’s loved here in Switzerland too and back home in Ireland. Witness his visit last year to Belfast and the groveling ( a lot of it by former ‘ revolutionaries’) Comparison with the recent spectacle around Mandala’s funeral comes to mind. When will we be done with this shit? I am depressed.

  20. Patrick jennings Avatar
    Patrick jennings

    Re 17#

    I m trying at the moment to do a bit of research on buddhist/Marxist perspectives here in Europe. Since Cox has come up, here’s a link to a website that might be of interest to readers in Europe, or Ireland, and maybe in America too

    a link

  21. Tomek Avatar

    For Yogācāra these causal conditions [yathā-bhūtam] are cognitive, not metaphysical; they are the mental and perceptual conditions by which sensations and thoughts occur, not the metaphysical machinations of a Creator or an imperceptible domain.

    Patrick (#19), are you sure that yathā-bhūtam buddheme does not signify universal vision of all things “as they are” in a metaphysical sense? I would rather say that if something is seen yathābhūta, it is understood with the Dharma, and the Dharma describes things, in fact, as they are. There is nothing in the suttas to suggest that the word of the Protagonist – the Buddha-vacana – consists of provisional truths, revisable based on new experiences and data, or indeed as anything less than conveying the truth as it is, albeit, truth that must be discovered for oneself through practicing the path. So I’d rather see it as another example of the principle of sufficient Buddhism.

  22. Patrick jennings Avatar
    Patrick jennings

    Hi Tomek
    Re 18#
    Great point. I have been trying to decide on this for a long time. I think maybe the Yogacarins were talking about cognitive and mental conditions as factors giving rise to deluded thought, so that would relate their work to lacans idea of ‘reality’ as symbolic order, as opposed to the ‘real.’ I don’t think there is any sense in Yogachara of suchness as anything other than a negative category, tathatā is a word like Lacans ‘real’ or nargarjuna’s emptiness—it refers to a lack and is as a barrier preventing entrance into something totally other, rather than a reification of otherness. In that sense neither Lacan or Yogachara are doing metaphysics. But its not something I am sure about, because I don’t know enough yet either about Lacan or Yogachara. We could profitably inquire into it eh?

  23. fionnchu Avatar

    Patrick (#14): I recalled after I wrote (#11) your own remarks a few entries back here about the rethink of the republican/loyalist H-Block struggle by those interred, and how peace movements and Buddhism may have affected that shift in later stages of the “struggle”. This hunch had occurred to me years ago, in my research on the limits of republican ideology and by my firsthand acquaintance with some from the republican side in that predicament, although nobody I had read of or talked to had confessed that Buddhism had a role to play. I had looked into press coverage but all I kept finding was the visit of the DL to the North of Ireland, and some journalistic overlap with the Black Mountain Zen Centre in Belfast, all which seemed anodyne. You mention at (#19) “groveling by former revolutionaries” to DL (at a later date?), and if any context you send along (off site or here) if needed is to be found, it’d be appreciated. This context of Marxism, Buddhism, and how the left fits them into its Mandela-like perspective is another fine topic, for it forces us here to examine the counter-cultural embrace of x-Buddhism in an under-examined perspective, here on SNB. (Cf. TNB: albeit I will revisit and study that link to Robbie Shilliam via your own necessary, in-depth pieces on Marx: I need to catch up/slow down.)

    Thanks for the links (#21), as this may be an alternate move forward. I’ve published a 2011 chapter (cited in Cox) on “the invention of Celtic Buddhism” which can be found if without footnotes (they are only in the book version) via the Dhammaloka Project, as an aside, speaking of how cultural connections, in terms of psuedo-scholarship and in terms of syncretism, play out. Your summation in (#14) of the colonial “entanglements” anticipate much in Cox to come, I predict. Certainly, I’d love to work some of this into a review of Cox and SNB material for TNB.

    As to that much-mooted pre-Roman influence on Celtic monasticism from (quasi-)Buddhism, my article delves into this, but I must admit it’s more to examine the indulgent speculation of antiquarians and New Agers than alas archeology. But as Cox documents well in his survey, some scraps of “what-ifs” entice those trying to make material contacts that can be verified. The gap in transmission is itself a sobering corrective; as much as nine centuries between the East and the farthest island of the West as it comes to even a glimmer of the dharma, but as Cox finds, the Barlaam and Josaphat tale does prove (at least for once) semi-cohesion of the transmitted ur-tale. Contrasting what Yeats remarked in “Under Ben Bulben” as “Swear by what the sages spoke/Round the Mareotic Lake” near Alexandria, the Therapeutae rumored (wrongly) by Eusebius as the original monks, Cox finds such attempts inconclusive. He suggests it’s best to place attempts at “origin relations” alongside Graves’ “The White Goddess” as “poetic myths”…

    Speaking of myths, Glenn (#17), your astute observation of how “even the practitioner on the verge or who is fed up, had and still has needs which were not fulfilled by x-buddhism and the counter-suggestion that “non-buddhist thought-practice (I like the “kenning”‘s emphasis on the two-as-one) “annihilates a battalion of beliefs” combine to set off a depth-charge. A “pointer to needs” as Prof. Cox promotes does act as a corrective to the intellectual focus, but not a replacement. Certainly as your initial post discusses, the vocabulary and the curricula respond to certain rationale established by the teacher but responsive to the student, and as you elaborate a bit, this sort of careful guidance is necessary. I imagine your students come to you where you teach with a lot of baggage you need to unpack. As with an instructor with recruits (not conscripts we hope), the way we act around, to use a term that Belfast punks may recall doubly, “suspect devices” demands precision, care, and respect for what Manjushri’s terrible swift sword may unleash. If that creates a clearing, do we dive for our foxhole? And if we do, atheists may welcome us, unbelievers, and back we go to nomads and loners. Thanks for a stimulating exchange, as I’d hesitated to cite so much of Cox, I’m glad now I did.

  24. Alan Seltzer Avatar
    Alan Seltzer

    Patrick (#15), Glenn (#16)

    Thanks for your thoughtful and informative responses. I appreciate it. Patrick, I’m interested in your point about connections between Nagarjuna’s emptiness and Lacan’s “the real.” I’ll pursue that. By the way, your blog is great. I’m not able to keep up with all of it right now (busy preparing courses for a new teaching gig), but I read what I can and will catch up as I can.

    Glenn, thanks for the references. I plan to get Fink’s book on Lacanian analysis. It will be interesting to compare with Freud. The information on Lacanian trauma that you provide is really interesting and seems to suggest, perhaps, where that “point of dynamic tension between the real and our social-linguistic conventions” (#10) might occur. I think I understand Lacan’s point, but I’m not sure that the “point of dynamic tension” that you mention necessarily has to be traumatic, does it? (Or maybe those two ideas are not connected at all?) Also, why does trauma necessarily have to involve an encounter with the Real? Maybe I’m thinking of the term “trauma” too colloquially, but can’t socially-constructed reality (as opposed to the Real) be pretty damn traumatic? I guess that will become clearer for me via Fink’s book.

  25. Patrick jennings Avatar
    Patrick jennings

    Hi Fionnchu,
    I haven’t been able to find anyone on the republican/Marxist side who will admit to an overt Buddhist influence but meditative techniques, quasi-Buddhist philosophical perspectives were present in Marxist/republican circles in the 80ŝ and 90’s. There is a direct connection with Mandala and through that a connection with the conflict resolution ‘community’, in turn connected via Clinton, to the wilber foundation, which Clinton endorsed and probably funded in part. And of course the American ‘advisors’ involved in the disarming of the IRA were also involved in the disarming of the ANC (under CIA’ logistical supervision’) Anyway this is probably not of interest to many here.
    The ‘groveling’ I referred to was in reference to the last visit to Belfast and the famous walk across the ‘peace’ bridge.
    I am sorry but I missed your long piece on the project site (not used to seeing your real name in print. Will read it today, looks very interesting.) Wish I was back home to jump into all of the conferences, workshops, and projects in progress at the moment between Marxists, activists, x-buddhists and academics.
    Look forward to the piece on cox for the blog. When I am back in Ireland I hope to look him up along with others involved in the project. If you have any connections among your fellow authors who published essays in “Ireland’s new religious movements” will you let them know of the blog. It would be great to invite them to write a piece, or to use existing pieces, especially from a Buddhist/Marxist perspective.

  26. Patrick jennings Avatar
    Patrick jennings



    The point you made about Yogachara and metaphysics is key and I am trying to write something about it. I can’t see how any x-.buddhist postulate , Yogacarin or otherwise ,is of any use while it remains embedded within an x–buddhist philosophical framework. So I think the best approach is the one Glenn took in recalculating Pali postulates. Any other way of working risks producing just another x. The concept ‘minimally transcendent’ is the whole ‘alpha and omega’ as far as I am concerned. It allows complete freedom to use postulates in a non-philosophical way, as material to work upon as we see fit. This to my mind is a real departure. Laruelle’s work is undoubtedly difficult but it repays constant study. But it is difficult difficult difficult.

  27. April Avatar

    So, after reading this thread, and with the initial premise of workshop in mind, I find myself with two questions.

    So what do we “do” with these ideas/tools?
    How do we “do” it?

    I am afraid that much like the idea of “wisdom as the understanding and noticing of impermanence, no-self, and unease,” what we do with these tools and how we do it may be simpler than the volumes we use to speak about it. Whi

    Perhaps a third question.

    What do we do with the aspects of common human existence that get ignored, marginalized; like sexuality, gender, children and child rearing, relationships, and how do we apply these tools to that stuff? Or do we? And why do we not talk about how a simple sitting practice affects these areas and how we talk about them. Is it because these common aspects of existence that ALL of us are entrenched in get painted with a brush of mundane, unintelligent, and beneath the conversation. In the midst of all of this discussion, we are still washing our underwear, raising our children, managing relationships, and having sex.

    What if there is radical simplicity with the application? Sit still and quiet, apply attention, notice what comes up, reapply attention, get up and go live your life and see if anything comes from the practice. I think careful simple practice that simply asks us to notice, breath, body, mind…is a radical one. Add the very simple instructional question: Do you notice impermanence, no-self, unease, and if so how? And I say this with these instructions being for the discreet moments of sitting. After that, what happens? Who knows…but I suspect the results will be an undermining of the symbolic, belief systems, etc… Of course it is a slow and subtle process, in my own experience…which is not very exciting to write about…nor does it produce rapid volumes of information…but radical…yes it is. Go sit under a tree, pay attention, then see what happens to your ideas of self.

    This radically simple practice does require some letting go of the outcome. Give people the simple tools, without all the ritual, and then let them see for themselves. It is not orderly, predictable, or even guaranteed with the outcome will be. But we can’t decide for people, we can only offer the tools, and offer them in a way that is understandable. Perhaps provide a space for dialogue, but that’s about it. I would also say, in response to the statement that “students come to you where you teach with a lot of baggage you need to unpack,” perhaps we provide the tools and let the practitioners unpack for themselves. Trust that they can and they will, in their own time, just provide the space to do it.

    Alan brings up a good point, there is no way beyond the “reality” that we create. The “real” may always be tainted and never fully “real” in Lacanian terms, except in utero as Glenn suggests. Which then becomes, well, silly. So what do we do, in our own very mundane living? And, then do we worry about it spreading outward to society? Can we do both? I think yes, but it bothers me a bit to see either one get lost for the other. But perhaps I am off the mark and this is not what you are interested in here. I do think that the question raised in the above thread which basically asks, okay what about the practicing masses, is a good one. Is there something radical to offer here, and how do we offer it? Maybe we start with individual practice and see where that goes.

    So what do we “do”? And how do we speak about it, so more people can understand it and try it, without mucking it up? Can we? I don’t know.

    Let me end by saying that my discussion here is about the “workshop” premise, and not about general social action, or wider cultural change. I am speaking of individual application, and about what aspects of a practice that we have to offer, and how that may be different than the ethically loaded, highly suggestive, subject molding, x-Buddhist practice. Also, let me say, I was never an x-Buddhist, I do not have the experience with x-Buddhism to speak about it intelligently…I do sit still and quiet on a regular basis and can speak somewhat intelligently/authentically about that.

  28. Tomek Avatar

    This radically simple practice does require some letting go of the outcome. Give people the simple tools, without all the ritual, and then let them see for themselves. It is not orderly, predictable, or even guaranteed with the outcome will be.

    Hi April (#28), to me sitting is an intentional act. It requires certain outcome that is to be attained during that not-so-simple activity. Sitting without specifying what I want to achieve with it is just pointless to me. So what I want to achieve? I want to change my motivation structure to some degree. And in order to make it happen I want to bring about discharge of bodily tensions in a direct manner. And that is possible by narrowing my attention down to some manifestation of “the real” available to me, like the proprioceptive input that I experience during sitting. The usual result of this not-so-simple, focused “experiencing” is the discharge of bodily tension and – what is important – accompanying pleasure that is not dependent on any object, physical nor mental. I think that experiencing pleasure and ensuing calm which are not dependent on any object (physical nor mental) is not that bad outcome of the exercise – especially in the current era of capitalistic fetishising of consumption – don’t you think? Then, of course, one can apply this at least temporary “freedom” from bondage of “objects”, in order to even deeper analyze and change the causes and conditions of the underlying motivational structure, that make some “objects” so attractive to us in the first place.

  29. lisa Avatar

    Pretty much comes from one’s sense of self.
    — Changing one’s motivation is like deciding to take on some new ‘beliefs’, or some newer working hypotheses/’understandings’ of the truth/s.
    How difficult this is for someone depends, for sure, “… on what I want to achieve…” to quote Tomek.

  30. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    April (#28).

    So what do we “do” with these ideas/tools?
    How do we “do” it? I am afraid that much like the idea of “wisdom as the understanding and noticing of impermanence, no-self, and unease,” what we do with these tools and how we do it may be simpler than the volumes we use to speak about it. …
    What do we do with the aspects of common human existence that get ignored, marginalized; like sexuality, gender, children and child rearing, relationships, and how do we apply these tools to that stuff? Or do we?

    I never know how to answer the “okay; now what do I do?” question. I still think Henry James nailed it when asked something along the same lines about writers, or maybe artists in general: “We work in the dark. We do what we can. We give what we have.” That strikes me as an honest assessment. It’s a response to the age-old criticism that artists do nothing to change the world. The same criticism is (ironically, if you think about it) made about critics. Even Marx, of all people said, famously said, “philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.” But none of this is true. You can never separate theory and critique out from practical action. Each is vitally active in the other. You can approach it from either direction. You could observe a particular social formation in action, anything from a church sermon to a teacher-parent conference, and extrapolate the operative ideas and values. Or you could theorize an alternative version of the same and extrapolate a social formation, one that is infused with the ideas, values, and actions implicit in the theory.

    I disagree with people who argue that practices like concept formation and idea exchange are useless. Again, history proves the contrary. Our shit schools, for example, have quite precise ideas and values to blame for their shitiness. I have seen the formative effect of these ideas on budding teachers (when I taught at Brown and Bowdoin). Last night, a participate in our Monday meditation sessions related a relevant story. He teaches physics in a local high school. He said that he recently recommended that a new physics colleague, fresh out of a top education program, read and share with his students an article titled “Are Numbers Real?” He said that the young teacher thought the whole idea was idiotic. The educational tools that this new teacher has received have real-world effects. Multiply his training by however many teachers we have, and there you have our benighted school system. Imagine if they were being presented with different knowledge and different methods.

    Sometimes I think there are more effective ways to contribute to social change than to critique x-buddhism. But that’s just the impatience in me speaking. X-buddhism is a fairly large and influential social formation in North America and Europe. Many people are being exposed to its ideas and value system. The vast majority of these people are members of the privileged, educated middle-classes. X-buddhism produces fancy, expensive glossy magazines, packed full of articles, advice, and book reviews. On any given evening or Sunday morning, how many people around the world are attentively listening to Dharma talks espousing the x-buddhist ideology–thousands? tens of thousands? Imagine if all of this infrastructure were supporting a radical, high-octane understanding of x-buddhist thought and practice.

    I am probably getting off topic, so I’ll stop. This question of what to do? gets me going. I do think you’re right that complex theories and ideas can be reduced to much simpler, concrete actions. Take, for instance, publishing a provocative poem about motherhood.

  31. April Avatar


    To be clear, I am not anti-critique or discussion. I very much agree with your idea, “You can never separate theory and critique out from practical action. Each is vitally active in the other. You can approach it from either direction.” I think that my point was to do just that, to balance the critique with the practical, to come at it from that direction for a minute. I was simply making an attempt, perhaps not very well done, to add a voice for practical application to the mix. My effort to do that was based on the idea of “workshop” that you posed. I certainly did not mean to come across as being ONLY interested in practice without critique. It seemed that there was some conversation brewing about making this stuff available to others who may not be inclined to wade into these kinds of discussions. I was making an effort to come at it from that point of view, to offer something in that area. But perhaps I misunderstood the idea of workshop. I definitely do not think the criticism of x-Buddhism is pointless, I enjoy any movement that challenges the status quo, the accepted system, especially systems that produce subjects who passively accept happiness and equanimity without equally allowing for outrage, dissent, anarchy. My assertive style was not to downplay the ideas you are working with here…just an attempt to be an equally strong voice, with a different perspective. It is of course not my ONLY perspective, just one of them. Perhaps I misunderstood the expectation here with the addition of “workshop” to the repertoire, as well as misunderstanding the assertive style of discussion that I often observe here.


    I must admit that I am not so sure that there must be “a goal” with meditation. What happens then when the goal is not met? Can the goal change from one sit to the next, just as sits seem to change from one session to the next? What if just setting aside time to sit quietly and pay attention is the goal…and beyond that we let happen what will happen. Some days, yes it might be calm…but definitely other days I come away agitated and unsure. And for me that reaction to meditation is equally important and valid, because there is some change, upheaval that may be happening. I am not averse to this upheaval, it has been valuable to me. I guess, perhaps my goal (in life if mot meditation) is to engage life fully…not just the happy peaceful parts…but all of it. So why should my practice me any different. Just some thoughts. I am not downplaying the “calming” side effect from meditation, I have surely experienced it and enjoyed it, I am simply saying that for me I want more than that as well.

  32. Tomek Avatar

    I must admit that I am not so sure that there must be “a goal” with meditation.

    April (#32), as far as you use the term “meditation”, I agree, it is very often understood in the West as a kind of “goalless” practice, or as you yourself say above, that “… to sit quietly and pay attention is the goal … and beyond that we let happen what will happen.” So in other words the “goallessness” here means that it’s the act of “meditating” itself that is the goal. Earlier in this thread (#3) I quoted fragment from Magid’s book, which is a very common description of this kind of “goalless” practice. You sit down to “meditate” and during this time you literally “let happen what will happen.” I understand that on preliminary level (emotional, physical endurance) this sort of “letting go” can be a goal in itself, but I’m afraid that in a longer term this kind of approach can breed devotional obscurantism, or better “resurgent irrationality” (phenomenological, vitalist, panpsychist), to which Brassier, after Sellars (see #4) include the “myth of the given”. Consider another quotation regarding Magid’s “goalless” approach to “meditation”:

    And what exactly are they doing in there? Nothing much, according to Magid. Certainly not self-improvement. “More and more I’m trying to articulate a techniqueless, goalless, useless kind of Zen.” Yet as with all religions, he says that at bottom Zen is a devotional practice. Devotion to what, precisely? The present moment.

    If there’s a point to Magid’s goalless, useless Zen, it’s to help his students realize “the inherent all-rightness of everything just as it is.” Nobody’s a finished product, he says. “But Zen helps you get comfortable with that idea.” (link)

    Here, the myth I mention about manifests as a devotion to what is called the “present moment,” where allegedly practitioner can realize “the inherent all-rightness of everything just as it is.” And seeing such a statement I’m not much interested to understand what exactly “present moment” can mean in this context (it can probably mean “let happen what will happen”), because more interesting issue to me comes from asking what kind of history of ideas stand behind such proclamations. Why is this belief, this tendency to cede “an absolute epistemic authority” to the phenomenology of the “present moment” so widespread in contemporary “meditation” industry? Here I’d like to once again relay on a research done by McMahan, who writes that this phenomenologically inflected approach was used by its early proponents “to reclaim [ordinary] things from their merely instrumental value in a different way: they attempted to reestablish the primordial intimacy between persons and objects in their everyday interactions. Heidegger’s explication of things as ‘ready-to-hand’ and Merleau-Ponty’s explications of the body’s relationship to objects both were attempts to recover the prereflective experience of the physical world from the representational model of consciousness by asserting a subpersonal and tacit intertwining of consciousness and objects.”

    So, why “devotional obscurantism”? As you perhaps can figure out from the above quotation, this ceding of the absolute epistemic authority to the phenomenology of the “present moment” is a common anti-Enlightenment reaction to the growing gap between, what Sellars calls the manifest image of man as a self-conscious rational agent and the scientific image of man as a complex physical system.

    So is it really “goalless”? I’m not so sure. I suspect that paradoxically this seemingly innocuous, reestablished “primordial intimacy” can bring about numerous outcomes: think about all sorts of political, social effects that this sort of “let happen what will happen” approach to “meditation” can lead to when practiced by thousands of people …

  33. Tomek Avatar

    So having said all of that above I think that trying to set an explicit goal that can be achieved with sitting practice is an honest approach. It could undercut to some degree this tendency to be co-opted by all sorts of “naturalisms” manifesting today in preachings by various fundamentalists and perennialists – like in economy: neoliberals presenting their doctrine as “natural”, or in religion: Zennists with their “Buddha nature.” I personally bet on pleasure and calm as achievable goals. I know that both of them seem to be already co-opted and commercialized to a large degree by “meditation” industry, but to be honest I am not so sure which is worst: selling the promise of calm and pleasure over the counter or to pushed it under, as a promise of reestablishing the “primordial intimacy” and thereby tacitly strengthening the “naturalistic” power structures choking emancipation project that modernity brought with itself.

  34. swimoutfree Avatar

    I think the simple acts of being alert and paying attention are much underrated. No need to learn a technique or to have a formal meditation practice.
    Meditation techniques are about control and projection. Nothing creative and new can emerge under those conditions.
    Young children and some artists are the only people I know who really “see”, and you know kids can’t sit still or a minute.
    Next time you are somehow shaken out of the consensual trance most people exist in, give it a try.

  35. Tomek Avatar

    Swimoutfree (#35), you perhaps have no idea what I’m trying to say above …

  36. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    April (#32).

    I didn’t take your comment that way at all. The “practicality” question is a good and necessary one. My response to it is sometimes prickly because I often get the accusation hurled this way that critical work is useless, and worse. I saw a comment by Ted Meissner of the Secular Buddhist Association that captures the gist of this, well, criticism (!). The comment was to the effect that we critics are bent on negativity and destruction while the buddhist-secularistas are engaged in positive construction. He added that destruction is easy while positive construction is very difficult. He really said that. Other than pointing out that the two–critique and construction–are inseparable, I don’t know how to engage with the lack of sophistication behind such views as Meissner’s. Maybe we could follow Deleuze’s suggestion:

    When someone asks ‘what’s the use of critique?’ the reply must be aggressive, since the question tries to be ironic and caustic. Critique does not serve the State or the Church, who have other concerns. It serves no established power. The use of critique is to sadden. A critique which saddens no one, that annoys no one, is not a critique. It is useful for harming stupidity, for turning stupidity into something shameful. Its only use is the exposure of all forms of baseness of thought. . . . Critique is at its most positive…as an enterprise of demystification. ―Gilles Deleuze (I replaced “philosophy” with “critique”)

    Anyway, I see myself as translating this non-buddhist thinking into thoroughly practical affairs, like writing, sitting group, music, musical performance, blogging, non + x, and in my everyday interactions with people. Thinking informs action. Action reflects thinking. Thinking is action. Action is thinking. And so on.

    Tomek (#33, 34).

    Why is this belief, this tendency to cede “an absolute epistemic authority” to the phenomenology of the “present moment” so widespread in contemporary “meditation” industry?

    That’s a great question. I’d love to see a piece on this topic. “The present moment” has indeed become a wide-ranging fetish-dogma of western x-buddhism. It does constitute, in x-buddhist rhetoric, “an absolute epistemic authority.” It is one, of course, that is unsupportable by other x-buddhist postulates and by actual experience itself. Why don’t you take this comment as a basis, and write it up–maybe just articulating the fact of this rhetorical move. That could then be the basis for further discussion–out in x-buddhist land, hopefully.

    I personally bet on pleasure and calm as achievable goals.

    I am teaching a course using the canonical jhanic material. Pleasure and calm are posited as uncontroversial outcomes of still, silent sitting. The literature even has the Buddha-figure saying things to the effect that, “I decided not to be afraid of the simple pleasure associated with practice,” and that sort of thing. Rhetorically, and historically seen, such statements are, of course, rebukes to the harsh ascetic forms of practice that were the norm in ancient India. Still, with some decimation, we can extract some interesting material for our own consideration. Recall, as another example, the features of the jhanic material that have the protagonist recalling his sitting under the rose-apple tree in springtime, as a child, watching the plowing of his father’s fields. He breathes in and out, becomes present to his experience, watches, observes, looks, pays attention, and so on, and thereby enters the first jhanic absorption. It is not at all difficult to de-dharmacize, de-potentialize, such literary goods and salvage really interesting material for our use.

    I am continually amazed at a certain, recurring contrast. X-buddhist materials as x-buddhist materials are deadening. X-buddhist materials decimated and flattened can be so enlivening.

  37. swimoutfree Avatar

    Goal suggests something attained through prolonged effort and hardship. It’s about achieving and accumulating. It’s just more striving.

  38. wtpepper Avatar

    RE 37: Why the present moment? It’s not hard to see the ideological advantage. Jameson has written about what he calls “the end of temporality,” an attempt to make historical change literally unthinkable. We then live in “a contemporary or postmodern ‘perpetual present’” that is “better characterized as a ‘reduction to the body,’ inasmuch as the body is all that remains in any tendential reduction of experiences to the present as such.” We live, then, only in pure “affect” and can only learn to accept external changes as fate or destiny–all we can change is the tone and intensity of our affect. The result is that nobody can even think the possibility of any real change–only modifications in an eternal present–and so critique seems like an absurd waste of time, as it is always asking us to do something other than “feel” our affects more intensely. And so long as we are unable to conceive of the subject in any other way than the empiricist/phenomenological subject of capitalism, we will remain unable to take any action. The eternal present is just one part of the postmodern ideology of global capitalism. Mindfulness is perfectly suited to reproduce this ideology–and this is why Western Buddhist can’t engage with earlier Buddhist texts as philosophical texts–they need carefully translated and selected excerpts. The concept of “sati” has to become the postmodern empiricist concept of pure affective response to the eternal present–and this understanding would be wholly unsupportable on any reading of any pre-20th-century text in which the term appears. The goal of Nyanaponika Thera and Bhante Henepola Gunaratana and Kabat-Zinn is to reproduce a capitalist ideology of the subject, and the addition of the Buddhist labels and terminology is just a thin veneer meant to make this ideology seem trans-cultural and trans-historical.

  39. April Avatar


    I appreciate your thoughtful answer. And yes, I see the trouble of conflating the “present moment is always ‘right’ and ‘natural’ so let happen what will happen” meditation practice with what we do off the cushion, out in the world. I would agree that this is a dangerous approach to critically thinking about many of our culture’s problems. I would also say that for me, in my practice, letting things come up and noticing does not necessarily mean I posit a “rightness” or “naturalness” to these things. They just are, I notice and pay attention, and then when I get up I do the critical work of examining, parsing, thinking critically about what I noticed. I do not extend this “present moment” dogma to my walking world. I would say that I do not practice it on the cushion, I would say I use sitting as a laboratory of me for a few moments. I take a look at what the hell is going on in mind and body, like a focused microscope of sorts. And then I do the work of figuring out what it all does (and doesn’t) mean AFTER I remove my eye from the instrument. I think there is a way to approach this practice as a tool, so yes perhaps goalless is not completely accurate, and the apply a different tool to the information gathered with the first tool. So I guess I would say noticing, reconnecting to mind and body, is my goal. Whenever I attempt to add a goal on top of that, like calming these things, it never seems to work. Sometimes yes my mind and body are more at rest than others…but not because I had that as an inherent goal. As soon as I begin expecting this, then it never fails that it flies right out the window during my next sit. So I stopped expecting this, and have reconnected and learned a great deal about myself in the process. What I do with what I learn, whether I accept it, change it, explore it further…that happens off the cushion. I would say that in order change my thinking, my ideologies, my relation to the world and society I have to be aware of what the hell I am doing with all that in the first instance. Meditation has given me a tool to look more closely, so I look. Much like a scientist cannot expect an outcome, they look, examine, gather data, and then report the results…whatever they may be. And then they go on from there to the next experiment.

  40. April Avatar


    I would also say, that for a certain population, the goal of peace and calm may be a bit of “false advertising.” It may also well be just another tool for shaming. For the population sitting down with PTSD symtpoms, especially if it has gone largely untreated, the goal of pleasure and calm may be unacheivable for a long time, especially as unexpected sense memories show up during meditation…and they do whether you are focusing on breath or not. Meditation becaomes a safe biological space that allows the brain to process traumatic memories that had been previously blocked. We know is from work with PTSD. Additionally this population is already very good at shaming themselves when things do not go smoothly. I know that I may be setting myself up here for a bit of “trauma is illusion” backlash. But this is a very real population, with very real biological symtpoms, and I think that they could very much use meditation as the tool I mention above, to examine. If the promise of peace and calm and pleasure is too quickly introduced I think it could be damaging, and they may not stick long enough with meditation for it to assist with the unpacking of PTSD. I was able to stick it out through years of meditation that did not produce pleasure and calm, only because of being type A enough to finish a Masters program. Now, occasionally there is pleasure and calm…but not always…and not when flashbacks slam into me during a sit. We must be careful to prepare those who sit with PTSD for these things, and to not over-promise. Just some thoughts from personal experience, which may not always make what I say relevant to some…but it will be relevent for others I imagine. I do appreciate the thoughtful discussion.

  41. April Avatar


    Yes, practical and critical together must be the way. Which is sort of my reply to Tomek. I think I like to add the practical component here, because it seems that sometimes it gets the short end of the deal. So my comments are more of a balance to the scale a bit, but not an attempt at obliterating the critical end of the scale….because I actually agree with a lot of the critical lens you are applying to the modern dogmatic and passive aggressive way people are peddling meditation these days.

    I appreciate the Delueze quote. Yes, sadden, shake it up, challenge…this is how we wake up and change…or at least think about changing. My only comment would be (slightly sarcastically) what if we already come to this stuff sad and disillusioned? That is sort of a joke, and sort of not. I think I was oddly nihilistic way before I learned what to call it, a bit of a doubter with a depressive streak. Sometimes too much of this causes disconnection as easily as “belief and faith” might. I have to pay attention to this in myself. If contact is the goal, for me it is, I have to be careful not to use ANYTHING to deaden the contact. We all must have a “shifting plot of land” and I am still figuring mine out…so too much critical thinking without the practical application just leads me to say “fuck any plot of land they all fucking suck and we are all gonna die anyway.” You know what I mean? Maybe that is the goal, but…I can already too easily make contact with that. I need to work on contact with other stuff along with that staying as an option.

    Does that make sense? Not sure…but thanks also for the discussion. Using my brain a bit helps with my seasonal funk, or maybe just distracts me from it for a moment.

  42. Tomek Avatar

    April(#40,41).Thanks. I agree with you on this issue of reconnecting, I see it as a first things first issue, because ultimately if pleasure and calm is considered (longstanding, not just temporally induced by drugs, or something) it’s precisely disconnection and dissociation what prevent a person from experiencing them in the first place. So I’m all for this line of argumentation that reconnecting should be a goal and that prematurely pushing an agenda of “calm and pleasure” onto people struggling with painful symptoms of dissociation is something completely mistaken. Nevertheless I see sitting as a soothing practice, not as a tool for gaining some omniscient knowledge about reality. I think the latter is the biggest bullshit promoted by the whole “meditation” industry today (especially by traditional x-Buddhists, crypto-Buddhist/mindfulnistas seem to hawk around more “empiricist” insights). So I’m wary of this rhetoric evoking “science” in context of “meditation.” It has been an over a century old schema to legitimize “The Dharma” in the West, and conflating those two distinct discourses results in nothing else but x-buddhists believing that their on-cushion “trials” will lead them to gaining some knowledge that parallels scientific one, one that conceptualizes the reality “in and of itself.” Yes, this sounds attractive to many, this promise that somehow miraculously, encouraged by their enlightened “teachers”, equipped with only “non-thinking”, they – the dharmic troglodytes – will obtain an absolute epistemic authority, just by staring patiently in an impenetrable wall of their neurocomputational caves. Sorry if this sounds turgidly but I firmly believe that phenomenological introspection has inbuilt limitations and there is no way to compare it with scientific method.

  43. lisa Avatar

    To Tomek and April and all reading,

    Wow. Great back and forth.

    My comment would be that any idea that ‘phenomenological introspection’ results in ‘scientific knowledge’ is ridiculous.

    If x-buddhism is saying this, then bad on them!

    First an foremost: Any scientific ‘study’ that purports to study ‘phenomenological introspection’ is going to be needing a random group of people –from all walks of life! NOT a ‘self-selected’ group of people.
    And all other kinds of scientific considerations will need to be –in place– for the study to be true ‘science’. Like an hypothesis and a null hypothesis.

    For the Science to be useful:
    — In-and-of-itself reality?
    — Well, only as far as ‘the plot’ is allowed to be turned under/up-ended when the ‘bunk’ is made manifest.
    Any ‘reality’ can and must be re-tested/re-stated.
    This is how ‘science’ works.

    I realize that some here (on this blog) think science is ridiculous, an agent of deluded/wrong, even stupid people -with political motives, or some such.

    So anyway. That’s what I have to say.

  44. swimoutfree Avatar

    Tomek (37) My bad. My comment was just a general one, not directed at your post. I understood your comment (34), and what you said was either obvious or wrong.

  45. Tomek Avatar

    Hi Lisa (#44), you said that:

    My comment would be that any idea that ‘phenomenological introspection’ results in ‘scientific knowledge’ is ridiculous.

    Yet, one of the most vocal proponents of Buddhism as science, A. Wallace, says the following in one of his texts:

    Buddhism, like science, presents itself as a body of systematic knowledge about the natural world, and it posits a wide array of testable hypotheses and theories concerning the nature of the mind and its relation to the physical environment. These theories have allegedly been tested and experientially confirmed numerous times over the past twenty-five hundred years, by means of duplicable meditative techniques.

    And right afer that bold statement he characterizes advanced meditators as investigators performing repeatable experiments, making “discoveries . . . based on firsthand experience,” then subjecting them to “peer review by their fellow contemplatives, who may debate the merits or defects of the reported findings.” (in Buddhism and Science: Breaking New Ground, p. 8-9)

    Now look how this sort of approach sees D. McMahan in his The Making of Buddhist Modernism book, where he writes that:

    (…) the interpretation of meditation as a science overestimates the degree to which it can be considered an empirical and open-ended inquiry, unbounded by the claims of tradition and unconditioned by social, doctrinal, and ritual factors. How do we distinguish a Buddhist meditator’s “discoveries based on first hand experience,” in Wallace’s sense, from those of Christian or Hindu contemplatives who through repeated “experiments” have confirmed and had verified by their peers—and superiors—that there is, in fact, an eternal soul beneath the fleeting apparitions of the personality? If I am doing Buddhist meditation and make such a discovery, what then? There is no scientific way to adjudicate between Buddhist doctrine and my conclusion. This does not mean that there can be no personal grounds for one or the other conclusion; it simply means that it is not publicly verifiable, as scientific experiments must be. This example suggests that Buddhist meditation in its traditional contexts, rather than being an open-ended “scientific” experiment, is bounded by Buddhist suppositions that guide the practitioner toward certain experiences and conclusions. It is a method less of open-ended inquiry than of discovering for oneself the truths of the dharma that the Buddha put forth, that is, those authorized by the tradition. (p. 209-10)

  46. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    April (#43).

    I appreciate the Delueze quote. Yes, sadden, shake it up, challenge…this is how we wake up and change…or at least think about changing. My only comment would be (slightly sarcastically) what if we already come to this stuff sad and disillusioned

    That’s what Nietzsche was concerned about when he said something along the lines of, Let us think this thought in its most terrible form: existence without meaning or aim. And added elsewhere: We have created the weightiest thought–now, let’s create the person for whom that thought is light and pleasing.

    Maybe that’s on the way to an answer or solution, if there is one?

  47. lisa Avatar

    Yeah. ‘Contemplatives’ (never mind from different traditions) are not a heterogeneous population.
    So, this fails to move beyond a select group.
    So, there isn’t any random sample.
    Sorry about that. It’s useful, but not what science is up to: except as an exercise to understand the differences between groups.
    Not useless, but not getting to the question being raised. Does meditation ‘work’, how so, and for whom? Is there something about meditation?

    I figured that what would be brought up was Zinn and etc. And all that mindfulness ‘research’.

    Anyway, there isn’t a day goes by that every darn human is having the –weightiest thought, –that becomes light and/or pleasing, –or thinks the most terrible, –in passing, –then farts, –and rummages through the forest or the refrigerator. Probably since before becoming fully human.
    Ho Hum.

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