Why Buddhism?

By Glenn Wallis

What does Buddhism offer that we can’t get from any other system of thought and practice?

In this post, I am asking you to share your answer to this question. You can just drop a word or short phrase into the comment section. Don’t worry about formulating a long explanation. You can do that, of course, and it would be welcome; but my aim is to encourage as many responses as possible. I particularly hope to draw out the many lurkers on this blog. I can surmise or outright conclude from subscriber data, for instance, that at least two dozen prominent x-buddhist teachers are regular readers. I also know firsthand that a good number of Buddhist studies scholars read. Both of these groups must have quite firm answers to the question. A third source of valuable responses would come from the many committed x-buddhists who read here. And then we have all of you ex-x-buddhists. You must have thought about this question in some form already, and reached certain negative conclusions. If the 90-9-1 theory of blog participation is anywhere near accurate,1 we have a huge reserve of potential respondents. So, please, tell us what you think.

The question is at the heart of the non-buddhism project. You could even say that it is the very  desire to formulate an answer to this question that drives the project. Think of non-buddhism as a continuum. At one end are the destructive practices of radical critique, the effort to expose, to lay bare, to de-potentialize x-buddhism’s operation. At the other end are the constructive practices of using x-buddhist materials to think anew.2

In the Introduction to Cruel Theory | Sublime Practice, we ask whether Buddhism is fit for modern life. 

Many questions present themselves. Does Buddhism even yield useful knowledge anymore? Doesn’t science provide more satisfying models of, for instance, perception and cognition, than does Buddhism? Doesn’t philosophy better articulate the questions that seem to animate Buddhist discourse on meaning, language, and being? Doesn’t psychology offer more effective forms and models of mental health? In short, are Buddhism’s institutions and beliefs too cumbersome and unsophisticated to satisfy any but the most willing to believe? (8)

Please think about it, and share with us.

What does Buddhism offer that we can’t get from any other system of thought and practice?

EDIT: Just to make clear that I think there are (still, barely) compelling reasons to continue to work with x-buddhist materials, I think Tom Pepper’s work on the “event of buddhism” is an example of a justification. Have a look at “What Kind of Buddhist are You?” See also “Raw Remarks on Meditation, Ideology and Nihilism,” which raises the question whether x-buddhism might function as a science of ideology, as opposed to its current role as inculcator of ideology. We have created many texts that present (still, barely) compelling reasons for working with x-buddhist materials. I hope you’ll do some research.


1 The 90–9–1 principle “states that in a collaborative website 90% of the participants of a community view only content, 9% of the participants take part in discussions, edit and/or think actively about the content, and only 1% of the participants actively create new content.  90%  of readers, then, are lurkers who are, nonetheless, attracted and/or fascinated.” (Matthias Steingass in “How to eXplode x-Buddhism, part 1,” at The Non-Buddhist)

2 Tom Pepper’s hypertranslations are just one example.

Photo: Dave Gibbeson.

106 responses to “Why Buddhism?”

  1. JRC Avatar


  2. bora bosna Avatar
    bora bosna

    The answer is nothing. The reason is the quote from the Introduction of your book. (I am certain that some sports provide us the knee/tendon injuries so we don’t need x-buddhism for that.)

  3. April Avatar

    Meditation. I first came to it simply to meditate, then explored the ideas/dogma, and am in the process of throwing out most of the dogma but continuing the meditation. From the perspective of my southern baptist background I flourished with the simple quiet sitting designed to investigate myself (rather than some prayer interaction between soul and deity.) Quiet still observance of breath, body, mind, impermanence that must be done for oneself was refreshing for me. Of course all the same old dogma, spirituality, and power structures get layered on top, for the same reasons as they do in any other system, but the basics have been revelatory for me.

  4. oman Avatar

    what other “religion” is based on a practice that , when taken to its fullness, results in the awareness that the “religion”itself is an object of awareness leaving the “congragant” in a place outside of anything created yet part of an awareness and consciousness community- however- im still looking for the Buddhist group with complete and indifferent awareness to the cultural and historical context that allow it to exist.

  5. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    April (#3). Here’s my thinking. The fact that ideas and dogma can be subtracted from a simple act, in this case, meditating, is the interesting part. That is, it suggests that the “raw material” of meditation can be put to use outside of the particular system of postulation that makes it uniquely x-buddhist or Quaker or Trappist or even artistic. Once you do so, what do you have? As far as I can see, you have a simple human act: being still, silent, and sensitive. Such a practice can belong to virtually any region of knowledge. In this sense, “meditation” is nothing but a raw material. Not that that nothing but is negligible. In fact, nothing but reintroduces vitality and possibility into a practice that, in its x-buddhist (or whatever) usage is debilitating. “X-buddhist meditation” is a mechanism of ideological subjugation. Doctrine is somehow always verified by the meditating subject. Being still, silent, and sensitive, on the other hand…

  6. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Oman (#4). None, I would say. In fact, the inability or refusal of a system of thought to do so may be what constitutes it as a “religion” in the first place. I mean, a religion is a system of thought and practice that offers comprehensive knowledge regarding all ultimate, crucial human matters. But x-buddhisms don’t present themselves in that way. X-buddhists, particularly in the West, tell us that what they have on offer is a form of thought and practice akin to philosophy, or to a way of life, or even to an empirical science. X-buddhism wants to have it all. It wants to be a local knowledge, so as not to be classed with religion and its incumbent transcendentalism, supernaturalism, and superstition. At the same time, it insists on being the specular authority from on high.

  7. bora bosna Avatar
    bora bosna

    I am not convinced that ideas and dogma can be subtracted from meditating.

  8. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Bora Bosna (#7). Can you say more?

  9. Zoidberg Avatar

    The modern world moves in feedback loops– succeeding in school and work to secure safety and stability, securing safety and stability to indicate success. There are others, but that is the grandest. Buddhism presents a hypothesis that breaks the loop, which is that monks and nuns can be happy, safe, and secure without success (as we understand it).

    Even as we remain stuck in the cycles of the loop, it’s comforting to know an alternative exists and that humans are living outside the loop. Their existence is a critique of AND a pressure valve from the centrifugal force generated by aggressive looping. (In more accurate physics terms, they indicate a way to decrease a looper’s centripetal acceleration.) Some of their practices can help non-monks and non-nuns, but even without practice their existence provides some relief.

  10. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel

    because it provides a interesting historical platform for exploring other questions against its postulations, such as what is the origin of suffering, what is life, whjat is death, what is authority, what is the ego, or simply what is, and questioning those postulations and questions themselves allowing to move from an overemphasis on what is this (speculative) to what is this good for (practical)?

    and other questions such as why a master, is armchair/blogging buddism serious, is critical buddhism buddhism, is non buddhism useful, what is language, what are the implications of no essence and no fundatiolism for all systems of thought, especially philosophy, science and depth-psychology?

    it introduces, historically and with a certain degree of depth, the idea of contingency, it neglects (historically) the social causes (economic and political) of suffering, it serves as spiritual bypassing, it expresses another example of the human need to escape time and chance, and more recently, of lack of any rigorous historical analysis

    it provides an alternative system of belief for the dogma based, rich country, alienated, alternative seeking, other-worldly western system of religions, particularly judaism and catholicism, with all in between such as integralism and unitarianism, which is interesting to deconstruct

    it is used as calming practice against oppression, social injustice and environmental depredation since the time of king ashoka to present

    it poses all sort of linguistic delusions/challenges in the “thus I heard” line of timeless-seeking writings in old and current buddhist books

    it could be used as a way of practicing in a ever stronger way, linguistic and selfhood contingency, as well as sensibility and prudence (as opposed to a values-oriented ethical system which helps preserve the status quo)

    if practiced as contingency (of language and selfhood) and sensibility/prudence it can enhance creativity in the ongoing construction of a new self-image, of art and of new social systems

  11. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Zoidberg (#9).

    Some of their practices can help non-monks and non-nuns, but even without practice their existence provides some relief.

    Which practices? Whose existence?

  12. Gerald Rubin Avatar

    Relief from suffering, mental health, happiness, joy, eventual enlightenment. Most of your respondents are answering spoon fed x-buddhist dogma, filtered through their individual intellects. Nothing is personal, nothing is original. Just confusion. X-buddhism has seriously declined in America. I am 60 years old. I am a disenchanted ex x-buddhist. I know that more than a few of my contemporaries would give similar answers to mine. I am not impressed with what I see here. I not impressed as to what x-buddhism has become. I was once labeled a provocateur by a semi-prominent x-Buddhist-Advaita teacher. Advaita is sham but at least it has heart. x-buddhism has turned into something cold and dry. I am interested to see if I have provoked the minds of commenters that follow this comment.

  13. opacic Avatar

    I’d say one thing Buddhism offers that many other systems of thought/practices doesn’t is a way of achieving experiential knowledge of the universe/everything/god (as opposed to conceptual).

  14. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Luis Daniel (#10).

    The only thing that you mention separating “Buddhism” form all other disciplines is that Buddhism “provides a interesting historical platform” for its investigation. The problem, though, is that it doesn’t, precisely because there is no it. There are only numerous, varied, and often profoundly differing, hence plural, historical platforms. Not only that, but bringing in this issue of historical contingency just brings into clearer focus the fact that our times have little in common with, say, twelfth century feudal Japan, etc., etc. Hence, x.

    It would be easy to go through your list and name other domains of knowledge that do an even better job than x-buddhism at the task you mention. You still have not offered any compelling reason for Buddhism.

  15. tuttewachtmeister Avatar

    I guess I’m not the only one here who has found intensive, prolonged meditation practice valuable (or at least interesting) enough to willingly suffer the boredom of x-buddhist ventriloquism for years, risk knee-/tendon injuries and even becoming a faithful x-buddhist myself. I don’t want to fetishize long retreats and such, but x-buddhists (especially, perhaps, the more fanatical and fiercly anti-intellectual ones) tend to be good at providing an environment for that kind of practice.

  16. Zoidberg Avatar

    Hey Glenn #11

    Which practices?

    Basic meditation / concentration techniques (breath, walking, sound, mantra). The precepts. Generosity practices (freely giving time, stuff, or money).

    Whose existence?

    The monks and nuns. More generally– people who are living happily without participating in an exchange economy.

  17. lisa Avatar

    I’m more than a looky-loo, but not by much.
    You guys are hard to swallow, and I’m a whore.

  18. David Porter Avatar

    So far all the things mentioned can easily be got from somewhere else. Why aren’t people reading the question?

  19. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Zoidberg (#16).

    But aint all that boilerplate “spirituality”? X-buddhism’s particular varieties are indistinguishable from any other ascetic-monastic formations. Of course there are differences. But they don’t really make a difference. The same can be said for x-buddhist meditation and generosity practices.

    So still no compelling answer to my question.

  20. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Lisa (#17).

    What, exactly, is so hard to swallow?

  21. lesleehare Avatar

    For me: Answers appeared at a particular point in time, within a particular mirror, which also appeared to function adequately, and they happened to be labeled thusly. And then they transformed into stepping stones…

  22. matthewdeanmartin Avatar

    Everyone should know a little bit about everything. I’m not saying we shouldn’t find out who Hegel was, or if Blake wrote anything interesting. We should. So hopefully that straw man is set aside. Oh, just listen to me– set me on fire as an anti-intellectual anyhow, that’s why us commenters post, right? And on that topic, I’m really not the right audience to even be commenting– in this battle of wits I’m unarmed. But I digress.

    Modern Buddhism is an evolvable starting point. I think it’s a principle in biological evolution that new features tend to evolve from something pre-existing. A religion does offer to solve certain problems (and so does freudian psychotherapy and methamphetamine) via a doctrine & set of practices. All of those practices can be found elsewhere– maybe Freud, methamphetamine or Blake for all I know. So if all the doctrines of Buddhism have either been independently invented elsewhere, or are derivative of other doctrines, then why not pursue Zoroastrians or Hinduism or other precursors and similar things, like hashish and romance novels? For one, religion is also sort of like a club. Clubs have network effects– the bigger the club you join the better. Clubs also ask you to play along with their rules– some of which are intellectually repugnant, some more so than others. At the moment, Buddhism is unique among the large religions in that it doesn’t have to be a devotional religion. It even has branches that encourage heterodox thinking (albeit not so much heterodox thinking as to encourage burning the whole institution to the ground, can we name any suicidal institutions that lasted long?). So that’s what Buddhism has– it has the girls. The a-religious Kantian-Blake-ophile isn’t going to get the Taiwanese chick, or have anyone to hang out with. If one is to start all new, one is starting alone. That is a tall order for people who ordinarily, and in my opinion rightly, are desperate to belong. Plus if I did (or someone) creates a Kant-Hegel-Becket-Derrida Buddhist-like religion, it’s going to get institutionalized and turn into a bunch of x-things. So out of one x-thing fire and into another x-thing frying pan.

    On the topic of the alternatives– Descarte, Blake, Kant, Hegel– a bunch of Christians* or at least unavoidably shaped by the Christianity around them. Even the atheists– Dawkins, is reacting against Christians. The project of removing the Christianity from European thinking is a huge chore– making the rehabilitation of Buddhism comparatively easy looking. The Critical Buddhists (those Japanese dudes), are on the right track to try to remove tathagatagarbha from Buddhism, the non-Buddhist project is on the right track to try to remove Advaita Vedanta from x-Buddhism (at least in that respect).

    And by Christian I mean iron age to medieval middle eastern devotionalism in general.

    The first step of doing anything religiously with European thinkers is to remove the Christianity. What a huge chore! What Buddhism offers is a much smaller task of rehabilitation for a modern secular thinker. It’s easier than figuring out how to add religion to prozac and methamphetamine, its easier than removing the Christianity from western philosophy.

    We’re all bears of very small brain and limited numbers of days. We pick a hypothesis– probably gravely wrong and surpassed by some other lesser known competing solution– to solve the problems that religion promises to solve, we work on that hypothesis until we are dead. If some of the x-Buddhists are right, the relevant self is the whole lot of us– this long lived global beast made of nodes of people, so as each node dies, another the network of people still alive will continue to work on the problem. As much as we would like to take all the wrong doctrines of the world, Buddhism and Kant-Hegel-Becket-Derrida-ism included, and set them on fire and start with something new, right, a non-thing, the beast is big and has many, many nodes– a lot of inertia. So if we pick a hypothesis that only a single node (one of us) cares about, we are not going to have much effect on the whole– Kant-Hegel-Becket-Derrida-ism could probably end up more like the Buddha’s colleague Tirthankara Mahavira, who may have been more right than the Buddha, but did a worse job of moving the beast as a whole.

    So Buddhism has critical mass in the collective consciousness, the promise of rehabilitation, it has a starting point. While it may be a pack of crypto-eternalists and crypo Advaia Vedantists, it isn’t a pack of self professed and crypo-Christians. (Although I wonder about the Amidaists, but even that doctrine might be rehabilitatable with enough effort, or maybe not, the rehab is someone else’s job not mine) I’ll take the science and math of the west, it works, but I’m not going to invest equal effort into the intellectual progeny of Christian medieval scholastics– Cliff notes are fine, thanks.

    Sorry for writing such a long post. And tell EyeCorner press to hurry up and publish in Kindle format.

  23. Zoidberg Avatar

    Glenn 19

    If I heard it all somewhere else first, I’d be a fan of that “spirituality” I suppose. If I heard it from Joe, I’d follow Joe. So who cares where you hear it first? If it works, it works.

    You can get the same style of sage advice from a guy like Mark Rippetoe who wrote Starting Strength. I don’t think Mark’s program is any different from a million other fairly basic weightlifting manifestos that follow basic rules of nutrition, load, form, and rest, but people still swear by Mark. People still swear by the Buddha. He’s just the most popular guy for the program he offers for this time in history, like Mark.

    People follow Mark’s advice, and it works. People follow the Buddha’s advice, and it works. You can see and hear Monks and Nuns who follow the advice and don’t have a trace of the Oprah-style one-size-fits-all neuroses that grips even great minds like Oliver Sachs. That’s because it’s fairly basic advice and thus not in competition with CBT, Cybernetics, brain imaging, big data, or any of the other modern models.

    I don’t understand what you mean by “a compelling answer”? Are you having a spiritual crisis and asking us for some kind of reassurance? What do you want to feel compelled to do?

  24. Liam Avatar

    While the specific combinations and formulations of it’s (in so far a Buddhism can be defined as a single entity) constituent elements is unique of course, I don’t think that most of the elements are unique at all. The Stoics were teaching contemplations that cultivate non-attachment to ephemera in 2500 BC and much else is not substantially different from Vedanta and Sramana teachings. The only ‘essential’ aspect that is unique (afaik) that I can think of is Dependent Arising.

    I do think there are practices that are of value (for some people, as some times) but that’s a different matter.

  25. Danny Avatar

    “What does Buddhism offer that we can’t get from any other system of thought and practice?”

    Perhaps it can offer us an aesthetic practice, an ideology that sees itself as such; which contains concepts quite rare in western thought (like no-self and conventional truth) that can awaken us from our slumbers, from our “ideological gaze”–This of course is Tom Pepper’s Faithful Buddhism. I wonder where else does this kind of thought and practice exist? I don’t see it. Of course it doesn’t really need the Buddhist label; as Tom says in the introduction to his essay in CTSP, once these important concepts are more thoroughly integrated in our world, we could simply call it the practice of awakening.

  26. bora bosna Avatar
    bora bosna

    Reply to #8 Dogma of religion has different kinds of effects. At different strengths and subtleties. One kind is ideology, which is asserting statements about life, death, afterlife, universe, how life should be lived etc. This is more intellectual and more about true/false statements. Another kind is a lot more emotional. Religion weaves certain feelings like guilt, obedience, loyalty, fear, inadequacy, sexual denial etc. These operate at a much more subtle, unconscious level. They are usually reinforced by the way people around you treat you in your culture. Their expectations and their emotional treatment of you is shaped by the “atmosphere” all around. They are also reinforced by years of physical practice duties. These are demanded daily and no matter how much you do them it is never enough (like worship in Islam, or meditation in x-buddhism). Humans are body and mind, so the physical practices and the intellectual/mental dogma work together for a total control of the individual. These emotional impacts are pounded into your flesh and your muscle memory.

    People go through several stages and levels of shedding their ties with religion. Sometimes a certain level of abandoning the practices can even become the social norm (such as the “funeral buddhism” in Japan or how not worshiping Allah 5 times a day is not made a big deal in Turkey.) However the deep seated emotional impacts still remain. I have witnessed several groups of people at different levels of physical/emotional commitment to their religion, and I myself have gone through the gradual shedding process with Islam and Buddhism. I met and practiced with people who believed that it was possible to remove the dogmatic and cultural trappings from practices such as meditation and have it be “raw” as you put it. I also thought this way for a long time and kept practicing. But despite abandoning all practices completely for a few years now, I still struggle with the emotional impacts I listed above. These people all had “something” they could not let go of in these practices. It’s like former theists who fall back on “God is the universe”, they just can’t go the next step and say they are atheists. They just could not go the next step and give up the meditation practice even though all previous illusions they had about it were shattered, all previous fantasies of promises of enlightenment, etc. which got them into it first were gone. They kept practicing even though they hated it, found it boring, their legs hurt, and had serious doubts if their “dogma free, form free” version of it still had any kind of “investigation” power or relevance or necessity. I was like that for 2 years. I eventually told them “fuck it, I won’t practice even once for a whole year and see what happens.” They congratulated me on my “bravery” and still kept saying they needed it to become a “better person”, “self-improvement” and so on, like I used to do.

    Humans are flesh and bone and what they do physically affect their unconscious in subtle ways. Meditation practice has a sense of duty. If you skip it you feel guilty. It is a “special” activity for which you set a time in the day, and you enter a “protective bubble” if you will right before practicing it. This creates a perception of “other” to whom you owe this practice (inadequacy). You take a specific bodily posture which has the connotation that it must be “kept” and not “broken”. Somehow you are supposed to force yourself to believe that all of this, along with “being silent, still” (another sign of the authority of the “other” on you) and “following your breath” are absolute requirements for “investigation”. Even after getting rid of all dogma, the particular “form” of the practice (bowing, putting palms together etc) and cutting all ties to your sangha or whatever, every time I attempted to practice in my own “completely secular” or “completely dogma free” way, I found it impossible to forget the emotional impacts. The guilt is still there. The feelings of inadequacy are still there. The “other” is still there, continuing to exact his anonymous authority. Sexual frustration is there. Fear is there, the fear of breaking the “stillness” and the “silence” and the posture. Plus meditation has nothing to offer which cannot be done in other ways. It is a huge time waste. I used to pretend that meditation was a psychoanalytic tool for me, I would sit “still and silently” to let my thoughts “arise” and analyze where they came from, what personal issue they addressed, even though I was breaking the rule of “no thinking during meditation!” I kept journals of them right after finishing meditation. After the self imposed 1 year of non-practice I realized I could do all of that without meditation. It’s just a waste of time.

  27. Alan Seltzer Avatar
    Alan Seltzer

    I don’t think that Buddhism’s offerings need to be unique or exclusive to be considered valuable. I agree with Zoidberg’s first point (#23). I came to a sitting practice through Buddhism and it has value for me. I might have come to it through some other means, but I didn’t. I don’t consider myself a Buddhist, and I don’t necessarily consider my sitting practice a Buddhist practice. It’s pretty bare-bones– silence, stillness, attention. In sitting groups in which I’ve participated in the past, we have done some non-Buddhist things (I don’t mean in Glenn’s technical sense of the term), like discuss texts that are not explicitly about Buddhism– poetry, fiction, philosophy, science, psychology, etc. My current sitting group just sits with virtually no trappings or rituals, and then ends– no readings or discussions afterwards. Is it Buddhist? Well, it may sort of look a bit like it, but it doesn’t need to be called that and it really isn’t that.

    But I also agree with Danny (#25) that there are some very interesting and important ideas and concepts in Buddhism. Certainly, they may be present in other systems (philosophy, etc.), but from my very limited knowledge, they seem to be expressed in a fairly unique and interesting way in Buddhism.

    My follow-up question to Glenn’s might be: If Buddhism does offer something of value that may be available elsewhere, why seek it from Buddhism?

  28. Ronan Kodumi Avatar
    Ronan Kodumi


    Glad to see this post, I have been lurking intensely here for the last few months,
    so I will just use this as a chance to post some of my thoughts here.

    First of all, I consider myself neither a buddhist nor an expert in buddhist doctrine, but maybe that is the only proper way to do it.
    Calling yourself a buddhist just puts you in this stupid position where you have to try to justify any of your postions by whether it matches the doctrine
    which I find very tedious.
    Even if you don’t give a fuck what any of the current high-priests say,
    you have to consider the possibility that even the original gauatama at some point may have just said something really stupid,
    so I’ll just go with Kant there: courage, reason, blabla…

    I view buddhism as just a central point of this big block of eastern philosophy including buddhism, taoism, hinduism, etc..
    and I just read material, see where there is overlap and try to extract from the mess what I would consider workable technology/ ideology.

    I am aware that this may paint me as one of those arbitrary pick and choose new-age guys,
    but a question that I think is relevant would be:
    “Is the difference between x-buddhism A and x-buddhism B even less than between x-buddhism A and say, taoism, or x-buddhism B and kung-fu ?”

    Whatever, here are some facets of buddhism that I find highly relevant:


    As I think we agree, a human being without an ideology is actually impossible,
    therefore the solution is not to get rid of ideology but to construct an ideology that is at all times self-aware.

    In praxis the question one should always ask is:
    “What am I doing here, what am I trying to achieve, and does my current ideology help me with this ?”


    closely tied to 1., one has to acknowledge that things change,
    and so your ideology has to change with them.

    Put together these two principles I think would give, when radically aplied, could give birth to an ideology that has a severe leg up
    to all the ruling ideologies of the past

    I really like the head-motto, “To free all sentient beings from suffering”
    Its very open, thus resistant to pedantics, yet still very clear what the goal is, and thus provides a good litmus test whether you are actually moving in the right direction.

    Needless to say that the current x-buddhisms are actually failing hard here as of now.
    I also think its ironic that just this single sentence would actually be a hard call towards politic action if you would take it seriously,
    and it also overrides all the stuff that comes afterwards, thus making tyrannicide, etc ok with the doctrine,
    if it really prevents systems of sustained suffering

    One personal concept that I came up with, and am very fond of is that of “digestibility”
    meaning that the worth of a method of liberation is not just whether it is “correct”, devoid of inner contradictions,
    but whether it actually provides tools that are availabe to the average human.

    This is a point where I actually think SNB is currently losing it to x-buddhism.

    I am really not anti-intellectual in the classical sense, and I respect the people you quote here often,
    lacan, matthusier, and whatnot,
    but I see a very dangerous conflation here of intellect in the sense of “having a grasp of language, and being able and interested in telling whether A=B”
    and “having a, encyclopedic knowledge of all the terms and idioms of the last few hundred years of western academic philosophy”

    Personally I found a lot of the concepts that matthusier, zizek, etc.. deal with quite valuable and enlightening once I understood them,
    but also, once I understood them I usually would have no problem explaining them in terms that are much more understandable
    by the average lay-person.

    Also if you define intellect as something like “having a working pattern recogintion machine”,
    I think that the populations judgement of the academic humanities as a bunch of brains-in-vats, that think around in circles,
    and don’t have anything to offer in terms of life-advice, you could actually say that anti-intellectualism is actually proof of intellect.

    I want to note that there are many people here who I would consider as fairly highly ranking in terms of “digestibility”,
    especially Glenn Wallis is someone that I find very readable,
    but others less so, and that in my eyes, this should central point of the ideology.
    In the end it doesnt matter if an ideology is superior in terms of intellectual coherence,
    if the average Joe-shmoe isnt able to do anything with it, it will still loose to the snake oil peddlers.

    And I personally dont think that this is opposed in any way to intellectual vigor or quest for the truth.

    I think the concepts of “esoteric vs. exoteric” in their original meanings could be quiete valuable here,
    meaning that you could have an esoteric platform where the really invested people discuss the concepts,
    in whatever language they want to,
    but they should also be able to produce some exoteric technology, that places a very different emphasis
    on digestibility instead of intellectual vigor.

    What would set this apart from the usual thaumaturgy as you call it,
    would be that the esoteric parts would still be out in the open to whomever wishes to get into it.

    I think what many practitioners of whatever forget is that there are lots of people out there that are struggling hard
    with the insanity of the currently dominating ideology, and are desperately looking for solutions,
    and that there are some very simple truisms, that serve as very potent antidotes to this insanity.
    Like: “If you put your self-worth into something external from yourself this will lead to insecurity ,since it can be taken away from you”.

    I can tell you there were lots of times where I just sat around at a party blabbering some (in my eyes) trivial bullshit,
    and suddenly I see people looking at me like I am some kind of guru.

    I would also say that there are alot of people out there who are not looking for some magical mumbojumbo,
    as a lot of the people here on SNB always complain, but are higly sceptical of esoteric nonsense, yet still struggling with spiritual problems,
    and I see very big market here, if SNB would be able to put out some almanach that teaches these methods in an approachable way.

    Right now these people are instead turning to western psychology, which I see as a thousand times worse than the worst x-buddhism.

    Whew, so this is me just rambling off-topic,
    so to answer the initial question “Why buddhism ?”, I might just ask: “What better is there currently out there ?”



  29. fionnchu Avatar

    I regard religious or spiritual categories as I do sports or games: different manifestations of a human impulse which may be embedded in many of us, to bond, to play with, to boast about, to pass the time, to channel energy, to clash, to create structures and pursue thought-experiments. Like chess, you can learn basic moves of Buddhism in a few minutes, but spend a life pursuing its patterns. Buddhism represents for me an intriguing two-millennium-plus experiment, as Ronan #28 avers above, to promote impermanence and no-self and the study and attempted elimination or diminishing of ‘dukkha’ in our lives and the lives of others, human and non-human. That range, maybe idealistic or solipsistic, remains worthy of study and an appealing realm for ethical action. It endures less in Christianity, for instance, outside the monastic or ascetic communities. Whereas in Buddhism, even if it’s been as walled off from many, it’s still a subversively potent reminder of renunciation that squares less comfortably in theory if not in practice than how Christians or Muslims evolved. How it emerges from a class-based context; how it ranks, raises, or lowers its adherents; how it burrows into political, economic, and religious-folk situations as its own power: it’s a compelling saga. I’ve long been curious how people survive outside norms, and how despite bold ideals, compromises weaken the impetus of radical founders and marginal movements.

    While I am not an x-buddhist, I find the admittedly non-Western contexts within which the dharma has long evolved (for better or worse, inevitably as a human construct) an engrossing area of reading and thinking, to compare or contrast with the religious and intellectual traditions in which I reckon most of us on SN-B have been exposed to or inculcated with. This is one reason “why Buddhism” for me works: it catches attention as it’s imported by travelers, exported by seekers, and carried as “baggage” by immigrants worldwide nowadays. I’ve started J. Jeffrey Franklin’s study of Buddhist reception in 19c Britain, which argues how “Kim” and other texts, factual as well as fictional, represented a “cultural counter-invasion” to Victorian verities. Similarly, I see today (where I live deep in a consumer-driven, commodity culture) ways that Buddhism gets marketed and transmitted, and I’ve become an observer of these, as music, texts, entertainment, and lifestyles. The denial or distortion of x-Buddhisms provides a spectator with panic and pageant. One watches as one, detached, may watch the big game, as rival fans cheer and players strut.

    The “mineful” packaging of MBT as has been discussed here. For me, how workplace automation, movies, surveillance, social media, corporate control, and consumer marketing create a mindset where Buddhism is celebrated as an remedy to the globalization that heals or ails us merits analyses, as evolutions of x-Buddhisms and as purported or real crossovers between East and West. How “moral panics” or underlying “threats” posited as Buddhist or like-minded models supplant or warp Western, Marxist, Christian, capitalist, progressive, and secular ideologies expands a critique I find inviting, watching how societies react to, debate, or adapt x-Buddhisms. Asking “Why Buddhism?” may spark a moral or emotional as well as the intellectual reaction that appears to dominate discussion on this site. Surely, SN-B’ers may lament that so many invited to a Great Feast of Knowledge wander outside this buffet, distracted by scraps, or is it food-fights?

  30. Ann Gleig Avatar
    Ann Gleig

    Hi Glenn, I’m interested to see this post as one of my first questions to Matthias about your SNB project was “Why (bother with) Buddhism?” Especially given your hostility (contempt?) to both traditional and modern manifestations of Buddhism (at least what I’ve seen with my most cursory look over this site. Haven’t had a chance to read the book yet so all might become clear) The anatta notion of a contingent interdependent self is still very much rooted in ontology and I can’t see what it gives you lot that you couldn’t get better from say, Deleuze and Guatari. The same with Nagarjuna and Derrida. So, I don’t see a theoretical need (rather than place) for Buddhism in your project nor do I see any concern or appreciation for championing any particular historic cultural form of Buddhism. And, I know enough of your project to know that you don’t posit any a-cultural form of Buddhism meditation lurking behind the cultural varieties and cosmology…So I’m really curious, to ask you ‘why Speculative Non-Buddhism” why not just Speculative Non? What’s the investment for you personally and the SNB project in keeping the linkage-however much under erasure-with Buddhism? Is it to have more weight in your critiques of Buddhism? By that I mean I doubt many contemporary Buddhists would pay attention to a completely non-Buddhist figure critique Buddhism as much as they do to a still-under-erasure-identitied Buddhists. I’m not being facetious -I’m actually really interested in the different reasons for your continuing -Buddhist (non) identity and the different functions of it.
    Cheers, Ann

  31. bora bosna Avatar
    bora bosna

    Ann, he thinks we should discard buddhism but keep meditation. Hence the non-buddhism rather than just non.

  32. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Ann (#31).

    The full answer to your question is given in my section of Cruel Theory|Sublime Practice. An early, short answer that still holds up pretty well is on the “What is non-buddhism?” page.

    This paragraph does a decent job, too:

    Speculative non-buddhism is a way of thinking and seeing that takes as its raw material Buddhism. It is a thought-experiment that poses the question: shorn of its transcendental representations, what might Buddhism offer us? Speculative non-buddhism is thus a critical practice. Conceivably, a critical-constructive methodology could emerge from its ideas. Its way, its practice, its ideas, though, render Buddhism unrecognizable to itself. Speculative non-buddhism is an approach to analyzing and interpreting Buddhist teachings. But, again, it results in buddhistically untenable, indeed, buddhistically uninterpretable, theorems. While this process results in a re-description of Buddhism, speculative non-buddhism is not an attempt to reformulate or reform (in any sense of the term) Buddhism. Neither is it concerned with ameliorating Buddhism’s relationship with contemporary western secular values. It is designed with three primary functions in mind: to uncover Buddhism’s syntactical structure (unacknowledged even by—especially by—Buddhists themselves); to serve as a means of inquiry into the sense and viability of Buddhist propositions; and to operate as a check on the tendency of all contemporary formulations of Buddhism—whether of the traditional, religious, progressive or secular variety—toward ideological excess.

    I hope you’ll keep in mind that non-buddhism is not non-Buddhism. I am not writing under the erasure of buddhism. The original impetus was mine alone, followed by a jolt from Laruelle. The “non” signifies a particular relationship to the raw materials of whatever x, in this case buddhism. It isn’t the addition of a minus sign.

    The “investment for me personally”? I really hope your question has no trace of the all-too-typical thought-phobic x-buddhist question if you don’t like it why don’t you just find something else, etc, etc., and so on and so forth. Your question does seem to be asking for some auto-biographical accounting. I’ll just offer that I have been thinking alongside of x-buddhist materials since the age of fifteen–, so, for nearly forty years. I’m not finished yet. I am getting close, though.

    About contemporary Buddhists paying attention to our critique: I’m indifferent. I just want us to create materials that can be used by people, now or in the future, who want to give thought to the maturation of x-buddhism.

  33. April Avatar


    I like that, “still, quiet, and sensitive.” That verbiage makes it a bit more intimate. Yes, this is the bare bones of the thing. I didn’t mind playing with the ideas, experimenting with them, if you will. The experiment itself was useful…if not the specific ideologies. The experiment got me somewhere…but the through line was the sitting. And yes, I am seeing for sure that there is a subject that the system of x-Buddhism intends to produce. Once I begin to feel that, even with non-Buddhism, I find myself resisting. I have never liked any system, person, telling me what I “should” be doing….not even myself, not even poets/poetry. But perhaps all systems must produce subjects in order to ensure their own survival, their own power. This is why I even hesitate to “teach” someone “meditation.” Who am I? How do I know what will work for you? Anyway, perhaps a tangent…but yes…raw material of stillness, quiet, sensitive observation, regardless of what we surround it with. I am sure more than a few Buddhist thinkers will take issue with this. But, who cares. This is about my life, not theirs…they can do what they want, I’ll do this. I’ll sit still, quiet, sensitive…and then “get up and go live my life” and see what happens. I need no more guarantees than that…because frankly non exist.

  34. April Avatar

    I meant “none exist.” Ha! And Lisa, I love your comment….too funny.

  35. Ann Gleig Avatar
    Ann Gleig

    Hi Glenn, When you ask “what does Buddhism offer that we can’t get from another system” I read it alongside your other question of “is buddhism fit for modern life?” and assume the getting of that is directed at some purpose other than (and in addition to) a critique of contemporary buddhism: for example, the fashioning of a certain type of modern subjectivity that is reflexive of its own social constituents and can resist the ideologies of late-capitalism (this seems, at least, to be one of Tom Peppers main concerns). So my question wasn’t so much if you don’t like it, find something else but rather why is (what is left from) buddhism (after its transcendental qualities have been shorn) more effective for these purposes than say Foucault? In other words, I’m curious to see what you find fit after your transcendental shearing and to what purposes you put it and to why you think it more valuable than other theories or practices. Obviously, I need to read your book.

    Of course from your history, the engagement with Buddhism makes sense, and Matthias answered along similar lines-its where we all came from. But where you seem to be landing-outside of or in addition to a critique of contemporary Buddhism–not so much.
    Cheers, Ann

  36. nacoletta Avatar

    For me personally, it offers nothing. I’ve played with the doctrine and practices in the past and nothing has remained. I’d agree with Bora Bosna’s thorough description of why it’s very difficult to separate doctrine + practice. I no longer meditate for the reasoning that was given. I find long distance running to be a much more compelling, useful (not to mention fun and physically stimulating) medium for observing my mind.
    So while it no longer offers anything to me than the occasional reading for intellectual stimulation, here’s what I imagine Buddhism offers x-buddhists and potential x-buddhists: A religion with a system of thought and practices (including rituals) that lacks a fatherly god yet still offers an idol which we can admire and aspire to; The opportunity to be an atheist and still hold a meaningful + hopeful metaphysical perspective of existence ; the promise of deliverance from ALL suffering into a blissful, holiest of the holy, beyond-all-words enlightenment (if only one can become smart enough or see things more clearly…) A system of morality that- from the standpoint of the average Christian Westerner- would be difficult to disagree with; A Community
    IMO, this is a very attractive package and a very fitting myth for the disillusioned former monotheistic religion adherent who wants the comforts of religion without the mythology that insults his/her intellect. Due to that fact, I find myself becoming more and more past my days of snarling at x-buddhists or potential x-buddhists who talk about getting involved with it. It’s understandable! Maybe you can get a bit of each of those things listed above from different sources- but where else can you get it all together in one neat package??

  37. Patrick jennings Avatar
    Patrick jennings

    Hi Ann ,

    Re 30#

    The anatta notion of a contingent interdependent self is still very much rooted in ontology and I can’t see what it gives you lot that you couldn’t get better from say, Deleuze and Guatari. The same with Nagarjuna and Derrida. So, I don’t see a theoretical need (rather than place) for Buddhism in your project nor do I see any concern or appreciation for championing any particular historic cultural form of Buddhism. And, I know enough of your project to know that you don’t posit any a-cultural form of Buddhism meditation lurking behind the cultural varieties and cosmology…

    For me there is nothing left useful in Buddhism—that is once ‘shorn’, everything is useful just as it is; just as raw material for personal use —- meditation, chanting, visualizing , et— and as raw material (along with material from elsewhere) for the future evolution of a new ideology (understanding ideology as a way of doing something in and to the world)

    What strikes me about your comment is the absence of the political dimension. Which is mystifying since the political dimension is key to all the formulations of non-buddhism which Glenn has produced so far. For me the term buddhism in non-buddhism isn’t overtly concerned with Buddhist notions about the ontological, so much as with the way x-buddhism presents itself as ideologically neutral while functioning as a quietist perspective in relation to late capitalism. In other words buddhism identifies a particular set of ideas, perspectives, and social practices functioning in relation to power structures and economic/political processes. In any case the ‘non’ reduces all claims about ontology to a minimally transcendent status. Non-buddhism seeks to nuetralise x-buddhist co-option not in order to retrieve a pure or historically authentic form of Buddhism, but as an overt political/revolutionary attack on x-buddhist co-option, against the horizon of an environmental /social crisis. The emergence of a form of ‘corporatist spirituality’ seems to me to indicate that (in a different way and serving different class interests) x-buddhism is already to a great extent ‘shorn’ of its ‘anatta notion of a contingent interdependent self’ and is in the process of morphing into a dumbed down co-opted version of a new version of ‘the religion of inner experience’, marked by a notion of the unmediated transcendence of what it calls dualistic illusions of the separation of thought and its object, subject and its world.

  38. Paul B Avatar
    Paul B

    For me the view of emptiness/interdependence is it. Along with the core practices of shamatha/vipashyana.

    Without emptiness/interdependence everything seems to go wrong. And let me say that in another way also: without emptiness/interdependence everything seems to go wrong. If not instantly, then before too long…

    I see those two terms as different sides of the same coin. Generally speaking buddhist teachers emphasize the second – interdependence – when they’re giving public talks. It’s the more exoteric aspect, more intuitive, and of more help I think on the larger scale, because it’s applicable in practical ways everywhere, on every level. But obviously they are inseparable.

    No other tradition places this View front and center, and few traditions have even had it. One might argue that theoretical physics has something like it (though see next paragraph), but everyday ordinary science as it’s practiced operates at a far remove from such understanding, via – all too often – quite crude notions of “causality” (eg genetic and neurochemical reductionism; the thousand conditions coffee, say, is supposed to “cause”; and so on). In addition, we need to move to the larger context, and add two more interconnected items.

    The first of these is that buddhism is non-materialist, unlike the basic View of Science today. Therefore it allows for the reality of consciousness and the means to work with consciousness. Secondly, the basic practices of shamatha/vipashyana, upon which all other practices ultimately are built, create spaciousness within consciousness (“mixing mind with space”), without which, again, everything goes wrong…

    Pure reasoning on its own can lead anywhere, including – all too easily – concentration camps and gulags. Without space – and of course heart, empathy (which itself arises out of emptiness/interdependence) – reason becomes fevered and groundless, only circling in the end ever more tightly round its own conceptual referents.

    An important issue arises here, which has to do with the means by which spiritual traditions are transmitted. Though “religion” has become one of the ultimate bogeymen of our culture, it has always been the way View and practice get passed down and circulate within cultures. One of the experiments we’re engaged in in the postmodern West is the transmission of spiritual View and practice by other means. How can this be achieved? Can it be achieved? Is it even ultimately desirable? Must “religion” always fail, always be a “bad” thing?

    I struggle with the desirability of radically dismantling spiritual tradition because I see it as a necessary container for View and practice. We bemoan the New-Ageification of everything, but isn’t it precisely the maintenance of a healthy, living tradition which enables the continuity of balanced, genuine teaching? At the same time we have to relate to questions of power, inevitably, in said traditions. But is it possible we are leaping over something central here? Throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

  39. Ann Gleig Avatar
    Ann Gleig

    Hi Patrick,
    I’m not entirely sure how you’ve derived a position of “the absence of a political dimension” from my post, which, in effect asks simply what is left-over in Buddhism that can perform the political work both in specific terms of “neutralizing x-buddhism” and also the wider resistance to late-capitalism that you seek in your project that Western critical perspectives can’t do better? Your post indicates you are attempting a recovery of anatta (which you feel has been assimilated by the religion of inner experience) but as I asked earlier thinking about those aims, I wonder what does anatta do better than say Delueze and Guttari’s notion of a radically contingent socially formed self? Historically, I would argue anatta has shown little or no signs of manifesting a politically robust subjectivity reflexive of its own ideological constituents. By the way, Carrette and King made the same argument in Selling Spirituality in 2005 but with an explicit concern of having a stake in protecting traditional Buddhism (which also informs Richard Payne’s critique of “corporatist spirituality”) However, as SNB has no stake or interest in preserving the traditional, it makes me curious as to “why Buddhism.” Hope that clarifies.

  40. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Ann (#39).

    However, as SNB has no stake or interest in preserving the traditional, it makes me curious as to “why Buddhism.”

    Because x-buddhism has produced some really good shit, that’s why. The first time I went to a Buddhist meeting, I felt like I was at a secret gathering of some 1910s revolutionary cell. I heard words like liberation, human revolution, freedom from and freedom to. Mixed in were words like selflessness, interdependent origination, and clear seeing. Small gatherings, all around the city, of intelligent, largely privileged, well-educated people being exposed to concepts of liberation and anti-atomistic existence–what a potentially explosive combination! Right? Wrong. Nothing but the kind of conformist, quietist situation that Patrick discusses in #37. Again, the problem is not with x-buddhist thought and practice per se; it is with the particular configurations that its leaders propagate. And, again, such institutional forms tend to be conservative and thus self-replicating. How can this seemingly impenetrable fortress of x-buddhism be breached, and its holdings ransacked?

    Is it even worth the effort? How decisive is the fact that classical-buddhist thought and practice were initially forged by “world-renouncers,” by those who lived as isolated as “the rhinoceros’s horn,” and so on? Is there something in x-buddhism’s DNA that irrevocable dooms it to perpetual apolitical irrelevance? On the other hand we have the irony that x-buddhism has nonetheless always been easily assimilated to fulfill the desires and quell the existential concerns (largely health-oriented) of the merchant, bureaucratic, and ruling social-economic status quo. Is there some connection between these two modalities of x-buddhism? Is it forever stuck between either fleeing from the dominant ideological formation or else acquiescing to it? Is there anything in its thought and practice that can support a form of liberation that breaks free from both ascetic denial and conformity to the status quo?

    I think that there is such potential in the raw materials of x-buddhism. But I also think that the grip that contemporary x-buddhists have on that material is a violent death choke.

  41. Ann Gleig Avatar
    Ann Gleig

    Thanks, Glenn. That is very clarifying. The only place I find disagreement with you the above is that I think there are contemporary Buddhists-the East Bay Meditation Center being one such place-which are neither acquiescing to the status quo, nor reproducing ascetic denial, although from following your interactions with people on the net (for example, the conversation you, Patrick, and Tom had with Katie and Dawn from the Buddhist Peace Fellowship) I know you don’t agree. As someone who grew up in a working class Northern family in Thatcher’s Britain, class dynamics in the spiritual circles I’ve traipsed through have always been a cause of alienation and frustration for me so I feel a thrill perhaps not dissimilar to what you felt at those early gatherings at your aim to support “a form of liberation that breaks free from both ascetic denial and conformity to the status quo” but where I hit a wall is with seems to be your qualifications as to what or who does or does not qualify as part of that aim. Where I see instances of Buddhists resisting and challenging the structures of capitalism (and the race and gender formations that support capitalism), for example, SNB seems to only see “mindless drones being assimilated to the structures of capitalism” or perhaps people helping people become better mindless drones to assimilate. It seems to me that only people who agree with your exact vision of what resistance looks like are considered as agents of resistance. And it also seems that a lot of potential allies to the SNB project are eviscerated alongside the obvious targets of corporate spirituality.

  42. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Ann (#41).

    I don’t have “an exact vision of what resistance looks like.” I am interested in pushing the x-buddhist postulates way past their current parameters in order to see what vision of liberation they offer. How can a concept like anatta, liberated from its x-buddhist cage, serve a program for resistance? You could take the entire gotamic calculus and subject it to a similar line of questioning. In the process, of course, x-buddhism will become unrecognizable to itself. But its own thought will at least have been better served by the attempt.

    where I hit a wall is with seems to be your qualifications as to what or who does or does not qualify as part of that aim. Where I see instances of Buddhists resisting and challenging the structures of capitalism (and the race and gender formations that support capitalism), for example, SNB seems to only see “mindless drones being assimilated to the structures of capitalism” or perhaps people helping people become better mindless drones to assimilate.

    Given how I see decision operating, that’s correct.

  43. atomicgeography Avatar

    Ann, thanks for articulating your view so well. I agree with your comments and appreciate how well you presented them.

    Glenn, clearly you have a extensive and nuanced understanding of a wide range of Buddhist thought. It also is apparent that you have wrung just about all there is from this for your project. From a rationalist perspective I don’t see what else remains to be exploited.

  44. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Atomicgeography (#43).

    I agree, but only with emphasis on “you,” that is, me. I am thinking of moving on. But there is still plenty of work to be done. That’s true for the entire spectrum of the non-buddhist project, from the destructive-critical end to the constructive-creative end. Concerning the latter, I was hoping that the answers to the current post would generate some thinking along those lines. I cite Tom Pepper’s Badiou-inspired work in hypertranslating classical-buddhist suttas as an example of where breakthroughs might occur. I can also refer you to my own attempt, in Cruel Theory|Sublime Practice to recalculate x-buddhist terms as non-buddhist first names. Both of these efforts could be continued for a long time. I’m just not so sure I have the interest in working with x-buddhist materials to carry it off. X-buddhist figures in the West today are so incredibly stupid and shallow that it has become unbearable to engage with them. I am probably content to have created texts and methods that others can use someday. Maybe those future x-buddhists will be more thoughtful and sophisticated than the current crop of idiots are. X-buddhism cannot continue as it is. Maybe it will be swallowed up by the age-old American self-realization program (see “Secular Buddhism”). Maybe it will be co-opted by the age-old mania for solutions to ill health (see “Mindfulness”). Maybe it will continue to offer a phantasmagorphic unscathed escape from existence (see those Zen clowns). Who knows? Maybe all of this will be the fate of x-buddhism at the hands of Americans. The work that remains to be done involves salvaging x-buddhist thought and practice for its truly personal and social revolutionary potential.

    From a rationalist perspective I don’t see what else remains to be exploited.

    You’ll have to explain what that means.

  45. Luis Daniel Avatar
    Luis Daniel


    I think that the question why buddhism inevitably calls other questions such as why anything.

    Devoiding buddhism from its historical dimension makes for a very biased answer. There is no hope of politicalrelevance in any religious tradition.

    Political relevance in terms of social and economic equality on the other hand seem to leave “living in drunken stupor” problem aside.

    From this other perspective it has been customary to link social change and personal liberation. The cage for deep political change in this case is the opposite, which is making private what is a public business.

    Not surprisingly religious and political dogma converge in invading and trying to control personal space in the name of a greater good or truth, generally in the form of moralistic, truth-seeking ideas of personal bliss. The point is not the content, but force feeding it through the throat of others.

    Freedom from economic oppression is good and is a collective endeavor, least worse when undertaken in a democratic way.

    Freedom from personal suffering is not something to preach about to others, but a personal construction, in which psychoanalysis, hardcore pragmatism, in-depth heuristics and the permanent cultivation of attention can be of help but that is up to each person to decide what works best for him or her. There is no negotiation with anyone else about your private needs and beliefs.

    Except of course if you need to.

    Ofcourse against this line of thinking, politics is more important than buddhism is or will ever be.

    Now if we were talking about art and creativity, sensibility and cruelty, thats another story.

  46. Patrick jennings Avatar
    Patrick jennings

    Hi Ann,
    Thanks for the clarification. I have probably misread your comment to some extent (and missed a subtle distinction between ‘place’ and ‘theorethical need’.)
    What I was trying to express was how the co–option of Buddhism, in the blatant way in which it has occurred, especially in America, is the answer to the question ‘why Buddhism?’ This might seem like a reduction of Glenns tripartite formulation of non-buddhist aims to the third overtly political aspect, but this is simply my own bias, and not an attempt at imposing some sort of political conformity. Others has a different bias and might take from Glenns work an inspiration to do a different sort of work on x—buddhist materials.
    And , for me at least, non-buddhism is a contemporary practice of critical thought with roots in Laruelle and Althusser, Deleuze and Guatari, Badiou, and many other thinkers (and through all of them the work of Marx). Non-buddhism is a form of work on Buddhism using a contemporary heuristic indebted to contemporary thought, but given its own identity by many a creative twist and a beautifully naunced language (of destructive potential), compliments of Glenn Wallis.
    Thanks, btw, for the Carrette and King reference. I was not familiar with their work and look foreward to checking it out.

  47. Craig Avatar

    Why Buddhism? Been wracking my brain on this one. Seems the question could be asked about anything we’re ‘into’. I prefer folk music over punk, but it’s still guitars and singing, for the most part. I’m not that well versed in philosophy, but it seems as though the ‘big Truths’ of the Buddhist Event are no-self, dependent origination, ideological awareness, impermanence and collective mind/conventional truth (among others). These ‘Truths’ are alluded to or discovered in other traditions besides Buddhism. If this is the case, then I guess Buddhism is not necessary. However, my answer to the question posed above would then have to be how these Truths are wrapped up in Buddhism. I like the wrapping paper and sound, sight and touch of these Truths in the Buddhist context, rather than the philosophical. Of course, we’re getting into the area of plucked heart strings here, but if one is aware of that, then using x-Buddhist materials might be helpful and not dangerous.

    I’m glad to be taken to task of giving a reckoning of why I choose Buddhism. All of our ‘beliefs’ should looked at in unrelentingly critical ways. What’s left in the embers of X-Buddhist materials will still be the raw materials that can be used, but not adhered to as some sort of transcendent truth tradition. I would say that I claim the Truths mentioned above as ongoing conversation topics in philosophy and immanent critique. I also claim that I like chanting Nebutsu because I like to. It clears my head. That’s it…no magic, no love affair with Shin or Japan.

  48. M. Steingass Avatar

    I still believe that the Dzogchen and Mahamudra literature have a to say a lot about meditation.

    But there is a twofold problem. The discourse about meditation is poisoned. It is impossible to talk about it in any grown up way. Instead we have now meditation – which today is the socio-symbolic equivalent of appeasement as it was understood in 1938. The second point is the personal relationship of each and every person towards these texts. It is of great importance.

    The discourse about meditation in the West has developed out of and is today lead by a narcissistic and infantile culture and by persons and institutions of less then lesser intelligence. In contrast we have to remember that such meditation manuals  in the respective cultures where thought to be used be highly educated teachers for the best students (in Tibetan monasteries, for example, only a very small percentage of the monks would get more than a very frugal education). This relation has been reversed.

  49. Ann Gleig Avatar
    Ann Gleig

    Hi Patrick, Thanks . There’s actually a long and on-going debate in the sociology of religion starting with Chris Lasch’s Culture of Narcissism and Robert Bellah’s “Sheilaism” (individualized spirituality) that addresses many of these issues around spirituality, narcissism and apoliticism ect. I’d be happy to share references ect, if you want to contact me at Ann. Gleig@ucf.edu. Cheers, Ann

  50. Zoidberg Avatar

    Hello Glenn 40

    How decisive is the fact that classical-buddhist thought and practice were initially forged by “world-renouncers,” by those who lived as isolated as “the rhinoceros’s horn,” and so on? Is there something in x-buddhism’s DNA that irrevocable dooms it to perpetual apolitical irrelevance?

    Buddhist monastics aren’t just apolitical. Buddhist monastics don’t fuck. That’s way more serious than politics.

    The whole goal of Buddhism is a release from the cycle of birth and death, i.e. a release from the desire to fuck (or however you wish to gild that lily of that term).

    I think Buddhists, x-buddhists, non-buddhists, and the rest want to experience that true happiness because it seems very reliable, but they also want to keep fucking. I know I do! And we go through all sorts of convoluted philosophical machinations to try and make that possible.

    The basic fact is that if you want to be Buddhist, your goal will be to find a happiness that doesn’t include fucking. Either that’s your goal or you’re not doing Buddhism.

  51. Paul B Avatar
    Paul B

    Zoidberg, #50

    “The basic fact is that if you want to be Buddhist, your goal will be to find a happiness that doesn’t include fucking. Either that’s your goal or you’re not doing Buddhism.”

    I wouldn’t say that’s the case in the Tibetan tradition, where release from samsara doesn’t negate existence, but rather uncontrolled rebirth. Explicitly, samsara and nirvana are said to be inseparable, in fact. By the same token, there is nothing at all wrong with enjoyment in tantric buddhism – whether of sex or anything else. Quite the contrary. Enjoyment doesn’t require craving or grasping, however. The latter don’t provide sustained happiness, as can be empirically verified!

  52. JRC Avatar

    In memory of The Faithful Buddhist:

    As a person is a machine, perpetually determined by immediate and distant external influences (be they outside of the body or within), he or she is inevitably defined by the ideology that characterizes his or her life. Meditation, at its most denuded, might offer a juncture of minimal distraction through which one could observe the aspects and parameters of aforesaid ideology, at first recognizing and accepting one’s lack (in the face of some so-called freedom or transcendence) and then better understanding and evaluating the repercussions of one’s “decisions” as a component part of a society. After careful consideration, one may come to realize (to be chosen by) and in turn demonstrate through one’s actions the ideology more suited to the greater good.

  53. JRC Avatar

    But stopping at recognizing and accepting one’s lack would also be sufficient, as it may at least prevent you from doing any further harm.

  54. Patrick jennings Avatar
    Patrick jennings

    Hi Ann,
    Can’t seem to contact you at your mail address,(technical ignoramous that I am ) Would you be so kind as to contact me by email – jenningscreate@yahoo.co.uk thanks

  55. Danny Avatar

    Hi JRC (#51-2)

    Interesting comment. Maybe something like you say, but perhaps better done in a group practice? I lifted this from The Faithful Buddhist site, Tom’s essay “On Having Right View” :

    In other words, the current term that most closely matches the concept intended by drsti/ditthi is: ideology. They are produced by our social formation, by our practices and actions, and they shape even our emotions and perceptions, our every experience of the world. We can’t be without any drsti/ditthi, but that doesn’t mean we should tolerate any and all particular “interpretation of experience.” Some will surely produce more suffering than others. We cannot change these at will, by some kind of “free” choice—but that doesn’t mean we cannot change them at all. They can be changed, but only through real social practice over time; and we can know the causes and effects of our drsti/ditthi /ideology, but only in rigorous thought—not “innocently or naively.” The difficulty is in making the leap from knowledge of the cultural causes and effects of our drsti/ditthi to the actual practice capable of changing our drsti/ditthi. It can be as difficult as closing the gap between knowing I should eat healthier foods and quit smoking, and actually doing it. It can be done, but the work of Buddhist practice is figuring out how, and doing it. And, like so many changes in our lives, it may be best done with help from a group.

  56. Zoidberg Avatar

    Hello Paul B #51,

    That sounds quite nice… but I can’t see how it would work (while remaining Buddhist, at least). This is the big pill to swallow with Buddhism, it seems to me. You either take it on faith that the Buddha really meant what he (supposedly) said, which is that there is a happiness that doesn’t require birth– real birth, not birth in the instant, etc. Or you do a sort of half-Buddhism, which is fine; nobody is keeping score. If you want the undying happiness, you have to go all the way, though.

    I’m not advertising this view as an adherent. I just accept that it’s the view of a Buddhist. In the same way you can’t really be Christian unless you accept the fact of Jesus’ resurrection, you can’t really be Buddhist unless you accept the truth of undying happiness without (literal) birth. There is weak sauce Christianity as well as weak sauce Buddhism, and again– nobody is keeping score here. For clarity’s sake I think it’s worthwhile to make these truths known so that people can choose whose path to follow. If you’re not following the path to undying happiness through cessation of rebirth, I posit that you’re not following the Buddha. (I’m aware that is a distinctly Theravadan point of view, but it is the view that seems most obvious to me.)

  57. JRC Avatar

    Danny (#55):

    I agree with you wholeheartedly. Observing the aspects and parameters of one’s ideology, recognizing and accepting one’s lack, and understanding and evaluating the repercussions of one’s “decisions” as a component part of a society would be misguided without the insights of others.

  58. Red Dust Avatar

    Buddhism gave freely the Data I needed to develop insight into who I am…depending on your conditioning the data is super simple or super complicated. Plus I need a road map, I was lost.

  59. Jeff Miller Avatar
    Jeff Miller

    Dharma practices gave me valuable tools necessary to refine perception of where I actually am, what’s actually happening, what I actually am (and am not), and how I’m relating (or am not relating) to what’s actually happening. That these effective tools happen to be found in a corroding and increasingly Christianized and supernaturalized ancient oral tradition is irrelevant. I have no interest in the construct we now call “Buddhism”, but Dharma practices are more valuable to me than gold or jewels. It’s practice or it’s nothing.

  60. Tomek Avatar

    Glenn, the picture that you’ve chosen alone can be a cruel thing to contemplate for an average x-buddhistic gob stuck in the middle of the dharmic sea, and still pleased by the hallucinated sail full of hope for an auspicious completion of his travel … But do you really believe that there still is some other use of those rotten planks than to have one really spectacular bonfire? Come on! You’ve refined a lot of jet fuel around here, where are the matches? Let’s have a really memorable Event!

    And I am sure that the remaining embers will be hot enough to spit-roast the dharmic Pigs for a long time to come. A lot of spicy fat still to melt.

  61. Patrick jennings Avatar
    Patrick jennings

    Re# 59
    Hi Jeff,
    I’m afraid the ‘dharmic’ (yuck) tools you refer to are blunt instruments, only good for limited use. They don’t show you the neurological structures and processes that enable introspection. For that you need science. They don’t show you the social/ideological structures and processes that enable the creation of the introspecting subject. For that you need critical theory. This is why we are here. Its everywhere on all of the blogs associated with this project. Which leads me to believe you are not reading here at all and should flap off to another perch.

  62. Patrick jennings Avatar
    Patrick jennings


    Re 60#

    Why wait on Glenn?

  63. Tomek Avatar

    Oh, Patrick (#62), I simply keep remember that Glenn used to say that he was heading in a direction where “>>Buddhism<< is no more [where] it is nowhere to be found.” But I assume that he’s still camping around here in fitting proximity to the vallation, pipe and all that, keeping an eye on the fading embers/… I’ll hang out around here for a while, all right?

  64. Jeff Miller Avatar
    Jeff Miller

    Hi Patrick,

    ” They don’t show you the neurological structures and processes that enable introspection. … They don’t show you the social/ideological structures and processes that enable the creation of the introspecting subject.”

    Of course they do, if done correctly and consistently. It sounds like you have it exactly backwards. Practice reveals the science and the critical theory, if we get out of our own busy way and pay attention. The tools are only as blunt as we are.

  65. Tomek Avatar

    Practice reveals the science and the critical theory, if we get out of our own busy way and pay attention. The tools are only as blunt as we are.

    Jeff (#64), you mean something like that just by “sharpening” one’s attention one can understand how subpersonal neurological mechanisms of the body enable the very phenomenon of his/her subjective sense of attention and so on?

  66. Zoidberg Avatar

    I think these sorts of discussions can often turn into Wuxia kung-fu battles, with the combatants zipping around in the tree tops shooting invisible energy blasts at each other. I’d like to bring it down to the level of streetfighting by getting back into the actual muck of living and away from the language of crit lit. Maybe that’s just because I wouldn’t last in a brawl vs. a true Martial Hero, but I yam who I yam.

    So… let’s start with the muckiest of the mucks: the sociopathic child molester. Even such a low character is doing what he or she considers to be the best possible use of his or her time. And there is no Law to stop them. There are no real limits on our activities as long as we stay within the laws of physics. The only limits are contractual: I agree not to harm you if you agree not to harm me. If either party breaks the contract, the contract is then totally broken, which is why first degree murder is one action with certain causal effects and killing in self-defense is a different action with different causal effects.

    Core Buddhism (5 precepts, 4 noble truths, 8-fold path) offers an interesting version of causality. The common wisdom is that dying is extremely traumatic and best avoided, even if one must kill to prevent it. Core Buddhism postulates that killing is more traumatic than dying under all circumstances, and will require a longer period of coping.

    This idea must be taken on faith, of course, since we do not have access to a man like the Buddha who can accurately recount his former lives. There are reports of former-life recollection, but they don’t seem to be linked to any particular skill set. Often the reports come from children who are quite naive to what they’re saying. If the Buddha’s prescription worked, we would have a good number of enlightened beings who could recall their former lives, match those lives up to the historical record, and verify that killing is indeed more traumatic than dying.

    Maybe there are caveats to this legendary skill. Maybe not every enlightened person gains those powers. Or they are not taken seriously. Or real enlightenment is so rare that it only happens once every million years.

    Whatever the real, verifiable truth is of trauma and causality, I prefer the possibility of enlightenment as a total end to all suffering to the probability of its non-existence… or existence as the more verifiable equation of Nirvana = Samsara (seen as mirage instead of pool of water). Therefore I live my life according to the Buddhist version of Pascal’s wager, accepting that it is more traumatic to kill than it is to die. My hope is that my causal actions will asymptotically approach the way of enlightenment that runs parallel to causality, until I’m so close I just hop over.

    I don’t know that any other system of thought offers that sort of hope in a way that also offers smaller chunks of verifiable practice along the way. The hope of real Nirvana may be totally un-verifiable and therefore useless to others who want verifiability (or at least a balanced equation). It works for me, and nothing else does.

  67. Paul B Avatar
    Paul B

    Zoidberg, #56

    Hi Zoidberg,

    Well but … the View of buddhism is non-dual, right? It can’t be reduced to concept. In the words of the Heart Sutra, “… There is no birth and no cessation … no ignorance, no end of ignorance up to no old age and death, no end of old age and death …” etc. From the standpoint of Western classical logic, it makes no sense to say that birth and death neither exist nor don’t exist. But that is what is being pointed to here.

    There have always been those who wish to make the language of very early buddhism primary, in the way you say: what the Buddha “really meant,” “you can’t really be a Buddhist unless…,” “If you’re not following the path to undying happiness through cessation of rebirth, I posit that you’re not following the Buddha…” etc. But buddhism doesn’t work that way; it has continued to evolve. Also, rather than Theravadin buddhism, it’s Mahayana (within which can be included Tibetan Buddhism as sharing the Mahayana View, with supplemental practices) characterizes the overwhelming majority of buddhist groups a Westerner might come into contact with.

  68. Patrick jennings Avatar
    Patrick jennings


    Re 64#

    Practice reveals the science and the critical theory, if we get out of our own busy way and pay attention.



    Re 63#

    All right!
    It might be a little chilly, though.

  69. Jeff Miller Avatar
    Jeff Miller

    Tomek – # 64 & 65: yes, exactly so. But not just sharpening our attention. Also getting out of our own way by ceasing the incessant but comforting and safe chattering in the head, letting go of mental and emotional reactivity, stepping out of conditioned fortresses of belief, and descending below the surface waves of consciousness to an acutely aware, preverbal, pre-conceptual space. This is where discovery and knowing and realization takes place. Theory is a very poor substitute for experiential knowing. And if it’s cruel sublime clarity that one is seeking, it can be found in this space, with courage, and with the willingness to be ripped apart and dissolved into non-existence in order to see what is actually taking place within this cherished and endlessly defended appearance we call “self’, and within the larger environments that this “self” is embedded in and moves with. The tools of Dharma practice are anything but blunt if we know how to use them correctly…in fact, they have very sharp edges.

  70. Patrick jennings Avatar
    Patrick jennings

    Hi Jeff,
    Well, I saw this coming. You need to read here for a while or find an x—buddhist site to do all this ‘chattering in the head’ at. Its not what the project is about. Otherwise the rottweiler will be set on you and you don’t want that!

  71. Tomek Avatar

    Jeff (#69 ), in a way I agree. “Letting go” of “chattering in the head (…) of mental and emotional reactivity, stepping out of conditioned fortresses of belief, and descending below the surface waves of consciousness to an acutely aware, preverbal, pre-conceptual space” can be achieved to some degree in specially arranged retreat situation and additionally by using serotoninergic “tools of Dharma” like chanting, bowing, mantring, sitting still for long stretches of time, etc. So no doubt about it. It’s empirically proven fact. But frequently getting rid of this grip of “incessant chattering in the head” – very often painfully somatized – has its prize – this calmed body/mind “self” becomes a prey of ideological co-option.

    Now, one of the most valuable aspects of this SNB project is that it helps to unmask this co-option (whether by traditional forms of x-buddhism or crypto-Buddhist/mindfulness), or better to say, to expose what is called here hyper-reflexivity (if you read Nascent Speculative Non-Buddhism article you know what I mean.) But this unmasking is impossible by using the very tools that enabled this co-option in the first place. It is not by getting rid of the grip of “incessant chattering in the head” and diving “below the surface waves of consciousness,” how an individual recovers his/her co-opted agency. This recovery is a result of being gripped by concepts. “It is this capacity,” writes Brassier“to be gripped by concepts that makes us answerable to conceptual norms.” (p. 4) So if one wants to become fully responsible individual acting in the world there is no other way to achieve that but to be “gripped by concepts,” or as it is sometimes called here “clear thinking.” Even if at first glance this may sound commonsensical, it can be difficult to reconcile this with a pervasive message in x-buddhistic circles to completely abandon thinking; where the prevailing view is, as you say, that “(t)heory is a very poor substitute for experiential knowing.”

  72. Danny Avatar

    Hi Zoidberg:

    killing is more traumatic than dying under all circumstances, and will require a longer period of coping.

    This just sounds funny to me. Of course killing will require a longer period of coping–if you’re dying, then you’re dead! there’s no coping left to be done, right?

    One more thing; I’m curious, and please pardon my ignorance: Did the Buddha mention homosexual relations anywhere that you know of? Not much fear of the cycle of birth and death in that kind of relation, is there? And though I may be accused of mental masturbation here–what about the safest sex of all?…you know, “answering the ol’ bone-a-phone, beating around the bush”?
    I guess what I’m asking you is this: Can monks have safe sex? If not, then why not?

  73. Jeff Miller Avatar
    Jeff Miller

    Tomek (71), I described letting go of chattering in the head as a practice, not as a desired end state. Of course we need concepts in order to be effective in our life and society. The structured practice of intentionally letting go of habitual and stale patterns of thought and unconscious emotional reactivity can result in a state of clarity. Clarity is the clear perception of where we actually are, what’s actually happening, how where we are and what’s happening is shaping us (and society), and how we are reacting to what’s actually happening…free from our conditioned or preferred patterns of thought and defensive emotional embellishments. This clearing (clarity) is the most effective way to not become prey to ideological co-option, and it is putting the horse before the cart. Clarity is the birthplace of what you refer to as “clear thinking”, with the understanding that clarity is a necessary condition for clear thinking to happen. Rutted patterns of thought, no matter how exercised, don’t lead to clarity because thoughts are incapable of perceiving clarity. Thoughts are incapable of perceiving anything. When we let them dominate the experience of our existence, we are handicapped and trapped in a dark prison of reifying and safely reassuring (and self-concretizing) chatter. Many of the tools found in conventional Buddhism serve well to explode this prison. Not coincidently, these experiential bombs can also explode conventional Buddhism…which is why so many conventional Buddhists, both students and teachers, prefer the mind-dulling drugs of belief and doctrine over the tools of practice. Tools are dangerous.

  74. Zoidberg Avatar

    Hey Paul B #67,

    That sounds like the Mahayana view (which makes sense since you’re quoting the Heart Sutra). My own view is closer to the Theravada (or more accurately, Ajahn Chah’s flavor of Theravada). It is dualistic… until it isn’t. That means a pracitioner is on a causal path towards enlightenment and then, at the singularity of enlightenment, there ceases to be a reference point for causal events.

    I have no idea how that works, nor can I wrap my mind around it exactly. It just makes more sense to me, despite the oddness of the claim, than the Mahayana view of Nirvana and Samsara being the same causal realm viewed through two pairs of glasses (one the wrong prescription, and one the right, i.e. ignorance and enlightenment, respectively). Quite a few people prefer the Mahayana view and can’t abide the Theravada view. I’m the opposite!

    In a later post I talk about claims to certainty a bit (#66). To rephrase that post here: I wouldn’t be practicing the way I do if I wasn’t certain the Buddha meant what he said in the early texts. Of course, my certainty here is a kind of contingent certainty. I’m certain I could learn to play Rachmaninoff proficiently if I practiced enough. That doesn’t mean I’ll do it! I’d say I’m even less certain of the Buddha’s claims, but my certainty is of that same general flavor. (To contrast with my certainty that dropped wine glasses shatter, for instance.)

  75. Tomek Avatar

    Jeff (#73), if I had to choose one sentence from your comment to point out our moot point, I would choose this one:

    Thoughts are incapable of perceiving anything.

    Why? Take a look at the following fragment from one of the works by Victor Hori and I hope you’ll know what I mean:

    Is it really possible that there could be a realm of consciousness without cognitive content or intellectual activity? At least one branch of Western epistemology insists that there cannot be knowledge without concepts to organize sensation into meaningful perception.

    “Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind.”
    “The understanding can intuit nothing, the senses can think nothing. Only through their union can knowledge arise.” Immanuel Kant Critique of Pure Reason

    This view holds that ordinary perception is saturated with conceptual activity which gives meaning to sensation. For example, I see these flesh-like things as my hands; I see this flat brown surface as my desk; I hear this shrill sound as the ring of the telephone. Each such unsophisticated instance of seeing or hearing is really a “seeing as” or “hearing as” in which sensation is organized according to some concept like “hand” or “desk” or “ring of telephone.” Off to the left of my visual field, I see the flash of an object flying past my window and then realize it was just light glinting on my glasses. I hear a sound of someone snoring and then realize that it is the sound of an old bicycle wheel creakily passing by outside. In these examples we see concepts—”something flying by,” “glint on my glasses,” “someone snoring,” “creaky bicycle wheel”—competing to organize our sensory field into something meaningful. But a pure consciousness without concepts, if there could be such a thing, would be a booming, buzzing confusion, a sensory field of flashes of light, unidentifiable sounds, ambiguous shapes, color patches without significance. This is not the consciousness of the enlightened Zen master. Even he looks at lines on the wall and sees them as a door, hears a shrilling as the ring of a telephone, sniffs an odor and recognizes alcohol on your breath. A pure consciousness without concepts would not have “door,” “telephone,” “alcohol.”

    After the breakthrough in kensho, one finally “sees things as they are,” and it is tempting to think that “as they are” means “without conceptualization.” (It could also mean, e.g., “without attachment” or “without value judgment,” but these different nuances are not sorted out.) It is tempting to say, “You mistook a branch for a snake because conceptualization got in the way,” as if conceptualization functioned only to distort veridical perception. Not so. Correctly seeing a brown shape as a branch presupposes as much conceptual activity as mistakenly seeing a brown shape as a snake. Sensational perception has meaning or significance only because a concept has first organized and given meaning to it. It is a secondary question whether that concept was applied correctly or incorrectly. Even the veridical “seeing things as they are” comes after conceptualization, not before. This means that “seeing things as they are” is one variation of, not the alternative to, seeing things as thought and language have conditioned us to see them. To state the point in rather radical terms, if conceptual activity were subtracted from experience, whatever remained would not be meaningful; it might not even qualify for the label “experience.” (p. 283-4)

  76. Jeff Miller Avatar
    Jeff Miller

    Tomek (75) Thought alone is a desiccated and shallow imputation (representative substitute) for experience. A simple example: the concept of “tree” is very different than the experience of tree. An abstract concept of “tree” distorts and even prevents an understanding of tree. In order to understand a tree, to enter into it and let it enter us, we need to first release our lifeless and life-sucking concept of “tree”. Once we’ve directly experienced the tree, free from our habitual conditioned thought processes, outside of our comfort zone, then our concept of “tree” will more closely match the reality of tree.

    The same is true when investigating the nature of our being and the nature of existence. We can make stuff up about these phenomena or cobble together explanations based on what so and so said, or we can use tools that directly expose us to the essential nature of our being and the nature of existence before we attempt to explain them or convince ourselves that we know something.

    Conventional Buddhist doctrine now fails to provoke the direct experience, the sublime vision, but the tools are still there, still sharp, ready to cut away the thick dross of concept in order to expose the nourishing marrow of actuality. If we use them correctly and consistently, then our concepts are informed by the richness of actuality instead of being mere emaciated ghost-like chattering fictions. But for most modern folks, addicted to concept, it’s easier and safer to just chatter in the void of an imagined solid self…there’s no risk of getting ripped to shreds in chattering.

  77. Jeff Miller Avatar
    Jeff Miller

    Patrick (70):

    “Well, I saw this coming. You need to read here for a while or find an x—buddhist site to do all this ‘chattering in the head’ at. Its not what the project is about. Otherwise the rottweiler will be set on you and you don’t want that!”

    Glenn asked:

    “What does Buddhism offer that we can’t get from any other system of thought and practice?”

    My answer was the effective practices found within the Buddhist system. It’s clear that my answer and additional comments about the value of these practices makes you uncomfortable for some reason (you’ve suggested twice that I should leave), but, as I made clear above, I have no interest in conventional Buddhist doctrine, and I find this project to be very interesting, so I’ll stay here unless Glenn ejects me.

  78. Paul B Avatar
    Paul B

    Jeff Miller, #77

    Hi Jeff, for what it’s worth, I’ve really valued your responses here and have a similar perspective. And I’ve also experienced the same kind of “threat,” quite a few times actually in the space of just a week or whatever it has been of contributing! So … cheers!

  79. Paul B Avatar
    Paul B

    Zoidberg, #74

    Hi Zoidberg,

    Ah, okay. Yes, Theravadin language and approach have certain emphases different from Mahayana.

    The notion of nirvana and samsara being inseparable is not all that unintuitive though, I think. At the most basic level, we might ask whether any concept can actually exist without its opposite. Can black exist without white? Hot without cold? Some kind of experience would still be there, but these terms require their opposites in order to have meaning. So by the same token, what would wisdom even mean without ignorance/confusion? And vice versa.

    Practice that Rachmaninoff! I’m working on one of the Op. 87 Fugues of Shostakovich right now, as it happens – hard! (Check out the D-flat major fugue for maximal craziness – though that’s not the one I’m studying right now, for sanity’s sake…)

  80. Tomek Avatar

    Once we’ve directly experienced the tree…

    So the key issue for you Jeff (#76), as I assume, is this “direct experience,” right? And I’m not surprised all, after all this is a prevalent motif, or as Patrick says, “common denominator of modern x-buddhist discourse.” And he quotes from Richard K. Payne:

    These conceptions are the ground for claims that religion, defined as religious experience, is irreducible to other factors, such as social history or economics, and arises solely from itself (the sui generis claim). Since such a hypothetical experience is preverbal, it is also not subject to evaluation. Being a direct experience of reality just as it is, it is self-authenticating. In other words, there is no way that reasoned, reflective thought can be applied to the claims made on the basis of “religious experience.”

    Now, I admit the possibility that a large majority of simple sensory experiences is not available for cognitive reference and that for possessing phenomenal experience it is not necessary to at the same time possess capacities for mental concept formation or linguistic abilities – and this unintelligible phenomenological landscape I’d leave for a truly dedicated cave or forest dwellers heading towards the “unconditioned.” But when it comes to an active human agents living in a world of social relations, I take the following as a general guiding principle:

    “We gain access to the structure of reality via a machinery of conception which extracts intelligible indices from a world that is not designed to be intelligible and is not originarily infused with meaning. Meaning is a function of conception and conception involves representation – though this is not to say that conceptual representation can be construed in terms of word-world mappings. It falls to conceptual rationality to forge the explanatory bridge from thought to being.” (link, p. 1)

  81. Patrick jennings Avatar
    Patrick jennings

    Jeff and Paul,
    I’ll leave you to it then. Ive no interest any more in ‘dialoging’ with head up the arse buddhists.
    Read the countless long treads here . Its been done over and over. I don’t want to persuade anyone of anything.

  82. Boy named sue Avatar

    Jeff, the problem here is that you don’t appear to be engaging the process of “thinking”. This is what SNB wants you to engage in, and the indications that you might not be or willing or able to engage in that process is what makes you less than welcome here, not that you make Glenn uncomfortable.

    You say you have no interest in Buddhist doctrine, yet your response to Tomek and the gobbledygook about being one with a tree is a rehashing of Buddhist doctrine. Now, I have no doubt Tomek is well versed in this kind of doctrine, and doesn’t need it to explained to him. What Tomek is trying to do is to explain to you the problems with this kind of thinking. Can you see that? Can you try reading the passage again, and think about what it means and how it conflicts with your deeply held assumptions? Now, very honestly, how does that feel? How does it make you want to react…

  83. Timus Avatar

    Jeff (#76)

    An abstract concept of “tree” distorts and even prevents an understanding of tree.

    I’d rather say that without the concept of “tree” there is no tree (which is not saying there’s nothing). You can’t experience the tree without the concept. Without concepts there’s just pulpy indifference. Concepts always form your experience. Pre-conceptual understanding is a myth.

  84. Zoidberg Avatar

    Hello Danny #72

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. This statement gets to the heart of Buddhist mythology:

    This just sounds funny to me. Of course killing will require a longer period of coping–if you’re dying, then you’re dead! there’s no coping left to be done, right?

    A human in Buddhist mythology is constantly coping with everything that has happened for all time. (Here I use the word ‘mythology’ to indicate an established worldview, not pejoratively as something antiquated or silly.) In fact the human is the solution to the problem of constantly coping. When there is too much to cope with you’re in hell. When you’re taking a breather you’re in the Deva realm. When you are actually doing the work of coping with everything that has happened to you, you’re a human. This is why only a human can become enlightened; only a human can process the enormity of the suffering that has occurred and emerge out the other end free from the cycle of suffering.

    In this mythology, death is a traumatic event. Disrupted from the body and the idea of safety in the body, the propagation of your ignorant desires searches madly for another body to inhabit. You choose this next body based on sexual desire for the attractive parents. If you have a bit of clarity you choose parents that might bring into the world a child who has the capacity to become enlightened.

    So a monk or nun participating in Buddhist mythology would not want to have any kind of sexual relations because he or she would want to develop clarity instead of lust. Just as a drunk man or woman will regret waking up next to whomever they left the bar with, so too would a human, drunk on lust, regret his or her choice of parents.

    Pretty fucking weird, right? Then again, as mythological models go, I certainly prefer this one to others where you only get one shot at salvation / freedom / etc. If you must have a mythological model for the process of death and deliverance (and I would posit that everybody does, even if they deny it), this is one of the most morally positive ones out there measured by outcomes.

  85. Zoidberg Avatar

    Hello Paul 79

    I prefer the metaphor of absence instead of opposites. A cup is the absence of clay. Wisdom is the absence of ignorance. I prefer this metaphor because it gives me the power of a sculptor– I like to think I have something to work with, that my thoughts, concepts, feelings, etc. matter and are not just “passing clouds” or “leaves in the river” or some of the other metaphors I’ve heard (not from you, but from meditation teachers).

    One of the interesting metaphors for enlightenment I’ve heard is light that doesn’t land anywhere. Darkness is, of course, the absence of light, but what would light be without a place to land? How one gets from the sculpted clay cup to light that doesn’t land… there isn’t a clear metaphorical path there.

    Thanks for the encouragement and the recommendation! I’ll add those pieces to my playlist.

  86. Zoidberg Avatar

    Hi Jeff Miller #76

    I definitely empathize with the idea you outline here:

    Thought alone is a desiccated and shallow imputation (representative substitute) for experience. A simple example: the concept of “tree” is very different than the experience of tree. An abstract concept of “tree” distorts and even prevents an understanding of tree. In order to understand a tree, to enter into it and let it enter us, we need to first release our lifeless and life-sucking concept of “tree”. Once we’ve directly experienced the tree, free from our habitual conditioned thought processes, outside of our comfort zone, then our concept of “tree” will more closely match the reality of tree.

    Many of us Westerners who come to Buddhism come to it through the gauntlet of families that use thinking as a device for obfuscation instead of liberation. I don’t know you, so that may not apply, but it applies to me; therefore a non-conceptual tree seems quite relaxing. I imagine this is why this idea of “non-conceptual understanding” took such a firm hold here in the West. It is a prescription (of sorts) for the audience that Buddhism has attracted here. Same goes for “leaning into feelings” and “watching thoughts like clouds” and other standard practices that make the rounds. When thinking is painful, the worlds beyond thoughts seem wonderful.

    Early on I think these sorts of practices and metaphors can have their uses. They deliver the goods, which is why they are popular! For me, though, they became maddening. After the buzz of freedom from painful thoughts wore off, the practice of getting to the non-conceptual tree became a practice of insanity. There is always a concept. Even if you think you’ve found the non-conceptual tree, you’re operating based on a concept of its existence.

    For me that realization was the step towards a criticism of Buddhism that feels helpful and healthy. I don’t feel comfortable bringing that criticism to my local Insight Meditation group because I don’t want to disrupt people who don’t want to be disrupted. I don’t want that responsibility nor do I imagine it would be helpful.

    During my limited time on this scene I’ve noticed there is the typical formation of cliques as well as joyful mythmaking about the enemy (sometimes bordering on propaganda) that are endemic to any group, especially those who have a mind for revolutions. I am a bit uncomfortable about that element and am wary of my own tendencies to participate in it. There is also some really good thinking that is hard to find anywhere else. To the extent that Glenn moderates we’re all guests on his blog re: comments. The real test though is whether the thinking here seems helpful, which it sounds like it does to you. With that in mind I offer a word of caution about the non-conceptual tree!

  87. Jeff Miller Avatar
    Jeff Miller

    Of course there is always a concept. 🙂 And there is no “real ” tree to be found. But that doesn’t make the process I described any less valuable. The point is to periodically step back and examine the patterns of their formation, to relax them, to tame them so as not to be captured by them, to explode them if necessary, to let new life in. To subvert them, to the extent that we can. Form and formless ways of mediating reality. The spectrum of concepts ranges from subtle to gross. Modern people are pathologically estranged, blind to subtle relationships that exist between themselves and the elements of the myriad multilevel environments that they are embedded in, and have taken refuge in safe patterns of thought that are dominated by gross level concepts which are conditioned and manipulated by forces that they aren’t aware of, and defended with calloused belief. An example is the concept of nature which collectively is so perverted, cartooned, and divorced from the actuality of nature in the modern mind that it can be accurately described as a psychotic hallucination that has enabled an equally psychotic ongoing destruction of the very thin layer of life here in planet Earth. Many of the practices found in conventional Buddhism help us to see through our fortresses of habitual thought patterns and gross level concepts. They enable us to step out of runaway systems of thought. They enable us to think about how we think, after we’ve observed how we think and have seen how our patterns of thought exclude what we’ve been conditioned to not see. They enable us to become aware of how our patterns of thought are conditioned by processes larger than us that we’re not conscious of when we’re caught up in our unconscious habitual patterns of thought and reactivity. Then when we look at a tree we’re not so blinded by or dragged around by our thoughts of “tree”. We don’t unconsciously rush to categorize it, pin it down, explain it. In the space that opens in the absence of all that busy attempt to dominate our experience, we can let the tree enter us and enter into the tree…a more direct way of relating to both tree and the shifting confluence of elements we describe as ‘self’. Doing so, we have more raw data to work with. We’re less likely to fall into alienation and neurosis, and less likely to become easily exploited tools of dominant society. And importantly, our absurd notions of certainty are revealed as the desperate defense mechanisms that they are…which scares some critics of Buddhist practices so badly that they react aggressively against them because they sense instinctively that these practices have the potential to dismantle their most prized possession…their fantasy of a separate, solid, certain ‘self’.

  88. Paul B Avatar
    Paul B

    Patrick Jennings, #81

    “Head up the arse” isn’t any better you know…! It’s not actually necessary to turn the search for deeper understanding into a war. Some buddhists do that, lots of people from everywhere do that. Academia as a whole often resembles an asura realm. Oh well.

    Zoidberg, #86

    “There is always a concept. Even if you think you’ve found the non-conceptual tree, you’re operating based on a concept of its existence.”

    I think the trouble here is continuing to use the word “tree” in that phrase. Indeed one cannot find a “non-conceptual tree,” because that is saying that a non-conceptual concept exists! In that very moment we are speaking of “tree” we have a concept we can’t get rid of. This is fine; it is called relative reality.

    But it is inseparable from ultimate reality too, in which we are actually unable to find lines of division between one concept and another, and recognize their arbitrariness, their invention. In relative reality we point to something which we’ve all (to one degree or another, depending upon what it is) agreed to call “x.” At the same time there is another way of seeing (not thinking) which doesn’t recognize any of these demarcations we have created.

    Now, it’s true that en route to actually seeing this way, we might create additional concepts in order to point the way to it! But there is also the real experience of, say, relating to energy in itself, which as it were undercuts concept. Glenn at one point mentioned psychedelics, and I think that, yes, they can give a glimpse of this experience. But shamatha/vipashyana can too. And I would go further: I think that if we were able to look carefully at our minds all day, we would notice innumerable little moments of non-conceptual awareness.

  89. Zoidberg Avatar

    Hey Jeff Miller #87

    I would like to break that post down into some smaller chunks to help tease out some of my own anxieties about the subject matter.

    Many of the practices found in conventional Buddhism help us to see through our fortresses of habitual thought patterns and gross level concepts. They enable us to step out of runaway systems of thought. They enable us to think about how we think, after we’ve observed how we think and have seen how our patterns of thought exclude what we’ve been conditioned to not see.

    I prefer this metaphor of the “runaway system of thought” to the common metaphor of “stories” that is used by many meditation teachers I’ve met. “You’ve become wrapped up in your stories” is a phrase that always grinds my gears. How else do you intend that I plan what I am to do next besides imagining myself doing it? (That is me asking them, not you.)

    The “runaway system of thought” metaphor seems more accurate to the experience, which is like Donald Duck on the assembly line, trying to put together widgets as the conveyor belt runs faster and faster. In the rush to produce mental widgets, we outpace ourselves and forget why we wanted the widget in the first place. This seems like an accurate metaphor for the way humans destroy valuable ideas, objects, and communities in a rush to get the value those ideas, objects, and communities have.

    I am less comfortable with the metaphor of “stepping out” as it relates to the metaphor of the observer in the next sentence. I don’t believe there is such a maneuver. The best we can hope for is to slow down the conveyor belt and give Donald Duck the proper time to make his widget. Finding the Observer can be like finding the real tree– the way that search leads is to madness.

    We don’t unconsciously rush to categorize it, pin it down, explain it. In the space that opens in the absence of all that busy attempt to dominate our experience, we can let the tree enter us and enter into the tree…a more direct way of relating to both tree and the shifting confluence of elements we describe as ‘self’. Doing so, we have more raw data to work with.

    The metaphor of “raw data” makes sense to me as a photographer. When you take a “raw” image on a modern digital SLR camera, you are bypassing the camera’s compression algorithms and recording every photon “hit” that registers on the charge-coupled device (or complimentary metal-oxide semiconductor). This gives you the maximum amount of data to work with as you edit the image.

    The problem with this metaphor for a human is that necessarily assumes an intermediary. In the case of the camera, there is the external tech. For humans, there must be a homunculus who gathers the data for his boss to process. This metaphor can be as dangerous as the Observer or the real tree. At worst they lead towards madness. Slightly less worse is the possibility that somebody will think they’ve found the observer, or the raw data, and cease to make any further inquiries.

    To the extent that I understand it, the project of this blog is to excavate these and other metaphors that might lead to individual or collective madness. So my question to you is this: to what extent does my metaphorical reading of your post seem accurate (or inaccurate)? Secondary question: which metaphors resonate with you?

  90. Jeff Miller Avatar
    Jeff Miller

    Boy Named Sue (82):

    “You say you have no interest in Buddhist doctrine, yet your response to Tomek and the gobbledygook about being one with a tree is a rehashing of Buddhist doctrine.”

    I’d be very much interested in hearing your explanation of how you exist separate from the elements of the environments that you exist in.

    Or, if I’m misunderstanding your statement and you think you’re not separate from the elements of the environments you exist in, do you think it important to consciously establish some sort of (nonverbal) communication with them? If so, by what method or mechanism? If you don’t think it important, can you explain why?

    Or, if you do think that you exist separate from the elements of the environments that you exist in and that no communication can be established between you and these elements (or that it isn’t necessary to do so), how does this shape your patterns of thought and sense of self? Also, do you regard this separation as a loss, gain, or neither? Or, is it visa verse? Do your patterns of thought create the sense of separation from elements of the larger environments that you exist in? Is this a conscious separation? Or does it operate under the radar?

    “Rehashing of Buddhist doctrine”. Actually, more informed by my graduate training in clinical psychology, counseling psychology, and ecopsychology, as well as my clinical experience. Which, of course, is all “Gobbledygook” also I suppose. And by being an exploratory artist. And a cultural nomad. And an amateur science. But I do understand that it’s more convenient to have an easy target like “Buddhist doctrine”.

  91. Jeff Miller Avatar
    Jeff Miller

    Zoidberg (88):

    I see “story” and “runaway system of thought” as two entirely different but overlapping states / processes.

    The term “story” is just a tool, unless you’re mixing something else into it…have you checked? I’m comfortable with the metaphor of “story”. In my clinical practice, week after week after week, sometimes for months, a client will tell me the same story from countless different places within the story. Many clients wear these stories like armor, or, to grate your nerves even more, as if wrapped up in a comforting quilt. Some are trapped in their story and know it. Some use them to inflict pain on themselves. Some use them as avoidance mechanisms. Some use them to confuse. For some, they are a scream for help. Some lovingly construct them brick by brick, repairing chinks, remodeling as needed to keep them from crumbling.

    Patterns of thought are operating within these stories.These patterns of thought are often runaway systems with unskillful, blinding, even dangerous trajectories, or that have the potential to become runaway systems if attention isn’t brought to them. Some operate far below the surface of consciousness, but are obvious to an outsider.

    My work is to subtly guide the client to:

    acknowledge and become familiar with the story
    become conscious of the patterns of thought that are operating within the story, and that are reifying it,
    notice how the patterns of thought work and how they’ve been conditioned,
    consciously change the patterns of thought,
    which in most cases dissolves the story. Some clients rush to fill the void with a new story which means we repeat the process. Many times there are interlocking stories…these require more work. Some see the value of staying in the story-free zone (as much as is possible and according to their ability)…these are the ones that make good progress.

    This is the process of cultivating an ‘Observing’ ‘Self’ – which is simply an ability to observe one’s defense mechanisms: stories (which are nearly always false), patterns of thoughts (always conditioned), and emotional reactivity (always self-serving and frequently self-destructive) without being captured and programmed by them. It’s not this simple, but this is the bare bones of it.

    As part of this work, I use simple, clear, direct metaphors (understood conventionally). These metaphors free ordinary people (which many academics tend to have enormous contempt for) to do the work of lessening their suffering, instead of focusing on theoretical constructs that are beyond their ability to comprehend and that distract from the business at hand.

    I don’t have much patience for indulging in ever more complex, precise, and clever metaphors…which is just a defense mechanism that some clients employ in order to not have to look at their own mind…which I indulge for a while but at some point I ask them if they’re tired of that game (it is an avoidance game) and if they would like to look a little “deeper” (another useful metaphor). I’m a metaphor whore…I use whatever metaphors that will penetrate a client’s armor (metaphor) and trigger an aha! moment (metaphor). Each little aha! blasts a bit of perceptual space (more metaphors) that allows the client to move in a new direction (another metaphor). And to address your concern, as part of this process, at some point, I will explode (another metaphor) the metaphors for the client, instructing them to see them as mere tools (metaphor) and processes (metaphor), not as self-existing things.

    Excavating metaphors can be very useful (particularly in political analysis), and I’m constantly reflecting on the metaphors I use to see if they are skillful or if they obfuscate. But as I suggested above, excavating metaphor can also be an avoidance tactic. And it can also be an expression of hostility and aggression against anything that has the power to disintegrate cherished patterns of thought and concretized stories of a separate, solid, certain self. Excavating metaphors that confuse and delude is critically important, and identifying metaphors as metaphors as they are being applied is also important, but excavating metaphors to no utilitarian end except to feel clever or to passively attack something that threatens…this calls for the excavation of the excavation of metaphors. It appears that a good number of posters here are excavating metaphors without having excavated what drives them to do so. It’s always a good idea to excavate one’s reactions to systems of thought, practices, terminology, etc…before turning the shovel on what it is that the reaction is directed at. I see great potential in this project, but the jury is still out (metaphor) for me, regarding the intrapersonal motives that are driving it, which so far don’t seem to have been made clear but I’m not done reading yet.

  92. Jeff Miller Avatar
    Jeff Miller

    The messed up paragraph had numbered items which this application apparently stripped out, resulting in the wonky punctuation.

  93. Boy named sue Avatar

    Jeff, it appears you consider yourself an independent and original thinker, which is fine, I can grant you that. But whether it was a hashing, a rehashing, or an entirely independent line of thought, in the particular passage I was referring to you were espousing a view that was very much consistent with standard x-buddhisty ways of thinking. I am not the only person to have pointed this out.

    Asking all these tangential and (to my moronic mind) barely sensical questions in response to a suggestion to engage in the content of Tomek’s post just affirms that you aren’t yet willing or able to engage in the kind of thinking encouraged in this blog.

  94. Tomek Avatar

    I’d be very much interested in hearing your explanation of how you exist separate from the elements of the environments that you exist in.

    Jeff (#89), apart from fundamental structure of human consciousness divided into transparent and opaque partitions (for details see here), what enables homo sapience sapience to exist separate from the elements of the environments that it exist in is nothing else but thought, which you so charmingly labeled in one of your previous comments as “desiccated and shallow imputation (representative substitute) for experience.” We are indeed representational systems operating under an individual first-person perspective. And therefore we can now conceptually self-ascribe this property to us, linguistically communicate it, and thereby open the door which makes the transition from biological into cultural evolution possible. Or in other words, this remarkable ability of our species to represent, to think and create concepts, free us from living unconsciously in a prison of shallow experience of the animal Now. The same experiential Now to which so obsessively x-buddhistic propaganda wants us to return.

  95. Jeff Miller Avatar
    Jeff Miller

    Tomek (94):

    The difference between what I’m suggesting and a conventional Buddhist path is that I’m advocating building a bridge between representational reality and more direct glimpses of what exists in the absence of our representations (via some of the more effective Buddhist practices)…and using that bridge to check into what we neglect, overlook, or have been taught not to see. And also use it to see beyond our distorting view of what we unconsciously imagine to be a solid self…a hallucination that modern people defend aggressively. A steady diet of representation and self-obsession (especially when the self that’s being obsessed on is a self-serving fiction) is a sure path to madness, as is a steady attempt to live in the myth of “now”.

  96. Jeff Miller Avatar
    Jeff Miller

    Boy Named Sue (95):

    I’m sensing that Tomek is a big boy and can manage the conversation just fine without your grumpy assistance.

    “Asking all these tangential and (to my moronic mind) barely sensical questions in response to a suggestion to engage in the content of Tomek’s post just affirms that you aren’t yet willing or able to engage in the kind of thinking encouraged in this blog.”

    Or you’re too lazy to think about the questions. If you were to do so, you’d see that they are exactly the kind of thinking that is encouraged in this blog…they just aren’t in the rutted path you’re most comfortable in.

  97. Tomek Avatar

    Jeff (#95), the basic objection I have to what you say is that I see no room for “direct glimpses (…) (via some of the more effective Buddhist practices) ….” That’s simply because there is no way to (directly) get a glimpse “of what exists in the absence of our representations” – even the most clear and stable, devoid of cognitive content, state of mind achieved via those “effective Buddhist practices” is just, well … a representation… “Self” is a special form of “hallucination” that enables us to live in our environments and without a solid selves this conversation we have would not be possible. Those whose selves are distorted can not have this sort of exchange at all. So solid self-representation is a basis for our agency and then social and cultural relationships and activity.

  98. Jeff Miller Avatar
    Jeff Miller

    Tomek (97):

    “That’s simply because there is no way to (directly) get a glimpse “of what exists in the absence of our representations” – even the most clear and stable, devoid of cognitive content, state of mind achieved via those “effective Buddhist practices” is just, well … a representation…”

    Yes, no, maybe. How do you know…have you tried in a committed consistent way over years in a controlled situation, using some methodology that have been described for hundreds, maybe thousands of years? If not, then your assertion that it’s impossible is only a belief (how not?)…a construct that you’ve accepted as “Truth”. I suppose this is what infuriates concept-only philosophizers…pesky artists, musicians and other types that maintain that the wall of concept can be seen through, that “self” can be dissolved temporarily, that actuality can be experienced as it actually exists in the absence of our projections (or at least more clearly than what is seen when buried in labyrinths of concepts and unconsciously driven by them). At any rate, it seems an odd point for anyone to get kerfuffled about. Besides, what we’re talking about here is the benefits that derive from the attempt to do so…the value of engaging in the process, separate from any projected outcome. Your literalistic approach is no different from, and is as useless (kindly said) as Buddhism’s dogmatic literalism. As I suggested earlier, the practices (the processes themselves) are what’s valuable. It’s always dogma that f**cks us, no matter if that dogma is for or against.

  99. Jeff Miller Avatar
    Jeff Miller

    And now I’m done here. Bored. At this point, the meat is very scarce. With the exception of some of Tom Pepper’s work and about a couple paragraphs of Glenn’s work in Cruel Theory / Sublime Practice, all I’m seeing is a replication of the same exact unconscious patterns of thought and reactivity that this project purports to be excavating. This project has potential, but not until it turns the critical eye unrelentingly back onto itself.Then it might be an interest project and live up to itself.

  100. jonckher Avatar

    Don’t you hate people who come in late in the conversation?

    Anyway my 2 cents: “HH The Dalai Lama”.

    He’s such a dear old guy and the way he laughs! If that’s not an evolved being I don’t know what. Plus he says all the right things although he made a small boo-boo about gay people some years ago (and there was those pesky monk murders but no one talks about that or why).

    Seriously, HH is the reason for my almost conversion years ago! There I was in his temple in McLeod Ganj in India and he comes in for a ritual shaking hands and smiling at all the Tibetans there and I was like almost in tears. Just like that!

    I can’t think of any other practices or systems of thought that packs the same level of immediate emotional punch in the form of a nice old man. Mind that new fangled Pope Francis is actually giving the kindly old uncle of Buddhism a run for this money.

  101. Tomek Avatar

    Jeff (#98), well, on the contrary I find your assumptions quite interesting. Who knows, maybe you’d not get bored if you’d take a chance and look at them through the prism of the theoretical structure I was hinting at. This undying human desire to transcend our representations, and hence the body; this longing for actuality that “can be experienced as it actually exists in the absence of our projections” is anything but boring.

  102. Zoidberg Avatar

    Hey Jeff 91

    Thanks for the long and elucidating post. I have never seen a paragraph annotated with metaphor parentheticals so rhythmically. If David Foster Wallace were still alive, I’d have hoped to show him to it.

    DFW was, in his way, a champion of ordinary people as well. It is a shame how contemptuously academics imagine ordinary folk. It’s often the same with fans of Marx. They love discussing the philosophy of labor, but have great contempt for laborers. In my mind Marx’s great ideas will never come to fruition simply because his biggest fans can only stand the company of themselves and their Marxist idols. Then again, many of them are quite smart, and I imagine it’s lonely being a genius, and tiresome to be so often misunderstood; I mean that honestly. One would imagine, though, that the true mark of that sort of genius would be her or his capacity to understand how ordinary folk (or genius folk) find themselves in the positions they are in.

    Anyway, that is all to say I notice the same tendency, and it bothers me.

    In the way you have described I think “stories” is an apt metaphor. I too have heard the same stories of self told again and again in therapy groups by ordinary folks, and tried my best to help bring some truth and curiosity and amazement to those narratives. Telling them that their narrative is a co-constructed tactic of a collectively insane mind that seeks to numb itself on delusions of safety in service to a capitalist ideology would not only be silly, but also unkind. Theory has its place.

    I suppose I bristle at the use of the “stories” metaphor simply to refer to any action of the mind to plan or anticipate results. In this metaphorical world, I am either eating the raisin with such wholeheartedness that every nerve cells is exploding with dehydrated grapeness, or I am in my “story”. I find that metaphor to be very lacking. I think raisins or breath or cutting oneself with a straight razor (not recommended) are all ways to gain some distance from the enchantments of a particular story and adopt an editorial eye. The skill is in choosing a method that gives enough distance to edit, but not so much as to lose empathy with the characters. I suppose in that sense you could be using the “tree” as a reference point outside the narrative from which to achieve some clarity on the creative process. I think multiple perspectives and creative roles are a fine way to work. I like the metaphors of film, with writers, directors, actors, audience, and that extra jen e sais quoi that makes the story sing. Living thusly– as a creative act, with the courage, curiosity, wisdom, and faith required to produce and show a created object, seems like the best approximation of how it actually is on a day-to-day basis.

    And I am, of course, a Theravadin, which means I like the metaphor of the Nirvana escape hatch. Some have urged me to give that one up, but I can’t see doing so without another metaphor to take its place. The metaphors I had prior to that one were really shitty, so I’m not about to drop it and wait for another to take its place. One that has been offered is the metaphor of the mirage– that Nirvana is knowing the mirage as a mirage instead of water, and also knowing it as the illusion of water (instead of only as mirage or only as water). That sounds like a useful way to know, but I can’t see it as any kind of lasting solution to the problem of suffering. Hence I keep on searching for the best metaphor of all…

  103. Shinta Avatar

    In my training to be a MD I encountered suffering both physically and mentally, from babies to really old people. No advance in technology can prevent them from going through agony and pass away. I started asking questions but both my mentors and the religious authorities came with unsatisfactory responses or simply remained silent. Only Buddhism came with “If you want to understand suffering, come and sit.” So I came, and stayed. First to understand, and now to remain sane.

  104. […] US 3-24-14, in far shorter and non-non-buddhist form. I learned of this book on a SNB thread “Why Buddhism?” via Ann Gleig: “Historically, I would argue anatta has shown little or no signs of […]

  105. Sam Reeve Avatar
    Sam Reeve

    I imagine the buddha would be elated with non-buddhism, I think the reason we have chosen buddhism for this is that buddhism is the belief system that led me to question myself and all my decisions as well as question the ideological constructs. The logical continuation of which is to disassociate from organisations and labels like buddhist or buddhism which finally culminates in “non-buddhism” presuming that the intent of the label is to be one without label. Jeff, I read your post, you seem able to succeed where I have only failed. I can see when someone’s idea or “story” is nonsensical but I have not been skillful enough to help them excavate it. I think I will be reading your posts to learn your techniques.

  106. Shaun Bartone Avatar

    I’ve been reading the post ‘Why [bother with] Buddhism?’ Response: I see Buddhism as an experience I had for a few years. I investigated it fully, and ‘found it wanting’; hugely so, esp. since I’m sociologist who is concerned with ‘society’ and Buddhism clearly isn’t. But once I realized that it failed me, there is no need to expunge it from my life. It’s just another life experience like so many I’ve had. It goes up on the shelf with all the other things I’ve read. Buddhism can be just one of the things that has influenced me. What has influenced me more in recent years is systems theory, network and chaos theory, and other stuff I’ve studied in my doctoral program. Sociology is way more interesting than Buddhism, which, apart from its personal psychological benefit, is virtually useless.

    Some ex-x-Buddhists seem to want to purge Buddhism from their lives completely; I guess I can see why. But that in itself is another kind absolutism. ‘Buddhism’ can’t seem to tolerate being ‘one among many’; it has to be the top dog, or the only dog, or ‘I’m not going to play with you.’ That’s another kind of religious fundamentalism. Like switching from orthodox monotheism to doctrinaire atheism. It’s just another ideology that has some good things to offer and some serious weaknesses. So that’s why I’ll continue to use the things I like, Critical Buddhism and Non-Buddhism especially, and ditch the stuff that’s of no use.

    Buddhism is a temporary stage of psychic development. It’s supposed to come to an end. If there is anything good to say about it, it’s that if you follow it to its logical conclusions, it deconstructs itself. If you haven’t deconstructed Buddhism and then freed yourself from it, you’re not done with it yet. If Buddhism has done it’s job, you should end up being an EX-x-Buddhist. You use Buddhism as a process of inquiry and critique to free yourself from the ideologies of the world around you, and then you use it to free yourself from the ideology of Buddhism. When you’re ready, you ditch the raft.

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