Speculative Non-Buddhism

ruins of the buddhist real

Worstward Ho!

Posted by Glenn Wallis on October 23, 2014

From a talk by Badiou.

From a talk by Badiou.

I thought I’d start writing on this blog again for a while. I’d like to use it to think through some issues related to the non-buddhism project. Specifically, I want to explore, more explicitly and robustly than before, the constructive side of the critical-constructive dialectic. Many of the posts on this blog and at non + x already present promising work in that area. As a particularly pertinent example, I suggest you read Tom Pepper’s essay “Taking Anatman Full Strength and Śāntideva’s Ethics of Truth.” 1

As before, the argument driving this blog is that Buddhist conceptual materials offer potent resources for thinking radical reformations of self and society in the contemporary West. (I am primarily concerned with western Buddhism.) And yet, the noun “Buddhism” (or what I call “x-buddhism”2) indexes a historical failure to unleash the force of its very thought. “Buddhism,” that is, names an obstinate containment of potentially dynamic human goods. The end result is that Buddhism everywhere functions as a conservative protector of the social status quo, however toxic, and as an ideological fortress spawning subjects whose treasured goal is merely to rest at ease therein. Paradoxically, therefore, we cannot look to Buddhism—to its teachers and defenders, to its commentaries and explications, to its communities and organizations—to assist us in ransacking its “refuge” and interrogating its residents.

Why? Because Buddhism suffers—Buddhists suffer—from a paucity of critique. This is true both internally and externally. Internally, Buddhists presume themselves to be in possession of a kind of science of the real (Sanskrit yathabhuta, “things as they are”), one that even possesses, in meditation, an infallible organon of reality. Externally, figures as discerning as Nietzsche and Lacan have inexplicably taken Buddhists at their word. The end-result is Buddhism as a visionary form of knowledge that, to the critic, appears to be woefully under-theorized and suspiciously irrealist, notional, and self-contradictory. (And it is for these reasons that its concepts and practices, as they are currently configured, cannot provide guidance to liberatory social/personal practices.) It is therefore necessary to make the case for critique. Hence, the need for a critical practice such as non-buddhism.

There is, however, another side to it. The other side is indicated in the new tagline, ruins of the buddhist real. The old tagline, an arsenal for thought, recommended taking up conceptual weapons for exploding the ideologically-thick walls of the x-buddhist thought-fortress. The new one suggests picking through the rubble, and carrying out promising-looking husk and hull.

So, this phase of the non-buddhism project emphasizes its performative and constructive aspects. It examines what might happen after the practitioner has ruined (decimated, cloned, flattened) the x-buddhist material. For those of you who might like to participate, I want to emphasize that the purpose of ruining is not to perform intricate philological surgery on the x-buddhist “text” or, indeed, even to explicate its meaning. Neither is it to recover some pristine “original” teaching corrupted by the ages. The purpose of ruining is to create a reading, thinking, living empirical individual, one who is able to actualize the emancipatory (whatever that might mean) thrust of decimated x-buddhist thought and practice.

To give you some indication of where I may be heading, here are a few issues and questions driving my thought. I hope you’ll join me with comments, experiments, reports, and even essays of your own. I should mention that this phase of the project imagines a participant who is actively engaged, or would like to be, in a communal practice setting. As Badiou says, sustained subject formation and social action are always a matter of ideology and organization. Maybe you’ll create a community if you don’t already have one.

  • X-buddhism has abandoned anatman. There is no existing form of x-buddhism in which an idealist, transcendent big-Other-type of entity does not loom large. What would a genuinely materialist (anatmanistic) x-buddhism look like? (And I don’t mean the crass materialism of people like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchins.)
  • A convicted anti-religious x-buddhism is the order of the day (think: secular, post-traditional, progressive, atheist + buddhism). Is that necessary? Is that even plausible? Given the demonstrable fact that these various “humanist” x-buddhisms are re-inscribing their thought with religious signs, why not just cut that secular-religious cord altogether? What happens if we take seriously the so-called “theological turn” in philosophy–that of, paradoxically, radical materialist-atheist thinkers such as Terry Eagleton, Alain Badiou, Slavoj Žižek (“only an atheist can be a Christian today”), or even that of the self-described “atheist Christian theologian” John Caputo?  What new coordinates for thinking-using x-buddhism might emerge?
  • One consequence of re-introducing anatman into a decimated x-buddhist practice is that practice itself, whether meditation or something else, will have to include a robust social aspect. (See the Pepper article.) Of course, x-buddhist forms of practice already have this aspect in the form of the sangha, along with its dharma talks, and so on. But given the kinds of subjects created in these communities, namely, Žižek’s  “perfect supplement to the… hegemonic ideology of global capitalism,” this only raises big questions such as:
  • What is the relationship between meditation (or any other practice) and doctrine? What happens when we realize that doctrine influences and even coerces meditation outcomes? Can meditation be used as precisely the opposite of a liberating practice; namely, as a binding feature of a covert ideology? What happens if we make the ideological function of the meditation-doctrine nexus explicit? Can meditation then be employed as something like a science of ideology? These questions raise further ones:
  • X-buddhism claims to illuminate the nature of mind. What happens, in practice, when we admit that it really just offers one of numerous conceivable frames for conceptualizing “mind”? What are the sine qua non components of what we call “meditation”? If we determine that there are such components (e.g., stillness, silence, and attentional proclivity directed toward the breathing body) what is the rationale for introducing additional components?A common feature of the rhetoric of meditation assumes its function as a practice of human liberation. What does that mean for us here and now? What does such a liberated (and liberating) subject look like?

Again, inquiries like these will probably only be of interest–will only have any frisson–if you are part of a community that takes up the thought and practice of x-buddhist materials. Because of the reactionary nature of the secular varieties of x-buddhism, and the obscurantist nature of traditional forms, it’s probably best to create a new group, and start from scratch. If so, I’d like to hear from you how it’s going.

1Tom Pepper’s essay “Taking Anatman Full Strength and Śāntideva’s Ethics of Truth.”
2Why x-buddhism?


22 Responses to “Worstward Ho!”

  1. borabosna said

    “Can meditation be used as precisely the opposite of a liberating practice; namely, as a binding feature of a covert ideology?”

    That is the ONLY way it is used. Oh, and it is also used to supplant the health industry with knee injuries etc.

    “What happens if we make the ideological function of the meditation-doctrine nexus explicit?”

    Those with faith in the ideology and those without become more polarized. Some, like me, quit meditation, others become even more steadfast in it.

    “A common feature of the rhetoric of meditation assumes its function as a practice of human liberation. What does that mean for us here and now? What does such a liberated (and liberating) subject look like?”

    This presupposes that there is such a thing as a “liberated human” and “unliberated human.” There are millions of “liberated humans” who never formally meditated in their lives for a single second. Buddhist apologists explain this by saying such people are born or grew up “more ripe”, or their past lives prepared them for such, like how Buddha was naturally more enlightened than others to begin with, etc. In my opinion a “liberated human” looks like someone who is free from meditation ideology.

    “Because of the reactionary nature of the secular varieties of x-buddhism, and the obscurantist nature of traditional forms, it’s probably best to create a new group, and start from scratch.”

    The only place between “secular varieties of x-buddhism” and “obscurantist nature of traditional forms” is normal, ordinary life. Hence such a new group should probably go out bowling or something.

  2. Hooray! Very glad you are doing this.

    One substantive thought. I agree that Tom Pepper’s analysis of anatman is brilliant and should be productive. (I’ve promoted it in various places, e.g. here.)

    I think that a stealthy approach would be best with that. Discussion of “non-self” never seems to go anywhere useful. “Self” is a key term in an enormous number of ideologically loaded discourses in the West, as well as in Buddhism. Each of those discourses conceptualizes “self” somewhat differently, and none of those concepts seem to be clear or useful. There is so much confusion here that it’s extremely difficult, maybe impossible, to cut through it while continuing to use the word.

    I would suggest quietly figuring out what the implications of anatman are, according to your understanding of “atman” and/or “self,” and talking about those instead. Does it generate testable predictions (not in a scientific sense, but in a lived experience sense)? Do those consequences seem true and useful?

    (The “you” here is collective, and probably includes me.)

  3. james friel said

    Dear DudeMan,

    This latest post/msg of yours is most welcome and gladdens me to see it !

    In particular ( re: the post ) I am very glad that you have taken the time to

    elaborate what you mean by ‘x-buddhist’ and what your intentions are with

    respect to that. It will be very usefull for me in understanding the context of

    the quest and quite possibly to make some kind of contribution

    to the exchanges you anticipate. As for the msg aspect, let’s just say that

    it has been too long for me without the vivifying quality of the conversations

    you never fail to precipitate!

    After I digest this, I will be back in contact.

    Happy Samhain,


  4. borobosna (#1). I can understand your impulse actually to do what, say, zen-buddhism only wants you to pretend do: throw it all away. But I am resisting that impulse. Maybe you can give more thought to the convictions you express here. Consider, too:

    Fitting proximity. A relation of the investigator to x-buddhism’s vallation. Too close, and the effulgence of x-buddhism’s charism blinds; too far away, and the embers turn cold.

    (Cruel Theory|Sublime Practice, 134)

    The general principles behind sticking with it go like this. (1) “It”, none of “it” is going away any time soon. (2) The more it goes away, the more it returns, re-inscribed in, for instance, the faith of the secularists (in, say, empiricism) and the spiritualism of the atheist. (3) Subscribing to the sui generis nature of “religious” material is merely permitting the believers to over-determine the discourse. (4)Like all other cultural goods, the material is neither inherently sublime or nefarious. (5) So, it becomes a question of usage.

    David (#2). Thank you. Nice to hear from you again. Don’t you think Pepper’s various writings on anatman, using Lacan mainly, go a long way toward fulfilling those final points you make? I do. To put it simplistically: show me your social/linguistic system, your imaginary/symbolic system, and I can show you your subject. I think that anyone interested in a contemporary understanding of anatman, and anyone interested in the re-introduction of anatman into x-buddhism, could benefit from a further merging of Lacan with Buddhist thought.

  5. Tomek said

    Hi Glenn (#4), saying that “none of ‘it’ is going away any time soon,” you say so because “it” is basically synonymous with “human”? The more x-buddhist believer subscribes – “through illusion, delusion, emotional distress or psychological need” – to the zen ideal of throwing it all away the more his is “displacing his own generic human identity” and in thus he’s becoming x-buddhist subject. Is that what you mean here?

  6. Hi Tomek (#5). Nice to hear from you. If I understand you correctly, I would say yes to all three questions.

    “It” must be human. Historically, it has been there since the cave men and is found among the staunchest rationalist of our own day. Maybe psychoanalysis does an adequate job of explaining it, as in the object cause of desire, the longing for the big Other or the final search for das Ding. Although I am suspicious of a lot of evolutionary and cognitive psychology, I personally think the work of people like Pascal Boyer also offer plausible accounts of the persistence of “it.” What is your own view? Whatever the explanation, this desire for abiding meaning, power, and purpose, or however you want to articulate “it,” seems pretty well-put. I remember how the East Berliners, banned from celebrating Christmas, recreated all the essential features, the essential spirit, of that holiday using secular objects, explanations, and forms of language. Terry Eagleton’s 2012 Firth Lecture, “Culture and the Death of God” is interesting in this regard. It’s out in book form as well. Anyway, I am interested in “it” in alignment with, not its usual spiritualist, vitalist, idealist, etc., guise, but in a material, transcendentally-minimal guise.

    I would say that the zen practitioner, to keep with our example, as zen practitioner, must of necessity and by definition remain locked in illusion, etc., because his “throwing it all away” always corresponds to the zen ideal, to a beloved move in the zen game, and, as such, always entails throwing away nothing whatsoever. In fact, as a sign of spiritual maturity, throwing it all away adds considerable ego identification.

    What is your own view? Thanks!

  7. So good, Glenn, to see you writing here again. And such a provocative transition to propose, from “an arsenal of thought” to “ruins of the buddhist real.” Worstword, indeed!

    To me, the essence of what you suggest appears to be a turn (re-turn) towards Buddhism. In your absence, “non-buddhism” has tended toward not Buddhism or even nothing to do with Buddhism. “Why Buddhism” has always been a central question here, long before your March 1, 2014 post posed it in the form, “What does Buddhism offer that we can’t get from any other system of thought and practice?” Far too easy, however, to answer: “Nothing.” Of course meditation can be used to bind us to capitalist ideology — the magic elixir that is immune to such use has yet to be discovered, and may never be. (Has Laruelle found it?) Of course we who imagined that Buddhism was the incorruptible elixir were hurt and angry to find that it was not. Of course the temptation is to rebel and reject, to say that if Buddhism does not offer all, it offers nothing. To “throw it all away.”

    You offer prudent counsel, cautiously phrased: “But I am resisting that impulse.”

    You are not the answer. Tom Pepper is not the answer. Buddhism is not the answer. Laruelle is not the answer. We will wander among the ruins. We will find the means to carry on.

  8. JRC said


    While “fitting proximity” seems to be the most honest observatorial relation, how might one be vigilant enough to sure up his or her posture and prohibit this relation from corresponding to a non-x ideal, to a beloved move in the non-x game, and, as such, entailing just the opposite (either becoming blinded by or distancing oneself entirely from that to which one stands in relation)?


  9. james friel said

    Worst or West or both? There you go again, precipitating a contra versee. As if the world can do with yet another re-verse by excluding the Eastward to say nothing of the Wayward.


  10. Nice to hear from you again David (#7) and JRC (#8). I see your respective comments as connected in interesting ways. The gist of it is, as David writes, “Far too easy, however, to answer: ‘Nothing.’” Let’s look at JRC’s comment:

    While “fitting proximity” seems to be the most honest observatorial relation, how might one be vigilant enough to sure up his or her posture and prohibit this relation from corresponding to a non-x ideal, to a beloved move in the non-x game, and, as such, entailing just the opposite (either becoming blinded by or distancing oneself entirely from that to which one stands in relation)?

    Great question. I hope I understand correctly. Here are some thoughts toward, but short of, an answer. Maybe some review first. While every practice entails theory, practice is primary. (In the case of an occluded ideology like x-buddhism, heuristics and metatheory are required to tease out the embedded theory.) Organizations, sanghas, are hot houses for subjects, who then act in and on the world. The good or identified subject is by definition one who reflexively enforces the law (think: The Dharma), of the system. The opposite person is one who counter-identifies with the system, and just says ‘fuck it,” David’s nay-sayer. This is a drastic situation. Maybe we can create a third term. This term might be the disidentified subject, the one who changes his position.

    [W]ords, expressions, propositions, etc., change their meaning according to the positions held by those who use them, which signifies that they find their meaning by reference to those positions, i.e., by reference to the ideological formations…in which those positions are inscribed. (Michel Pêcheux in Cruel Theory, 119)

    Your “how to” question brings into play all sorts of interesting metaphors and realities regarding place and position, on one side, and force and movement, on the other. What is the relation, in real-life terms, of these two sides to one another? We all know what it’s like to be set firmly in place in, subjugated by, a system space. Anyone reading this blog probably also knows what it’s like to be forced out of this space. So, in a sense, it’s a question of seeing for yourself. We can help each other, though, by formulating concepts and ideas that throw light on the matter. Of course, as you indicate, this us can easily just become a new system space. What then? In the scheme at the top of this post, anxiety functions as the “truth” of, the frisson of, being in an “outplace,” outside of the original subjugating system. So, maybe “anxiety” suggest as an answer that says, “here, in anxiety, you will discover vigilance.” Notice, though, the movement of anxiety toward courage.

  11. Danny said

    Glenn (#10),
    Interesting thread, and a great comment, I think. We just can’t live “ideology free”, right? Like the metaphor of the fish who thinks he could swim so much faster if only he could get rid of all the water that causes the resistance!
    If non-Buddhism produces an ideology, that’s no sign it’s a failure in the way that x-Buddhism is; it’s not one that binds itself to some divine law that we must adapt to.
    So I think what we seek is an ideology that KNOWS it’s an ideology, one that doesn’t bind but allows us to make changes, to produce ourselves (in intellectual work) in a way that makes less suffering in the world. No one has any final answer because perhaps there just is no final answer! And if there is some final truth, until we know it we mustn’t forget that we need to think and act in the meantime.

  12. Patrick jennings said

    Hi Danny,
    I think you are spot on in distinguishing between an ideology that binds and an ideology that, if it doesn’t abolish chains, at least loosens them (although I think we should never abandon a regard for utopian thinking(or practice) I think the longing for complete liberation from suffering is just fundamental to our humanness, although it expresses itself in many distorted and confused ways.
    I no longer believe in final answers but paradoxically I believe in the necessity of striving for a sort of completeness in thought. And I find it hard to believe people will risk massive social and political confrontation for anything other than a vision of some form of social organization that takes care of the fundamentals. So a sort of completeness seems necessary to social action too. The problem seems to be how to contain the massive energy released in social upheaval and keep it flowing and immune to ossification as new forms of social domination (permanent revolution) and how to make it a form of malleable thinking that adequately expresses a sort of fluid dialectical thinking in sync with events. So I think there is room for distinguishing different levels of thought, from propositional thinking to a form of integrated thinking that we might use on the street for example(in confrontational situations) or in personal situations where thinking and acting form cohesive gestalt of thought and practice.(making music or doing sports, coping with your hair catching on fire!) We need to ‘produce ourselves’ in practice too. Sati, in its original form of as recollection that doesn’t necessarily exclude an analytical component, is a practice that might be able to do whats needed at the various levels of thinking and practice.

  13. Patrick jennings said

    Hi Glenn,
    Great to see you in the saddle again!

    Can you say what talk the illustration comes from’? It looks interesting. I have been making all sorts of readings of it.

    “In the scheme at the top of this post, anxiety functions as the “truth” of, the frisson of, being in an “outplace,” outside of the original subjugating system. So, maybe “anxiety” suggest as an answer that says, “here, in anxiety, you will discover vigilance.” Notice, though, the movement of anxiety toward courage.”

    One of the readings I make is that anxiety in combination with courage and superego produces a fascistic situation in which the “state” closes down on the situation and imposes order, discipline and retribution for various forms of the”ausländer”. On the other hand courage in combination with superego and justice produces a communistic situation in which social formation is along fluid spontaneous, relational lines peculating up from below and minus the dominating structures of the state. The flow from justice through superego, courage, and anxiety is a two-way flow in which communism and fascism form some sort of unity of opposites.
    All of this , of course, might be far away from Badiou’s intention and more to do with the rich potential for meaning in visual/symbolic forms.

    “To put it simplistically: show me your social/linguistic system, your imaginary/symbolic system, and I can show you your subject.”

    Can I ignore your “putting it simplistically” and leave aside the grain of truth contained in the above statement and say that for me the unavoidable ambiguity of the symbolic, as in the above illustration, is never exhausted by the imposition of the conceptual terms of the superego or big other. I can try experimentally to think of the imaginary/symbolic and social/linguistic not as opposing dyads but as lying alongside one another. The nub is in their interaction , in which the social linguistic finds continual sustenance in the imaginary/symbolic and the imaginary /symbolic finds new raw material in the social /linguistic. So I would precisely invert your formula and say “show me your subject and I will show you a free and unpredictable interaction of the social/linguistic and the imaginary symbolic”. In other words there is nothing deterministic in the actual relation, and only a determination in the last instance —an opening in which we can do a form of work on the Lacan texts. (should there be anyone with the audacity to undertake it )

  14. Danny (#11) and Patrick (#13). Nice to hear from you two. I think I’ll write a short post addressing the points you make. When we start talking about ideology, social/linguistic systems, the imaginary, and anxiety and courage, we’re talking about the same thing. One crucial element is missing, though: organization. If, as I believe, the whole point is to create a new x-buddhist subject–one who, for instance, takes anatman and compassion seriously–then organizations are necessary. What will those look like? Has either of you thought of creating one?

    Patrick, the image is from a talk that Badiou gave in Michigan last summer. In using his terms, like anxiety, I am, like you, doing so idiosyncratically. Badiou’s usage, though, is also in play. About your inversion: “show me your subject and I will show you a free and unpredictable interaction of the social/linguistic and the imaginary symbolic.” I am thinking of the subject as a non-empirical model implicit in the social/linguistic system. As such, we need to refer to the system to deduce the subject. I agree with your inversion only if we can replace “subject” with, say “subjugated person.” Then, in dialogue with the subjugated x-buddhist person, I can infer his social/linguistic origins (as x-buddhist). Does that make sense?

  15. Craig said


    “Fundamental to our humanness” is a great example of what Danny was getting at. It’s pure ideology and whenever we just throw up our hands and say, ‘well it’s because of our human nature’ then we’ve quit the conversation. Unlike the sentiments of the two Davids above, we can use words and discuss and understand that everything is ideological. Only with that basic premise are we going to get anywhere on the suffering question. Things can change, but we have to do the work of finding the best answers. Not THE answer.

  16. Patrick jennings said

    Hi Glenn ,
    I think I understand your point. I have a basic grasp of the way Badiou and Lacan use the concept of the Subject , and the way the imaginary symbolic and the discursive linguistic system function in the development of the subject. I am a little less confident about how Lacan sees the relationship of the two, other than as a chronological sequence from the imaginary to the linguistic, and the relation of the two to the void or aporia of the discursive/imaginary system. Also I have problems with the relation of Badious’, Lacans’ and Laruelle’s thought and how they can be reconciled with each other. Actually, I don’t think they can or should be reconciled. But this presents problems of coherence both for myself and others coming to the project for the first time. Which means probably that I can use terms from all three thinkers only idiosyncratically.

    Generally I have no problem with the idea of the Subject/world as socially produced. I think such a materialist/immanentist stance is a good basis on which to build a new non-buddhist practice (in thought and action) out of which a new subject might appear,-one prepared to push thought and experiment with new forms of communal/alternative living subversive of the system of commodity exchange, capital, extraction of surplus value etc. Also one subversive of the structures of state power and the distribution of power. All of this could be examined in a very practical way in the process of organizational and group formation. In all of this I would still see a role for certain Buddhist ideas and practices once they have been extracted from the system of buddhist thought. So too Marxist ideas and practices.
    So I am really looking forward to future posts from you! On the question of my own experience of group formation and organization I still maintain a very informal relationship to a practice group, itself very informal but decidedly x-buddhist I have come to much the same opinion as yourself and believe it is probably better to start from scratch,. Myself and Matthias and hopefully in the near future a few other interested individual will create such a group . Progress is slow because of the geographic dispersal of the people involved, and the small number interested in such a radical undertaking.

    Hi Craig,
    Good to hear from you again. I use ‘fundamental to our humanness’, not as a way of positing an essential nature but as a description of the presence (historically, trans-culturally) of an impulse in human behaviour. I am pointing to finite lived experience rather than any transcendental entity such as a soul, fundamental nature, or Atman. Don’t you think we can speak in this way to describe certain common cultural, behavioural, social, anthropological traits we share in common as human beings without positing a fundamental human nature?

  17. Craig said


    I see even your explanation as ‘impulse of human behavior’ the same thing as essential human nature. Anytime we get into talking about traits/finite lived experience, we’re treading on thin ice leading again to the non-action stance of not having the final answer. You don’t have to posit fundamental human nature, but you certainly imply it. It makes sense too, given you uneasiness of discussing any type economic/social structure if it’s not all figured out before discussion or implementation.

    I’m coming from the stance of at least trying something and doing the hard work of fixing the problems that arise. This, rather than the all encompassing complacency that plagues liberals, the left and x-buddhism. The areas for change seem quite clear and I’m sure the first stab at a ‘fix’ will not be perfect, but we have to start somewhere rather than wait for some transcendent philosopher to discover the theory of everything.

  18. nacoletta said

    I’m really looking forward to your future posts of critically constructive engagement with Buddhist concepts and materials. Actually, I really like your metaphor of carrying the promising looking husk and hull out of the ruins. Certainly, from the critical side of the project there were a lot of such promising stuff. Carried out in the same spirit of that side of the project- namely a spirit of robust thought/dialogue and engagement with or reading alongside materials outside of Buddhism, it’s exciting to think about what’s to follow. It’s interesting to read what you’re saying, too, about “the Theological Turn”. I wasn’t familiar previously, but my curiosity has lead me to some interesting discussions by John Milbank about the myth of the secular. Zizek’s discussion of Christianity makes me feel a deep pulse that I lost a long time ago. The symbolism still holds true for me and Zizek awakens their power by discussing them intelligently in a genuinely serious way. So maybe those Buddhist religious symbols that become empty ornaments in secular, humanist Buddhism can still be used in a productive way. Is this along the lines of what you’re thinking?


  19. […] now I want to point to Glenn Wallis’s last post Wortsward Ho! in which he asks similar questions. And, apart from the above mentioned questions about the […]

  20. Danny said

    Glenn, (#14)

    Not much “in the flesh” organization at this point, but there are a few of us who participate in a small online discussion group where we try to “think” anatman Buddhism. For example, we deconstruct our beloved aesthetic objects, discuss the causes and conditions that we see at the root of various societal problems, mental health issues and addiction, etc. We think Buddhism needs new stories too; for example, some have begun rewriting some of the familiar Buddha stories (Tales of the Buddha) in a way that forces no-self thinking–these are inspired by the Canongate Myth Series, a series of short novels that rewrite or reimagine ancient myths.
    It is, admittedly, quite difficult to work in an on-line venue that lacks real flesh and blood interaction, especially for us old dogs! But we try and push forward and do what we can.


  21. Adair Neto said

    Hello, Glenn. Nice to see you back!

    My question is: how this liberating thought and pratice should change our way of teaching? In x-buddhism we have an authoritary/vertical model. How the teaching should look like in the non-buddhism?


  22. Hi Adair (#21). That’s a great question. I think the next post will have some suggestions along those lines. I think that x-buddhist teachers could learn a lot, and indeed be truer to their self-proclaimed mission, if they implemented ideas from people like Paulo Freier, Jacques Rancière, Earl Shorris (founder of the Clemente Course on the Humanities), and Augusto Boal (Theater of the Oppressed founder). If you don’t already know these guys, just to give you some idea:

    Freier: Leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions, do not organize the people–they manipulate them. They do not liberate, nor are they liberated: they oppress.

    Rancière: It is the explicator who needs the incapable and not the other way around: it is he who constitutes the incapable as such.

    Shorris: If one has been ‘trained’ in the ways of poverty, what is needed is a beginning, not a repetition…If we learn through the humanities to want to seek freedom, to be beginners, if we learn to live a life not of reaction but of reflection, then we’re prepared to go on to do wonderful things and have a full life. We’re free in ways that other people are not.

    Boal: Theatre is a form of knowledge; it should and can also be a means of transforming society. Theatre can help us build our future, rather than just waiting for it.

    I think ideas like these are both illuminative of existing–yet repressed and invisible–x-buddhist pedagogical structures and suggestive of how they might be changed. The key idea is that an ostensible system of liberation must model or manifest–indeed, be!–the liberatory practices that it envisions, and be so at every conceivable scale, from, for example, a simple exchange between the facilitator and participant, to the structure as a whole, including its conceptual framework. As Boal says in his chapter on Aristotelian tragedy as a form of coercion, theater may not be the revolution, but it can serve as a rehearsal for it. The teacher-student, or whatever you want to call it, relationship is crucial here. We have many excellent models of such a relationship available to us. Unfortunately, x-buddhist models are intractably paternalistic, humophobic, and oppressive. Maybe you can give more thought to the matter of change, based on the people I mention or others, and we can continue the discussion. Thanks!

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