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.
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.”