Have we come to the end?

This post is a call to arms. I hope to incite a collective that produces thinking, concepts, dialogue, texts, and practices toward an ideologically-disruptive usage of buddhist materials. The ideology that is being disrupted is, of course, that of our current capitalist-corporate-consumerist World.

What prompts this post is my perusal of the Mindful Living Week hosted by the Awake Network and Shambhala Mountain Center (links below). I don’t know what to say about it. I was just staring at the pictures of all the smiling facilitators (“World-Renowned Psychologists, Mindfulness Teachers, and Thought Leaders”),

reading through the descriptions of the course (“Inner World: Calm, Clarity, Motivation; Outer World: Strength, Harmony, Delight”), viewing the teaching of one Dr. Rick Hanson (“Day 1 Challenge: Pay Attention. Begin the day by setting the intention to pay attention”), observing the childlike images of those puffy white flowers you blow in the spring, people holding hands, and lovely leaves floating on a pond.

And I wondered:

Have we come to the end?

Buddhism in America has always been attended by the affirmation, commerce, innocence, and practicality that is abundantly present on the Mindful Living Week site. That’s because it is Buddhism in America. And in America, affirmation masks a morbid sense of ever-impending disaster; commerce is the name for the soul-crushing commercialization of every aspect of our lives; innocence belies an insipid puerility; and practicality is really just a word for the cynical belief that, as neoliberal monarchs Thatcher and Reagan used to say, “there is no alternative,” this World is all we can hope for. So, yes, why not do as Dr. Rick Hanson teaches: “Tune into the body and be mindful of feeling alright, right now”?

To be blunt, perusing the Mindful Living Week site I felt sick to my stomach, beyond what I have ever felt before. That feeling only deepened when I watched the welcoming video and videos of teachers. Again, I don’t really know how to express it. The fatuousness has reached a new level. The phony soft dharma-talk/NPR voices. The worn-out language. The tiredness of it all. And it is tinged with a new ingredient: cynicism. It feels as if the organizers and teachers don’t even believe in the product they are selling. I felt that I was surreptitiously peaking at a grotesque performance, a farcical début du siècle deformation of self-care. Call it the Ozification of American Buddhism–the monstrous offspring of a Deleuzian ass-fuck between the Buddha, the sneaky sniveling Wizard of Oz, medical snake oil salesman Dr. Mehmet Oz, and schlocky snakehead-eating post-Black Sabbath Ozzy.

I was overcome with a sense that Buddhism in America has reached the proverbial tipping point. Programs like this are now the norm. This is what Buddhism has become in America, friends. You should not be surprised. It’s what people were made to expect, have come to expect, and now demand; and so the form is perpetually reproduced. I doubt it can ever be reversed. I doubt that Buddhist ideas can ever again be taken seriously by serious people in the West as consequential elements of thought and practice.

The reason, though, lies not in the ideas themselves. As Tom Pepper reminds us from time to time, much in Buddhist thought is so valuable because it “depends on ways of thinking that are alien to us, because they are not part of a capitalist World.” In Alain Badiou’s terms, certain Buddhist concepts enable us to think contrary to the “state of the situation.” The tacit assumption driving programs like the Mindful Living Week is that the “state of the situation” is enormously fucked up. On that we agree. We do not agree, however, that their assortment of “thought leaders” can offer “inspired guidance” concerning “what matters most in your life.” That is because the state of the situation is only reinforced, not diminished, by the likes of “The Feel Better Effect.” The “state of the situation” is irrevocably appended to “The State” per se. Is it possible that those Mindful “thought leaders” are leading their followers ever deeper into the very formation that makes them so sick to begin with?

I often get asked why we should be concerned with such an insignificant sliver of society such as the Mindfulness Industry. One response is that as innocuous as it may appear, it is an appendage of a much larger, much more insidious apparatus. Just consider the extent to which the mainstream has embraced the “happiness/mindfulness” culture. This embrace is evident in its presence in major institutions, such as corporations, universities, and even the military. As William Davies shows in The Happiness Industry, the enthronement of “wellness” at the heart of Western social-cultural-economic matrix is evocatively exemplified by the fact that “Davos people”—attendees of the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, including national presidents, government ministers, heads of national banks, billionaires, corporate CEOs, economists, currency regulators from bureaucracies like the Fed, captains of industry from chemicals and big oil to media and entertainment, and even rich pop stars—have thoroughly embraced it. As Davies reports, at a recent Davos gathering “the forum was awash with talk of ‘mindfulness.’” Happiness, wellness, yoga, mindfulness, meditation, it turns out, is healthy for business’s bottom line. One participant reported, “I learned relaxed focus, to be able to disconnect from the overall noise in a high-speed environment and get things done without feeling too stressed about it.” It is perhaps not surprising that the corporate world now hires for its newest executive position, CHO: Chief Happiness Officer.

It should also not be surprising that an increasing number of major universities in the West—sixty-six, according to one study—are following suit. Brown, Harvard, Stanford, Emory, Rice, Duke, Virginia, Cambridge, Oxford, Aarhus in Denmark, Monash in Australia, the University of Amsterdam, to name but the most prominent ones, now offer some variety of “mindfulness” or “contemplative studies” program or research platform. The aim of these programs is captured in a statement by the director of Brown’s Contemplative Studies Initiative: “We’re trying to produce a whole new generation of contemplative humanists, scientists and artists…We’re trying to build a whole new academic field from the ground-up.” Given that goal, and its origination in an institution of higher education and research, what might be surprising is that these programs function as custodians, apologists or, in several cases, proselytizers of all things “mindful” and “contemplative.” Yet, again, this, too, should really not be all that surprising. For, technologies of self-care, though arguably designed to enable the practitioner a means of resistance to dominant and unhealthy norms, currently function as ideological supplements to these norms. Here, it is important to state the matter in more active terms; for, doing so reminds us that we are dealing with real agents in the real world, agents capable of acting on, of illuminating and changing, subjugating structures: the current leaders of Buddhist (or whatever) thought and practice are aligning self-care with the interests of the very social formation that they, ostensibly, desire to counter. It is not unreasonable to suspect a kind of collusion at work, by turns repressed and overt, between the cognitive research labs at Harvard University, the contemplative studies program at Brown, the smoky back rooms at Davos, the conference tables of our capital-investing class, and your local mindfulness group. Apparently, what’s good for Google is good for the the rest of us. And what presently “preoccupies our global elites is: Happiness…The future of successful capitalism depends on our ability to combat stress, misery and illness, and put relaxation, happiness and wellness in their place.”

Yeah. We’re in deep shit.

As I said at the outset, my purpose in writing this post is to incite action in another direction altogether. I will offer as my own opening salvo this paragraph from the intro of my new book, tentatively titled Calculus of the Buddha: Toward a Responsible Culture of Self-Care:

This book is grounded in several interrelated assumptions. The title of the project is intended to signal my conviction that Buddhism offers us valuable conceptual resources for “calculating”—for plotting and measuring—a viable means to what it terms human “awakening,” or the achievement of optimal awareness of self, others, society, environment, etc. Buddhist concepts like no-self, contingency, presence, vanishing, and many others, offer invigorating, often profoundly innovative and radical, vectors of thought. Decades of studying these concepts, however, has convinced me that they are reflexively placed in the service of an unquestioned humanism—with, that is, a celebratory enthronement of the ostensibly rational human at the center of a meaningful universe. Humanism is integral to our current way of thinking about such means. I believe that this claim applies equally to scholarship on Buddhism as to avowedly apologetic literature. This alliance, sustained from the earliest days of Buddhist studies, has had decisive consequences for the Western reception of Buddhism. The overall effect has been to obfuscate precisely what, I argue, is most compelling about the Buddhist material; namely, the prospect of conceiving it as the “calculus” mentioned above. Current usage of the material in contemporary Western society, whether in the hands of scholars or practitioners, does not merely contravene the anti-humanist awareness-enhancing spirit of this calculus, it subverts its trajectory toward an ideological collusion with the current status quo. Given these assumptions, the argument driving the project is that a reconfiguration is in order. But a responsible means of awareness-enhancing, whether conceived as religious practice, contemplative epoché, scholarly study, or practical “self-care,” can no longer seek justification on the same plane on which it has been diminished. For the establishment of a new plane of Buddhist thought and practice, of a position that is tenable to a twenty-first century thinker, something like a buddhofiction is required.

The Awake Network
Mindful Living Week site
Read more about Badiou’s idea of the state of the situation.
A review of William Davies’s The Happiness Industry.

57 responses to “Have we come to the end?”

  1. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    [An interesting and relevant conversation began on the previous post. They often dovetail that way. So I am posting the last few comments here as a way of creating some continuity. Please jump right in!]

    From Glenn Wallis
    Tom, Shaun, Danny.
    Tom, your comment about Rick Hanson made me laugh at loud. Thank you. I needed that. So, this is the state of the situation: When you enter into the living x-buddhafield—where figures like Hanson, Batchelor, Wallace, Rinzler, and so on, are the reigning x-buddhas—only one outcome is guaranteed: your IQ will drop by thirty points. But if I have learned anything from reading Badiou, it is not to accept the state of the situation. I am writing a book that intends to seize the munitions going to waste in the x-buddhist fortress. Here is a paragraph from the proposal. I present it here because I hope to incite others to insurrection. The conclusion that x-buddhist figures like Hanson are abject morons is, sadly, not without a firm basis. I still want to believe, though, that most of them, along with their customers students, exhibit such lack of intelligence because of the particular nature of the current x-buddhist interpellation. So, who will join me in the raid?

    [Same para from post above from Calculus of the Buddha went here.]

    From Tom Pepper
    So, is this a new project? A follow-up to Critique of Western Buddhism? Moving from critiquing to producing?

    What strikes me in this partial proposal is that you are after something most people would not recognize as Buddhism at all. Buddhism has become a sort of long-term palliative care for the terminally alienated, ministering to their (unacknowledged) despair during their sickness unto death. Many find it stops relieving the suffering after a few doses, and give up, look for a new pain killer, etc.

    But to my way of thinking, Buddhism ought to be more like, say, studying psychoanalysis or marxism. Intense at first, and difficult and distressing maybe, but not meant as an end in itself. Eventually, it needs to be applied to some particular real worlds situation. Of course, there’s always the difficultly of “drifting” away from the original idea, losing its potential for insight and so its ability to provide agency. Like when you’ve tried too long to teach marxist without renewing your study of it, you drift away from the real power of the concepts and get closer to the watered down concepts of the hegemonic discourse. (For instance, begin thinking that use-value really does mean usefulness, and so air and water have use-value—forgetting that the marxist concept of use-value it relational and refers to the use a particular commodity has in reproducing the relations of production, so air has no use value but cheap processed food does, etc.). So we need to maintain and return to study, because it is too difficult to avoid falling back into the illusions of common sense without making that effort. But of course the kind of study we do later on is different from the study of the beginner, first trying to grasp Capital. And it becomes pointless unless there is some real world application to it—unless it helps us decide upon and construct real practices in the world that increase our agenc and reduce our despair (again, in Kierkegaard’s sense).

    Your “calculus” then would not be the kind of palliative ideology, but a kind of reconceptualiziing of the world? Does it need to include a Buddhofiction, then? An ideology? Or could it remain distinct from the ideology, working to inform it but not directly tied to it?

    And yes, I’d agree that the stupidity is a result of the situation, in Badiou’s sense. But I suspect someone like Hanson is just an idiot, and in a less troubling situation would not be getting rich selling books and online retreats, but doing something more suited to his capacities—say, stocking shelves at the Stop and Shop?

    From Glenn Wallis
    Hi Tom,

    That’s a great concise analysis of what we can call “conceptual drift.” It’s a very astute observation about a phenomenon we are probably all familiar with, that loss of potency that happens to ideas and insights as we settle back into the comforting, hegemonic discourse of the status quo. A huge question becomes, then, how do you keep the charge hot and the detonator dry? A related question: how do you wrest it out of the possession of the Hive’s bureaucrats? A comment you once made has stayed with me. It was something to to the effect that Buddhism is valuable because it offers concepts that lie outside of, and so challenge, our current ways of thinking. I am still holding out for that possibility. But contrary to the facile usage of that cliche about “thinking outside the box,” doing so is extremely difficult. It takes vigilance and diligence. It seems to involve something like a perpetual act of negation.

    I am writing the project as a buddhofiction. I am not making an argument about x-buddhism. I am not even suggesting new ways of conceiving of x-buddhism. I am just doing something immediately with certain x-buddhist concepts, without apology or explanation. It is an intravenous intervention. It’s probably too ideological at this point, skewing toward anti-humanism tropes. I hope to make it finally into something that is closer to an instrument for recognizing the dominant ideology. Anyway, thanks for your stimulating comments.

    Off to the Stop and Shop. Maybe I’ll see Hanson there!

    From Tom Pepper
    I still think that much of (historical) Buddhism depends on ways of thinking that are alien to us, because they are not part of a capitalist World. There are other discourses like this, things we have records of that come from a world prior to the dominance of capitalism (it wasn’t all that long ago—even Aquinas is writing from a different World). But how do we give these concepts the power to explode our hermetic World? To fissure the wall of concepts we live in?

    Conceptual drift is a good way to put it—and it is just as common in Buddhist discourse as in psychoanalysis. As when Goldstein tells his favorite story about the water glass breaking to “explain” impermanence, replacing a difficult concept with the ordinary meaning of the term. It takes constant and collective work to avoid the easy but wrong version of Buddhism and think in the strange and foreign concepts.

    I would say we all need ideologies—we are ideological animals by nature—but we should try to produce these ideologies with a greater awareness that ideologies, not eternal verities nor necessities, is what they are. What I think is most crucial in the history of Buddhist thought is that it can demonstrate that it is possible, contrary to what just about every modern thinker would have us believe, to commit to something we consciously choose—we don’t need to feel that we are forced to do something, that it isnt’ up to us but divinely decreed or hardwired into our brain, in order to do be willing to make any effort, to commit. Unfortunately, pop buddhism is, as you say, completely a kind of Humanism, is committed to the opposite, to convincing us that we ought only act according to what is in the objective nature of the universe (hence the obsession with “pure perception”) or hardwired into our brain (hence the obsession with a science of meditation and with evolutionary psychology).

    In the old fable, Buddha picked and ideological practice (what we might call vagabondage) informed by a philosophical analysis of the current situation. A new fable, so informed, might have real power…but only if embraced by a collective.

    Oh, and I mean no disrespect to Stop and Shop employees. In my experience, having done such work myself, there are far too many people unhappy in such jobs exactly because they DO have the potential or capacity to do much more. I just meant we should all find some role suited to our abilities—but far too often those with no intellectual capacity (or even interests) wind up as college professors or medical doctors, while the department secretary or medical technician has to try to keep things running against the enormous inertia from above. If the World we inhabited made more sense, people like Hanson (or Young or Epstein or Wallace) would never be publishing books, because nobody would be confused enough to take any interest in his nonsense.

  2. kirkmc Avatar

    Since what could be called the second wave of Buddhism in America – let’s say post Chogyam Trungpa, and that sort of ignores the very small presence of early Zen teacher – the dharma has essentially been couched in the lingo of self help. Look at some of the more popular teachers – ie, they sell a lot of books – and their writings are mostly akin to that of any self help book. Even publishers that were revolutionary in their time, Shambhala, has become just another purveyor of self-help books, and now courses.

    This seems to be more prevalent among Tibetan Buddhism than Zen, and that could be because the history of Zen is quite different, with fewer lineages reaching America, and some of the “old guard” still alive, teaching, and writing.

    The mindfulness movement was embraced as a secular way of dealing with Buddhist concepts, and it’s not a bad thing in general, but like any religion in America – if Buddhism can truly be called a religion – it veers toward commercialism.

    Is it that bad? It seems that mindfulness might be a gateway drug to the real dharma, at least for some people.

  3. wtpepper Avatar

    Is there anything else left of Buddhism in America besides this kind of crap? I’m really asking, because here in Connecticut there does not seem to be. A decade ago there were several Buddhist groups around the state, but now I can find no trace of them. Nothing is left but events like this, where you pay a fee and are promised relaxation and happiness—and not too much effort. Does everybody now just buy their Buddhism online, download it to their laptop, and then move on to the next new-age purchase? Connecticut was never big on Buddhism, though—so maybe there are real-life and in-person Buddhist groups somewhere else?

    These people are really just today’s spiritual grift. Not much different from the “healh and wealth” christianity of the early and mid-twentieth century. Folks like Bruce “Jesus was a businessman” Barton in the 1920s or Emmett “Jesus will heal you if you give me enough money” Fox in the 1930s. fleet Maull and Rick Hanson are just the Jim and Tammmy Fay Baker of Buddhism—they’ll tell you any stupic platitude you want to hear, so long as you’ll call them wise and give them money.

    What’s the alternative? We hear the crap about this leading people to the “real dharma” all the time, been hearing it since the 70s, and it’s still just crap. Nobody watches Joel Osteen and decides to go and read Aquinas, and nobody does minefulness and decides to spend a year studying Nagarjuna. You just have to start with the hard stuff—and the hard stuff will never appeal to the kind of people who would listen to Kornfield or Goldstein without laughing.

    Last time I was at a retreat center, it was full of therapists and guidance counselors who wanted some kind of certificate that would count as professional education credits, so they could spend a week eating vegetarian and walking around the woods tapping at their cellphones between inane talks, and avoid having to take a.real graduate class where they’d have to do some work. I left there sickened.

    Does anybody really care to learn about the kind of concepts Glenn mentions: no-self, dependency, impermanence, etc? I mean, really learn what they actually mean? Break through the constraints of everyday language and common-sense concepts and think about how the world really works? I think there are some (very few) such people, but they’ve learned they’ll never get that from Buddhism. The only option I can think of is ignore these idiots altogether, and just put real Buddhist concepts to work. Of course, the kind of humanists who control the publishing houses and journals would block such work from publication—but there are alternatives. Like websites, sure, but also like the way Shin Buddhism started in Japan, or early Christianity: meeting in person! Horrifying these days, but I’ve heard it’s still possible to speak directly to anohter human without any digital intervention.

    Personally, I’m planning a “retreat” of my own some time this summer, to revisit Vasubandhu and Nagarjuna. No retreat center, no vegan meals, no celebrities. Just a cabin in the woods, some texts, and no cell reception. Anyone wants to join me, let me know. I guarantee we can learn more about Buddhims in five days of reading and hiking than in a whole year of study with nitwits like Joseph Goldstein or Sharon Salzburg.

  4. Dhammarato HappyNas Avatar

    It seems this whole site is dedicated to “I hate Jack and Joe”. Why speculate and why “non-” Buddhism? If you good folks want to learn the actual teachings of the Buddha, American is the wrong place to do that. Try giving up on this fake patriotism, get a plane ticket and come to Thailand to find what you are looking for. One needs to fix ones own mind before one can properly complain that Jack and Joe are failures at fixing your minds. That’s not their jobs. Their jobs are to rip you off, make money off your suffering just like any good psychotherapist is suppose to do. And even if you decide to not fix your minds or even try by coming to the right place, then at least do us all the favor of closing down this ridiculous hate monger web site. Try actually doing some dhamma and stop complaining that “they” do it wrong.

  5. Shaun Bartone Avatar

    @glenn: I’m still curious about what you call a ‘buddhofiction.’ Apparently its a project that you begin in your upcoming publication, ‘Theaters Comforting, Theaters Cruel.’ But what is it? Let me take a misguided guess and say that I have read several ‘buddhistic’ fictions, novels; they’re always way more interesting and complicated than spiritual self-help books. Like John Burdett’s Bangkok 8, a crime noir novel set in Thailand. I’ve also assembled a list of ‘buddhistic’ science fiction. Novels are more complicated because they’re not designed to give you a ‘happiness pill’. They often explore very dark and bizarre themes, the shadow side of consciousness. Is this what you mean? Or could it be within the realm of what you are talking about?

  6. James R. Martin Avatar

    In my view, nothing meaningful or useful can any longer be said which does not include the fact that humanity is pushing the biosphere of Earth into catastrophic collapse. Any meaningful conversation about our human predicament must center on this fact. That we’re not all centering our discourse on this fact has nothing to do with elephants in rooms. It’s an elephant we notice and speak about, alright. But it is no longer in a room (nor is any room large enough for it). Nor is it a normally sized elephant. It is an ever growing elephant which towers over everything. We mention it, but we don’t acknowledge that it is growing rapidly and that it towers over everything. Let’s begin here.

  7. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Hi James. “Humanity” is pushing itself into catastrophic collapse. The earth will be fine. So will all of the remaining animals and plants. Humans will be fucked. Is that necessarily a bad thing, viewed from a wide perspective?

    Let’s invoke Reg Morrison from The Spirit in the Gene: “If the human plague is really as normal as it looks, then the collapse curve should mirror the growth curve [in 1600 there were only about half a billion of us genius humans; now, 7.6 billion]. This means the bulk of the collapse will not take much longer than 100 years, and by 2150 the biosphere should be safely back to its pre-plague population of Homo Sapiens — somewhere between a half and one billion.”

    Humanism is just another aggressive ideology of salvation. Maybe you would find it rewarding to think through an environmentalism that does not assume the narcissistic preciousness of homo sapiens sapiens. Is it possible that the “elephant in the room” is not our blithe ignorance of the impending environmental purge of humans, but rather the insipid assumption of humans’ enthronement on the earth? What do you make of Ray Brassier’s insistence that nature is wholly “indifferent to our existence and oblivious to the ‘values’ and ‘meanings’ which we would drape over it in order to make it more hospitable. Nature is not anyone’s ‘home,’ nor a particularly beneficent progenitor. [Our thinking] would do well to desist from issuing any further injunctions about the need to re-establish the meaningfulness of existence, the purposefulness of life, or mend the shattered concord between man and nature. It should strive to be more than a sop to the pathetic twinge of human self-esteem.”

    This project, as I conceive it and practice it, is anti-humanist. More to the point of the post, Mindfulness, Western Buddhism, and even virtually all of the other “critiques” of these forms out there, are blind to, you could say profoundly ignorant of, their unquestioned adherence to the humanist doctrine. The more “secular,” “atheist,” or “progressive” Buddhism becomes, the more entrenched it is in a humanist fundamentalism. That is just one among the horde of elephants in the room full of willfully ignorant latter-day x-buddhists.

  8. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Hi Shaun,

    A buddhofiction is not a fiction in the ordinary sense. I ended A Critique with one. But that one is just a first attempt. It is also not meant to establish some sort of norm for future buddhofictionists. It’s just a wild experiment at doing something with x-buddhist material that is arguably relevant and interesting. The new book will be pure buddhofictional. I am modelling it conceptually on Laruelle’s “philo-fiction,” which, he says, “openly declares and advocates itself as such [fictional] and that consists in a controlled conjugation of renewed scientific-type procedures and old philosophical-type theological models. The “theological” model that I am deploying is that of classical Buddhism. The “scientific” operations that I perform are those derived from the critical and analytical tools of continental philosophy, including Laruelle’s non-philosophy.

    A crucial element of such “fiction” is that, like the fictionalist school of mathematics, it maintains a hypothetical acceptance of the claims, values, and goals of the Buddhist material that it treats. In that regard, it is similar to descriptive and constructive forms of scholarship. It differs significantly from those forms, however, in the redescription that results from its critical conjugation that is wholly unrecognizable to an interpellated x-buddhist.

    Correct me if I am mistaken, but it seems to be this crucial move of acceptance that makes the form difficult for you to work with. Maybe these two procedures of Laruelle’s will make the practice more palatable to you.

    1. We begin by supposing that [x-buddhism] does not exist or no longer exists, at least in the sufficient and authoritative mode and manner in which it presents itself, i.e., as a rational yet transcendental fact that teleologically controls the possible operations on it.

    2. To really place [x-buddhism] in question, even if we are obliged to make use of [x-buddhistic] procedures, we must invalidate it in one blow and without remainder. We must presuppose every conceptual term to be already divested of all power. We must presuppose that the generic matrix is already given in the virtual state, and thus that [x-buddhist] objects are already reduced to the status of symptoms or mere occasions.

  9. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Hi Dhammarato,

    Thank you for commenting.

    A basic premise of this project is that there are no “actual teachings of the Buddha.” There are only buddhistic chôra, raw, inert linguistic-cultural materials, that people do all sorts of shit with. Buddhism in Thailand, whether of the medieval superstitious folk variety or the virtuosic-cataclysmic Anglo-monastic variety, makes Buddhism in America look like it fell from the mind of God–perfect beyond description. So, come to Thailand and learn “the dhamma”? No thanks, bruv.

  10. chuppa Avatar

    Long time lurker, first time poster. Thank you for summing up the sense of horror, and look forward to the landscape.

    To Tom Pepper (and the sense of this article) – share the thought, and regarding the hard stuff – I think the issue is twofold, and I’ve been participating in Zen forums (relevant to the Chinese lineages specifically) on the same topic.

    One, if Buddhism / Zen were an ocean, it’s now so thoroughly polluted (even regarding the basic nomenclature) that people don’t know that used to be composed of a mix of water, seaweed and salt. If you sit down and google “Buddhism” or go looking on Amazon, x-buddhism is so wholly representative of the topic that you could read seven layers deep through references before you ever struck something outside of the modern celebrity circuit. It’s a circular reference list with no peer review.

    It would be entirely by chance or overwhelming persistence that you would find something like Nargajuna in the mix, and by that point you may even reject it as being wrong because it seems so unfamiliar.

    The second point is inherent to the same crowd, another byproduct – the fundamental insistence that Buddhism is all encompassing, and the proprietor of, anything related to health, well-being, insight, happiness, quiet times, reflection, peace, etc – sets a fundamental truth or understanding that followers of x-buddhism are welcome to pursue this approach as well. A therapist or new-ager with their own composition of individual beliefs is entirely certain that they represent Buddhism, because through studying “Buddhism” they have been given permission to do so.

    Contradicting this fundamental belief is as offensive and challenging as if you insisted someone’s name is not correct – it’s such a plain and simple truth that anyone infringing on it comes across as mad.

    Buddhism (and Zen) are words so destroyed in a modern context, that like the population, I feel like it would take an extinction-level event and a few thousand years between until the concepts could have any hope of revitalization.

  11. wtpepper Avatar

    I would agree with Glenn that we need to abandon the notion that humans are somehow crucial, that it matters to the universe whether we continue as a species. Maybe we are just an evolutionary dead end, like the dinosaurs. When I was young one popular theory for the dinosaur extinction was that they were too “successful” as a species, and overpopulated the planet—they made it uninhabitable for themselves when the sheer volume of their flatulence caused an intense spike in global temperature. But other species went on, and the planet survived the mass extinction. Maybe we’re just doing the same thing? Farting ourselves to death while we play video games and talk on our cellphones in our SUVs.

    The human intellect seems to be quite poorly evolved for survival as a species. When I discuss this situation with young people (college-age kids) today, they don’t doubt what you are saying. They all believe that their grandchildren will die a horrible death from drought, famine and deadly heat. What do they say? “There Is No Alternative.” The economy won’t allow us, they say, to do anything about it. We can’t stop driving cars or flying around in jets or manufacturing billions of new cellphones a year, because “the economy” won’t let us stop. This is why I think the first step is to denaturalize capitalism. But it has turned out, after thirty years of trying, that I’m not at all successful in doing this. And neither is anyone else who’s trying to do it, so far as I can tell.

    Humans, in general, just don’t have the intellectual capacity to think well. And those few who do are vastly outnumbered by the Donal Trumps of the world. Maybe a reboot is for the best? Maybe the next species to evolve the capacity for symbolic communication won’t be as stupid as we are?

  12. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Hi chuppa. Thanks for jumping in. I really enjoyed reading your comment! The polluted ocean and challenging-the-name figures are illuminating. And did you say:

    Buddhism (and Zen) are words so destroyed in a modern context, that like the population, I feel like it would take an extinction-level event and a few thousand years between until the concepts could have any hope of revitalization.

    If I may quote from Cruel Theory|Sublime Practice:

    Destruction. What is not being destroyed is buddhistic decision. For, in order for speculative non-buddhism to do its work, that structure must, in the first instance, remain intact. For, obviously, only if intact can it be exposed. Once exposed, however, a re-description occurs that has destructive consequences. Speculative non-buddhism, it can be said, is eminently interested in viewing x-buddhism in the afterglow of its destruction. But, as I mentioned, the destruction that ensues from its analysis is closer to Heidegger’s notion of Destruktion in Being and Time, than it is to an “end of Buddhism/end of religion” rhetoric. It will be instructive to quote Heidegger at length again in this context:

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

    And this advice from François Laruelle:

    To really place [x-buddhism] in question, even if we are obliged to make use of [x-buddhistic] procedures, we must invalidate it in one blow and without remainder. We must presuppose every conceptual term to be already divested of all power.

    Now: to the barricades!

  13. Shaun Bartone Avatar

    Instead of wasting time watching mindless mindfulness videos—and I agree, Glenn, that they are designed to turn otherwise intelligent people into complete idiots—why not watch THIS series presented by Sean Carroll on ‘Moving Naturalism Forward?” https://www.preposterousuniverse.com/naturalism2012/ Its a ‘retreat” with some of western world’s foremost scientists/philosophers who are tackling all the issue presented by Buddhism, and yet go far beyond anything that Buddhism ever contemplated. They’ve edited down the workshop to videos that are 5 to 20 minutes long arranged by topic:
    • Free will. If people are collections of atoms obeying the laws of physics, is it sensible to say that they make choices?
    • Morality. What is the origin of right and wrong? Are there objective standards?
    • Meaning. Why live? Is there a rational justification for finding meaning in human existence?
    • Purpose. Do teleological concepts play a useful role in our description of natural phenomena?
    • Epistemology. Is science unique as a method for discovering true knowledge?
    • Emergence. Does reductionism provide the best path to understanding complex systems, or do different levels of description have autonomous existence?
    • Consciousness. How do the phenomena of consciousness arise from the collective behavior of inanimate matter?
    • Evolution. Can the ideas of natural selection be usefully extended to areas outside of biology, or can evolution be subsumed within a more general theory of complex systems?
    • Determinism. To what extent is the future determined given quantum uncertainty and chaos theory, and does it matter?
    I’m not saying that Naturalism is “the truth” or that these people have all the answers–they freely admit they don’t have all the answers, but they do have really critical questions and powerful provisional answers, and they are using a cognitive toolkit that is far beyond anything proposed by Buddhism. What’s really beneficial about Naturalism is it’s openness to science, to continued confrontation with empirical reality, openness to new ideas, discoveries and positions. This is what Buddhism lacks because it’s a religion that is stuck on concepts that were developed 2500 years ago, and just repeats the same concepts and answers over and over again, never really developing anything new. We have come so much further in 2500 years, especially in the last 100 years of science. So my direction now is this: ditch Buddhist dharma, or let it only be an intuitive adjunct within the discussion of Naturalism as a philosophy that offers some interesting questions and perspectives. Naturalism is not ‘the truth” but it has the cognitive horsepower to take discussion on all the issues that Buddhism is concerned with to levels it has never been able to go.

  14. James R. Martin Avatar

    Hi Glenn –

    You said, “Hi James. ‘Humanity’ is pushing itself into catastrophic collapse. The earth will be fine. So will all of the remaining animals and plants. Humans will be fucked. Is that necessarily a bad thing, viewed from a wide perspective?”

    Actually, the compounded factors of the unfolding degradation of our planetary ecosystem/s, which place the future of our own species at risk, also place the overwhelming majority of Earth species at risk. It is the biosphere as we know it, not just humans, which is at risk. By “biosphere as we know it,” I refer to the general pattern of biodiversity as a whole. Yes, life itself will probably continue should a worst case scenario of planetary ecological collapse unfold. But evolutionary process could be thrown back to conditions not entirely unlike its earliest stages — wiping out pretty much all life as we know it. This is what is at risk, not merely humans. If you will think carefully about what could cause human extinction, you’ll probably conclude that whatever would wipe out humans would also (very probably) wipe out the overwhelming majority of currently existing species. (One exceptional scenario would be the appearance of a pathogen which uniquely targets humans.)

    “Let’s invoke Reg Morrison from The Spirit in the Gene: ‘If the human plague is really as normal as it looks, then the collapse curve should mirror the growth curve [in 1600 there were only about half a billion of us genius humans; now, 7.6 billion]. This means the bulk of the collapse will not take much longer than 100 years, and by 2150 the biosphere should be safely back to its pre-plague population of Homo Sapiens — somewhere between a half and one billion.’”

    So Morrison is imagining a very rapid and dramatic decline in human numbers beginning in earnest as soon as 2050. This is certainly a plausible future scenario, with the most likely root cause being a collapse of the present phase of human civilization, with ecological overshoot playing a central role. But the devil is in the details, here. Yes, current humans generally depend on current means of food production, etc. But as that breaks down what happens, stepwise? Industrial agriculture collapses, but other (old and new) means of providing for ourselves then open up. (Current dominant practices are driven by current economic conditions, after all.) Pre- and non-industrial methods of food production could sustain a lot more of us than most people imagine — provided that the climate system has not rendered too much of the world uninhabitable. Agriculture, here, is used as a general example. All of our basic needs could be met without industrial civilization — in principle. I don’t imagine it NECESSARY that there be a mass die-off of humans with the gradual demise of industrial civilization, provided the climate system has not rendered most places basically uninhabitable.

    But what I found interesting in the Morrison quote was this: “by 2150 the biosphere should be safely back to its pre-plague population of Homo Sapiens.” It is the word “safely” which intrigues me here. What will the level of atmospheric CO2 be in 2150? How much of Earth’s biosphere will otherwise be intact on that date? These, to me, are the more interesting questions than our human numbers, because my ultimate concern here is biospheric integrity and health. And of all life on Earth, not just that of humans (to answer your questions about humanism).

    We humans actually have the knowledge to begin immediately to create a regenerative and sustainable way of being
    (unless the current level of damage to the climate system and ecosystems is already too much — which is debatable), but we do not apply that knowledge. This, to me, raises the most profound and crucial of questions: Why? I offer/ed this question in service to the intent of the opening essay.

    We can get into those questions of humanism. You should assume, though, that I’ve already given much consideration what you have proposed by saing, “Maybe you would find it rewarding to think through an environmentalism that does not assume the narcissistic preciousness of homo sapiens sapiens.” This is certainly not the sort of humanist I am, if I am a humanist at all. But neither am I a misanthropist. I love all species, not merely my own.

  15. James R. Martin Avatar


    “Humans, in general, just don’t have the intellectual capacity to think well. And those few who do are vastly outnumbered by the Donald Trumps of the world. Maybe a reboot is for the best? Maybe the next species to evolve the capacity for symbolic communication won’t be as stupid as we are?”

    First, please know that my above response to Glenn was also, in part, a response to you. But I wanted to address what you have said in the above quote, too.

    I recognize the stupidity of which you speak… the common lack of “intellectual capacity”…, of intelligence.

    I’ve abandoned the old, familiar paradigm of intelligence in which intelligence is understood (at least mainly) as internal to individuals. Individual intelligence arises in a social and world context, and is best understood as “distributed” rather than merely “localized”. Our individual human intelligences are embedded in a social and natural context, and that context shapes our potentials. What is potentiated in one context may be depotentiated in another, and vice versa.

    Humans have a great deal more intelligence (in potential) than we realize.

    After a lifetime of inquiry, I’ve concluded that there is basically no thinking which is not also value-thinking. Insofar as the intelligence we’re interested in here is (at least in part) our capacity to think well, our capacity to think well must also — necessarily — be our ability to value well. That is, to care, to appreciate, to serve, to nurture….

    In my view, our present dominant culture (let’s call it “modernity”), has had it’s intelligence (defined as I do above) maimed. We do not fully integrate thinking, generally, with value-thinking. Instead, we treat these as if these two were segregated by a great gulf, as wide as the Grand Canyon. I think there is therapy for that. And it’s not the sort of therapy which psychotherapists do with clients… enclosed in little therapy rooms… at about a hundred dollars an hour.

    We mostly don’t even know our humanity, or our intelligence. We are ignorant if we think we do.

  16. wtpepper Avatar

    I would agree that our present culture (I’d just call it capitalism) has had its intelligence maimed. I would also agree, as I have argued repeatedly on this blog and elsewhere for many years, that the human mind is a social and collective thing. And that we can never be without values (I’d say so ideology)—again, something I’ve argued constantly for many years now, only to be repeatedly “accused” of having “values” that I have not abandoned (I do, because it is not possible to do anything without having some values we hold to).

    I would still say, however, that there are individual limits not dependent on the social or collective mind. Try teaching two children, even from the same family, the basics of geometry, and you’ll see what I mean. There just are different abilities in thinking like there are different abilities in sports or music. And most people, no matter what the collective mind the are interpellated into, just cannot do any real thinking. Just like most people, no matter how long they practice or how much the love the game, cannot play PGA-level golf. I know this is disturbing to hear for most people, but it is quite obvious once you stop trying hard to deny it.

    Part of the goal of SNB (only part, I would say) is to avoid essentialist beliefs about “our humanity.” Abandoning this idea is one of the hard things that I would suggest only a very few people will ever really have the intellectual capacity to do, no matter what the dominant culture is, not matter how the collective mind is constructed. If you’ve spent a lifetime thinking about these things, I would expect this would be obvious. Despite the enormous volume of intelligent and insightful explanations of these issues, almost nobody has yet been able to grasp them.

    My inclination, now, is to stop trying. To only bother engaging as equals with people already able to grasp these fundamental concepts—because either you get it right away, or you never will no matter what. It might just be possible to break through the delusions of those few who are capable of intelligent thought.

  17. James R. Martin Avatar


    “Part of the goal of SNB (only part, I would say) is to avoid essentialist beliefs about “our humanity.” Abandoning this idea is one of the hard things that I would suggest only a very few people will ever really have the intellectual capacity to do, no matter what the dominant culture is, not matter how the collective mind is constructed. If you’ve spent a lifetime thinking about these things, I would expect this would be obvious. Despite the enormous volume of intelligent and insightful explanations of these issues, almost nobody has yet been able to grasp them.”

    Do you think it is possible, wtpepper, to eschew essentialist beliefs about “our humanity” while at the same time embracing the notion that there is something (something usefully describable) which could be called “human nature”? In other words, must all views of “human nature” necessarily “ground” in some form of essentialism?

    Personally, I do believe there is something we could usefully call “human nature,” AND I — like you — eschew essentialist tendencies.

    “My inclination, now, is to stop trying. To only bother engaging as equals with people already able to grasp these fundamental concepts—because either you get it right away, or you never will no matter what. It might just be possible to break through the delusions of those few who are capable of intelligent thought.”

    I’m not quite clear what you mean by “because either you get it right away, or you never will no matter what.” And this, I think, is because I don’t have enough context from you to construct an adequate sense of your intent.

    My thinking certainly tends very strongly away from both essentialism and foundationalism (which are close relatives, obviously). However, I think it is worth acknowledging that there are dangers afoot when taking a course through thought and life which eschews both foundationalist and essentialist tendencies. One of those risks is the risk of nihilism — in its multiple variations (e.g., value nihilism, epistemological nihilism, ontological nihilism…). Much of what I say, I’m sure, can readily be mistaken as an attempt to build up conceptual or theoretical structures on essentialist or foundationalist “ground”. But that would be a mistake. Why? Because useful structures are simply that, and useless ones are … well, truly useless.

    The maiming of our intelligence I was alluding to earlier has much to do with the nihilistic tendencies within our “modern” and “capitalist” society. And, therefore, it has much to do with the “ideology” you mentioned. Ideology functions as an obstruction to intelligence, to thought, to awareness…. And the modern (and/or postmodern) dissolution of meaning (in both major uses of that word) is ideological at root. Our current dominant culture has little contact or relation with our REAL ground (which is not ultimately at all conceptual or theoretical). And we do need real ground to stand on, even if it is not foundationalist or essentialist ground at all.

    We need to think as well as we are able, but our best thinking requires something more substantial to rest within (not upon) than the modern / capitalist (ideological) culture has to offer.

  18. James R. Martin Avatar


    “When I discuss this situation with young people (college-age kids) today, they don’t doubt what you are saying. They all believe that their grandchildren will die a horrible death from drought, famine and deadly heat. What do they say? “There Is No Alternative.” The economy won’t allow us, they say, to do anything about it. We can’t stop driving cars or flying around in jets or manufacturing billions of new cellphones a year, because “the economy” won’t let us stop.”

    It’s intriguing to explore the relation between determinism and nihilism in this context. Over the years, I’ve encountered a thousand kinds of determinism. There is technological determinism, economic determinism (which is intertwined with the former), biological determinism…. What none of these deterministic world views allow for is creative engagement or agency. It will soon be explained that “Well, even if I did engage with ‘agency’, it would be pointless because “they” won’t. (Often “they” say the same thing, of course, making this a tidy little self-fulfilling prophesy.)

    My concern — my worry — is that perhaps too many of us modern folks have fell into the death-dealing soup which is nihilism wrapped in determinism, and vice versa. This relates to an associated collapse of individual and collective imagination, knowledge, experience…, and skilfulness. I guess when we’re robbed of all of that there is nothing left but those cell phones and other assorted machines and gadgets. How swift we are to hollow ourselves out!

    “This is why I think the first step is to denaturalize capitalism. But it has turned out, after thirty years of trying, that I’m not at all successful in doing this. And neither is anyone else who’s trying to do it, so far as I can tell.”

    I suspect by “denaturalize” you must mean “to deny that capitalism is a necessary and unavoidable ‘natural’ system or force — like biological evolution or gravity”? That the world is an entirely deterministic system which makes capitalism unavoidable?

  19. wtpepper Avatar

    A lot to respond to. Briefly, I would say I’m not at all bothered by nihilism. Fear of nihilism is probably what leads to most essentialism.
    I am also bothered by the endless retreats into determinism—economic, biological, psychological. Many college professors I know, and most of their students, are very enamored of the kind of determinism of thought we see in popular pseudo-scientific books today. The ideas that we don’t actually think, cannot actually think, that our “thoughts” take place in our brain at a deterministic level below our awareness, and all we do is become “aware” in langauge, after the facts, of all the decisions made for us by our wet computers. This lets people off the hook for thinking altogether.
    The solution I am taking is to not engage with such people. This in no way implies not engaging at all. Just limiting engagement to those people who are willing and able to do their own thinking. I’m happy to have agency, and let them give theirs up.

    So sure, explore the relationship between defeatist determinism and nihilism. Nihilism is the opposite of determinism, the challenge to accept the absolute absence of meaningful foundations of any kind.

    I don’t think the term “human nauture” is ever useful. Its proponents always claim they mean just a bare minimum of what we are as humans, our formal cause if you will—but then they always include things like compassion, love, creativity, all the usual Romanic era ideologies. Sure, we are constituted in such a way that we can learn and use langauge, and have a tenedency to increasingly interact with (appropriate in the marxist sense) the world around us. That much we can change only at the cost of much misery (but we can be denied even these things, and are in todays world most of the time). Everything else is optional.

    I don’t accept the naive “false-consciousness” concept of ideology, in which it is always an obstacle to thought. Only in ideology do we become subjects with agency. We just need a better ideology than the one we have today.

    All of this seems like things we’ve been over so many times on this blog that it’s tedious. All I’m interested in now is whether there is anyone at all willing to work with the full-strength version of the hard concepts like anatman, impermanence, emptiness…or ideology, alienation, the unconscious. What I mean by most people never getting it if they don’t get it right away is just that—if you’ve read Lacan or Althusser and don’t get it, then there’s no way you ever will. So don’t bother trying to “popularize” these concepts so some imagined unwashed massses can get enlightened, just put them to use with others who are capable of getting them already.

    Personally, I don’t have a cellphone, so I’m not sure about their addictive power…but I suspect that they are so appealing only to those who just wouldn’t have the capacity to actually think for themselves anyway. Even this kind of internet dialogue gets tiresome quickly—I have too many things to do in the real world. And anyone else with the abilities could—it’s just a cop-out to say that they turn to these escapes because they’ve been robbed of their knowledge and skillfulness and etc. Those aren’t things we are born with and can be robbed of, they are things we need to work to develop. We can it, or turn on the x-box.

    And yes, that is what I mean by denaturalize capitalism.

  20. James R. Martin Avatar

    wtpepper: “So sure, explore the relationship between defeatist determinism and nihilism. Nihilism is the opposite of determinism, the challenge to accept the absolute absence of meaningful foundations of any kind.”

    That’s not how I understand the meaning of the word nihilism. And the more carefully I examine the meaning of that word the less simple it becomes. There are, to begin with, many kinds of nihilism. There is nihilism about value, the most extreme version of which says “There is no such thing” — which is to say that everything is equally good or bad, or that good and bad simply don’t matter…. There is a version of this which is weaker and has an altogether different meaning, which basically says there is no way to secure a socially reliable, stable or widely held consensus on value/s, that reason and logic and such are not up to the task…. And there are myriad other permutations about value. Then there is nihilism about “truth” — or facts, knowledge, and so on. The strong version says there is no such thing. A weaker and different version says there are such things, but they are all contingent and dynamic, and so on and so forth.

    The kind of nihilism which concerns me is the near-total wreckage we now see everywhere in our dominant society, which is a smoldering heaps version of various of the above-mentioned kind in admixture…, which results in a certain kind of social and political death — the death which is death-in-life. In this life-as-death and death-as-life, nothing happens … other than the ongoing repetition of the recently familiar, which is continually reproduced without thought OR care. Don’t you see it with your own eyes and smell it in the air?

    It basically says “Whatever” to everything. It cannot be bothered to care. If pressed, it will say, “Caring is useless…” “why bother, whatever”.

  21. James R. Martin Avatar

    PS – This is why I mentioned the global / planetary ecological crisis as soon as I sat down in this cafe. I figure if anything is starkly illustrative of our collective pathological nihilism, that this crisis is allowed to worsen and deepen without meaningful resistance must be it. Most people aren’t even engaged with the topic at all. It’s startling.

  22. wtpepper Avatar

    I think what you have in mind is pessimism, not necessarily nihilism. While the two are often popularly equated, the only way to be a pessimist in the sense you describe is to be a dualist—to believe (often while denying the belief) that there is another better more meaningful existence than this one.

    I mean nihilism in the sense that nothing is eternal, and nothing has instrinsic meaning. This does not require pessimism. In fact, it enables us to choose what meaning we want, rather than to be doomed to live out a meaning dictated by something like “human nature” or “objective morals,” or more commonly the god of “economy.”

    On the contrary, such pessimism is mostly, as in the example I gave of the college students, the result of the belief tha there is in fact some eternal source of meaning that is not up to us.

    Most philosophers are terrified of nihilism, and insist that we cannot possibly be motivated by anything unless it is forced upon us, like a divine law or the hardwiring of our brain (or, the god of economy). Madhyamaka Buddhism, however, assumes the truth of nihilism, and accepts that things that are humanly created an impermanent are still real—that reality does not depend on being eternal or non-human or determined by physics or any such thing. This is not an easy concept for most people to grasp (particularly in the intuitive Lockean epistemology of capitalist ideology). Most people, I have come to believe, just never will grasp it even when they believe they do. Those who mistakenly believe they grasp this often write books claiming to have solved the problems of western philosophy or to have escaped essentialism, only to reintroduce an essentialist ground by means of sophistry and equivocation.

    If we pick up the gauntlet Glenn throws down in this post, we would need to not flinch from true nihilism. The question is, if it is a given that only a very few can do this—what should those few do? How ought they live in a world in which the overwhelming majority cannot grasp this truth and will just continue destroying the planet and enslaving one another in blind delusion? Producing an ideology for this minority seems to me to be the great challenge we are faced with, if we want to avoid slipping back into bad faith and despair with everyone else.

  23. Akilesh Ayyar Avatar

    Granted that mindfulness as currently taught is insipid pabulum, why not allow the alternative to be the actual truth of Buddhistic teachings — the truth of all mystical teachings — which is experience beyond the normal way in which we experience, experience beyond the duality of knower and known?

    Timeless truth that each person can experience for themselves — a truth beyond life and death — a truth beyond pain and pleasure, beyond good and evil — the truth of the “perennial philosophy,” incorporated in strains of every world religion (Vedanta in Hinduism, Sufism in Islam, Kaballah in Judaism, Meister Eckhart in Christianity, and so on)…

    This is not made-up. This is not figurative. It is quite real.

    Now, intellectual innovation and rigor can be brought to conversations about it, and must be. But let’s not let that, or the crappy sellout purveyors of feel-good nonsense on the other hand, obscure the possibility of truly radical and mind-bending recognition of eternal truth.

  24. James R. Martin Avatar


    In the present case, it seems to me that it would be useful to us, should we choose to explore with some depth and care, that we formulate some kind of “handle” on some of our basic terms, e.g., nihilism, pessimism, foundationalism and anti-foundationalism. These words, as you well know, are used to mean many very different things in different contexts, and so it is easy for us to be misunderstood.

    As I search the internet for definitions of the terms I indicate above, I see that there is little agreement, and much bias, in how these terms are employed, so being clear about what we mean about these terms appears to be necessary. (See https://www.iep.utm.edu/nihilism/ for one example of a narrowly biased account of nihilism.)

    For some, it appears, anti-foundationalism is treated as roughly synonymous with nihilism, and nihilism is brushed off as simply “the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated.” But it seems clear enough to me that anti-foundationalism (at least in some of its forms) hardly necessitates nihilism as defined in above. Both classical and neo- Pragmatism are — it seems to me — examples of anti-foundationalist tendencies which, they would argue, hardly result in nihilism by that same definition.

    A search of the web, or in philosophical texts, will reveal that there are also multiple kinds, or varieties, of foundationalism. Many (not all) have as their main concern the establishment of certainty — in particular, unquestionable certainties which can be used to build up yet more certainties on that “foundation”, e.g., Descartes’ “Cogito ergo sum.” Most of modern, post-modern and amodern philosophy appears to me to eschew this whole certainty project, and would hardly, therefore, fall into the category of nihilism as defined above.

    I have, myself, so little interest in certainty (to mean here “absolute certainty”) that I haven’t even, yet, read Wittgenstein’s “On Certainty”. I’m sure it would be an interesting read, but I have other fish to fry. Certainty, for me, is a dead end street. So what?

    My metaphilosophical stance has two parts: (a) The use of philosophy is its use. (b) Philosophy is the love of wisdom (not knowledge, per se). I would add that knowledge is necessary but insufficient in relation to wisdom.
    This distinguishes me from professional philosophers, generally — of which I am not one.

    By what do I mean “the use of philosophy is its use”? I mean it must be put to use in the world, not merely written about and talked about in circular fashion, as if it were a topic apart from the living of life (well).

    I have known and interacted with professional philosophers, and they tend to bore the shit out of me, or annoy me, precisely because of my metaphilosophical stance. I’m sure I bore and annoy them, too, generally.

    The last three paragraphs hint at what I’m getting at by “nihilism,” as I perceive it in our current (dominant) social milieu. It also hints at why “absolute certainty” is of no interest to me, along with any attempt at creating a systematized philosophy, or philosophical approach, on such supposedly “solid ground” as “foundationalism”.

    I do believe in the use of reason in service to philosophy, as I define it (via my metaphilosophical stance). Reason, as I know it, does not at all depend on foundations nor certainty.

    I acknowledge that reason has its limits, and am not bothered by this fact.

    My concern with nihilism relates to a very real, observable social crisis. A crisis of reason and reasons, of value and valuing–, of caring.

    I care, therefore I reason.

  25. James R. Martin Avatar

    PS – I could not help but be reminded of my having read “Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity
    by Stephen Toulmin” some years back. Has anyone here read this?


  26. James R. Martin Avatar

    Actually, I think I was even more influenced by this one: “Return to Reason” by Stephen Toulmin.

  27. James R. Martin Avatar

    Glenn –

    “This project, as I conceive it and practice it, is anti-humanist. More to the point of the post, Mindfulness, Western Buddhism, and even virtually all of the other “critiques” of these forms out there, are blind to, you could say profoundly ignorant of, their unquestioned adherence to the humanist doctrine.”

    Perhaps if I keep reading your posts here I’ll eventually get a handle on what you consider to be “the humanist doctrine,” or doctrines (plural), as the case may be. But from where I’m sitting it looks like there are more than a few such doctrines spread across a diversity of kinds of humanism, some of which share little in common with the others. I’m curious to know more clearly or precisely what you are meaning by “humanism”. That said, I’m with you if an important part of what you mean to reject is the “speciesism” or “species chauvinism” which some versions of humanism are accused of.

  28. Danny Avatar

    It’s been hijacked by the happiness industry, but Buddhist thought taken seriously is not about smiley faces, it’s about burning away illusions. I don’t accept this pathetic state of the situation. I’m all in. Bring on the Buddha-fiction!

  29. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    The final word from Ryan Stagg at the Mindful Living Week perfectly captures the idea of the Principle of Sufficient Mindfulness. He says: “When I listen to the teachers in this event it seems clear that we actually have all the answers we need to live a good life and make our world a better place.”

    It’s hard to believe that Ryan Stagg or anyone else over there really believes that. But, given the evidence, it’s even harder to believe that they don’t.

  30. wtpepper Avatar

    This has troubled me for years now. Do they believe the crap they are saying? Could anyone be as stupid as Hanson or Maull or any of the rest of them seem to be? If they are, then it is just sad—but as you say, it is hard to believe that they believe these things. If they don’t, then they are horrible people, no better than those assholes who prey on the grieving by pretending they can speak to the dead—but again, as you say, given the evidence, it is hard to believe that they are not as stupid as they seem. Either they are good actors and evil people, or sincere and just dangerously stupid. I’ve never been able to decide.

    Once in a while, when you really provoke one enough, you can see through the mask and it becomes clear they are just manipulative grifters. I’ve had this experience with a few of them myself. But most of them never do drop the mask—so maybe it isn’t one.

  31. Danny Avatar

    It is troubling–I was thinking of this quote again (Upton Sinclair?) that may apply. Maybe they get carried away in the fiction of it for their payday: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

  32. James R. Martin Avatar

    “Non-Buddhism is acutely interested in the uses of Buddhist teachings, but in a way that remains unbeholden to–and hence, unbound by and unaccountable to–the very norms that govern those teachings. Once we have suspended the structures that constitute “Buddhism,” once we have muted what to the believer is Buddhism’s very vibrato, we are free to hear fresh resonances.” — Glenn Wallis (found here: https://posttraditionalbuddhism.com/about/ )

    Yes, resonances.

    For example, I hear some resonances not just in the sense of “the quality in a sound of being deep, full, and reverberating,” but also in the physics sense, “the reinforcement or prolongation of sound by reflection from a surface or by the synchronous vibration of a neighboring object.” I do not mean this literally, but figuratively, metaphorically, analogously. The reverberations I’m hearing are between phenomenology (including but not limited to existential phenomenology) and “Buddhism”.

    However, I’d like it to be made explicit that the musicality I’m hearing in these reverberations are a result of the very same approach toward Phenomenology as Glenn Wallis is applying to “Buddhism”. In other words:

    “Non-Phenomenology is acutely interested in the uses of Phenomenological tradition/s, but in a way that remains unbeholden to–and hence, unbound by and unaccountable to–the very norms that govern those traditions. Once we have suspended the structures that constitute “Phenomenology,” once we have muted what to the believer is Phenomenology’s very vibrato, we are free to hear fresh resonances.”

    A key — or pointer — to the resonances which we are able to hear which reverberate between these “neighboring objects” is the emphasis and weight each (“Buddhism,” “Phenomenology”) place on experience. This emphasis is what distinguishes these two resonating “objects” from so much other philosophical and intellectual enterprise, which, strangely enough, have their beginnings after experience has been reduced to explanations, maps, models, theories, formulations: representations. Both of these traditions are ostensibly open to criticism and critique, but the Phenomenological tradition is — I think — much more so. Why? Because Phenomenology never had what might be called “religious pretensions,” and because religious pretensions have always been able to rely on authority to obviate critique. Now, of course, philosophy (thus phenomenology) has got its own ways of obviating critique, but these are far less impenetrable than that found in religion. Or so it seems to me.

    Let us get close and listen.

  33. wtpepper Avatar

    Yes, I think that’s part of it. But it’s different when you’re talking about somethign like a factory manager needing to believe that his boss really does make these workers’ lives better by giving them jobs, etc. There, understanding how capitalism works would make it difficult to live with what he has to do, so he avoids any kind of rigorous thought.

    This seems different to me, because it is a matter of a certain kind of intellectual work that is at stake here. Either they really can’t grasp their obvious errors even after those errors have been explained to them, or they can but pretend not to to keep collecting money. They can’t just avoid thought altogether when thought, of a sort, is what they are making money off of. Somehow, to me, the factory manager who remains confused and mistaken about how capitalism works just seems a little less evil than the economics professor who remains mistaken about this. It is somewhat excusable for the former, but not for the latter. These folks seem to me to be in the same category as the economics professor. I can’t get some overworked office manager or restaurant worker or something who remains confused about these ideas, but not somebody whose whole living depends on thinking about these things.

  34. Danny Avatar

    Thanks, Tom–when someone “whose whole living depends on thinking about these things” can’t do any better, it’s kind of pathetic right? Fully grown adults believing that when your mental focus momentarily shifts away from the breath and then you bring it back, each time that’s enlightenment-lite or a “micro-awakening”?…or a self-described Happiness Engineer says that no-self is when someone calls you an asshole and you can be totally indifferent to it because you don’t really have a self? They live in a pure fantasy land.

  35. wtpepper Avatar

    Wow, non-self is when you’re indifferent to being called an asshole? I hadn’t heard that before. Then I guess I’m a Zen master!

  36. James R. Martin Avatar

    So… Philosophy and non-philosophy. There must be a lot of valid and interesting paths into non-philosophy which do not precisely begin, or even intersect, with François Laruelle (not that there’s anything wrong with beginning there, or folding his text in — provided one can follow what he’s up to. That could require a huge investment of time — and going back, back to the infinite ‘footnotes to plato’, and further back). But I digress. Philosophy and non-philosophy would seem at times to be an infinite regression … finally back to poetry and myth — unless it’s task is to make a fully “literal” world of the kind which layers the entire territory with its map à la Borges’ “On Exactitude In Science” — https://genius.com/Jorge-luis-borges-on-exactitude-in-science-annotated

    Today I walked — as a peripatetic non-philosopher — to my most local used book store, hoping that Merleau-Ponty’s “Phenomenology of Perception” was still on the shelf. It was not. Hardly any phenomonology was on the shelf, excepting Heidegger’s “Being and Time,” which I purchased in spite of myself — and only because I had just opened up “The Spell of the Sensuous” (David Abram) to a passage about Heidegger which shed light and water and rhythm on what I was in search of. Resonances. (I’ll gladly type that passage here upon request.)

    I worry about texts, the danger they pose. The danger of being in time, of using the precious little time I have (I’m getting older) reading instead of returning to the things themselves, on their own terms. But clearly these words come alive and dance on the page as they reach out into the “things themselves” and set them down where they come flaring back to life. I will dance with and between the stars and the words / worlds! The grasses as they rustle in the wind, the poetry, the myth…. My eyes are not so good as they were in my youth. The contexts in which meanings appear. The space between poetry and non-philosophical prose. The scant distance between madness and poetry.

    The aliveness of the world pops up everywhere. I found this:

    “Myth basically serves four functions. The first is the mystical function,… realizing what a wonder the universe is, and what a wonder you are, and experiencing awe before this mystery….The second is a cosmological dimension, the dimension with which science is concerned – showing you what shape the universe is, but showing it in such a way that the mystery again comes through…. The third function is the sociological one – supporting and validating a certain social order…. It is the sociological function of myth that has taken over in our world – and it is out of date…. But there is a fourth function of myth, and this is the one that I think everyone must try today to relate to – and that is the pedagogical function, of how to live a human lifetime under any circumstances.”
    ― Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

    There is mystery which is not mystification. It enlivens non-philosophy by pointing directly at the elusive obvious.

    Let’s play?!

  37. James R. Martin Avatar

    Where does one go to discuss the core notion (in this blog), of x-buddhism?

    The comments thread here — https://speculativenonbuddhism.com/categories/ — has been closed. [?!] … (Many of the comments following blog posts here seem not to be informed by this key post, and weirdly, inaccurately presume there is a “real buddhism” afoot which is somehow not x-buddhism.)

    Is there an active forum somewhere in the internet for such discussion? What I appreciate about the notion of x-buddhism is that it begins (quite rightly, I believe) by suggesting that there is no such thing as “Buddhism,” per se. This is an unequivocal historical fact, I believe, and it is a fact (one of several) which is right at the heart of “speculative non-buddhism”. So where is the camp fire around which there may be a conversation on this topic? (Undoubtedly, some reading here — if anyone is around — will be quite taken aback by my claim that it is an unequivocal historical fact that there is no such singular X — entity, thing — as “Buddhism”. Right?)

    We are asking, “What of ‘Buddhism’”? (x-buddhism) for we contemporaries, we in this world today, are we not? We’re inquiring into what “Buddhism” means for us now, in light of modernity, post-modernity, amodernity…, right?

    And we set that conversation down in a completely OPEN (at least, ostensibly, hypothetically) space, right?

    So where did everybody go?

  38. James R. Martin Avatar

    “Buddhism in America has always been attended by the affirmation, commerce, innocence, and practicality that is abundantly present on the Mindful Living Week site. That’s because it is Buddhism in America.”

    Always? Maybe. But what about the incipient strands which pre-date the popularization of x-buddhism in America, which popularization may be said to having begun with (and during) what might be called “the counterculture” movement/s of the 1960’s (primarily), with antecedents found in “the beats” — Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Jack Kerouac, et al. These beat folk were proto-(60’s)conterculturalists, were they not? And they drew inspiration from wherever they could find it, be that the American Transcendentalists (e.g., Thoreau, Emerson) which were their “countercultural” forebears, or from William Blake, etc.

    I would argue that “Buddhism” in America has as its earliest, pre-popularized incipience a certain spirit of what might be called “counterculture” — meaning a rejection of “the affirmation, commerce, innocence, and practicality that is abundantly present on the Mindful Living Week site.”

    What happened, of course, is that the “counterculture” became appropriated by the very culture which originally intended to critique (and offer alternatives to) it. That we no longer have anything resembling a living, vital “counterculture” (by any name) suggests the very heart of the problem of giving a sincere and vital place to the various fragments of “Buddhism” in America today. Those fragments, if they were to serve at all, would be counter-cultural, in the original sense of that term (as provided by Theodore Roszak). That is, they would offer a radically different setting for such terms as “meaning,” “purpose” and “value” … a setting which our current dominant culture now completely lacks. For the most part, instead of a ‘culture’ (in any meaningful sense) we now have a marketplace.

  39. chuppa Avatar

    Glenn – thank you for the reply and the references – I picked up a copy of Cruel Theory / Sublime Practice when it came out but it’s been a long time between reads at this point!

    On the topic – related to destruction – I think it’s essential to make use of the x-buddhistic procedures, as they’re now the majority representation here. It’s akin to where a lot of Green / Left political parties fall down – their message comes across as too alien, too radical to even be taken seriously or consumed by the mainstream, so it is entirely rejected without further consideration to the population that it’s most targeted towards.

    It’s not only that what is transmitted has been obscured and we are discouraged from participating with the source, fierce protections have been put in place to ensure that even if we uncover that source we can be proven to be fundamentally wrong or incomplete in doing so – because of the inherent wisdom or insight a guru figure has developed for themselves that far surpasses the understanding you could ever have studying it for yourself.

    This is compounded by what others have pointed out here – it’s their main source of income in a lot of cases, and to question it at all undermines the foundation of what they are selling, the core part of their con artistry. They cannot be seen to be participating in any kind of open discussion or critical reflection on what they do because that would suggest that the wisdom is quite ordinary and fallible, not infinite and inaccessible. So even if they come to a different realisation, it may be too much of a leap financially to back away from the position.

    At that point how would they sell me the same kind of dirt that I could dig up for myself? It would be tragic! So there’s a queer vector about it where we need to be extremely good at participating in their processes and hope that those who are aware enough understand we’re selling something different. Much like the politics game – radicals don’t have a platform anymore, they have to be patient radicals in nice suits to participate in the environment in a way that will ultimately matter in the long term.

  40. James R. Martin Avatar

    I want to take a moment to point out a comment post (#2) from Bob D, on June 14, 2011 :
    Non-Euclidean geometry : https://speculativenonbuddhism.com/why-non-buddhism/

    Here, Bob points out something I find quite useful about what we might call “the usefulness of constraints within free and open (unrestrained) inquiry”. He mentions “rule books” in this context. Rules can be unhelpfully constraining, of course. But they can also provide provisional (context dependent) utility. In free and open inquiry, for example, we can distinguish ‘rules’ from ‘laws’, with rules defined as serving a liberatory function. (It can be soundly argued that most freedoms are born of constraints.) True Open Inquiry has very few laws–if any–and can make use of many provisional rules. (Even anarchy requires some interchange between form and formlessness.)

    The more I read of the blog posts and comments here, the more I find myself yearning to see “non-buddhism” (and x-buddhism) set in dialogue with other traditions of thought and practice which have resonances with one another. This would help us draw out some of the creative potentials which lay exactly in such dialogues. What are the important differences and distinctions between these two traditions? What are the points of overlap, similarity, sameness? How does the “overall shape” (and broad context — internal and external) of each invite or disinvite open (and critical) inquiry? What are the familiar purposes (e.g., goals, aims…) to which these traditions are put? How are these similar and different? What can we learn in the interstices between these? How can dialogue be enriched by establishing “nodes,” connecting dots (to evoke the motif of geometry again)?

    There seems to me a gap between the explicit and the actual environment of this blog. Explicitly, the aim of this space is “speculative non-buddhism” — which is somewhat defined and explained in some of the key posts. Speculative non-buddhism is explicitly not identical to anti-buddhism. But it seems to me that “Buddhism” is almost always asked to dissolve in this space. A strong acid is poured on “Buddhism” here, generally, and I seldom see anyone saying “Hey, wait a minute! There is a baby in this bath water. [an acid bath, really) What about keeping the baby?!”

    The tradition I’m most interested in setting in dialogue with “Buddhism” (and non-buddhism) — at the moment — is the phenomenological tradition. (Also, non-phenomenology — yet another neologism.) It interests me very much about these two traditions that each deliberately and explicitly points to experience as necessary and crucial to their “theory” and “practice” (let’s call them, provisionally). In both of these two traditions, experience shows itself, in experience (in theory and practice) to have a weirdly ambiguous, or unstable, relationship to language. This is perhaps especially true of what we might provisionally call “theoretical language” — or “cognition” in a certain formal sense employed in theory-making. (A certain restricted sense of the word ‘cognition’ comes to mind in this context.)

    Both traditions, it seems, have a way of pointing out, in theory and in practice — thought and experience, this instability.

    Once this “instability” is pointed out — both theoretically and experientially — what are we to do with it? What is implicit in this instability? What are we to usefully do with this instability in a world which we inevitably must navigate in relation to theories, maps, models, stories (language)?

    Phenomenology and Buddhism may be conceived of as similar and different ways of answering this question. And the thing which interests me most about both traditions is that they both offer (at least in places) radically practice-centered approaches to such coping, or living. By which I mean that theory, at times, is being asked to ride in the back seat.

  41. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Hi James. You are inching closer to the methodological goal of this project, namely, buddhofiction, a term derived from Laruelle’s concept of philo-fiction. You write that you find yourself “yearning to see ‘non-buddhism’ (and x-buddhism) set in dialogue with other traditions of thought and practice which have resonances with one another.” What you go on to describe, however, is a comparative project. A buddhofiction is not comparative. It is conjunctive. The former puts, say, x-buddhism and phenomenology in dialogue in order to tease out similarities, differences, relative strengths and weaknesses, whatever. The latter conjoins the two. This may seem like a harmless act, this conjugation. But something profoundly destructive and creative in equal measure occurs. Laruelle indicates these stakes in an understated manner when he offers the following succinct definition of philo-fiction: “a genre parallel to science-fiction, a lowering of dogmatics and of philosophical axiomatics to the state of fiction.” So, to move from comparison to fiction, you would, first, have to arrive at the hopeless aporia swirling around the whirlpools of sufficient x-buddhism and phenomenology. You would have to divest each of its power (to explain human experience, for instance), cancel the warrant of each (to truth or even knowledge, for instance), and decimate them (of sufficiency, for instance). What might such a “fictional” x-buddhism-phenomenology look like? What “use” might it offer, and toward what “end.” We won’t know until you create it for us.

  42. James R. Martin Avatar

    Hi Glenn –

    Aporia: “an irresolvable internal contradiction or logical disjunction in a text, argument, or theory.”

    “What you go on to describe, however, is a comparative project. A buddhofiction is not comparative. It is conjunctive.”

    Ah, but it was not my intent to restrict the dialogue I was interested in to mere comparison (and it’s Siamese twin, contrasting). Rather, I was thinking (incompletely, since I lack a thorough understanding of the two subjects and their relations) that the comparative project is — for me at least — a necessary phase toward fully meeting (more than merely understanding) that aporia.

    I’ll dig in and see if I can get a good handle on Laruelle’s concept of philo-fiction, thanks.

    What interests me in this intersection “buddhism” / “phenomenology” is basically vitality. Aliveness. Seen in the right light, these two offer up so much vitality! –which is not a purpose which “philosophy” or “buddhism” has (often enough) put them to. I’m interested in how both thinking and the soma (the lived body) can come alive to itself.

  43. James R. Martin Avatar

    Earlier I said,

    “In both of these two traditions, experience shows itself, in experience (in theory and practice) to have a weirdly ambiguous, or unstable, relationship to language. This is perhaps especially true of what we might provisionally call “theoretical language” — or “cognition” in a certain formal sense employed in theory-making. (A certain restricted sense of the word ‘cognition’ comes to mind in this context.)”

    I know from my acquaintance with a friend, a professional philosopher who works largely in philosophy of mind, that the word “cognition” can be used in a very special, formal sense which I don’t think I fully understand at all. Or maybe I do?! When I imagine what these folks are saying, I can’t help thinking of the term commensurability. I imagine they are saying that there is something like a “field of commensurability” within this special, formal sense of “cognition,” and when they mean to restrict the term “cognition” this special application/sense, they mean that they intend not to allow a certain aporia to appear in that field. A magical circle is drawn which allows the commensurablity of all things to be sustained within that circle and which disallows the disruptive, destabilizing appearance of what I earlier called the “weirdly ambiguous, or unstable, relationship” which language has to experience.

    This field of commensurability is itself a fiction. To create a fiction which points out that this is a fiction is to … redefine fiction away from the common sense of the term, which is to contrast — as opposites — fiction with fact, actuality, reality, truth…. To un-draw that circle is to reveal a … well, a truth. And a rather obvious one at that.

    There is a great deal of really atrocious, truly absurd and trashy application of fictional value commensurability operative in the field of “economics”. What is interesting to me about this, enough to mention it in the present context, is that this particular fiction can be demonstrated to be false, stupid, ignorant shit. In fact, it has been demonstrated to be just that. And yet an entire REAL social world is built up on top of this map / fiction! Amazing!

    There is no easy or simple relationship to be drawn between reality and fact on the one side and fiction on the other. Each — fact and fiction — strangely depends on the other. That is, so long as an apodictic standard is sought. But what would an apodictic standard be? That is, from where could an apodictic standard appear? It could appear only within a fictional circle, a partiality set apart from a whole or from the world. An abstraction, by definition. A world without a world.

    This provides us a possibility of beginning again, this time with a revived use in non-philosophy — reviving “philosophy”! To revive is to return to life, to vivify, to enliven. For truth to enter life, life must re-enter truth.

    This essay may be of interest here.:
    Does phenomenology have a future?
    Robin Durie (May/Jun 2002)

  44. James R. Martin Avatar

    I have just indicated, rather indirectly and nonexplicitly, why I keep reading and writing in here.

    People are often attracted into “Buddhism” for its vitality, its aliveness. I know I was! “It” has ample aliveness, if one knows how to engage with it — which engagement ultimately arises in “Buddhism’s” direct engagement with experience — which is the ideal way of understanding what “meditation” is all about. This is why we should not be so dismissive about meditation in here. Meditation is a practice of enlivenment (more importantly than of ‘enlightenment’). It is a way of nurturing and nourishing our aliveness. And if it is not that, we’re freaking doing it wrong. (A beautiful affirmation of such an enlivenment / meditation practice is found here: https://speculativenonbuddhism.com/2013/08/13/meditation-an-intimate-act/ ).

    Unfortunately, “Buddhism” (and meditation) is generally not understood and practiced as an enlivenment practice. The origin myths of “Buddhism,” if continually returned to in an effort to “begin again,” will quickly snuff out any enlivenment potentials in “Buddhism,” as well. Why? Look closely at the early source materials and you will find in “Buddhism’s” very origins a profound contempt and disgust toward human embodiment. Modern and Western folk often don’t see this material, since so much of “Buddhism” in the modern West is cherry picked to appeal to the tastes of moderns and Westerners. But it’s there to find, if you go looking. Modern and Western people may be put off by explicit disgust toward the body, but that hardly means we therefore embrace a sophisticated enlivenment agenda. A milquetoast “middle way” between enlivenment and disgust toward the body will be embraced. Neither of the other options are taken seriously.

    Enlivenment and embodiment are near synonyms, at least. To hold the body in contempt, with disgust, is the surest way to dis-embodiment and non-aliveness. Aliveness is something more than the mereness of biological functioning. Merely being or having a body, breathing and a pumping heart, is insufficient to “aliveness” in this sense. Enlivenment may begin with an affirmation of our human embodiment, but mere affirmation is insufficient to enlivenment. It is necessary, though. Where do we see this affirmation in early ‘Buddhism’? In later ‘Buddhism’?

  45. James R. Martin Avatar

    I’m still reading Sutras of Flesh and Blood —
    https://speculativenonbuddhism.com/2013/08/08/sutras-of-flesh-and-blood/ — but I’ll pause and comment a little along the way.

    What was there of “immanence” or “transcendence” prior the emergent “transcendence” of Jasper’s Axial Age–, anything? In other words, doesn’t our concept of immanence emerge in relation to a concept of transcendence?

    I’m speaking here, initially, of the very broad stroke of these two principal terms, not simply of their deployment in critique or theory-making, logical inquiry, reasoning…. I’m speaking of what may be called the “aura” of these terms, with “aura” implying, in part, the feeling-tone of the terms in a felt, experienced, lived Cosmos. Their meaning in both of the major senses of “meaning*.

    Doesn’t transcendence create an alienated Cosmos, a Cosmos divided in two? Fragmented. Split?

    This division has its attractions and its repulsions. It’s aura.

    But, once so divided, an aura grows up around the notion of immanence.

    Much of the criticism of x-buddhism which we see in Speculative Non-Buddhism is either explicitly or quasi-implicitly about this “aura” — the attractions and repulsions of transcendence and immanence. Take for example Tom Pepper’s essay in which a copper kettle and a plum serve as the archetype of Object — or objects in the world, generally. ( https://speculativenonbuddhism.com/2017/04/08/mindfulness-yet-again/ )

    Hypothetically, there was a before, somewhere — whether in history or prehistory. A before of “transcendence” and of the resulting Cosmological version of “immanence”. Before this aura came into the Cosmos. (Rich material for fiction here!)

    I wonder if we are not all too much inside a Cosmos which defines its immanence in contrast or opposition to transcendence to have anything interesting to say about the “aura” — the shimmering, gleaming attraction — of “immanence”? Is there also also a terror? A dread? A horror? In a felt sense, do we even know how to ask ourselves what becomes of immanence far from the presumable radiance and glow of Transcendence?

    Tom Pepper’s kettle and plum either shimmer with aliveness or lose that glow as a result of this orbit which conjoins immanence and transcendence. A comparison can be made to fiat currency (money of a certain kind). Such money has value only insofar as we have faith in its issuer and guarantor.

    consider one of the most celebrated poems of William Carlos Williams.:

    I have eaten
    the plums
    that were in
    the icebox

    and which
    you were probably
    for breakfast

    Forgive me
    they were delicious
    so sweet
    and so cold

    So sweet and so cold! Such a simple affirmation and implicit apology! The poem shimmers with the aura … with an aura, but who is the issuer of this currency, and what is its guarantor? Remove the aura and the poem evaporates, but does it leave a vacuum of the sort which may invoke or evoke horror?

    For me, the plum is quite enough. But neither is it too much. The kettle too. They do not stand or sit alone in a vacuum, and borrow nothing which must be added or removed. Everything in the plum — the soil, the sky, the rain, the wind, the stars, sweetness — is right there in the plum, which is overflowing. I need not add any sky. The plum has it.

    I think we worry too much that the plum will lose something by its radiant, shimmering immanence. I think we can safely let the poor plum and kettle guarantee themselves. They are safe here, and so are we.

    Nothing of this glow comes from another world.

  46. Matthias Mauderer Avatar
    Matthias Mauderer

    Dear Glenn,

    I am on fire for your call to arms. And I would like to make a confession at first. I exactly was one of those happiness consumers, devouring any book with words like ‘buddhism’, ‘mindfulness’, ‘enlightenment’ etc. in its title. It was my encounter with your non-buddhist project which changed everything. I realized that all my thinking was circling around an unquestioned center of gravity called decision. A decision that blinded me and aggressively intruded the Real with a prepackaged menu of fixed ideas.

    I have now entered the maelstrom of stinking shit. There is no longer any center of gravity, but a Real that constantly disorders and disrupts the emerging of decisional structures, the arising of fixed ideas with unquestioned provenance.
    I am currently working myself on arranging my thoughts, hopefully flowing into a ‘handbook’ which will contain what you call ‘thinking, concepts, dialogue, texts, and practices toward an ideologically-disruptive usage of’ ANY material. In the distant future I assume.

    Your ‘calculus’ – project sounds very promising and I can’t wait to read it. And Artaud with his ‘Theater and its double’ truly rocks. Would you be so kind and recommend a book as to getting started with anti-humanism?

  47. James R. Martin Avatar

    I was aware, in using the term “aura” that I was invoking the ghost of Walter Benjamin. But it doesn’t seem I was using his particular “aura”. The term “aura” can have a somewhat more general or generic usage, can be taken from one place and set down in another to mean something else.

    I thought maybe I had a better handle on the notions of transcendence and immanence than I do. Something cultural and historical is going on with these terms, and it’s still happening. It isn’t clear where we are going, just what is unfolding in this history. But I’ll side with a certain kind of naturalistic ‘immanence’, if only because it allows me to affirm this very life, as it is, on its own internal terms — and none other.

  48. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Hi Matthias. I hope you’ll send your “handbook” along when it’s finished. Ans Arbeit! I can recommend John Gray for some basic anti-humanism. Maybe start with Straw Dogs. I cannot wholeheartedly recommend him, though. He is a bit rough and simplistic in his argumentation. I personally am not really anti-humanist in the sense that committed anti-humanists are. I am interested in something like an in-humanism, or–you guessed it!–a non-humanism. But anti-humanist thought is a great purifier of the Worm of Humanism that eats at our collective hearts. Maybe I’ll write more about this idea of the in/non-human.

  49. James R. Martin Avatar

    I’d like to issue a challenge (again) here to those who have said that the ‘project’ in this blog requires an anti-humanist agenda. Somewhere in here I asked (to paraphrase myself): “Which humanism?” I said that there seems to be at least several basic kinds of humanism, with distinct doctrines or commitments. I wanted to know which humanist doctrine/s are considered in here to be verboten — and why. No one replied.

  50. wtpepper Avatar

    I probably shouldn’t, and this will be the last time I respond to you, but I’ll try once more to explaiin.

    Nobody can answer your question because it is incoherent. You don’t seem to know what “anti-humanist” (or humanist) means. What your are asking is sort of like asking an atheist which specific theological doctrines he ojbects to and why—he cannot offer arguments against limited atonement or transubstantiation because no Christian doctrine is, for him, susceptible to argument. It doesn’t matter what flavor of Christian you are, it’s the fundamental premise that is wrong.

    You seem to want to discuss some issues that nobody active on this blog is particularly interested in. You’re sort of in the position of a temperance worker at the wine-tasting club. There are many other blogs where people would be happy to discuss the things you are interested in. You seem to devote a great deal of time to your long comments, so perhaps it would be more productive to invest that energy on some other blog? Mabye Secular Buddhists, or Buddhist Geeks, if those still exist?

  51. James R. Martin Avatar


    I’m obviously not going to ask Mr. Pepper to respond to this, since he’s said he will not. But I will say this for the benefit of others here.

    wtpepper: “Nobody can answer your question because it is incoherent. You don’t seem to know what “anti-humanist” (or humanist) means. What your are asking is sort of like asking an atheist which specific theological doctrines he objects to and why—he cannot offer arguments against limited atonement or transubstantiation because no Christian doctrine is, for him, susceptible to argument. It doesn’t matter what flavor of Christian you are, it’s the fundamental premise that is wrong.”

    The above comparison to atheism is inaccurate, since all atheists share a common doctrine: disbelief in God / gods…. The atheist doctrine is singular, simple and unambiguous. It is not so with humanism.

    My question was certainly not “incoherent”. Anyone with an hour to spare in a good library, or access to the internet, will soon discover that there is no single “thing” called humanism which shares common doctrinal characteristics with all other things called humanism. Therefore, it is perfectly “coherent” to wonder — and ask — what anti-humanism would entail, generally.

    If there is no singular “humanism” to oppose in anti-humanism, it would seem there could not be a singular anti-humanism either.

  52. wtpepper Avatar

    Thinking about this growth of mindfulness and contemplative studies programs, I have to wonder why we should expect any different. Universities have always functioned to promote and protect the interests of the dominant class—to preserve the state of the situation. Many originally functioned as centers of ideological production (particularly religious ideology—Oxford, Harvard, Brown, etc.). Others served to produce the technical knowledge needed to support and defend the ruling class. This has always and everywhere, in all times, been the function of universities.

    This was why they invented the disciplines of English and Psychology—to reproduce the ideological hegemony. Even philosophy and history were never meant to do anything else. So when these disciplines lose their effectiveness in reproducing an ideology capable of sustaining the state of the situation, we should certainly expect that the university will try to create a new discipline to fill the gap.

    Richard is surely right, in his “reblog”, that religion has always been the home of sociopaths and charlatans, and surely many will find sinecures at universities under these new programs—as they always have before. None of this is new.

    What we need to keep in mind is that the only thing that has kept the left alive is making use of exactly those institutions necessary to maintain the state of the situation. Finding the space to work against the grain in the disciplines meant to maintain privilege and power. We should be wary of believing that there ever was a true “epoche” at any university—to the extent that real critical thought took place, it happened in short bursts in fortuitous situations when the claims of academic disciplines to pursue truth could momentarily be used as a kind of protection. Think of the struggles Einstein faced against the institutional physics of the time—struggles he surely would have lost if not for the military value of his discoveries. John Dewey somewhere makes a list of all the important discoveries that had to be made outside of universities, because the truth they depended on contradicted established teachings at the time. Any attempt to undermine the ideological hegemony of global capitalism should expect even greater resistance than these scientists faced. The goal of the university is always an anti-intellectual one, and any real thought that sneaks in is the work of dedicated people exploiting a rare opportunity.

    On a related note, I find the submissions so far to Incite Items disappointing for exactly this reason. They come off as people complaining that the ruling class won’t pay them a living wage to reproduce its ideology. Of course they won’t—they don’t need to. There are thousands of out of work PhDs eager to do it for far less than the poverty-level wages. Those of us who went into this to produce counter-ideologies, to enable radical thought, never expected to be paid well for it! The wages of truth are meager.

    Sorry to be such a curmudgeon, once again. But instead of lamenting the situation, which is not different from what it has always been, we should just decide what we want to do. If you want to get paid well, then you need to work hard to reproduce the state of the situation. If you want to critique ideologies, expose errors, remove delusions, and produce counter-ideologies…you just need to count yourself lucky to be able to do that at all, without being subject to some kind of auto-de-fe.

    Being a radical can be a lot of fun, if one avoids wasting time debating the reactionaries—but you can’t expect an office and an expense account.

  53. James R. Martin Avatar

    I happen to agree with most everything WTPepper just said. I’m glad to know he is capable of sound thinking on occasion. Too bad he won’t cop to it when he’s missed the mark badly.

  54. this is not the end: this is america – djb. Avatar

    […] Richard Payne for alerting me to a post (now nearly two months old) by Glenn Wallis regarding the Mindfulness Living Week and the “tipping point” of American Buddhism. You should read Wallis’ piece while […]

  55. Shaun Bartone Avatar

    @GlennWallis: How’s this for a buddho-fiction: Buddhist Futures: The Black Hole of Post-Capitalism http://engagedharma.net/2018/07/26/buddhist-futures-the-black-hole-of-post-capitalism/

  56. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Hi Shaun. Thanks for the link to your piece. I enjoyed it. It’s not a buddhofiction, though. Not that that matters, but since you ask. A buddhofiction wants to collide x-buddhist concepts into those of another field of thought. It’s not at all anything like a comparative study. Neither field of thought remains recognizable at the end. It’s the logic of cloning at work: 1+1=1. That’s a conjugation or a superposition, not an addition. So, rather than ask the kinds of questions that you do (good ones, just not buddhofiction)—

    “Ah, Emptiness! How can we use Buddhist Dialectics (as opposed to Buddhist religion) to deconstruct—counter-construct—what life is like after Capitalism? Is it possible that what we need to do is embrace is the emptinessof chaotic change, the void of having nothing to replace Capitalism, so that we can actually let go of it and begin to create something utterly new, alternative, and totally unlike what is surely going to replace it, an uber-technological dystopia?”

    —you would just create the text that constitutes your answer. In a buddhofiction, there is absolutely no need to explain anything. No argument is being put forward. (It’s too late for arguments.) No ideas are being denigrated or promoted. Ideology is being created via the practice of writing and reading and thinking.

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