Non-Postulates: Trash Theory #3:

Trash Theory: Preliminary Materials for a Non-Buddhist Image of Practice #3*

We are constructing the prevailing x-buddhist image of practice. Recall:

In Chapter 3 of Difference and Repetition, Gilles Deleuze lays out eight postulates on the “dogmatic image of thought.” Briefly, “image of thought” indicates the structure provided by a discipline or community to determine the contours that thinking is permitted to take therein (hence, “dogmatic”). In the preface to the English edition of Difference and Repetition, Deleuze says:

By this I mean not only that we think according to a given method, but also that there is a more or less implicit, tacit or presupposed image of thought which determines our goals when we try to think. (xiv)

Okay, here’s what we have collectively constructed so far (from emails and comments):

Postulate 1 Every x-buddhist knows that humanism is true.
Dictionary Definition: “Humanism is an outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters. Humanist beliefs stress the potential value and goodness of human beings, emphasize common human needs, and seek solely rational ways of solving human problems.”
Postulate 2 Every x-buddhist knows that idealism is true.
As The Protagonist in Dhammapada 1.1: “Preceded by mind are phenomena/led by mind/formed by mind.” More broadly, I mean idealism in Kant’s sense in Critique of Pure Reason: “if I remove the thinking subject, the whole material world must at once vanish because it is nothing but a phenomenal appearance in the sensibility of ourselves as a subject, and a manner or species of representation.”
Postulate 3 Every x-buddhist knows that the New Age Apocalypse is true.
This entails a cluster of beliefs about the end of the current world and the coming of a new world. Decisive to this formulation is the fact that the new world comes into being not through collective social action or through radical (i.e., non-reformist) operations on material structures, but rather through some sort of “shift in consciousness” or through collective “cosmic awareness.” In the most basic sense, it means that the way to change the world is to change one’s attitude, consciousness, viewpoint, etc., etc.
Postulate 4 Every x-buddhist knows that yogic practice is essential.
 This postulate follows from the previous one. By “yogic practice” I mean a discipline that entails “inner contemplation” of some sort. Although the x-buddhist canonical record is has instances where people became awakened in conversation with The Protagonist, the Western-Buddhism image of practice dogmatically holds meditation as the sole means of ultimate attainment.
Postulate 5 Every x-buddhist knows that what The Protagonist meant by anatman was that there is, in fact, an atmanThe Protagonist’s greatest gift, for the x-buddhist, is the reassurance that one is not obligated to take their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors all too seriously since, ultimately, they are “not self” and therefore not the x-buddhist’s responsibility to attempt to investigate and understand. In pairing this postulate with its twin, Postulate #2, (an)atman serves to ensure that all of material reality is rendered functionally irrelevant in the quest for reducing suffering.
Postulate 6 Every x-buddhist knows that there is a realm of existence called “direct experience” which is ontologically separable, indeed fundamentally distinct from, the unfortunate human mental milieu containing thoughts, cravings, conceptual proliferation, identity, ideology, social practice, etc., etc. When all else fails, and/or when one is in doubt, one can always count on “direct experience” to provide a neutral anchor or refuge, which freezes these worldly worries in time and temporarily delivers the practitioner from the realm of ideology and the social. Furthermore, since direct experience is not provided by material reality and is available only to the individual mind, one can never be mistaken about one’s own “direct experience.” This one was particularly salient in some of the Burmese vipassana traditions I spent time in, for which the “go-to” move was directing attention to “direct sensory experience.”
Postulate 7 Every x-buddhist in the West knows that life is fundamentally good—at least if approached x-buddhistically. In stark contrast to the axiom held by none other than their founding Protagonist, x-buddhists (at least those not wearing robes full time) firmly hold a life-affirming and optimistic view of the nature of reality and humanity’s place in it. Perhaps this is due to the long shadow of the Judeo-Christian God, who saw that His creation was “very good” in Genesis. Maybe that God doesn’t exist, but whatever — His creation is structurally sound: a veritable machine for the creation of human happiness (if we approach the machine properly). There is no place for pessimism in the sangha. If you have a problem in life that can’t seem to go away and are unhappy about it, it’s because you aren’t doing your x-buddhism right.
Postulate 8 Every x-buddhist knows that an authoritative teacher is required. [Who can add to this statement?]

Preliminary postulates for a non-buddhist image of practice

What does each of these postulates further entail? (From various contributors.)

Non-Postulate 1 Practice is a struggle against mastery, rather than a reaching toward itThe most crucial element for any non-buddhist practice should be a perpetual resistance to taking any part of subjectivity as a refuge, or as some sort of “default” state removed from the inconveniences of social subjectivity. Practice necessarily implies struggle; practice leads to mastery, at which point practice is no longer needed as such. To practice, then, is to resist mastery in perpetuity.
Non-Postulate 2 Practice carries with it a certain need for incomprehension. This is why it a good sign when we open an obscure book written by some French asshole only to find ourselves frustratingly staring down pages of pure gibberish. What such an experience reveals to us is that we are unaware of the conditions determining our practice. If everything was always easy for us to understand, would that not be due cause for suspicion? Our non-buddhist practice declares “yes, it would.”
Non-Postulate 3 Practice/struggle is in itself generative of a form of life. [Who can say more here?]
Non-Postulate 4 Practice must not take itself too seriously, as in it must be aware it is a practice. Similar to valuing ritual for the sake of ritual itself and connection that ritual brings, rather than imbuing the specific ritual with metaphysical power. There must be a sense of self deprecating humor in a practice that can withstand, fold in, have dialogue with questions/criticisms. Once a practice crosses the line into a “serious” practice it becomes a too-precious dogma that can barely be understood except by those who teach it…enter guru and followers…enter a system that is only interested in the power structure of the system itself and leaves human carnage, and the birth of the practice itself, in its wake. A practice that is not taking itself too seriously is perhaps a practice that has the death of god/Other built right in. That is not to say it doesn’t take seriously the human world in which it practices, quite the contrary. If the practice is not precious, if the cushion is not the holy place, then perhaps the rest of the world and what we actually DO in it, is where the value shows up. I don’t know, I don’t have that answer…that would postulate a conclusion. So, the fragment: a messy human non-precious practice that can laugh at itself when it gets too big for its britches, as my grandma might say.
Non-Postulate 5 The One/Real is an as-if axiom. We view all thought and practice “as a material part of the Real.” Doing so entails “an experiment with what results in our knowledge from [practicing] in this way.” As-ifWhat if we simply take an idea of “the Real” (as void, as aporia, as the a priori, as the unsymbolized, whatever), and place some x-material alongside of it. What happens?
Non-Postulate 6
 Dependent origination and emptiness are essential concepts. Concerning practice, do these two x-buddhist premises entail a thorough-going materialism? “positive” nihilism? anti-humanism? social activism? renunciation? a political theory? what?
Non-Postulate 7 Any future practice must be collective, educational, and dialogical. [Who wants to say more here?]

*Trash Theory: Preliminary Materials for a Non-Buddhist Image of Practice

The concept of “trash theory” is borrowed from Tiqqun’s Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young Girl.

So as not to give a false impression—which could  well be our intention—the jumble of fragments that follows does not in any way constitute a theory.  These are materials accumulated by chance encounter, by frequenting and observing Young-Girls: pearls extracted from magazines, expressions  gleaned out of order under sometimes dubious circumstances…The choice to expose these elements in all their incompleteness, in their contingent  original state, in their ordinary excess, knowing that if polished, hollowed out, and given a good trim they might together constitute an altogether presentable doctrine, we have chosen—just this  once—trash theory. The cardinal ruse of theoreticians resides, generally, in the presentation of the  result of their deliberations such that the process of deliberation is no longer apparent. We figure that, faced with Bloomesque fragmentation of attention, this ruse no longer works. We have chosen a different one. In these scattered fragments, spirits attracted to moral comfort or vice in need of condemning will find only roads leading nowhere. It is less a question of converting [x-buddhists] than of mapping out the dark corners of the fractalized  frontline of [the x-buddhist World]. And it is a question of furnishing arms for a struggle, step-by-step, blow-by-blow, wherever you may find yourself. (20-21)

How can we conceive of practice today?

Contemporary German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk argues that “anyone who takes part in a program for de-passivizing himself, and crosses from the side of the merely formed to that of the forming, becomes [an agent].” The colloquial word for such a program is practice. The more technical term, praxis, aims to approach the question consciously, with an a priori awareness of theoretical considerations. Yet, at the title of the series indicates, the “theory” arising out of whatever collective and chaotic deliberations may be the case.

More formally, it proceeds from three questions. First, what does it mean to “practice”? What, for instance, distinguishes practice from things like routine, habit, or simply a way of life? And when is a practice one of healthy self-formation as opposed to one of ideological subjugation or romantic fantasy? This question may presuppose a new image of practice, akin to Deleuze’s image of thought. Second, how can we conceive of practice in an age of profound skepticism toward the transcendental orientations of our so-called spiritual traditions? What might a materialist or, in the language of Pope Francis, an “incarnational” practice look like? Third, rather than adapt the practitioner to the existing social formation, how can we ensure that a practice develops competent, courageous agents for changing their formations in closer conformity to their moral ideals?

If you have any thoughts on this matter, please send them along. You can write an original text or share an existing piece of writing or mash the two together. Keep it short, and include a commentary and a question or two for discussion. The purpose of this exercise is to stimulate thinking, not to dominate it. Maybe some of you will eventually use these trashy fragments to create a new theoretical whole. Even better, maybe some of you will put them to the test in actual communal practice. Let us know how we can help.

We’re just getting started! Send your trash to the comment section or email



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4 responses to “Non-Postulates: Trash Theory #3:”

  1. Alex Walking Avatar

    The following is a slightly edited version of what was a private email to Glenn Wallis. In two responses, he’s asked me to post it publicly here, even offering to do so himself and leave me anonymous, as he considers it ‘…would be a valuable contribution to the blog discussion.’

    Okay, but I’ll leave out a couple of character assassinations of contemporary major Buddhist players. They’re justified and accurate, but such are never in good taste in a public forum when unprovoked.

    It seems I missed the point of this site according to Glenn (does it have one other than as a digital, Buddhist-themed Theatre of the Absurd?). Alright, I’ll accept that, it’s been a while since I cruised it. If I hadn’t missed its non-point, and still may not get it other than it’s simply to stir things up to see what happens, I probably wouldn’t have written to him in the first place! Anyway, here’s how I bounced off of this post taking it to be a manifesto. May some readers find value in it.

    And yes, Buddhism does need to adapt, as it always has, to remain relevant. Which is why I wrote the book I refer to in the email; as reliable source material for that adaptation.

    Why do I have an overwhelming sense akin to having taken an unknown substance and getting sucked into removing my clothes center stage in a darkened and full theater just as it comes on?

    Alex Walking
    Author of Sex, Drugs, Enlightenment: Noble Secrets from an Orthodox Buddhist ex-Monk

    Email subject: Perhaps you’ll find this useful, not trash

    Aloha Glenn,

    I’m ambivalent about making the time to write.

    You said to keep it short, which is always preferable, but that may not be possible. I won’t go over it postulate by postulate as that would make this a novella, but they do contain a lot of woolly thinking, not to be confrontational. So just a few points that stand out. And woolly thinking is natural enough, no big deal. This is going to ramble as I’m not polishing it and I hope that won’t be a big deal either.

    Postulate 5 – Why do you need to have an atman in there? Is it more comforting? Or are you starting your own religion here? Even the wording ‘Every x-buddhist knows that…’ is coercively stating rules which cancel out critical thinking while leading the witness into the club. It reminds me of rabbis saying “Okay, we all agree there’s a God. Now, let’s talk about the nature of God.”

    The ‘Protagonist,’ as you call Sid the Good Friend (catchy that you’ll capitalize Protagonist but not Buddhist) never said, “There are five khandas and then something else beyond them.” He never ‘…meant by anatman [was] that there is, in fact, an atman.’ Don’t shoot the messenger, but that’s just nonsensical double-speak.

    So, you haven’t had the direct experience of supramundane absorption (magga-phala). That’s pretty normal. And even ‘direct experience’ (Postulate 6) can make mistakes as to what frequency has been experienced, or if what was experienced was no frequency at all. ‘The one who knows’ is still a collection, an unwound knot. That’s why every experience needs to be examined using the tilakkhana and where a qualified teacher comes in to confirm what it was (Postulate 8).

    ‘The one who knows’ can validate that some state has been experienced, but that’s as reliable as that gets. One thing’s for sure; if there’s still an experiencer, then it isn’t supramundane jhana. That’s where the forest monks of the Dhammayuttika veered off the mark into their own religion equating jhanas with attainments, but I digress.

    Back to this atman stuff, which is a major point. Although I like some parts of your postulates, I guess that means I’m not an x-buddhist but just an ex-monk and still a Buddhist as I consider Sid to be the greatest genius to walk the face of our Earth in historical times. Nor am I trying to be your antagonist!

    I’m just saying that a bunch more of that yogic practice you mention in Postulate 4 with a teacher who has completed the vipassana nanas him- or herself is in order (Postulate 8). I can’t imagine a kalyanamitta who has actually had the experience of magga-phala agreeing with you. And once again, as I mentioned in the paragraph above, a reliable kalyanamitta is absolutely necessary for fully traversing the insight knowledges as per my ‘direct experience.’

    If there was an atman beyond merely being the irregular electrical flux brushed up by the five khandas whirling around each other like the brushes of a dynamo, then liberation from suffering would never be possible. Exposing the mistake of an atman and showing the way of practice to understand that so as to achieve liberation was the whole point of Sid’s teaching. It’s a shame that seems to have gotten lost in the process of achieving your doctorate, but that wouldn’t have been your fault.

    [The next paragraph is from my response to Glenn’s first request to post this.]

    I still can’t believe that you’d basically say on the subject of anatta after the amount of schooling you’ve had that the Buddha said in effect, “White is really black but I’m going to say that white is white and not black.” What would be the point in that? Just to contradict everyone for the rest of his life, mess with their heads, and have a private laugh at whoever would listen to him?

    Postulate 7 confirms that you’re starting your own religion. As I wrote in chapter 4 of my book, Helen, my samadhi kalyanamitta, and the Nyanaponika Mahathera, whom she was the personal secretary of, were talking one day about how the English wanted Buddhism with God and the Americans wanted it with sex. They didn’t see how either was possible. The Tibetans with their Bon background introduced sex as a vehicle, and it can work for our culture just like the prudent and properly contexed use of entheogens can, but the God-thing? What a wrong tree to bark up!

    ‘Maybe that God doesn’t exist, but whatever — His creation is structurally sound: a veritable machine for the creation of human happiness (if we approach the machine properly).’ Wow…. Can you see the wooliness in that? I could even go so far as to say it reeks of first-world privilege, but that would probably get you hot under the collar!

    Can’t endless kalpas of infinite world-systems expansion and contraction just be the way it is? ‘Empty phenomena rolling on,’ as the Buddha put it? Or is that too disconcerting?

    And no, the dependent origination and emptiness aren’t concepts (as per Postulate 6’s addition by a contributor). They describe facts, the crux of the biscuit. They’re truths of existence whether you know them or not. That makes them essential to comprehend the nature of reality clearly, but they’re not abstractions or mental constructions any more than fingers and toes arithmetic is.

    By the tone of your writings, I expect that you’ve become disillusioned with the Buddha’s teaching (‘In stark contrast to the axiom held by none other than their founding Protagonist…’). It seems you’re trying to create your own sangha on your own adapted terms based in your disillusionment. The ‘x’ screams that, like ‘exvangelist’ does. Just your unwillingness to call Sid by name or capitalize his usual epitaph supports my theory.

    As a digressive segue into commenting on Postulate 7, the Buddhist crime of the last century was… [deleted in the name of Mercy]

    Anyway, the following two stories I can’t quote chapter and verse on from the Pali canon, but I’m sure you’re familiar with them. I’ll paraphrase them to a level that I hope doesn’t make you grit your teeth.

    Ananda said to the Buddha one day, “Lord, I think I know part of the reason a person joins the community. It’s for the company of like-minded individuals.”

    The Buddha replied, “No, Ananda, that isn’t part of the reason. That’s the whole reason.”

    In contrast to this, elsewhere it’s recorded that he walked into one of the new monasteries and saw bhikkhus sewing their robes together and giggling in a fun hen party. He walked out, turned to Ananda, and said, “I’d cancel all of the rules of the Vinaya just to make one instead: no two monks can live within sight of each other.”

    I mention these because of Postulate 7’s addition by one of your contributors (Any future practice must be collective, educational, and dialogical). Not to be defeatist, but I need to say that collectivism without an accomplished kalyanamitta won’t lead to liberation any time soon. I can hear both the clash of egos and mutual back-patting from here…

    As I wrote in my book, I sought out no sangha upon return to the West as I didn’t see the point in going into a group, opening my mouth, and looking more knowledgeable than someone with a vested interest in being right which would probably be what would happen. Nor did I need to start my own. But then, stream entry means that even if nothing else is done, sooner or later there will be total fruition.

    Remember the Mangala Sutta? How to tell a lucky day? The 28 signs start with ‘Not associating with fools, associating with the wise and honoring the honorable.’ Note the order, it’s important; if there are no wise or honorable around, you still don’t associate with fools. A sangha, online or in person, isn’t necessary to practice the dhamma.

    Glenn, I wish you the best of success in deepening your understanding of the nature of reality and achieving that aforementioned liberation from suffering that’s the sommum bonum of that. I hope that you know enough not to take any of the above personally, which is one of the baseline responses of understanding anatta! If you did, reactions are always excellent material for constructive introspection.


  2. jgbis Avatar

    Curiosity question: why is “practice” being excluded from the x-b image?

    Impressionistically, “practice, “experience” and “teacher” (or something related, like “transmission” or “lineage”) would seem the godterms of x-buddhism. Here, the second two are being rooted up. But “practice” is worth upcycling?

  3. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Hi jgbis. Thanks for your comment. Practice is not being excluded from the x-buddhist image. We are, in the first instance, attempting to discern and articulate just what frames that practice as, precisely, an “image of thought.” It’s an open question whether we have to uproot concepts like “experience,” “teacher,” and “practice,” or merely reconceive them in light of whatever new image we devise. For example, what does “experience” look like given robust assumptions involving the “individual’s” social embeddedness? What work does “teacher” do given robust assumptions concerning collective creation? Or indeed, what does any of it mean taking seriously x-buddhist assumptions of anatman, pratityasamutpada, and sunyata?

    An old anarchist trope says that anarchism is democracy taken seriously. I’d say non-buddhism is x-buddhism taken seriously. So, if we do so, if we take those and other concepts seriously, what does “practice” and everything surrounding it–teacher, community, ideology, ritual, experience, ethics–look like?

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