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 Comment on “Non-Postulates: Trash Theory #3:

  1. Pingback: 54. IBP: Daniel Ingram Meets Trash Theory | Post-Traditional Buddhism

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