Western Buddhism and spirituality more broadly provide us with a rich menu of practices, messages and visions of the human condition and what is possible and even desirable to do, avoid, and strive for within a human life. Yet, as many of us have come to realize, these practices, messages and curative fantasies do not always live up to expectation. The overly prescriptive ideals of what it means to be human, what practice is, and what we should be doing with it all too often reduce the Buddhist practitioner to the role of a passive performer of tradition and can lead to a loss of faith, disenchantment, and the feeling of having been conned. Can critique and disenchantment lead us to creatively reclaim our sense of ourselves apart from tradition, and discover new lines of inquiry, practice, and ways of relating?
In this hands- and minds-on workshop, we will explore the possibilities of making a new relationship to Buddhist practice through the concept of the The Great Feast of Knowledge. This concept, articulated by Glenn Wallis, asks what happens when we invite any kind of thought, practice, insight or claim to exit its ideological bubble and interact with the great, vast planes of knowledge, human struggle, and discovery that sit outside the walls of its meaning-making apparatus? What might happen if we were to bring figures like the Scottish philosopher John Grey or the postmodern concept of hyperreality into our meditation practice? What would it mean to go on retreat with the ideas of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Martin Heidegger, or the work of Social Anthropologist Tim Ingold?
A key idea from Francois Laurelle that will be useful to us here is the democracy of thought, which served as an inspiration for Wallis’s Feast. Laurelle poses that all thought is equal, and for us that means that our own thought can participate at the feast if we can just muster up some courage. There is a price to pay, of course. You must expose your inner-world, and your private practice, your secret desires, needs, and fears, to the wider world and risk their disruption, and even destruction. Armed with epistemic humility and renewed curiosity, whatever happens, the Great Feast brings us back into the collective struggle of our species to come to terms with the human condition.
This experimental and explorative workshop may serve to help those who are disillusioned by the whole project of Buddhism, or the spiritual, to find a way forward that remains critical but infuses personal practice with new life. Post-traditional and non-Buddhist tools will be explored initially, though we may manage to make some our own in the process.
Facilitator: Matthew O’Connell is the creator and host of the Imperfect Buddha Podcast and the Imperfect Buddha site. He runs O’Connell Coaching where he mentors and coaches those passing through disenchantment or looking to engage with the practicing life without renouncing the ability to think. Matthew also teaches writing skills, critical thinking and English language in Italy and has been involved with Buddhism and neo-Shamanism for twenty plus years.