This post appeared in 2019 on the blog Dharmic Détournement: Speculative Engagement with Buddhist Materials. I just came across it again, and thought it an excellent addition to my current concentration of practice—the series on non buddhist mysticism. I am presenting a snippet of the article. Please go to Dharmic Détournement for the entire piece, plus an interesting conversation in the comment section. (Link at bottom.)
As discussed in my previous post, arguably Western Buddhism at large holds to a reductive image of practice, centered around an instrumentalist conception of meditation practice. Borrowing from the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s notion of the image of thought, Glenn Wallis coined the phrase image of practice as a means of critiquing the orthodox conception of dharma practice in Western Buddhism and the various ideological postulates that inform it (1). In this post, taking a step back from the concerns discussed in my first post, I will attempt to analyse the basic assumptions about what constitutes practice in a Western Buddhist context. Towards these ends, I draw primarily on Louis Althusser’s definition of practice, as defined in his 1975 essay What is Practice?, in order to isolate a number of components of practice in general — which is to say practice as a basic form of human activity. These components will then be used as a framework to discuss Western Buddhist practice in specific, analysing the given assumptions Western Buddhism holds in regard to what constitutes dharma practice as such. These points of critique will then serve as departure points to introduce lines of discussion that attempt to critique and reorient how we understand the notion of practice qua dharma practice.
Practice indicates an active relationship with the real.
As Wallis has pointed out, throughout its history, Buddhism has employed a host of ‘first names’ for the real, from suffering to emptiness, and otherwise (Wallis, 2019). In a context of Western Buddhism it strikes me that the prevailing first name, rather than being one extrapolated from the classical Buddhist canon is in fact that of ‘experience’ (2). If we are to take this rendering as a working assumption here (despite its obvious problems, which are outside of the scope of the specific discussion), we can understand dharma practice as operating on or in the grounds of one’s experience, where experience is turn in understood to imply the relation of self and world, or self and other. In this sense, practice is understood to engender a shift in the grounds of experience, and the overcoming of, or more modestly, a decrease in, suffering, understood in subjective or inter-subjective/social terms, as we will discuss in the next section.
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