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Criticism Matters

Posted by Glenn Wallis on December 14, 2016

handbookI contributed the chapter below to Ronald E. Purser, David Forbes. Adam Burke, Handbook of Mindfulness: Culture, Context and Social Engagement (Basel: Springer Publishing, 2016) (link at bottom). It’s a big book, 500+ pages, with over 30 contributors. Many of those contributors will be familiar to readers of this blog; for example, David Loy, Richard Payne, Ronald Purser, and Bhikkhu Bodhi. I find the new, but obviously well-informed, voices, such as Zack Walsh, Per Drougge, and Edwin Ng, and many others, refreshing. I applaud the editors for their unorthodox group of contributors.

The title may give the impression that this is yet another of the proliferating paeans to the mindfulness industry or a How-To book. The book’s five parts reveal, however, that it’s up to something else:

Part I: Between Tradition and Modernity
Part II: Neoliberal Mindfulness Versus Critical Mindfulness
Part III: Genealogies of Mindfulness-Based Interventions
Part IV: Mindfulness as Critical Pedagogy
Part V: Commentary

As the first sentence of the Preface says, “This volume is a critical inquiry into the meaning of mindfulness today.” From my first perusal of the book, it seems that the degree of criticism varies from curry mild to habanero hot. Some pieces seem to be not at all critical; but I’ll have to take a closer look. In any case, the book should augur a new phase in the reception of mindfulness in the West. Let me know if you would like to review the book for this blog.

The final Part consists of only two chapters: Rick Repetti’s, “Meditation Matters: Replies to the Anti-McMindfulness Bandwagon!” and my “Criticism Matters: A Response to Rick Repetti.” As I understand it, the editors invited Repetti to offer a mindfulness-friendly voice to the overall critical tone of the volume. They then decided that his response itself merited a reply. And so they asked me to do so. Repetti’s background is philosophy. His chapter is over twenty pages long. Obviously, I couldn’t summarize or respond to his piece in its entirety; but there should still be some tasty pickins on the plate.

Criticism Matters: A Response to Rick Repetti

Glenn Wallis

Rick Repetti has written a lengthy, somewhat sprawling, rebuttal to four criticisms leveled against contemporary “mindfulness.” I offer here my reaction to his text in the form of reader response criticism. I’m not using “reader response” in its technical sense. I just mean to convey that I will not be commenting on each of his complicated meanderings or analyzing his copious analogies or dissecting his various examples. That would be too much. I will instead read through his text, pause at those points that strike me as salient, and then offer my more or less spontaneous response to them.

The [W]hole

To begin, I have some comments about the piece as a whole. As I read the synopsis I found myself questioning the viability of Repetti’s overall argument.  That is, I had to wonder whether he was making the right refutations. By “right” I mean refutations that other defenders of contemporary mindfulness would find necessary and significant. To be more specific, would other refuters of the so-called McMindfulness critique concur that the four objections that Repetti singles out for treatment are indeed the decisive issues to be addressed?  If not, what would be the point of responding to his defense of these objections? Mindfulness proponents would simply dismiss my response as an irrelevant straw man argument, even if the straw man was fashioned by one of their own. On reflection, two things occurred to me. First, I have in fact come across these four objections elsewhere, in both formal and informal settings. So, I do think that Repetti is addressing criticisms that mindfulness proponents deem worthy of refutation. Second, it occurred to me that my response will all but certainly be accused of being a flimsy straw man attack anyway. Whether they are aware of it or not, mindfulness proponents are fast gaining the reputation of being people who are less than fully open to the full force of the criticism leveled against them. They employ various rhetorical strategies for evading the brunt of some critical point. It would be a useful project for someone to chart and analyze these strategies. I was considering whether I should take that approach here; namely, present a kind of rhetorical criticism of mindfulness. Then it occurred to me: Repetti’s piece is valuable not because it defends mindfulness against certain objections, but because it exudes the very spirit of the mindfulness community’s engagement with criticism tout court. Along the way, Repetti’s piece exhibits two stock mindfulness rhetorical responses to criticism. I call these two responses respectively conceptual shape-shifting and covert idealism. I’ll say more about each of these strategies below. The point I am making here is that Repetti’s piece is instructive because it performs the rabbit hole that is “mindfulness.”
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Secularists | Tagged: , , | 17 Comments »

YOU ARE BANNED

Posted by Glenn Wallis on May 2, 2013

bannedYOU ARE BANNED.

[UPDATE: Ted Meissner immediately wrote me to say that it’s a technical problem. I wish I could give him the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, the post still stands as a general reflection on a real phenomenon in the x-buddhist internet world, including the Secular Buddhist Association. I stand by the post. Also, I want to make it clear that I did NOT receive the usual message you get when a site has trouble loading, the one about technical difficulties. The message I got read:]

YOU ARE BANNED.

That’s the message I get when I try to access the Secular Buddhist site (links at bottom). I checked: it’s a blanket IP ban.  You may wonder: what does it take to get banned from a Buddhist site? I wonder the same thing. After all, aren’t x-buddhists always telling us how they embody compassion, mindfulness, and equanimity? These values, you would think, serve even the most discordant conversations. Couldn’t banning someone just be an admission that your claims to (ostensibly) pro-social dispositions like “non-reactivity” and “non-judgmentalism” are a bit shabby?

Ted Meissner, the founder of the Secular Buddhist Association and its Facebook page, generously sprinkles his sites with words that, I suppose, are designed to signal serious thought and a willingness to engage others with dialogical vigor, words like critical (critical thinking, critical eye, critical examination, etc.) naturalism, pragmatism, science, secularism, evidence, and so forth. Meissner adds to such good habits of thought a rigorous ethics of engagement. We can glean his ethics from such recent Facebook nuggets as the following (Meissner signs all of his sayings “TSB.” TSB = The Secular Buddhist = Ted Meissner. Why does he use quotation marks to quote himself? Does it makes what he says appear more important?):

“I would rather be shown wrong and have the opportunity to correct my understanding, than maintain a comforting delusion.”

“Our practice is neither avoidance nor suppression of suffering, but direct and sincere engagement.”

“Today — respond with a heart of friendliness, rather than react with a knee of jerkiness.”

*Today* — Decide to be an enthusiastic participant in this moment, every moment.

“Only a weak faith is intolerant of questioning. A strong faith encourages it, sincerely, without an underlying requirement that you find their own answers.”

*Today* — That lightness of heart you may have after meditation? Bring that with you as you encounter the very next person.

“To question is to demonstrate a desire to find the truth. And that quest can only strengthen *us*, however much it may weaken our cherished *views*.”

Meissner does not practice what he is preaching here. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Critics, Secularists | Tagged: , , | 40 Comments »

What Kind of Buddhist are You?

Posted by Tom Pepper on October 26, 2012

Take this Quiz and Find Out!!

No, I don’t mean are you Soto Zen or Thai Forest or Jodo Shinshu.  I don’t even mean are you a “Bookstore Buddhist” a “Retreat Buddhist” or a “Secular Buddhist.”

The question I am interested in is: Are you the kind of Buddhist who can handle the truth?

Or, to be a bit more serious about it, what is your position with respect to what I like to call the Buddha Event?  I mean “event” in the sense that Badiou uses the term: the emergence of a truth in human discourse or practice, the appearance of some truth which, although already true, was not recognized as true in the World.  There are only ever truths, for Badiou, in the human World, never in nature—because it is only the humanly constructed World, the realm of ideology, of social structures and symbolic systems, that can ever exclude some truth from appearing; this cannot happen in nature, where what exists simply is. In the course of what is often referred to as the Axial Age, a number of truth events occurred, a number of truths appearing in the Worlds of various cultures.  What I call the Buddha Event, then, is the appearance in India of one of the most important but elusive truths for the human species: the truth that there are two realms or levels or registers of reality, the mind-independent reality of the universe which is intransitive and exists completely indifferent to us, and the humanly produced reality which is transitive, open to change, and coterminous with humanity, but still possesses real causal powers—we can change our World, but we cannot change it on a whim, or in any way we might please, because it has a certain structural and causal influence over our actions.

I’ve discussed this “Buddha Event” in other essays on this blog.  What I want to discuss briefly here are the kinds of subjects such a truth event tends to engender—and the Buddha event is no exception here.  Badiou, in Logics of Worlds, offers a typology of the subject in terms of its relation to the appearance of a truth.  The subject may be faithful, reactionary, or obscurantist.  (The latter two are sometimes translated as “reactive” and “obscure,” but I prefer this translation because it emphasizes that the term names the function of the subject position, not its qualities.)

The faithful subject is the one that notices the truth event and tries to force its acceptance in the World.  Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Secularists, Traditionalists, True Believers | 53 Comments »

 
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