The Myth of the Witnessing Mind, or: It’s Thinking all the Way Down

EndlicheI want to present a comment that Tom Pepper made in response to questions posed by Matthias Steingass. I think that both the questions and the response constitute a brilliant crystallization of recurring, and quite stubborn, issues in contemporary x-buddhism. The issues hover around the interplay of self, no-self, person-formation, ideology, and meditation. But first, some background.

Perhaps the gravest criticism of contemporary x-buddhism we make on this blog is that its proponents refuse to adequately think through the very postulates that comprise their x-buddhism. Sometimes this refusal manifests as blatant hypocrisy. Patricia Ivan’s previous post on the shunning practices of x-buddhist figures is a good example of this. The people she mentions there are typical x-buddhist examples in that they preach values such as compassionate engagement, the wisdom of doubting, and having the courage to be proven wrong, yet routinely shut down dialogue that genuinely and robustly tests their commitment to those values.

While such hypocrisy is unconscionable, it is at least correctable. Even darker consequences follow from the x-buddhists’ refusal to think through their premises. I am speaking of the x-buddhist penchant for reacting against and obscuring the very teachings they aim to disseminate.

One such teaching is the sine qua non Buddhist principle of anatman. This principle holds that there exist no self-entity over and above the socially-linguistically-constructed networks of discourse within which we are embedded. This principle has extraordinary and far-reaching implications for the ways “Buddhism” might contribute to a clear-eyed assessment of what it is to be human. And yet, as many essays on this blog and at non + x have shown, x-buddhists refuse to dispense with atman, positing at every turn some version of a transcendent self.* These essays have typically been met with (i) confused, convoluted, and desperate “arguments” to the contrary, (ii) hostility, or (iii) silence (see above). Continue reading “The Myth of the Witnessing Mind, or: It’s Thinking all the Way Down”