Only Don’t Know! Reflections on a Thoughtless Life

John Cage, “The Return: Bearing Gifts to the Village.” Zen Ox-herding Image #10

By Jonathan Earle*

My conversion to Buddhism happened in a church bathroom.

I remember flushing the toilet and watching the water disappear to who-knows-where. I scrubbed my hands and examined my face in the mirror, thinking, “I’m going to be doing this for the rest of my life.”1 Becoming a Buddha would take my whole life, surely. I imagined a path spiraling out endlessly before me. It was a terrifying and exciting thought. I guess I would call that my, “conversion experience.”

I must have been thirteen years old. I was in the bathroom of the local Unitarian Church at a Friday evening meeting of the Springwind Zen Center.2  I had gone to several meetings by this time. They usually consisted of sitting meditation for twenty minutes, walking meditation for ten, sitting another twenty, and then a discussion with the group’s leaders Troy and Carlo. I didn’t quite get the point of meditation and I didn’t quite get the point of the strange, circular kind of language Zen people use to talk about what they do, but there was something that they possessed and I lacked. They: Those wild, old Zen men from the kōans.3  I was fascinated by stories of these masters performing miracles and giving laconic answers to enigmatic questions. I was captured by the mystique,4 believing it to be profound. Even my American Zen teachers seemed to be completely at home in a radically different way of seeing and being in the world. What had they figured out that I hadn’t? I supposed it could be summed up with the one word, “enlightenment.” In the bathroom that evening, Continue reading “Only Don’t Know! Reflections on a Thoughtless Life”

Spectral Discourse

spectral discourseWhat follows is a chapter in search of a book. I originally wrote it for an edited volume on meditation and health. I thought that the editor’s idea for the book was very promising. A conference was held in which a group of Buddhist studies scholars, Buddhist practitioners, and a combination of the two, scholar-practicitioners, gave papers offering various perspectives on meditation and health. The idea for the book was to take papers that addressed the same theme but from different perspectives and put them in conversation with one another. Dialogue was central to the project. The title of the book might have been something like Dialogues on Meditation and Health.

The editor was rightfully concerned that such a book would be too strange Continue reading “Spectral Discourse”

Notes Towards a Coming Backlash


Notes Towards a Coming Backlash: Mindfulne$$ as an opiate of the middle classes

By Per Drougge*

The “Western Buddhist” stance is arguably the most effective way for us to fully participate in capitalist dynamics while retaining the appearance of mental sanity. –Slavoj Žižek 2001: 13

This is what we are obliged to posit here: the historical tendency of late capitalism—what we have called the reduction to the gift and the reduction to the body—is in any case unrealizable. Human beings cannot revert to the immediacy of the animal kingdom (assuming indeed the animals enjoy themselves such phenomenological immediacy). –Fredric Jameson 2003: 717


An earlier version of this article appeared in a Swedish anthology, Mindfulness: Tradition, tolkning och tillämpning (“Mindfulness: Tradition, Interpretation, and Application”), back in 2014. As it is a kind of “nethnography,” or at least cites numerous online sources, I’d been thinking of posting a hyperlinked version of it on my own website; the web is really a much better medium for this kind of text than a printed book. I never got around to it, however, so I was very pleased when Glenn Wallis suggested I post an English translation on this blog. A man of many talents (and languages), Glenn also made a preliminary translation, to which I’ve added some corrections and updates.

Just like in the US and many other places, mindfulness has become part ->

This Machine Kills X-Buddhists

cruel-theory-bThis machine kills x-buddhists.

Buy it. read it. use it.

From a recent interview:

Interviewer: Certain books strike me more as machines than books. I feel that certain books are not so much texts to be read with pleasure and satisfaction as they are weapons to be brandished.

Us, the authors: We feel the same way about our book. What matters is whether it works, and how it works, and who it works for. It’s a machine, too. It’s not a matter of reading it over and over again. You have to do something else with it. It’s a book we enjoyed producing. We’re not writing for people who think x-buddhism is doing fine and sees its doctrines on the system’s own terms. We’re writing for people who think x-buddhism is pretty dull and sad as it burbles on about enlightenment, mindfulness, compassion, right speech, and so on.

We’re writing for unconsciousnesses that have had enough. We’re looking for allies. We need allies. And we think these allies are already out there, that they’ve gone ahead without us, that there are lots of people who’ve had enough and are thinking, feeling, and working in similar directions: it’s not a question of fashion but of a deeper “spirit of the age” informing converging projects in a wide range of fields. In the arts, for instance, music, poetry. In psychology, if that wretched field is still salvageable. Or what Tutteji Wachtmeister’s doing: our method’s not the same, but we seem to meet him on all sorts of points that seem basic, on paths he’s already mapped out.

And then it’s true we’ve read a lot. But as the fancy took us, rather randomly. What we’re after certainly isn’t any return to “the Buddha” or a return to some “original teaching.” What we look for in a book is the way it transmits something that resists coding: flows, revolutionary active lines of flight, lines of absolute decoding rather than any current intellectual culture. Even in books there are oedipal structures, oedipal codes and strictures that are all the more insidious for being nonfigurative.

Good critical writing on x-buddhism is a gift. It is rare, if non-existent, among the x-buddhists themselves. What such writing requires are intensities, flows, machine-books, tool-books, schizo-books. All we critics of x-buddhism have as examples are Dada-destroyer Tutteji and a few others.The book is intended as a model–and a machinic tool–for getting some real work done.

We’re considering a very simple problem, like Burroughs with drugs: can you harness the power of drugs without them taking over, without turning into a dazed zombie?  It’s the same with Buddhism.  We make distinctions between non-buddhism  and the x-buddhists produced in Zen centers and meditation retreats: it’s almost the same thing in reverse.  The x-buddhists have failed, given up, become zombies.  But maybe there’s a Buddhist process, of decoding and deterritorializing, which only a non-buddhist approach can stop from turning into the production of more capitalist zombies.

People may criticize our book for being too difficult, but we’re sure such criticism will come from committed x-buddhists themselves. They tend, anyway, to be lazy and phobic when it comes to thinking. If that were not the case, would they let x-buddhism do their thinking for them? Is it our fault that Pepper, Steingass, Wallis, Idzik, Miller, Tutte, and Jennings know more about “the Dharma” than x-buddhists and all their senseis, roshis, tulkus, mindfulness instructors, and assorted big bubbas combined?*

To be continued.

Review by John L. Murphy at The Journal of Buddhist Ethics

Cruel Theory | Sublime Practice: Toward a Revaluation of Buddhism

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  • Hypno-translation of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Negotiations, 22-23.