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”

Come On, X-Buddhists, Pump Up The Polemos!

Genuine polemics approach a book as lovingly as a cannibal spices a baby. —Walter Benjamin

Is there any such thing as x-buddhistic polemics? Or are x-buddhists too busy primming themselves with right speech, loving kindness, and equanimity to consider such nastiness? I can imagine my x-buddhist friends asking how I can even suggest that the perpetually-grinning paragons of compassion that are their beloved teachers would even want to engage in something as “un-buddhist” as polemics.

Come to think of it, I have to ask them a question right back: Is it conceivable that your myriad x-buddhist values (compassion, right speech, renunciation, loving-kindness, forbearance, right thought, etc., etc., etc.) are precisely a passive form of polemics? In “cultivating compassion,” for instance, are you, as x-buddhist, arming yourself for the fight?

Consider this. When asked why he does not engage in polemics, Michel Foucault answered as follows.

The polemicist . . . proceeds encased in privileges that he possesses in advance and will never agree to question…. [T]he person he confronts is not a partner in search for the truth but an adversary, an enemy who is wrong, who is armful, and whose very existence constitutes a threat. For him, then the game consists not of recognizing this person as a subject having the right to speak but of abolishing him as interlocutor, from any possible dialogue; and his final objective will be not to come as close as possible to a difficult truth but to bring about the triumph of the just cause he has been manifestly upholding from the beginning. The polemicist relies on a legitimacy that his adversary is by definition denied.

To my non-buddhist ears, this description of a polemicist astutely, if unintentionally, describes the contemporary western x-buddhist. This is because, from a non-buddhist perspective, an x-buddhist is nothing if not a person “encased in privileges that he possesses in advance and will never agree to question,” and  someone who “relies on a legitimacy that his adversary is by definition denied.” This legitimacy, this privilege, is, of course, The Dharma. Continue reading “Come On, X-Buddhists, Pump Up The Polemos!”