A Spectre is Haunting Buddhism, or: Give Marx Some Credit

marx credit cardI want to start at the end, and state my conclusion at the outset, so that it doesn’t get lost in the supporting text that follows. Conclusion: x-buddhism leaves its politics unthematized, and therefore hides it from (1) itself and (2) its acolytes. We should, of course, expect this degree of unconsciousness from a form of thought that is grounded in faith in an abiding absolute such as The Dharma (not to mention its zombie-like persistence in positing a transcendent Self.) Affective and cognitive conditions ensue from such faith, and these conditions breed an unthinking political subject. I have in mind in particular the conditions of x-buddhist specularity, whereby the world becomes x-buddhism’s self-reflective mirror, and the Principle of Sufficient Buddhism, whereby nothing other than The Dharma need be thought.

How else might we understand the lack of political awareness exhibited by our x-buddhist communities? Does, say, Jon Kabat-Zinn, give thought to the real-life political implications of his rhetoric of “non-reactivity” and “non-judgmentalism”? Weren’t those qualities on full display during George Bush’s build-up to the American war in Iraq? Does Sharon Salzberg understand the political implications of her many comments along the lines of “We learn and grow and are transformed not so much by what we do but by why and how we do it”? Right, Sharon. The Koch brothers would like to offer you a job in their PR department.

I asked this before, in Extrapolating Equanimity, to virtually no response, “what kind of political philosophy might we extrapolate from x-buddhist teachings?” For instance, can “equanimity” be seen as a buddhacized version of “political complacency”? Now, we also have to ask that question about the project on this blog: what are the implications of the non-buddhist critique for political thought and action?

So, to the beginning. Continue reading “A Spectre is Haunting Buddhism, or: Give Marx Some Credit”

How Would Buddha Vote?

This is election week in America.  What would the Buddha say to us about the presidential race? The initial reaction of the x-buddhist would, of course, be that he would not mention such things.  Buddhism, they tell us, is not political, it is concerned only with personal well-being and awakening.  Of course we know that this is absurd, that the protagonist of the Pali canon was a frequent advisor of political rulers of his day and had a lot to say about proper government, that everywhere Buddhism has existed for over two millennia it has been thoroughly involved in politics right up until 1959, when the Dalai Lama was the political ruler of Tibet.  The myth of apolitical Buddhism was invented in the West, especially America, only in the last half-century, when the supreme arrogance of the Baby Boomers led them to believe that the Buddha, if he had any wisdom at all, was surely teaching their dominant ideology: the postmodern insistence that politics are not to be taken seriously, that it is only personal comfort that really matters.

So, leaving aside the apolitical nonsense, how would a Buddhist vote?  Given Buddhism’s long history of political involvement, one would assume this has been discussed in sanghas around the country, right?  Buddhists certainly aren’t afraid of offending people with inconvenient things like political reality, are they?  And all that wisdom must offer some insight into the best choice to make for the future of America and our global empire…er, I mean allies in capitalism.

So, what do we think, Buddhists: how should we vote?

To be honest, my initial reaction, as a communist, is that we should vote for Romney. Continue reading “How Would Buddha Vote?”

Un-Mindful Collusion

I want to ask a simple question: Are contemporary western Buddhists complicit in what is arguably a rabid capitalistic system?  I don’t just mean the conservative western traditionalists, like the Zennites, Theravadins, Vipassanins, Tibetophiles, etc. I mean those communities that modify “Buddhism” with words that are meant to impress you with their enlightened advancement over such regressive and irrational religionists. Modifiers like Secular-, Atheist-, Progressive-, Post-traditional-, Agnostic-, Existentialist-, Naturalist-, Insight-, Non-sectarian, and Postmodern-. And we certainly can’t leave out the Mindfulnistas.

Are these communities unwitting agents helping to extend our predatory social, cultural, financial, and political status quo? And, if so, do they give a shit? In Marxist terms, which comes first for an x-buddhist: private profit or social need? Please pause and think before those bodhisattva buddhemes start booming in your brain.

We may have to pose an even graver question: do western Buddhist communities and media actively aid in the creation of a person who is incapable of the passionate, risky, and sustained commitment that is perhaps the first condition of real change? Is the contemporary Buddhist person-subject just too nice, mindful, and equanimous to be anything but a dupe to Exxon and J.P. Morgan? I cannot tell you how many times I have seen an x-buddhist douse himself/herself with a debilitating dollop of “non-reactivity” or “non-judgmentalism” in the face of genuine passion.  Well, why should I be surprised? After all, the  roots of x-buddhism lie deep in the yearnings of world-renouncing ascetics. Continue reading “Un-Mindful Collusion”

Extrapolating Equanimity

I saw an exchange on the Secular Buddhist Facebook page today that got me wondering. The exchange arose out of a post about certain religious communities’ anger at Rick Santorum’s ignorant claim that, as the article put it, “‘equality’ is solely a Judeo-Christian concept.” One person responded:

Get government out of our lives. Go libertarian…I see so many buddhists, secular and otherwise, claiming to be socialist and want social engineering (big government). Buddha taught individual responsibility for our own awakening. He advocated maximum individual freedom, a concept directly opposed to big government (right or left leaning).

Reading that comment, it occurred to me just how rare it is to encounter anything overtly political in Buddhist forums. To read western Buddhism-oriented magazines, blogs, and Facebook pages, you could easily get the impression that x-buddhism is, in fact, a wholly apolitical affair. Central features of x-buddhist rhetoric even seem to encourage the kind of  political complacency that Žižek accuses western Buddhism of when he contends that it “is establishing itself as the hegemonic ideology of global capitalism.” (Can “equanimity” be seen as a buddhacized “complacency”?) Continue reading “Extrapolating Equanimity”