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 ->



[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:]


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. Continue reading “YOU ARE BANNED”

On the Faith of Secular Buddhists

Secular Buddhism, “like all ‘isms’…is at best a parody, at worst a constriction.” (Nick Land*)

I am working on a detailed critique of the Secular Buddhist movement in the West. The critique employs speculative non-buddhist theory. What it shows is that Secular Buddhism is beholden to the identical transcendental norm as the most flagrantly religious and conservatively orthodox forms of Buddhism.

In the meantime, I read Stephen Batchelor’s “A Secular Buddhist.” This short piece is being distributed in advance of a public discussion between Batchelor and Don Cupitt, a self-described “secular Christian,” at London Insight Meditation. (Link below.)

Here, I would like to offer a raw reader-response account of my reading of Batchelor’s statement. I know that his piece itself is too brief to base a broad criticism on. But there are two good reasons to attend closely to it. The first is that, according to the website, it represents Batchelor’s “outlining” of his vision “for a contemporary spirituality.” The second, and more important reason, is that it contains axiomatic features that are endemic to all writing on Secular Buddhism—whether in Batchelor’s numerous books or on the newly sprouting Secular Buddhist websites, blogs, forums, and Facebook pages. These features form the very foundation on which Secular Buddhism is currently building its house. I say that they are axiomatic because these features go unchallenged, indeed unquestioned, by Secular Buddhists of all stripes, including the secular-scientistic community around Jon Kabat-Zinn. These features, in short, constitute the faith at the heart of Secular Buddhism. It is a faith, moreover, that renders Secular Buddhism indistinguishable from every other system of religious belief. The grounding of an “ism” in faith is neither new nor interesting. It is, however, a serious—perhaps debilitating—weakness in one that claims to reach for the values encapsulated in the term “secular.” Continue reading “On the Faith of Secular Buddhists”