Merry-Go-Round, Interrupted


The level of analysis displayed over at Justin Whitaker’s blog is of the high standard we have come to expect. After being called ”pigs”, our gang of four (Glenn Wallis, Tom Pepper, Matthias Steingass, and myself) has been compared with the Baader-Meinhof Group. And, why not? Being branded as the Rote Armee Fraktion of Buddhist critique might be a good thing. At least we will catch the attention of the NSA.

If anyone wants to comment on what’s going on over there, this is the place to do it. I’d prefer if we keep such meta-meta-meta discussion separate from the long thread dealing with Kenneth Folk.

EDIT: It seems as if our trolling activism is getting more attention. Mumon is having a new post up on Whitaker’s censored discussion.


61 thoughts on “Merry-Go-Round, Interrupted

  1. If Matthew O’Connell brings here those two questions he posed at Whitaker’s site, I will give succinct, unambiguous answers. Whitaker, like every x-buddhist apologist I know, is not allowing me to comment on his site. It must remain unsullied, etc., etc., etc.

    So, yet again: All hail T-tteji!

  2. I originally posted this on Justin’s blog in response to two questions he posed which are;

    1. What do you think? Are such discussions helpful to Western Buddhists, to thinking individuals, to anyone?
    2. Are the Speculative Non-Buddhists and other critical groups worthy of more attention or less?

    There is a bit of preamble and as mentioned in another Tutteji post, perhaps he has actually answered my two questions already? Here it is:

    I have participated on and off in the Speculative Non-Buddhism project for
    quite a while, ever since I first came across Tom Pepper’s excellent piece on
    Buddhist Anti-Intellectualism. It was an immensely refreshing critique of
    aspects of organised Buddhism that I had long become allergic too. I went on to
    read large amounts of the material that emerged over the years and months and
    chipped in on occasion, and was certainly forced to read a lot of supplementary
    material to contextualise points being made, so it was also an educational
    experience. The site constituted a genuinely creative cauldron: intense, confusing at times, overwhelming at others, but potentially, and often so, filling and deeply rewarding. There was a lot of bickering, but I tended to skip those bits which dragged on into insults and so forth. The benefits of engagement there were greater than the hurt feelings amongst visitors and the often critiqued delivery issues of the three authors, which to me at least were simply a distraction from the uncovering taking place. The blog briefly stopped a while back and that really signalled for me the end of my active participation, although I still read most, if not all, the posts that come out. Personally, I am not interested in critiquing organised Buddhism, but in using some of the critical tools created by Glenn to examine my own relationship with a range of assumptions, beliefs and internal allegiances that concern Buddhism and themes that run through a typical Westerner’s relationship with Buddhism, and also spiritual paths and their organisations in general.

    There were two questions that emerged for me though, particularly towards
    the end of my engagement that I think must also emerge in the minds of those
    committed Buddhists who engage with the SNB project, who are perhaps hidden,
    perhaps unsure how to proceed. The first was, ‘What’s next?’ ‘Where do Buddhists, ex-Buddhists, who’ve become disillusioned with the whole thing, go?’ Especially if they recognise that meditation practice in various forms is actually personally useful and has many positive effects, and that Buddhist ideals can offer a workable set of values for handling the vicissitudes of life. Turning to Western philosophers is eye-opening to say the least and helps in dismantling an overly dependent and romanticised view of Buddhist ‘wisdom’ and contextualising ideas about the nature of the self, emptiness, the mind, etc, as well as often explaining them more cleanly, but active instruction for developing empathy, equanimity, objectivity in perception and, perhaps more mundane, but not necessarily less important, calm, composure and distance from the stifling nature of the suffering-self, is not really so easily found amongst the works of the West’s finest minds. Buddhism has tools for such training and they’re pretty accessible and contrary to the SNB authors’ claims, not everyone who dabbles in Buddhism is so absorbed into its ideological structure that they cannot engage with such tools without being absorbed into a new form of ignorance and allegiance with the confused. Does that happen? Of course, but it’s not ALL that happens.

    The next question that emerged for me is perhaps obvious: what do Glenn, Tom
    and Matthias want? What would they have Western Buddhists do? Okay, you’re
    dismantling their illusions, but what are they to do next? This is where we find the rub and where part of the strategy of Kenneth is lost. To me this question is primary and really the often critiqued style, tone, discourse and delivery issue is simply a surface issue in my opinion, however offensive it might be. Kenneth, or other well meaning Buddhist comes along, Ted Meissner and Steven Schettini have had their moment at the Speculative Buddhist table too, get incensed with the delivery and eventually leave. To me this is a great shame, because what I see in the rubble of Buddhism at the SNB blog is gold and a lot of it. Glenn’s Heuristic for dismantling the obfuscating characteristics of Buddhism is a work of art and of immense value to any intelligent self-questioning and doubting individual dedicated to exploring our shared human condition. It deserves to be read by more Buddhists. On one level I understand their stance in regards to delivery and tone, on another I still ask what they hope to obtain with it because I am still unsure what they want. I don’t consider their tone and delivery method to be inherently wrong, but I do consider it to be ineffective at initiating the type of exchange with established Buddhist figures that could shift people’s perceptions and open up new directions in debate and interaction with the more established members of the Western Buddhist communities, a desire which has been alluded to by all three SNB musketeers. Whether Buddhists are genuinely interested of course in taking a trip with SNBs is another matter, Folk did have a sort of a go, but as we can see from the exchange it was not exactly fruitful and it yet again showed that expletives and insults don’t tend to initiate exchange in any arena, apart from professional wrestling perhaps. Their style of rhetoric is often presented as a stand against the mind numbing affect of blind allegiance to right-speech, but
    it is more importantly ineffective at starting the conversations that might be
    most interesting; at least to me.

    Finally, a central theme at the SNB blog is ideology. Tom and Glenn’s
    expectation that committed Buddhists and Buddhist teachers would happily engage with their style of delivery is of course optimistic. In spite of its
    expletives and direct insults, many folks may actually forget that both Glenn
    and Tom claim to be practitioners of Buddhism with Glenn teaching applied
    meditation at the Won Institute and Tom being involved with Shin Buddhism. Their
    work, rather than emerging as a consistent critique of Buddhism, is more and more geared at dismantling the social and political edifices that prop it up here in
    the West. That’s fine, but if that is the project, rather than educating the
    unwise, then it’s hardly a surprise that their message ultimately falls on deaf
    ears in the Buddhist community where teachers often have their livelihoods at
    stake, and usually their whole belief system, value system and network of
    relationships embedded therein. The desire for mutual respect, comprehension
    and so on asked for by the braver visitors to the SNB and Associates projects
    is a regular requirement for most successful relationships yet visitors to the word
    blood banquet are more likely to find themselves amongst the company of wolves. Selfishly, I would love to hear a less heated exchange with the better educated of the Buddhist in-crowd with the SNB posse, but I don’t see it happening.

  3. Matthew asks two questions. Here they are along with my answers.

    1. “What’s next? Where do Buddhists, ex-Buddhists, who’ve become disillusioned with the whole thing, go?”

    Only the person can decide.

    2. “What do Glenn, Tom and Matthias want? What would they have Western Buddhists do? Okay, you’re dismantling their illusions, but what are they to do next?”

    Only the person can decide.

    Matthew, your questions are generated by the same frictional vibrato that keeps the x-buddhist decisional machine humming and spinning. To provide any sort of prescriptive answer would be to perpetuate the samsaric whirlwind that was brought into the flesh and blood world by the x-buddhist postulate generator, aka The Dharma. That you ask such questions only reveals that you are doing your investigations from within the x-buddhist safe house. Step outside—become an exile—and such questions make no sense.

    • Hi Glenn,

      If disillusionment is total then there is no reason to have anything to do with Buddhism – except indeed to criticise it possibly.

      If only reality was that simple. While I think you and your friends make many valid criticisms of Buddhism, I do find aspects of the practice to be of value and others do too. I think most skeptical, secular and ex-Buddhists fall into a similar camp.

      For me – and I’m aware that you’re no fan of it – I find secular mindfulness refreshingly free of ideology and obscurantism and high on evidence and personal choice. That this is increasingly available (free on the NHS in the UK) especially for people who suffer from diagnosed health conditions is a pretty good outcome in my opinion.

      I also find that I don’t really need it (at this stage of my life at least), prioritising other things.

    • But that’s where the rub lies. I find much of Buddhism useful, but as a very human phenomena, not in its idealised form, its hierarchical structures and institutionalised delivery methods. I see no reason whatsoever to throw out the baby. So, although my limited reading of Western philosophers has provided with a greater linguistic freedom from the confines of ‘buddhaspeak’, Buddhism does provide me with a range of elements, maps and techniques that I find useful. I am always manipulating them and de-contextualising them and then re-contextualising them into my life. But, I am very much outside organised Buddhism and that includes the Secular Boys and so forth.
      I know what I want in this context, which is why I am still connected to Buddhism.

      • Yes,

        I think this is my primary disagreement with the SNB folks.

        There are problems within Buddhism – guru-ism and anti-intellectualism to name just two. And I have no doubt that these do contribute to real harm. Some people become disillusioned with Buddhism for these reasons. Wouldn’t it be great (on one level) if we could just dismiss the whole thing?

        But it isn’t that simple. Life is complex and so is Buddhism. People do benefit from it. I have benefitted from it, other people tell me they’ve benefitted from it. There is strong clinical evidence that certain types of activity associated with Buddhism (mindfulness) are beneficial. People freely choose to address their mental health/’well being’. Only the person can decide. To dismiss people’s experiences is elitist, suggesting priviledged insight into their minds. To dismiss their interest in ‘well-being’ as colluding with capitalism, is ideologically elitist, and to dismiss the evidence is closed-minded and unscientific.

        And even if it was the case that Buddhism was little more than a religious ideology, there is good evidence that people benefit from religious practice. They are free to do so. Only the person can decide. They can even decide to deceive themselves about it.

      • Hi Banbury Zen (is that Justin speaking?),

        I see you have some connection with Dai Bosatsu Zendo, so I assume you’re familiar with the grosser problems associated with x-buddhism. If you’re an MBCT instructor, you’re probably also aware of the problems with much mindfulness research. As for your suggestion that secular mindfulness is “ideology-free”, this shows a surprising ignorance of both “ideology” and “mindfulness”. One of the targets of the SNB critique against mindfulness is the idea that there is something like a pure, bare, direct, ideology-free awareness. To quote Glenn Wallis: “It’s thinking all the way down” (I’m sorry for repeatedly ventriloquizing; I’m getting tired of it myself.)

        Of course people have the right to deceive themselves. Some choose to profit from this, others point out their delusions. Isn’t it funny that it’s ususally the latter that are accused of being cynical and elitist?

      • Tutteji,

        Yes I am of course aware of some of the grosser problems in Buddhism – Eido Shimano is a glaring example.

        Without going into my life story right now, I have no direct connection to DBZ and never have. My association was with Genjo Marinello and Cho Bo Ji. But Genjo became one of Eido Shimano’s senior students when his own teacher passed away. He took a rather firmer attitude towards Eido Shimano’s behaviour than most of his peers and seems to have been rewarded with a certain amount of isolation. He still comments on it regularly. He reposted this from Danny Fisher today:

        I finished internship as a mindfulness teacher but (due mainly to the birth of my son) didn’t complete the training to be an approved MBCT teacher. I have run courses at my workplace, that’s all.

        The clinical evidence for mindfulness (esp. chronic depression) is strong. I certainly don’t think it’s for everyone or that it is a cure-all. I’m cautious about making claims I’m not aware of the ‘problems’ you refer to. Can you point me to clinical/peer reviewed publications that reveal these problems?

        One of the targets of the SNB critique against mindfulness is the idea that there is something like a pure, bare, direct, ideology-free awareness. To quote Glenn Wallis: “It’s thinking all the way down”

        I don’t think there is a absulutely ‘pure’ or ideology-free anything. When I described mindfulness as ‘refreshingly ideology-free’ I meant ‘framed by far less ideology than most of my Buddhist practice – which was refreshing’. As far states, while the mind can become very still, this sits at the bottom of a scale of noise, judgement, angst. Even there, there are subtle levels of it. Plus there are of course a whole raft of individual and cultural values and expectations that bring someone to practice mindfulness. But it’s usually pretty simple I think – people desire greater happiness and/or mental health and they believe that mindfulness is a potential remedy. It doesn’t seem any more ideological than taking medicine.

        As for ‘ideology’, the dictionary definition will suffice. I’m not here to discuss Glenn’s heuristics particularly nor any idiosyncratic or specialist meaning.

        I’ll read Glenn’s article if I have time later, but from a quick scan I think you’ll find little but agreement from me. I’m not interested in metaphysical notions of ‘pure consciousness’. I think it’s an illusion/delusion. And one that was sneaked back into Buddhism, especially some interpretations of Mahayana Buddhism. It also robs Buddhism of much of its radicality. I’ve written blog posts on this topic myself, for example, this one encouraging the interpretation of ‘Buddha Nature’ teachings as being merely provisional and not metaphysical.

        I think metaphysics is a waste of time, although it does make an excellent foundation for an absolutist ideology.

        Note also that I wouldn’t necessarily agree with a blog post I wrote 6 years ago.

      • Justin,
        I wasn’t attempting some kind of guilt by association tactics here; for some reason the case of Eido has been on my mind lately, so I used that as an example.

        As for the problems with evaluations of mindfulness, I’d need some time to dig up references, but consider the often commented on lack of a consistent definition of the concept itself. This issue of Contemporary Buddhism also contains a variety of perspectives on secular mindfulness that you might find it interesting. Also, let’s not forget that much research on the effects of mindfulness is connected with the mindfulness industry itself.

        You describe secular mindfulness as ”framed by far less ideology than most of my Buddhist practice – which was refreshing”. I can symphatize with what you’re saying here (and add that secular mindfulness, for better and worse, lacks the intensity you’d find in, for example, a Rinzai-style osesshin.) What I think triggered Matthias’s and Tom’s responses is their (and my own) understanding that it’s pointless to talk about more or less ideology: We are always surrounded by,or part of, ideology. The question is, then, to what extent we’re aware of our own ideology, and how it creates ourselves, our thoughts, and our perceptions.

        Thanks for linking to your old blog post. I don’t have time to read it now, but it sounds interesting, not least because of your background in Zen.

      • Above was me (Justin F) again, sorry.

        I’ll add – this observation (that there is ‘a baby in the bathwater’) is surely a key reason why we have such a spectrum of approaches to Buddhism in the west. Only the most conservative do not attempt to make an attempt to ‘reform’ Buddhism to at least a degree – to distinguish ‘essence’ from ‘trappings’, baby from bathwater or whatever – ie. between what is of value to people in the west and what is extraneous or unhelpful.

  4. Grand Master Tutte-ji Dai Osho Rimpoche,

    “How did I distort what you said?”

    Saying ‘I’ve been compared with the Rote Armee Fraction’ suggests to the casual reader that someone has stated or implied that you are comparable to the RAF with respect to violence, extremism and/or ruthlessness.

    It’s pretty obvious that this isn’t what I meant. I said:

    Without wishing to exaggerate by implication, this justification reminds me of
    what members of the Baader-Meinhoff group said to justify acts of
    violent crime and terrorism – that such acts forced the authorities to
    ‘reveal their true colours’ in their response – to act violently in order to provoke a violent response and thus demonstrate that behind the ‘facade’ Capitalism is ‘really’ inherently violent.

    The emphasised phrase should have made it clear this was a comment, not on your extremism, which isn’t in the same ballpark as the RAF (sorry…), but on your use of rhetoric as a (political?) tactic to ‘provoke in order to expose’. I’m not aware of seeing this knowingly used as a debating technique and it reminded me of that story about the RAF. I suppose there are parallels with some military/espionage tactics designed to force an enemy to reveal something, but that’s less close. In hindsight, I suppose some internet trolls probably justify their behaviour in this way too. I imagine Brad Warner probably does too.

    In the case of the RAF, the justification doesn’t hold up, it seems to be an incoherent self-deception in fact. In your case, I didn’t even disagree with it, I merely questioned it. Naively perhaps, I tend to think of debate as (at least having the conscious goal of) attempting to reveal some truth through argument and counter-argument (for a portion of the audience open to it at least), rather than having the goal of exposing ‘imperfections of character’. Does the fact that you are engaging with a Buddhist teacher to make it a special case? I don’t know. Does Kenneth Folk even present himself as being free of reactivity? Or is this justification a rationalisation of unconstructive (even nihilistic or emotionally juvenile) trolling? I haven’t decided yet.

    In any case, I’m enjoying watching from the side-lines, and as I said before, I’m sympathetic with at least some of what your doing.

    • Hi Justin,
      Well, you did chose to bring up your association to RAF, so you must have thought it had something to it (and realized that it was a provocative move to do so), right? I obviously don’t expect my readers to be so stupid as to believe someone actually thought the SNB:ers are planning to kidnap the Dalai Lama, blow up the next Buddhist Geek conference, or even start robbing banks to finance their blogging. Anyway, I appreciate your comment; I enjoyed photoshopping the ”poster” (and it shows up all over the Internetz now).

      Who said something about exposing ”imperfections of character”? This has nothing , or at least very little, to do with individuals and their personal flaws. I’ve been talking about a pervasive, passive-aggressive kind of rhetoric, and some fundamental problems with x-buddhist ideology. And, as I just wrote to someone else, I really don’t enjoy watching Kenneth Folk or Rev. Dave making fools of themselves. But the purpose is not to make them lose their cool, or whatever.

      When it comes to warmongering idiots and obviously psycopathic gurus, I have no scruples whatsoever. I’ve also received quite a few emails from ex-cult members, telling me how much they enjoy seeing their former teachers mocked, trolled, and ridiculed. And that’s been the most satisfying part of this project, as it makes it seem worthwhile.

      You ask if this trolling is ”emotionally juvenile”? Perhaps I am motivated by some immature nihilism, or whatever, but does it really matter? Isn’t your question another example of the tendency (very common in ”spiritual” circles) to spend much more time and energy speculating about people’s character and hidden motives, rather than engaging with (or ignore) their ideas, arguments, or jokes? (Do you see the parallel here to Matthew’s two questions above, and Glenn’s answer?)

      Thanks for your comments, I appreciate them.

      • Well, you did chose to bring up your association to RAF, so you must have thought it had something to it (and realized that it was a provocative move to do so), right?


        Anyway, I appreciate your comment; I enjoyed photoshopping the ”poster” (and it shows up all over the Internetz now).

        I enjoyed it too, well done.

        Who said something about exposing ”imperfections of character”?…

        My interpretation was that you were trying to provoke in order to reveal a . more ordinarily human ie. honest, aspect underneath a veneer of Right Speech, ie. imperfections relative to the image portrayed.

        But the purpose is not to make them lose their cool, or whatever.

        Then I don’t really follow what you’re up to.

        I’ve also received quite a few emails from ex-cult members, telling me how much they enjoy seeing their former teachers mocked, trolled, and ridiculed. And that’s been the most satisfying part of this project, as it makes it seem worthwhile.

        Above you just said it wasn’t about humiliation. Which is it? Is it humiliation for the benefit of others? I think it’s clear that you enjoy it. And do you select ‘known perpetrators’ as targets or are all spiritual teachers fair game?

        Isn’t your question another example of the tendency (very common in ”spiritual” circles) to spend much more time and energy speculating about people’s character and hidden motives, rather than engaging with (or ignore) their ideas, arguments, or jokes?

        I’m not in a spiritual circle. But I know what you’re referring to – a form of ad hom fallacy focusing on speculated hidden motives, hang-ups, psychobabble etc, in order to conveniently dismiss and thus avoid the actual content. I’m not a fan. On the other hand it’s obviously naive to not read between the lines and consider people’s defensiveness, ideological bias and so on, when interpreting what they say – some things are worthy (for pragmatic reasons) of being dismissed or at least challenged. We make these evaluations constantly. Perhaps I was straying into ad hom territory, but that wasn’t my intention – apart from anything else I enjoy what you’re doing and think it’s healthy, even if its just humour/quality trolling. But your association with SNB and your description of your tactic (the one I compared to the RAF) suggested a more ‘serious’ or political agenda.

      • I’ve said many times that I’ve ben surprised by how many, seemingly intelligent, people (including academics and spiritual teachers), didn’t realize this was a parody site until it was pointed out to them. I find it almost as strange when people say things like ”Oh, there is a serious agenda behind all this, even a political one”. Of course there is: trolling and parody don’t have to be nihilistic, even if it’s often perceived that way by the true believers.

        Now, it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to expose the system within which individual teachers operate without humiliating them (particularly if one is using parody and satire). Sometimes well-meaning but deluded people will be hurt, but when it comes to more or less public figures (like Kenneth Folk, Rev. Dave, Ken Wilber, Jeff Salzman, Andrew Cohen, to mention a few whose asses have been kicked on this blog), I think we could compare them with politicians, and I see no reason why being a ”spiritual teacher”, a priest, or a monk, should protect anyone from pointed critique and ridicule.(There is a strong taboo against doing this within Buddhism; in some cases it is even explicitly prohibited.I once heard an x-buddhist teacher talk abot the dire karmic consequences of sowing discord within the sangha.)

        I agree that most of us probably stray into ad hominem territory, or get lost in speculations about hidden motives, and so on, all the time. The important thing is that we pay attention to this tendency and how it affects our responses. In some circles the complete opposite is the norm: no one gives a shit about what is actually said, the validity of arguments presented, et cetera, all one cares about is who said something, and for what (hidden, perhaps unconscious) reasons. (I wonder if this is the reason why so many people get furious when they realize that ”Tutte Wachtmeister” is a pseudonym. His appearance short-circuits the way this form of political correctness and unwillingness to think works.)

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  6. Personally, I have no interest in having a dialogue with anyone who could say that mindfulness is “ideology free,” or anyone who thinks it is important to respect the need for the likes of Ken Folk to make money by deluding the gullible. Such people need not be “respected,” and it is pointless to try to engage them on their own terms–as useless as trying to have a rational discussion with psychics or astrologers. I would be horrified if such people did NOT find me offensive and impossible to talk to and even “irrelevant.”

    My only complaint is with my picture on the poster above. It is a poor likeness, and I no longer wear the beard. I will email Tutteji a more recent photo, so that I may be more easily recognized should I ever attempt to infiltrate an x-buddhist gathering.

    • Hi Tom,
      My statement was not a defence of Buddhist teachers at all, but the simple recognition that they will want to defend their economic reality and this will be an added element in their refusal to go down the rabbit hole and engage in much of the material from the SNB crew, which is a shame.
      I had had the idea in the past from earlier writings and discussion at the SNB blog that there was a desire to interact with more established Buddhists and get them to think. It seems now there is less concern with this.
      Really the two questions I posed are perhaps redundant now, because I have my own answers for myself, but my questions were really aimed at you three, and as Tutteji summed up a potential answer. I’ll repost his comment once again here:

      “…But it’s important to remember than neither I, nor the SNB crew, try to convert the faithful x-buddhists. Our target audience is intelligent and critical readers who are getting fed up with spiritual crap.”

      • To give a more serious answer, Matthew, I would say that the position Tutteji offers is very close to mine. I absolutely do not expect to convert the x-buddhist teachers. When I critique Alan Wallace or Think Not Hanh or Mark Epstein, I don’t expect them to say “Oh, of course, I’ve been wrong about this.” Not even if they happen to realize they are wrong. They aren’t interested in being right, but in making money. I am really addressing those who are becoming dissatisfied with the mystical nonsense, and looking for an escape.

        I have no doubt that, as you say, certain of these x-buddhist practices to have some “positive effects.” They will work to shore up delusions, to interpellate us more successfully into capitalist ideology, and so to make our lives more bearable as we participate in an evil and oppressive system causing suffering for the majority of humanity and destruction of the planet–meditation, as taught by Western Buddhism, works to help us avoid thinking about these things. For many people, though, it works only for a short time, and then the “mindfulness” fails, and glimpses of the truth keep resurfacing. They are told to be more mindful, to stop thinking, to let those thoughts just “happen” and ignore them, etc. When this fails, some people may be able to start breaking through their delusions, and critique of their current delusion is one way to start.

        So long as someone wants to hold onto that supposed “baby” in the bathwater, they aren’t really ready to give up their delusions yet. In that case, though, I still think their furious anger at the blunt, brutal, nasty dismissal of the nonsense they are clinging to will help make it harder for them to cling to it, make it less likely that it will give them states of idiotic bliss.

        As for “what next,” well, the removal of delusions, for me, just IS the practice. Once your delusions are gone, you don’t need anyone to tell you what to do next. I’ve written quite a bit about what kind of Buddhist practice I think we should engage in to remove our delusions–this just doesn’t get as much attention as the critiques, because it doesn’t make the x-buddhists as angry; it isn’t about them personally, and they can just ignore it, or refuse to understand it. I’ll continue to focus on those who are interested, as I am, in removing our delusions in a guru-free collective practice. And sometimes, I’ll critique the idiots producing capitalist ideology with a “Buddhist” label. If they think I’m an ass and hate me, that’s a good thing; I don’t need them to like me–I don’t make my living doing this, and I don’t need the approval of deluded fools.

  7. About two of Matthew’s questions.

    1. What do ‘we’ want? It is unfolding right before your eyes: A non-buddhist discussion about what is wrong with x-buddhism which seems now like x-buddhism can not longer ignore.

    2. About engagement with others. There are two groups: a) x-buddhists who confuse non-buddhism with just another brand of x-buddhism and who find it therefore interesting because it seems to give them another opportunity to differentiate themselves affectively/narcissistically from other buddhists. b) Those who have an intuitive or clear theoretical understanding of the non in non-buddhism and who experience what Glenn has called an anchoric loss.

    The first group wants to have both worlds: The cosy warm feeling to finally be at home plus the feeling of being superior. The second group breaks through to an understanding of dependent arising or radical contingency.

    If this sounds elitist, it’s because it is. But it’s only elitist because so few buddhists actually want to understand dependent arising – what is relatively easy nowadays with all the western philosophy at our command.

    Then of course there is this group which simply does not know what this is all about. For example somebody talking about ideology-free mindfulness. Somebody not even taking the pains to understand what terminology is used and how – ideology in this case – should simply shut up.

    • Tutteji invited me here (for the second time) to talk. Tom Pepper says he has no interest in having a dialogue with me. And you say I “should simply shut up”. Can we have some consensus here? I’m only welcome if I learn and use your sanctioned terminology in the sanctioned way? Is that it?

      • Justin, we need to know what somebody is talking about. “Ideology” is a term which was established in a certain, well defined way at the Speculative Non-Buddhism discussion. Something like “ideology-free” is simply not possible in our usage of the term. If you feel misunderstood, please do understand how we use the term and make it clear what exactly you mean.

        But it remains the fact that so far you do not understand what this term means in our discussion. It is therefore difficult, to say it in a non-offensive way, to engage with you in a discussion. My rudeness, and I guess others as well, comes from the fact that it is common for most people from group a) mentioned above to come into the discussion without any knowledge what SNB is about. I find this arrogant. And if you are confronted again and again with this arrogance you come to the point when you say: enough is enough. That’s the point where I say it is no use to talk to you.

        But however, Grandmaster Tutte invited you, it is his blog and it was not meant literally what I said.

      • Justin,
        To restore the power balance, I just asked Matthias to go fuck himself. You can use whatever terminology you like, of course. But suggesting that “mindfuless” is somehow, free of ideology when having a conversation with the SNB folks could be compared to a situation where someone would tell the faithful in the Catskills that their old roshi is nothing but a power-hungry, chauvinistic, sexually abusive dick.

        Now, having established that point once and for all, perhaps we could go on and have a “constructive discussion”? I wouldn’t be surprised if even Tom would offer a response if you explain what you meant with mindfulness being “ideolgy-free”.

    • Hi Matthias,
      I’m afraid I’m not able to express with such confidence, as you three do, the hidden intent, real agenda and motivation of people who I really don’t know, and on top of that, to be so sure of myself in doing so. I am not suggesting you don’t, that’s your business, but that I don’t see the world, Buddhist or otherwise, in such black and white terms. I think it’s lazy and presumptive to cast large swaths of people under such simplistic headings and lazy to tell people to ‘shut up’ or that they are ‘fucking idiots’.
      I don’t believe Glenn is right about my particular ‘frictional vibrato’ either, why? Because I don’t see a Buddhist first, I see another person like me, and of equal status. Such a mode of perception does not come from Buddhism either, but rather a clear understanding of my own limitations and a life that seems to have always challenged my own assumptions about the hidden, inexplicit intent behind people’s choices and actions. Sometimes it can indeed be fairly obvious, but more often than not, it isn’t.
      I have practised as a counsellor and coach for many years, and equally valid are ten plus years of teaching groups English, and history has taught me that whenever I start putting people in boxes that suit my particular ideological filter set, someone comes along and proves it inadequate.
      So, I think your simple definition of two groups may capture a trend and correctly define some people’s desire/preference, but it is likely wrong to cast such a binary distinction so and misses a whole range of other possibilities.
      I do agree with you about the elitist bit. Absolutely, I also think that’s helpful, in remembering not to take this whole narrative so seriously, that Buddhists in the West are not so numerous and that those who might be curious about dismantling Buddhism must be a ridiculously small percentage of North American and European Buddhists, ex-Buddhists, explorers.

      • Matthew–you’re missing the whole point. The point is that “hidden intent” or “real agenda” assumes a core essential self. The only thing we can address is what they actually do and say, and what real effects these practices have in the world. And we don’t need any psychic powers to do this. It isn’t a matter of casting “people” in any “headings,” because the individuals with their individual sincerity and true intent are just ideological illusions. The point is to explain the effects of the practice, regardless of what some individual may think “deep down, in his heart” he is really doing. That is the classic Romantic ideology we see in Rousseau, right? Until you get beyond that, you can’t stop saying “this is mean, this person is really sincere and well-intentioned,” and begin to see how their practices are reproducing oppression and delusion.

  8. Matthew.

    I reduced the topic for the sake of brevity. It could be discussed in a much more differentiated manner, of course. But it still remains a fact that people come in, sit down, and begin to talk with no knowledge at all about the topics discussed. I speak with experience of more then two years of blogging now, also on my own German blog, and what I speak about is common behavior for many. How do we call this in ‘real’ life? It is impolite – to say it politely.

    You are right though: we don’t see a Buddhist first but another person. I practice this. That’s the reason I don’t want to have to do anything more with buddhists, or other esoteric assholes. Equal status is not their thing.

    But: we do not speak here about your average neighbor, or just another fellow on the street. This discussion is about the leaders like Kenneth Folk, Vincent Horn etc. who make a business out of deluding people.

  9. That last comment and fair enough is for the Matthias comment.

    Tom, please be aware, I don’t actually jump to those two typical reactions: ‘that’s mean’ and ‘deep down he’s well-intentioned’. I am not going to the opposite end and certainly do not hold up such romantic, utopian white wash. I think that I am actually occupying some sort of neutral ground in this ongoing narrative, and that these exchanges being internet based actually make it easier for me to remain there. I would feel equally dishonest making any claims about positive intentions. So, I agree with you that there is no reasons to consider that everyone is really nice and jolly at the end of the day and we should all get along, and I am very familiar with the cosy warmth of the romanticist’s utopian idealism. I spent quite some time there in my early twenties.

    “It isn’t a matter of casting “people” in any “headings,” because the individuals with their individual sincerity and true intent are just ideological illusions. The point is to explain the effects of the practice, regardless of what some individual may think “deep down, in his heart” he is really doing.”

    Isn’t this a rather simplistic view of a person? I’m not saying this is not a valid perspective and accurate, but as a single view of person-hood, it seems rather dismissive of the apparent complexity and interwoven facets that make up the human. The self is a narrative that has some continuity to it and it seems to me that appreciation, grace, intimacy and so on can emerge out of that recognition. The view you are presenting strikes me as a sort of materialist, purist view.
    Excuse me if my terminology is off, I’m not so familiar with the right terms for philosophical stances.

    • If you think you are occupying a “neutral ground” that is one sure sign you are oblivious to your own ideology. Probably the clearest sign there is.

      Selves are the effects of structures. That is a simple way to say it, but there is nothing simple about the analysis of the structures that produce them, or the analysis of the effects those “selves’ can produce. The “illusion” is the mistake that these selves are NOT the effects of structures, that they can have some “will” or “intent” somehow OUTSIDE of the structure that produces them. This is an error, and illusion, that helps reproduce certain ideological formations–I would say any ideological formation that REQUIRES such an illusion or error is a bad one, and should be eliminated.

      The bourgeois humanists love to talk about the complexity, the “interwoven facets” and the “grace and intimacy’ etc. of the self–but that is always just away to avoid the actual work of analyzing the actual complex production of subjects in practices, right? It is just a way to say that the subject is ineffable, beyond understanding, and to sneak a transcendent self back in behind vague terms and rhetorical flourishes. Then, it returns to where you do: materialism is “reductive;” in fact, it is only materialism that is NON-reductive, that doesn’t “reduce” the entire study of the subject to illusions of the ineffable.

      This is the marxist view of the subject, but it is perfectly in agreement with Nagarjuna’s view. And, for Nagarjuna, to actually think through the error and aporias that convince us there is an essential self is Buddhist practice, right?

      • By neutral, I was referring specifically to the SNB V x-Buddhist narratives and not feeling any particular need to side with one group or the other. If your point still stands in that regard, then I probably am a bourgeois humanist, even if I did grow up in relative poverty with a Marxist for a dad. I may even be guilty of post-modern leanings; I see the possibility of a multiplicity of perspectives co-existing although I don’t see that as being free of values and the association of better or worse to one or the other.
        Perhaps there is a slight twisting of a point though and I’d be interested in hearing your reply. The grace, intimacy, recognition, love if you like, are shared qualities. I don’t see them as unique or even necessarily special outside of their contextualisation. I do believe in some sort of shared humanity that gives value and meaning to human exchanges. Does that have to equate to an investment in a soul? Or even in the ineffable pure nature of being? I don’t know.
        As an example, I have a 5-y-old son and there are moments of experiencing profound love for him. Those moments are also at times moments of grace, which is to say uncommon, but perfectly natural. I can identify with those feelings, or simply experience them as they are and enjoy. Are you stating, from your perspective that such feelings are ultimately artificial facets of an ideological moment in history?

        Reading again this part:

        “Selves are the effects of structures. That is a simple way to say it, but there is nothing simple about the analysis of the structures that produce them, or the analysis of the effects those “selves’ can produce. The “illusion” is the mistake that these selves are NOT the effects of structures, that they can have some “will” or “intent” somehow OUTSIDE of the structure that produces them.”

        How does this relate to phenomenology? Maybe this is too vague a question?

      • Is your feeling for your son constructed by ideological practices? Yes, clearly it is. What is the alternative? That it is the true expression of your soul? Artificial is one way to put it; I would say a better way is to use the Buddhist terminology of conventional truth. These “feelings” are conventionally true; the are produced by human practices, such as social conventions and language. They are still “really existing,” but we can know their causes, and such feelings would not exist outside of the human social practices that cause them. If you get this, then understanding Buddhist thought, particularly Madhyamaka, becomes much easier–as does understanding Hegel, Marx, Freud, Lacan, Badiou, etc. Why would it be troubling to know that your feelings are real but constructed? It IS troubling though, right? We want our feelings to be real in the same way as a planet or a law of physics is, instead of real in the same way that a chair or a political nation is.

        Because our “multiplicity of perspective” are all constructed in social practices, simple tolerance is not acceptable. Some will depend on practices that produce suffering, and that dependence should be analyzed, exposed, and the “perspective” rejected. Postmodernism simply IS the “logic of late-capitalism,” in Jameson’s phrase. It is a quietist ideology of our capitalist social formation, and is not at all “neutral.”

        As for the phenomenology question, I don’t get what you’re asking. What is the “this” and what do you mean by “relate”? I just can’t figure out the sense of the question.

        I’ve tried to begin some discussion of these issues as The Faithful Buddhist, trying to emphasize the necessity, and difficulty, of fully grasping the concepts of anatman and conventional truth.

    • Hi Mumon,
      Sure, in the sense that it is made and used in a particular social context, and that your perception of the knife is determined by ideology. (I guess a “Zen response” to a question like: “What is this [knife]?” would be to peel an orange or sharpen a pencil with it. Such responses are obviously conditioned by and made meaningful within a specific social context.)

    • This is the wrong question. What could you mean by “have” in this question? Is a knife ideological? Yes, of course. I am confident there are no knives on Neptune. They are made by human beings, and made with some intent.

      • Of course a tool made by a human has a human narrative (and corresponding social context) associated with it. I would say the same for experiences.

        But whether or not that knife, even with its context, is in conformance or dissonance with any political ideology I think is a rather odd question.

      • You seem not to understand what ideology means. Of course if, like others here, you insist on sticking to the “dictionary definition” and refuse to think in philsophical concepts, then there’s no point in attempting any discussion. If you want to understand what ideology means, I explain it in the essay “Samsara as the realm of ideology,” which you can find at the Secular Non-buddhism site. Once you understand what the term means, it certainly won’t seem an odd question. Clearly, every feature of any particular knife is implicated in the particular social formation that produces it, and in how that social formation reproduces itself.

      • I think I have a broad understanding of how you are using ‘ideology’ and ‘ideological’ here. None of this is particularly controversial – fairly obvious when you think about it. No disagreement from me.

        However, I’d still insist that ‘not all ideological artifacts are made equally’ in that there are relevant distinctions to be made between degrees or types of ideology. In terms of ‘how ideological’ they are as events, there is a real and meaningful distinction between the contents of Mein Kampf and, say, a man taking paracetemol because he has a headache. I’m still thinking about how these differences is constituted but I think it has, among other things, to do with power and persuasion.

        Coming back to my statement about mindfulness… In Soto Zen, in my experience, practitioners are encouraged to see the condition of sitting meditation (or alternatively the state of samadhi that arises) itself as Buddhahood (and thus a supreme – even divine – value attached is to it); personal benefits (if any) are relegated to a different and lower category; the teacher is treated as superior at every turn, through speech and symbolic gesture; if a student wants to ask a question of the teacher, they are obliged to make acts of public humility before, during and after asking a question; there are acts of symbolic conformity and ‘joining’; ordination, the teacher, the Buddha, the Dharma, and Zen itself are raised up or glorified as highly special through various symbolic acts; sangha life is raised up above household life; even manual work for the sangha is treated as an act of religious devotion. (Not all of my experience of Zen or Buddhism was like this.)

        The set-up of a MBSR/MBCT group on the other hand is little different from a CBT group. There is a teacher and thus (probably) some minor differences in status, however the teacher is there to teach a skill and is a thoroughly ordinary person. People are taught to become aware of value-judgments of experiences, people etc along with everything else and to bring them to awareness without further judgement. Little or no preference is given to those who practice over those who don’t, except insofar as that some encouragement is helpful to those who have chosen to take the course.

        To me the difference was refreshing, liberating even. The latter had (in my experience at least) far less power difference, was more honest, realistic, pragmatic and there was very little attempt to tell people what to do, what they should experience, think or value. It was a practice of clear seeing and allowing.

        That is what I meant when I said that mindfulness was ‘refreshingly free of ideology’.

        Now if someone wants to tell me that mindfulness is simply a more insidious form of control by the capitalist powers in order to sedate workers so that they obedient and blind to the One True Politics, I’ll tell them they’re an idiot with the worldview of a bright, leftist 18 year old (eg. me 25 years ago).

  10. Tom: Following your reply, I’ll assume what is meant by your use of the word ideology is, related to ” [I]deology is that set of practices in which we reproduce our relations to the relations of production. Our ideological beliefs always exist in a material practice—if they do not, if our beliefs are not productive of an reproduced by some concrete behavior, then they are not our actual ideology, and we do not in fact believe them at all (although we may believe in the need to claim we believe in them). ”

    But that still leaves the question regarding the knife, and regarding mindfulness: the material practice of the use of a knife and mindfulness can be myriad. They can uphold the worst forms of oppression or lead to great liberation.

    I agree with you that the uses of mindfulness to uphold oppressive conditions can and does exist, but can you admit that the converse is also true?

    Because it is. In order to learn something like Martial Arts, you better have mindfulness, in certain branches, meditation is deeply intertwined with their practices. And if you look at the social relations regarding the Martial Arts, you’ll be hard pressed to maintain that its practice has always and everywhere been exploitative and not admitting revolutionary possibilities.

    I’m just sayin’.

    • Would I agree that some ideologies are better than others? Of course. That’s the whole point. To know what ideology we are producing, and all of its consequences.

      Still, mindfulness, as it is defined and taught by the Mindfulness Institute people, is a specific ideology, with a specific function: to discourage thought, and help people reify the structure of their perceptions; there is one goal only, and that is to delude people into thinking their ideology is not ideology, but is inevitable and universal. So dopes like Justin can say MBSR is “ideology free” because it exactly fits HIS ideology, and so feels “natural” and “free” to him. He is a sad moron, but there are many like him. They make a lot of money interpellating subjects into capitalist ideology, usually without any idea of what they are doing. And they will always say moronic things about how all that political and economic stuff is just childish and foolish, they gave it up long ago to become mature and realistic (ie, unthinking drones of capitalism).

      As to whether the term mindfulness may have been used for very different practices in different times, well, I have not doubt it has. They need to be taken one at a time–just because two practices are called “mindful’ or “meditation” doesn’t mean they are the same practice, or have the same ideological function.

      And that, if you understand the passage you quoted, ANSWERS the question of the knife. A particular knife is always designed to be used in a particular practice, and as such it is and ideological thing. It can be used in some different practice, perhaps, and become a different ideological thing, but it is still an ideological thing–although if, for instance, we are using a grapefruit knife to skin a deer, it may be a very bad or ineffective ideological thing.

      • Tom, you are an idiot with the same naive, simplistic, worldview that I had when I was a anarcho-punk obsessed 18 year old.

        Also, you clearly have little or no actual experience of mindfulness and are willing to ‘comprehend’ it only in so far as it serves a confirming function within your own rarified and paranoid ideology.

        Also, if I said ‘the sky is blue’ would you refuse to talk to me, insult me and duplicitously refuse to understand my (very straightforward) meaning if my use of ‘blue’ didn’t conform to your sanctioned academic definition? I didn’t come here to debate heuristics or academic definitions. I came (on invitation) to communicate. If you must use a technical term, then define it or link to a succinct definition. Anything that is well-understood can be explained in multiple ways, using different terms. Don’t tell me that my non-specialist usage is wrong or ‘impolite’. If you’re interested in actual communication and understanding then open your eyes and choose to understand instead of practicing obscurantist / intellectual elitist tactics that look like a poor attempt at intellectual bullying.

        I’m having a constructive conversation with Tutteji here. Seriously Tom, is ‘acting like a dick’ your only mode?

        (Answers that do not use the academically and ideologically sanctioned definition of ‘dick’ will be deemed ‘impolite’ and treated accordingly.)

      • “As to whether the term mindfulness may have been used for very different practices in different times, well, I have not doubt it has. They need to be taken one at a time–just because two practices are called ‘mindful’ or ‘meditation’ doesn’t mean they are the same practice, or have the same ideological function.”

        Agreed with the rephrase “different practices in different times/and or social contexts,” because such is the case even now. like “enlightenment” it is a hijacking of the term for the purpose of what you’d call capitalist exploitation (not that I’m necessarily disagreeing here), but what I’d call a charlatan.

  11. Pingback: Wrestling with Humans « Speculative Non-Buddhism

  12. Bullying. That is another one of the excuses for dismissing SNB along with too intellectual, mean, complex, big words, obtuse.

    It sucks to hear you’ve given up on leftism. I have a 5 year old son too and my relationship with him has made me more Marxist by the hour. As someone attempting to practice buddhism and parent I find it wholly impossible to hold on to any delusion that capitalism isn’t THE cause of suffering in the world. If I really am concerned about my suffering and that of the world, I have to be a well-aware and intentional leftist.

    • Craig, Sometimes a spade is a spade. Calling these ‘excuses to dismiss…’ in turn can be easily used as excuses to dismiss those (interestingly consistent…) accusations.

      I haven’t given up on leftism. I’m a social democrat. There are many causes of suffering in the world including Marxism, including leftism generally. Capitalism doesn’t have a monopoly on it. Certainly far left politics produced a vast amount of suffering through the 20th century, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao being notable perpetrators – an amount easily comparable to that of the Nazis.

    • Just introduced my son to Dead Kennedys, not sure if he’ll take to Crass. A lot of eye-opening stuff for a 16 year old. But in truth mostly pretty simplistic and naive.

      But going off topic now.

      • Now, I’ve noticed a tendency for this blog to get rather silly. Now, I do my best to keep things moving along, but I’m not having things getting silly. Those two last comments I wrote got very silly indeed, and that last one about skinheads was even sillier. Now, nobody likes a good laugh more than I do …except perhaps my wife and some of her friends…oh yes and Glenn Wallis. Come to think of it, most people likes a good laugh more than I do. But that’s beside the point. Now, let’s have a good, clean, healthy, and constructive discussion. Get some air into your lungs. Ten, nine, eight and all that.

  13. Thanks for alerting me to your post and this discussion, Glenn. I’m sorry, wait, that’s probably coming off too nice. Well, I’ll go on anyway.

    Let me see if I can get to the heart of your post. I believe it was:

    “How should we understand Whitaker’s belief that he is not steering the discussion in any particular direction? One possibility is that he is stupid, or at least not very sophisticated. But since he studies Kant, and, it seems, has not been kicked out of the program, that can’t be it.”

    Thanks. (I think I was *almost* kicked out once by an underhanded Hegelian.)

    The painful part was being called ‘x-spiritualist’ – wtf is that? Did you discover my secret crystal ball website where I channel Amborgoth, the lost king of Atlantis? If so, please send me the URL, because I might have lost it in my last chakra cleanse.

    It’s late here, so I can’t say much now but might (might, might) return in a day or so once other tasks are up to date. I will say though that I appreciate the attempt here to, as I see it, re-start productive conversation. It seems ‘toned-down’ to an almost – dare I say – nice level. That is, until Tom comes in at least. Like a lot of these folks, I follow/ed SNB off and on and enjoy some of the posts there. I even commented -twice!- once on the Zizek post (I wrote a critical post on his misunderstanding of Buddhism; I’d like to think the critique was ‘scholarly’ -albeit in a popular-scholarship sort of way- but you might think otherwise) and once on Tom’s ‘Anti-intellectualism’ piece. If memory serves me, in response to my comment, Tom called me ‘anti-intellectual’.

    Am not!

    Anyhow, I hope that, despite all of my flaws pointed out by Glenn (, there will be some posts in my site that are critical enough of tradition, or superstition, or pop culture, etc to be of value. Yes, a certain number of my posts are in appreciation of what Western Buddhists are doing – feeding kids in India deserves a shout out too! But I try to mix it up, all in my own very subjective, generally not very sophisticated – despite Glenn’s kind suggestion to the contrary – manner.

    Justin Whitaker

  14. Justin, good shit! Really. I mean it seriously: so many openings there. What strikes me–floors me–is that your voice is unrecognizable here from that on your Patheos blog. The difference–and that there is a difference–are themselves fascinating data. I wonder if this business of (the x-buddhist) “voice” needs more exploration. It would be a variation on ‘right-wing-spe…rather “I’m-right-spe…I mean, of course, “right-speech,” but would enable a more concrete analysis. I am very curious as to why you sound so different here than you do in every x-buddhist venue I’ve heard you. I have personally experienced something similar with others–Meissner, Magid, Batchelor, Dharmakaya Buddha. Curious.

    To me, listing all those spiritual/religious keywords, from Loyola (Catholic ‘Spiritual Exercises’) to Lin-chi, followed by a statement that “In terms of all of these practices, I have seen evidence that all ‘work’ to some extent in the lives of most practitioners” is quintessentially x-spiritualist. I would even add “perennialist” (think Huxley) to the description.

    Anyway, rock on…

  15. Craig, try Karl Schlögel’s Moscow 1937. It gives a fantastic insight into the USSR. It is well written. Easy to read. A history book in the manner Walter Benjamin would have envisioned it. Let’s you look behind the scenes. Makes one understand circumstances, constraints, necessities, visions and vices of the USSR under Stalin. I learn a lot by reading it. It is one good book about how historiography can be generally and it is one good book about this topic …and it is cruel.

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