This question runs through the unexpectedly rich conversation I had with this episode’s guest, Jason M. Wirth. Jason is a philosophy professor at Seattle University and a Zen Priest. He is extremely well-versed in Western Philosophy, including those mischievous folks that make up the continental tradition, and his engagement with them has informed his relationship with Zen, the Buddha path and the practising life. Likewise, his Zen has shaped the contours of his interest in philosophy. Jason uses the term co-illuminating to describe this exchange and fratellanza, I would simply say that old Jason is a regular diner at the Great Feast.
We cover Nietzsche among Buddhas, nihilism and its challenges, Gramsci and his good sense, Dogen recast as one of the world’s greatest philosophers, ideology, the Kyoto School and its incredibly deep thinkers and practitioners, and Critical Buddhism. There’s more, but that’s enough to paint a picture of where we wandered in this episode.
Come along to the Great Feast, you won’t be disappointed.
P.S. I made a rooky error with the microphone so I will sound a little off for the first two questions. Then after it returns to the quality you’re used to.
As always, you can listen from this site by clicking on the player to your right, or at the bottom of your screen if you are mobile. You can use Spotify, or listen and download from the New Books Network site. You can also use Google Podcasts.
Occasionally, I get excited about a guest because I just know that he or she is the possessor of a playful explorative mind, and thus I can kick around ideas and intuitions, speculate and throw imaginative fancy into the exchange. Peter Salmon falls into such a category. Aussie, writer and British resident, Peter has written a wonderful book on Jacques Derrida for Verso books called, An Event, Perhaps, and in so doing has made much of Mr Derrida’s opaque thought, transparent and approachable. The book mixes an intellectual biography of his thought and writing, with an exploration of the man’s life and how the two oscillate and inform one another.
The book is a great feast affair and illustrates how much a regular diner Derrida was at the banquet of ideas intellectual history we are blessed by, refusing to be tied to even his own ideas as yet another iteration of ideological dominance or the next best thing. This illusiveness can make Derrida appear bewildering, confusing and bonkers, yet this would be a superficial reading of a deeply human, deeply engaged man who paved the way for rethinking the world, and our relationship with what is given and appears as matter of fact.
Derrida was a generous mind, gifting us ideas such as spectrality and hauntology and of course deconstruction. He questioned oppositions, contemplated imagined futures, questioned the distinctions we use to separate the human species from other animals, and suffered from a nagging feat that those who thought him a charlatan might be right. His writings may be beyond hard work for many, but his ideas should not be and Peter’s book unpacks them to such an end.
Derrida has something to say on Buddhism too. In fact, many of Derrida’s core insights mirror core principles within Buddhism and this observation is what drove me to get Pete on.
Peter carries some of the fine qualities of the Aussie character; he’s down to earth, informal, devoid of superbia, and has a open sense of humour. His writing mirrors his character and asides from the book, you can find his writings all over the web with more recent pieces building on Derridian thought.
Our conversation was rich: We tackle Derrida and Buddhism, Derrida and the culture wars, Derrida and practice. Focault gets a mention, as does Heidegger, as does spiritual enlightenment, mindfulness, spirituality, and critique of the dearth of good questions among those operating weaponry on the left or right. Our conversation was incomplete. We made plans. This is the first part of a two part conversation.
I’m currently reading up on Zen and Derrida, Madhymakha and Derrida, so expect the second rendezvous to be even more Buddhist. For now, enjoy.
In the third part of this series on Doubt, we head off to the Great Feast. Come along and dine with the Buddha, your favourite philosophers, and any other great mind you have a penchant for. You won’t regret it.
“Hello and welcome to the Imperfect Buddha podcast…”
And with these words, a new batch of episodes are out after having been toasted off nicely under the grill. In our seventh year of life, yes, we’ve been going that long, my own personal interest and desire to be of service continue to drive the guest choices and topics I tackle. They link back to our first episodes on Buddhist Cults, western Buddhism evolving with the times, the possibility of radical change, and the need to engage one’s critical faculties and intelligence in engaging with any kind of spiritual practice. Education is foundational to these themes; educating ourselves, educating each other, being willing to learn, change one’s mind, and be wrong. So simple to say, yet so often subverted by all too human dreams, fears and desires.
The two themes that continue to drive this podcast and its inquiry, exploration and content are as follows.
Theme one: Practice at the Edge
I continue to be fascinated by the effects of long-term practice and the ups and downs of the life of serious practitioners. What happens when you take Buddhism really seriously? Attempt to transforms its ideas, goals, and practices into means for radical change and growth? What does it mean to mature with the bases and outcomes of each over the years?
The majority of discourse surrounding Buddhism in the West and spiritual practice reads like a sells pamphlet. Today, in 2022, the nature of dialogue is very much centred on Mindfulness, scientific validation, therapeutic need, and most recently, activism. There is of course good in each of these, and there is necessary work taking place, at times. But there is also a form of parochial capture by the moment, and its symbols of attraction. There is also an exploitation of our present, and a reaction to it. Because of the issues many western Buddhist practitioners have with the second of our themes, they are often areas addressed with only a modicum of critical thought; Buddhists thus become banner wavers for what the moment demands of them. There is also the issue of how such present-day concerns are converted into projects of relevance extension for famous Buddhist teachers, with more books to write, preaching to take place, and money to be made. Or am I merely being a cynic?
Come on. I did suggest both good and bad are taking place. And who speaks to the bad? Few it seems.
Theme two: Philosophy and the Great Feast
I love thought. There you go. I said it. I love thought. Thought as a gesture. Thought as birthing. Thought as gathering. Thought as nurturing. Thought as cooking, preparing, serving, eating, and defecating. Intelligence is a thing of beauty. As many of you know, it needs care and attention. It needs a decent diet of healthy food though must avoid getting comfortable in a dietary routine of the familiar. We mustn’t over-eat of course, under nourish, snack on social-media-fast-food too often, mix the wrong kinds of food leading to indigestion and constipation, and ideally we commit to developing a refined palate in order to appreciate the rich traditions of intelligent cooking with their variety of ingredients, histories and sources.
Intelligence is in short supply as our world of collective ignorance and stupidity shows us daily. Buddhism does not provide us with all we need to address these two. Philosophy does not provide all the solutions either. Training the mind, understanding the emotions, refining attention, becoming more human are struggles our species has faced with great stubbornness over its long existence. Philosophy is a location of history and current day struggles. A massive cultural richness often difficult to wrestle with yet is part of our inheritance from ancestors the date back to the Greeks, the early pre-Indic cultures, ancient China, Japan and for some the older religious practices that pre-date named philosophers and religious figures.
The Great Feast is the great metaphor for our time. It democratises the many voices, ideas, theories and practices. All of those ancient and contemporary voices are welcome there. All ideas can be discussed, explored and brought into an infinite variety of relationships. It is not a final solution, the next best thing, it is merely a place of meeting and feasting without intellectual bounds. The podcast attempts to provide a visit there.
What’s out today?
Daniel Ingram on the Practising Life
Mr Ingram once again joins us for a wide-ranging conversation and he even invokes the Great Feast metaphor! Mr Wallis, are you happy? We discuss long-term practice, the impact of an intimate relationship on it, Hard Core practice, and we certainly don’t come out as conservatives, so hold your horses left-wing extremists, we’re not Fascio-Nazi-Racist-Hate-Filled Men. We also discuss what looks to be a fascinating Bodhisattva project Daniel has a key hand in birthing.
The next audio-cast instalment of my series on doubt. I think it’s good. What about you?
What’s coming up next?
Jacques Derrida on Buddhism? Hell, yeah!
Peter Salmon, the author An Event Perhaps, will come on to explain Derrida’s contribution to our current moment, unpack deconstruction, and tell us what Derrida had to say on Buddhism, spirituality, awakening and that annoying relationship between the text and everything.
Nietzsche is a Punk Rocker…or was it a Buddha?
Yes, definitely the latter. Jason M. Wirth is finally coming on to talk about his book on Nietzsche and other Buddhas, exploring life after comparative philosophy. We will be discussing the persistent relevance of pure consciousness, absolutes, awakening, ideals, the Earth and practice. Jason is not only a professor of philosophy but a Zen Priest, so this will be an enlightening visit to the Great Feast for sure.