One of the characteristics that I find most disappointing about the polarised times we inhabit is the magical capacity of folks on both sides of the political aisle to read each other’s minds, and extract great meaning from everything. Guilty until proven innocent. Asking averted. Good faith jettisoned.
This short post should not interest you. It is an unnecessary response to some tweets from Ann Gleig, A professor of religion who has carried out research on contemporary American Buddhism and is currently at the University of Central Florida. She is also a Brit, and a past guest of the podcast and is active on Twitter and very much in the camp of activism, race politics and identity politics; a topic we touched on in our podcast conversation. I like Ann, we agree on far more than we disagree, but I almost always feel I’m in a minefield when I have an exchange with her.
I possess no mind reading skills that I know of. And I can’t help but think that this perceived ability is a form of modern magic that Lobsang Rampa would have adored! I might even place it in the field of New Age woo-woo; much of our current polarised age seems religious, as some folks have pointed out. I mean hell, we had a wannabe New Age Shaman lead a bunch of right-wing, faith-filled believers in a hyper-real siege of the American parliament just the other day.
Odd times indeed.
Because I can’t mind read, I try to question my suspicions and doubts. I test the waters. Ask questions. Check I’ve understood correctly. This is not a particularly fashionable practice these days. Perhaps I am already old fashioned.
One reason I spend ever decreasing amounts of time on social media is that I see how it promotes detachment from reality, triggers the emotional strings, and slyly leads you into getting on board the outrage bus that conforms to whatever ideological persuasion you have a weakness for. I’m no better than anyone else in this regard, so renunciation is the sanest practice I have found so far especially as this hyper-real world can be ruthless.
The podcast series is a practice focussed one this time round, as most of you know, with an emphasis on interviewing Buddhist and meditation teachers. Despite this, I was approached by a nice scholar of Buddhism, and writer, Chenxing Han, who has written a timely book on the role of Asians in American Buddhism called Be The Refuge. The ignoring of a large presence of Asian Buddhists in the States has accompanied the focus on a meditation, spiritual but not religious style of Buddhism that most of us are familiar with; a Buddhism that has been critiqued by many of our past guests, from Donald S.Lopez to David McMahan, to Ann herself. Although Chenxing’s book was not within the theme of this new series, I wanted to help out, promote it, and bring this topic to light in service to battling the ignorance of much western Buddhists (including me). In other words, I wanted to be kind. I also asked her to respond to some practice questions, which seemed a nice way to link it to the season’s theme, and she was game.
I get quite a range of listeners to the podcast and the more intellectual, political and critical episodes have meant us losing quite a few listeners. Many have even written in over the years to complain about any non-practice focussed episodes. Our most popular episodes are all with practice orientated guests and teachers, rather than academics. Nevertheless, I do what I want to do with the podcast, and I will continue in this way. Getting listeners, likes, followers and my ego stroked has never been the intention driving this project.
In my introduction to Chenxing’s episode, I tried to persuade those complaining practice-orientated listeners (disinterested in social and political aspects of Buddhism), to listen to my conversation with Chenxing. I did this by stating that this book was not “just another book on race and identity politics”. The gist being, even if you hate politics and think the social and cultural side of practice is irrelevant, listen: Go on, give it a go. You might learn something!
Ann Gleig could have read the intro in many ways. She could have got my intended reading of it. But she didn’t. She decided to pull the activist card and throw out a rather presumptuous claim that missed my intention, and do so on the outrage bus that is Twitter. This happens all the time on the internet, of course. And in one sense, it’s fine and it is what it is. It’s all good that Scott Mitchell circled the wagons too. It’s also true they have their own conversations with Chenxing, and probably won’t describe her book in the introduction in the way I did and they will probably be speaking to people who share the same political ideas. They will likely be kind interviewers in just the way I was.
None of that matters though.
Hey, we’re all mind readers these days, right? And even if we’re not. Our pet ideologies will probably justify our actions anyway. Guilty until proven innocent indeed. In fact, bugger the trial, onto the river dunking, chuck ‘em on the fire…
…burn the fuckers at the stake!
And this post is probably unnecessary, but it wouldn’t have felt right to waste time explaining any of this on Twitter. And my decision to spend ever less time on social media seems wiser as each day passes.
Thank you Ann for reminding me of this.
P.S. Ann’s book on American Buddhism is well worth a read too. Go on take a look. Her tweets may be less so. And hey, I know it’s not fashionable to do so these days, but do make up your own mind about it either way; the book, and the tweets. I can’t read your mind and you might think Ann’s got it right.