51. IBP: Ken McLeod & Hokai Sobol on Practice & Mysticism (P.2)


This is the second instalment of my wide-ranging conversation with Ken McLeod and Hokai Sobol. It features an extended introduction that is, in part, a response to feedback from episode 50, and I invite our more critically leaning listeners to gift feedback on what is an ongoing experiment in crafting conversations that will increasingly respond to the challenges raised and explored throughout the life of this podcast.

The conversation was largely unplanned and improvised & this means it features free-flowing exploration, rather than a programmed engagement with a few straightforward ideas. We journey into the terrain of mysticism and practice and most of the topics covered are explored within the context of these two. Here’s just some of what we cover;

– Mysticism
– Sloterdjik & Jonathon Haidt (Žižek too!)
– Ethics V Morality
– Social duty & mystical practice
– Universal human rights & authority
– Transactional & utilitarian approaches to practice
– Verbing outcomes: nirvana & freedom as practices
– Purity & purification
– Critical thinking & engaging with the taboos of our time
– Risqué practices & the Protestant strain in western Buddhism
– teacher/Student relationships & ongoing challenges

End music is by Bristol based artist Aisha Chaouche and is called “So what?” https://chaouche.bandcamp.com/

Enjoy the episode and let us know what you think at the usual places.

O’Connell Coaching: https://oconnellcoaching.com
Post-Traditional Buddhism: https://posttraditionalbuddhism.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/imperfectbuddha
Twitter: twitter.com/Imperfectbuddha


  1. Thanks so much for these conversations. There is a thirst for this- at least for me. I appreciate the cosmopolitan language.. bringing areas of contemporary and timeless interest right down to earth. I work in secular and buddhist-y contexts and feel a universal human approach to be most effective. Happy to acknowledge the role of ‘-isms’ and yet it is more sustainable in this fragmented world to consider what works and what is fruitful. Beyond beliefs and experience based.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great conversations, thank you, please keep them going.

    How about bringing in voices from everyday practitioners that aren’t teachers?


  3. Open exploratory conversations are best. Thank you Matthew. Very engaging.
    I confess to a not-so-fast feeling arising when Ken mentioned a concern with ⩽Gen X being bound to a transactional view of a practice. While I do not necessarily disagree (esp., re: narcissism), for me I think it underlies the key pragmatic question of Why Bother? Will a practice tangibly improve the condition of the social environment any better than my actions unguided by practice? The apparent tension for an individual is whether the governing cultural structures or institutions can be re-directed or even re-imagined positively as a result of the practice (of few or many), or are fated to be “merely” experienced.
    To view it at a different angle, is the mystic path truly only for outsiders seeking fun and/or consolation, or can it expand to the minds of those who remain entirely habituated to the grasp of power and in-group games (and yet not become “weaponized” for mass pacification of the inveterately curious)?

    Not trolling for nihilism here, just sharing what always arises in my thought stream whether in or out of states of deep awareness.


    • Hi Paul,

      Thanks for that. The ‘Why Bother’ question is interesting and I hear this time and again in groups. Indeed why bother. When people come to practice for a specific reason like heartbreak, illness, anxiety or persistent pain then practice can be a skillful door to enter and people generally feel the benefits pretty early on. Worth the bother. They are – as Ken Mc has put it – looking to relate differently to their lives and conditions over which they may not have control. In the process, a side effect is that I have seen is that people learn to take action, set boundaries and become more engaged and less passive to what is called for. For others, why bother indeed ! It may take a very long time. ( I think it was Trungpa who may have said something like ‘if you don’t need to meditate [begin a spiritual practice], don’t start. If you start, don’t stop. ) Spiritual practice/mysticism seems to me no inherent guarantee of wisdom or good sense. Early in my practice, I lived deep in the mystic end of the spectrum and the population was rife with hordes of escapism and bypassing of personal material. Still- this is one way to begin. People did seem to be having fun.

      Nihilism aside, my sense of this is that if I can learn more about how my own mind operates, and how it operates in relationship with the community of family and others around me, I am I hope less likely to have blinders on in order to see what needs attending to which is within my reach and my capacity.


      • Thanks Mary! Quite agree about the personal benefits of practice and recognize that that benefit is probable to create a positive effect in one’s immediate social interaction and environments. Indeed, that would be enough Why Bother for one’s lifetime, generally speaking.
        Still, it’s that nagging feeling there are always a number of bad actors among the herd who exist only to exploit the inherent vulnerability in a society seeking to maximize altruism and who will perpetuate the human-driven aspect of the cycle of suffering throughout time. Evolutionary biology has a lot to say about this issue with suppositions that there is perhaps an optimal state which can be reached (or perhaps orbited would be a better term). Questions arise “is this just the way it is”. It seems “eastern thought” and science would answer in the affirmative. This seems somehow quite bleak to me however and somehow doesn’t capture the significance of the strange civilizational dreams that our technologies (both cognitive and physical) have facilitated for we humans. I believe the issue of the committed bad actors is crucial for seeker-types to reckon with as the technological means appear to draw closer whereby the bad actors are rapidly developing ever more invasive means to occupy the minds of the masses and could conceivably establish a social order which could condemn many to experience a very dismal reality.

        Appreciate the Trungpa quote, have been rather haunted by it for the past while in fact. Wise man. The irreversibility of certain shifts of consciousness is no trifling matter, depending upon the circumstances one finds themselves in this world.



  4. Thanks, Paul. Yes, let’s be more self-aware of our vulnerability to the bad actors and to our internal parts that resonate to this like dopamine junkies. I wonder if seeker- types are ripe for this and has it ever been this way throughout history. Technology has aided ease to spread this.
    May we all experience more peace and a growing capacity to employ our critical senses.


  5. I’m really enjoying this series of IBP. Not a philosopher, and I find the pragmatic approach a little soulless: I guess I’m still a mystic at heart.

    There was a comment, maybe in part I of this conversation, wondering how to do Vajrayana without a (full-time) guru and without the need for 100,000 prostrations and whatnot – Ken saying he doesn’t think it’s really necessary. I don’t think there was much though about what one’s options might be. Can anybody add any more?


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