54. IBP: Daniel Ingram Meets Trash Theory


You’ve had the initial goods and as promised here’s the second helping of Mr Daniel Ingram. This conversation gets right to the point and tackles, in a rather condensed and humble manner, a work of collective, creative production over at the Speculative non-Buddhism site called Trash Theory; an exploration of practice beyond decision, beyond enchantment, beyond capture. Well, that’s the plan anyway.

We start out with a quick chat about the SNB, x-Buddhism and non-Buddhism, before going through a number of postulates, or principles for practice, that have been explored and are continuing to be developed by Glenn Wallis and company. We went through it pretty quickly as we just had an hour to play with, but it was fun and an interesting exploration that will be continued in a follow up conversation to be recorded this Thursday.

You’ll find a link to the original post we worked from below, though there are, at the time of writing, six posts on the theme at hand. This one is a good start for the curious and it’s pretty accessible.

Both episodes with Daniel feature the same introduction so if you have already heard the first conversation, you will want to skip it.

It’s possible that Dan and I will tackle some of Ken Wilber’s work in the follow up to Trash Theory, so if you have any insights into why Wilber was full of it or a genious, or specific points that underline problems with Ken’s work more generally, let me have them, as I have only a superficial reading of his work and never felt motivated enough to read beyond a general introduction to his ideas, which seem pretty simplistic, though potentially quite useful.

Either way, enjoy this turn of events as we continue to dive into practice on this season of the Imperfect Buddha Podcast.

Speculative non-Buddhism: Trash Theory #3: https://speculativenonbuddhism.com/2019/05/15/trash-theory-preliminary-materials-for-an-image-of-practice-3/

Music is supplied by Chaouche; https://chaouche.bandcamp.com/ ……and Kali Phoenix & Hundred Strong: https://hundredstrong.bandcamp.com/album/voices

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

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Twitter: twitter.com/Imperfectbuddha



  1. Hi Matthew. I hope my comments constructively serve your future discussion with Ingram, which you alluded to at the end of this podcast.

    I appreciate two intelligent people having a conversation about our work at SNB. So, thank you. Maybe next time you can make clear at the outset that two questions are driving the trash theory exercise: “What is the prevailing ‘image of practice’ in contemporary x-buddhism? More importantly, what might come next?” I am of course borrowing from Deleuze, who argues that “not only do we [in the West] think according to a given [Platonic] method, but also that there is a more or less implicit, tacit or presupposed image of thought which determines our goals when we try to think.” Also useful would have been at least a mention of the incomplete, trashy, nature of Bloomsian trash theory. Too bad Ingram didn’t chime in at the blog with his disagreements, counterpoints, etc. He’s got some good, if quite trashy, shit to contribute! Why the silence from x-buddhist teachers, Mr. Ingram included? (Is it the vitriol? Surely our living roshis and tulkus and arahants, can handle the vitriol of us mere worldings!)

    The point of the first question is to uncover the image of practice operating in x-buddhist discourse. Ingram does not seem to understand this point, and that misunderstanding renders his comments on the postulates uninteresting, at best, shallow and hollow, at worst. (He also shows poor understanding of the x-, the non-, and philosophical discourses around humanism and idealism. The latter, for instance, is not about “ideas” and “beliefs.” Ingram completely ignored Matthew’s cue of the Kant paragraph, which would have put the postulate in the proper context.) The postulates are not derived from distributing a questionnaire to a million x-buddhists and then calculating the result and positing a postulate on the basis of that result. Yes, the image of x-buddhist practice arguably assumes that “life is alright.” Whether Mindful Millennial Mary harbors thoughts to the contrary is wholly beside the point. The postulate holds that if she is engaging in contemporary x-buddhism practice, with its attendant subject formation and ideological inculcation, she is slipping, however imperceptibly, into that attitude. This is not a psychological claim; it is a rhetorical one. It is a claim about DISCOURSE. It is NOT a claim about MINDS. Ingram seemed to completely miss this crucial aspect of the exercise.

    More problematically, if predictably, for your discussion, Ingram approaches the whole exercise as someone deeply entangled in the x-buddhist network of postulates. Again, this is a claim about observable discourse rhetoric, not one about personal psychology. I cannot possibly cite where he goes wrong, misunderstands, interprets x-buddhistically, reflexively assumes x-buddhist aims and values, evades, lazily evokes “strawman!” expounds on tangential matters, and so on, because it happens at virtually every turn. I am not exaggerating. This podcast should be titled: An X-Buddhist Meets Trash Theory. Ingram’s defensive, evasive, responses are precisely what I would expect from a good x-buddhist subject. He puts on a master class of x-buddhist critique evasion.
    Ingram shows once again to what extent x-buddhism is a shapeshifting zombie. It evades any and all criticism through this strategy. I wrote the following in A Critique of Western Buddhism in order to warn the reader of the likes of Ingram’s responses to the non-buddhist trash theory exercise:

    “Contemporary Western Buddhists commonly respond to criticism with an appeal to exception. This tendency parallels what I call a detail fetish among Western Buddhists, a kind of exemplification reflex. Providing a particular example in order to make a finely calibrated point is, indeed, not unusual in complex systems of thought. Heidegger has his hammer; Wittgenstein, his slabs. Spinoza has his hatchet, and Descartes, his wax. If you have ever read even the first page of a book on classical Buddhist philosophy, you will almost certainly have come across ‘the pot.’ Buddhists, in the written word and in dialogue, have always been quick at the draw with their own mechanism of ideological damage control: the hyper-specific doctrinal detail. Apparently, there is no criticism of a given Buddhist concept that cannot be decisively dismissed with an added detail, an overlooked facet, an ever-so-slight shifting of the dharmic goalpost. The detail is taken from this teacher’s meticulous interpretation, from that pinpointed textual passage; or, failing its intended effect, from the hidden sphere of wisdom known as personal experience. The detail corrects, alters, refines, and reshapes. And along the way, it inevitably derails any criticism, rendering it irrelevant.”

    I would happily join O’Connell and Ingram for the follow-up session on trash theory. But only on one condition: Ingram would have to read A Critique first. Otherwise, it will be like talking to an anti-vaxxer!

    Finally, I want to commend you, Matthew. You are a great interlocutor. I caught how mightily you tried to quell, if but for an instant, the x-buddhist vibrato ringing in Ingram’s soul.


    • Glenn – However he represents his x-Buddhist subjecthood, (e.g. “The Arhat Daniel M. Ingram”) or the particular taxonomy he uses to classify the developmental arc of contemplative experience(s), I think Daniel is pretty straight-forward in detailing the phenomenal aspects of his own meditative experience, which by all indication is extensive and intensive. Based upon your alluding to your own Soto Zen practice in another podcast, I am curious as to how you might describe your phenomenal experience of shikantaza, or any other method of yogic practice, as well as if their is any particular taxonomy (be it e.g. x-Buddhist, non-Buddhist, cognitive neuro-physiological, etc.) you might favor in regard to explicating a developmental arc thereof. I have never read or heard you talk about this and provisionally assume the reason is either that you have never had any compelling meditative experience, or that you have, but just haven’t worked out how to talk about it yet in terms of, “what might come next” for nascent “trash theory.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s a great question, Poopajee, and one that of course relates to the Ingram episodes. My silence on “contemplative experience(s)” is intentional. I find “experience” talk so mind-numbingly boring that I can’t even bare to listen to myself “describe” one, much less someone else. (It’s never a description; it’s always a ideologically-infused reconstruction.) Listening to Roshi Ron describe the “phenomenal aspects of his own meditative experience” is about as edifying and enjoyable as listening to Teenage Tammy ramble on about her dream last night or Stoner Steve extemporize on his acid trip. The supposed “extensive and intensive” nature of the thing only makes it worse. No one’s “compelling meditative experience” matches a schizophrenic episode or a psychotic break anyway, so why this valorization of “experience”? When Ingram stares into a candle and then closes his eyes and follows the flame internally, and repeats, what is he doing? He claims that this is a way of understanding how vision works, or something to that effect. No. it’s a way of understanding how staring into a candle, closing your eyes and following the flame internally, and repeating, works. That’s all. The rhetoric of experience, particularly within a spiritualized framework like Ingram’s or Zen’s, is run through with the cryptic: crypto-ontological, crypto-metaphysical, crypto-epistemological, crypto-idealist, crypto-preeminence, and more. “Experience” is no less a social-materialist concept then “self.”


      • Wallismeister – Methinks I detect a dodge. So do you not indulge in some form of intentional/attentional practice (like shikantaza) and have experience, or non-experience as it were, therein, or do you simply abjure rhetoric about such because you fear being called out for promulgating some boring “ideologically-infused reconstruction?” Put differently, how might we distinguish between someone who has nothing to say, beyond a certain over-educated critical rhetoric of others’ reconstructive attempts, and one who simply is not up to speaking for their own experience out of lack of rhetorical imagination and/or cowardice?


      • Poppajee. If it is a dodge it is one in the spirit of avoiding the question, “do you still beat your dog?” Since you are asking the question as Poppajee, since you wear Zen robes, since you employ Zen language, etc., I make the assumption that you are asking the question within the framework of (crypto-)transcendence. I would want to discuss the matter, if at all, within a framework of immanence. That moves renders “experience” pretty uninteresting. The music teacher doesn’t ask, “so what was your experience when practicing the F# scale, Poppajee?” Your experience would be wholly irrelevant to the mastery of the scale. If your music teacher were Pythagoras, he would be interested in your experience. Why? Because of the presumed ontological/epistemological relationship between your music-mind and the music of the spheres. Do you see the difference? Of course I have experience while sitting meditation. Living is run through with experience with every drop of sentience. If the room fills with white light for a few minutes (as has happened), big fucking deal—unless of course you are a confessed or crypto-metaphysicalist and assume there exists a correspondence between moments of consciousness and deep cosmic truth. Science, or indeed common sense or interpretive creativity, can explain immanent experience. Only roshi can explain the transcendent. As for the last two sentences of your comment, I don’t understand what you’re asking. Thanks for the engagement.


  2. I will try to be useful after Glenn’s comment, but he gets a lot right from my perspective. I’m not versed in Trash Theory nor am I an Arahat so maybe this comment can bridge.

    Daniel uses the term ontology and is happy to adopt different ontologies. He might consider that epistemologies and ontologies come in pairs, this is to say, if he is shifting the ontology without shifting the epistemology then he is doing what x-buddhism accuses him of i.e. transcribing each ontology into his pragmatic empiricist epistemology. That will in general miss the point of an alternative epistemology, although it might appear interesting to the subject playing that game.

    When someone understands a “non” (non-self, non-buddhism, non-philosophy etc) it represents a paradigm shift. The risk is that this paradigm shift establishes a new normal, x-buddhism might be seen to be this, where the non-self is understood to varying degrees from psychological relief in mindfulness practises to dissociation of subjectivity from experience (which seems to be the end of the spectrum Daniel sits). Having one paradigm shift would tend to indicate there are many more in store, but people seem to behave otherwise.

    If Daniel could grasp the broader implications of “non” then it might open up a lot of possibilities. For example non-experience and the messiness of the situation which non-rationality can embrace. Deleuze is really on the money here. Someone with deep practise who woke up from waking up might find a lot of fresh territory. Given the defensive reaction from Daniel to Glenn’s project (which makes non-sense to me, Daniel would be better served by steelman arguments than projecting strawman arguments) there is something going on.

    Another way of approaching this would be to adopt more dialogic communication. Which I think Matthew often gets close to. If Daniel is to make sense of non-buddhism then he will need to go “with” it and drop his epistemological assumptions. That should be easy to do if non-self is really an end point (i.e. the definitive paradigm), but the difficulty of imagining this (let alone performing it) points to some of the limitations of the x-buddhist project.

    Still great to see limitations being run up into without the arrogance of disengagement.

    Early on I found Glenn a lot easier to hear if I assumed he was on the other side of the non-self paradigm shift that meditation practise offers. Otherwise it seems too easy to ignore the profundity of the criticism non-buddhism offers.

    Liked by 1 person

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