You Need Non-Practice!

Democracy anyone?

Why democratise thought, or practice?

To democratise practice is to challenge the hierarchies present within practice traditions and remain attentive to how traditions condition our subjective space by inculcating us into practices of assent and striving towards frozen or idealised images of goals, outcomes, and the ideal practitioner, society, or world. This is a delicate area of non-practice. It would be easy to consider such a call as a sort of rebellion against authority, a free-for-all, do-as-you-please, middle finger to teachers, holders of tradition, and experts: A rebellious grasp of license, an adolescent pose. To take it this way would be to miss the point. Democracy is a mode of participation that does not centre on the individual, but rather the style of engagement and type of commitment that is required for individuals to participate in society at large, or projects or pathways, without a return to dysfunctional dominance hierarchies. It is a call to responsibility, a rejection of the manifestation of parental relationships and the disowning of the age-old act of gifting power to those who shouldn’t have it. In this sense, it resonates strongly with core principles of a post-traditional practice.

Rather than pose universally applicable guidance, it would be better to consider non-thought as operating like a carpenter’s or mechanic’s workshop where anyone can use the tools and improve their craft. Laruelle’s practice items are there and being central to non-philosophy, each can be taken as a tool with certain characteristics, each suited to specific circumstances and challenges. Each can be applied to Buddhism, or any practice tradition you are meaningfully embedded in. Each must be handled personally and with care before it can be used effectively, and each may be worth practising with for a time, made familiar, and eventually formed into one’s own personal tool set. With this in mind, I shall offer a few themes and a few questions to help the curious get started with tools that I have fashioned myself.

A final observation before tooling up; Laruelle, like any figure, should not be idealised. This is a practice without heroes. If we are not academics engaged in academic life, we are free to explore, play, and get our hands dirty and bastardise. As with Derrida, or the Buddha, there will always be those ready to tell you that you have got it all wrong. That is a game that can be played. If such players are generous, they may do so in a way that helps you learn. If not, claimants of absolutes should generally be told to politely fuck off. Lovers of dictatorships are anti-democratic after all.  

User’s Manual

Each of the following items will constitute a practice. Each has a title, a set of considerations, practice pointers, and a question or two for contemplation. I share these as a democratised practitioner, not a pro. Each of these items could warrant an entire blog entry. Each could be formulated in a variety of ways. These are partial takes on complex themes. If you think of them as practice fields, locations in which much does and will happen, you will get a more realistic picture of what it means to undertaken a journey through the terrain each represents and in most cases they ought to be terrains you are already familiar with: For they are shared terrains that our species has come across throughout its history and struggled with. In a sense, they remain forever unresolved as a true final answer does not and cannot ever exist except as an imposition.

Like any user’s manual, each part connects to the others; some tools may be more useful to you than others. Feel free to pick and choose.  

P.S. I interviewed an expert on the work of Laruelle. Check it out if you find the philosophical side of it all more interesting: 72. IBP: Non-Philosophy with John Ó Maoilearca


    • Hi,
      I personally find your comment interesting though a bit of explanation why would be useful. One reason is that it got me reflecting on elitism and what its opposite would be and what an alternative to both would look like. The text, at least to me, doesn’t seem at all elitist. Who would be the elite? Where are they? Anyone can read this blog or listen to the podcasts.


  1. A minor critical point:

    ” We also have the commercialisation of Buddhism’s core insights into well-being tropes…”
    ” one could argue that this is not exactly what was intended by the great Buddhist masters throughout history in their quest to understand the intrinsic nature of suffering. ” …

    It seems many if not most if not all versions of Buddhism (the x-buddhisms….) strive to present the “real” meaning of Buddhism – the “core insights” of the “great Buddhist masters”. You know, the real deal. Genuinely transformative, “truly disruptive”…. And shitting on the other Buddhisms that aren’t the real deal is a pretty standard way to go – that the other buddhists aren’t doing practice properly, just doing their performance rituals…

    I say “minor”, because maybe this doesn’t detract from the aims of this series, where Buddhism is an entry point to, well, something. Though as a sales pitch personally it leaves me cold. Each to their own.

    “producing awakened beings…truly independent minds…birthing genuinely innovative solutions”.

    Yes, big claims. And “slightly more awakened, a bit more independent, somewhat more innovative” isn’t so compelling as a sales pitch. So why not go big?

    I am sceptical at this point on a. the possibility and b. the desirability. But, hey, let’s see.


    • Hi,
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
      The issue of what is real, authentic, true Buddhism/s of whatnot is not an argument I’m focussed on or would feel any authority to pronounce on. I am interested in the articulation of a notion of practice that is not merely the production of a parroting subject; though if a person feels like becoming a parroting subject, why not? I think there is room for everything and as you say, each to their own. Buddhism for me is a cultural site of many things and a companion at the Great Feast for this author and site. It is required to relate to other worlds of knowledge and practice, however, and this is part of the antidote to discussion of true forms.
      One of the ideas that emerges in the writing I produce, and that I have written facetiously about before, here, is the notion of hyperreality and the use of ideas of practice as a refuge from the real potential of a practice. Rather than a claim to superiority or the true thing, it is a push towards an honest evaluation of what is actually going on. There are personal and social consequences of entertaining the idea of the thing as a means to avoid an honest discussion of engagement with the thing; lots of things there!
      As an analogy, I could be a terrible teacher who believes he is teaching the topic at hand but am actually preaching at students, not engaging them in the topic, misinterpreting their results and carrying on regardless in the belief I am a fantastic teacher. I could also be quite different in my approach, educating myself about the complexities of pedagogy, experimenting with different teaching practices, committing to engaging students and using this as a process of feedback to understand how effective my teaching is and the effects it has on those I teach.
      Likewise, I can parrot a tradition’s idea of compassion, repeat mantras endlessly and have no real engagement with the process but believe I am practicing compassion and draw conclusions. In this case, no problem, you’re not damaging the education of countless students. I could though consider exploring the role of compassion in Buddhisms, in other religions, in secular society, explore the degree to which it can be cultivated, understand its nuances, experiment, dialogue with the process, engage with others in and outside a group or tradition. The latter in each case is Great Feast material and is more easily carried out if individuals and groups are not captured subjects, to use a phrase common to non-buddhism. This style shift is what I am attempting to get at in the writing, i.e. a practice change. Even the question of authenticity can become a practice item and within the way I am approaching this topic, it would be an exploration of how such notions, or resistance to them, effect my subjectivity, have consequences, give rise to certain lines of thought and feeling, and block or deny others.
      I guess you could use terms like superficial and deep too, but I think they actually create yet another dichotomy in which the complexity and fluidity of these sorts of dynamics would be lost.
      In terms of commercialisation, there are concrete forms of this such as McMindfulness, and cult-like organisations such as the NKT that behave like Scientology, where great claims are made, and what is believed to be created as an outcome is all too often something very, very different. That is where talking about what is real, authentic, genuine is understood through critical engagement and dialogue, which is implicit to the whole project of non-practice.
      I’ve tried to be clear and respond to your critique. Let me know if I’ve failed.


      • Thanks for your response.

        So while interesting in its own right, it doesn’t quite respond to my point – though I blame myself here.

        I just listened to the recent podcast with Glenn, and I think this helps to address my question better. In particular, making things explicit, the need for reasons. It also helps to address tonal issues – some modes of expression work better in oral form compared to the written version – perhaps this piece works better in aural form (I havent listened to the new recording but I guess it does).

        The title of the post is “you need non-practice”. I see it as an introduction to a series, and a motivational starting point, with later posts elaborating on what non-practice looks like.

        What I was focusing on was the motivational and rhetorical tools to engage in a motivation to non-practice. Given the buddhistic leanings, then it appeared to follow tropes of buddhism of “authenticity” etc…which I saw as a method of capture for those with those leanings. I didn’t really think it reflects your views so much, as you describe in your response.

        Yet a motivation is needed (?) – a sales pitch.

        When it comes to a motivation, there has to be a starting point, something shared which taken as ground. Axioms if you will. Often these can be implicit. And as implicit, they sometimes these can be hidden and hard to uncover.

        Here, it seems that the starting point, the shared goal that unites is “that of human freedom”.

        I guess the motivation for my initial response was something not sitting well with the call for “you need non-practice!”. Because that need seems to be based on an implicit assumption of the shared goal of human freedom. Of course, shared goals are needed for social coordination and communication so its inevitable this occurs.

        I would imagine non-philosophy has a way of addressing this issue though, but I dont understand it well enough to see that.

        Ok, trying to formulate a question here, how about: how does non-philosophy/practice non-philosophise its own “ground”?


  2. Hi, Matthew,
    A few reasons why I see elitism in what you wrote.
    Here is a paraphrase and reworking of something Abraham Lincoln said, “God sure loves ordinary people because he made a whole lot of them.”

    The sales pitch at the beginning is rife with assumed knowledge and a vocabulary inaccessible to a very large portion of the population. and that repeated through the piece.

    “Best suited to those with significant practice experience under their belt”
    You also listed groups of people this approach wouldn’t be suitable for. This reminds me of the situation found in traditional Buddhist societies where a monastic subset got the real stuff while the ordinary busy working person got rites, rituals, gods and spirits and good works as a placeholder until a future incarnation where you got the time to really get to work. Except I think in your approach you don’t get that consolation.

    Also it was quite unclear as to what non-practice, non-thought, non-contemplation looked like in action. Maybe nothing? One clue seemed to be the realization of “death, constant change, and a lack of a true stable forever you” as core.

    “the tools I have fashioned myself” “User’s manual” “Each of the following items” I saw little actual content in these areas, but then realized you may have more on the way with possible revelation of of the three nons.

    World this be accessible to the majority or are they too benighted to benefit and need to be content with the various rites, rituals, gods and spirits and good works, the typical crutches used by most on the journey of life?


    • Hi Jeff,
      I suspect you missed a couple of points made in the text. One being that this is the intro and the practice points are to follow, with the first one already in the works. Though the writing will continue with a similar style: but is it genuinely elitist?
      To use your word, I think your claim is interesting for what it assumes. Partly because I am an example that stands against such a claim. It also seems to assume that ‘ordinary’ people would not be capable of grappling with the concepts, words and exposition of the text. And I am left wondering why? Certainly Mr Lincoln’s America has had a strong tradition of anti-intellectualism, but that is surely a cultural obstacle rather than a statement of ability or capacity.
      Firstly, I am not an academic, philosopher, and have never studied Laurelle formally, as I made clear. I struggled really hard with many of the concepts present in these pieces of writing and through that struggle came to gain insights and open up the sorts of practice spaces I am exploring: I worked through the grind and earned knowledge as a result. I assume no special capacity and imagine anyone with the inclination, curiosity, and perverse determination needed, can grapple with any of this material if they have such a bent. Yes, most folks don’t, but the mere fact it is potentially available to anyone with the inclination would undermine the claim of elitism.
      As an important aside, an underlying theme within non-philosophy and non-buddhism is the democracy of thought. The idea inherent to both projects is a form of radical democracy that actually stand against elitism, and notions of this or that, and the simplification of the world through lazy dichotomies. That said, genuine democracy, as much as it is able to exist, is really hard work, requires a struggle, long-term commitment, hard work and transformation. One of its main enemies continues to be poor education and the failure of institutions to think.
      More than elitism, I would suggest it’s a question of being a selective work likely to appeal to a few. I am not proposing any alternative to mainstream this or that or the majority, as I stated in the text, so it might be worth viewing this as a passion for the topic to which I am dedicated. I am left thinking how such a passion has a relationship to similar passions shared for non-mainstream music, literature, art, sport, craftwork, and so on. In that sense, the writing is a practice in line with Sloterdijk’s view on the practising life.
      Some people who adore obscure post-punk, hard to find industrial, incredibly sophisticated ambient or whatnot can certainly feign elitism and look down on ‘the masses’ as ignorant and trashy or whatever for their music tastes, but it’s not required.


  3. Hi Jeff. In your explanation, it sounds like you see Matthew’s argument not so much as “elitist” as “advanced.” Is that possible. Obviously, “elitism” has nasty connotations that advanced doesn’t. This may sound weird, but as someone who has defended himself from a similar accusation of elitism for many years now, I actually see remarks like Lincoln’s as a more dangerous, because hidden, form of elitism. Somehow, the Lincoln’s of the world know the sad little limitations of the hoi polloi and, being–what?–the more equal of the equally “ordinary,” is capable of speaking for them? I prefer a professor I know who teaches at a college where 100% of the students are first generation university students. She recently asked them to study the Gadamer-Habermas debate on communication. Countering charges of “elitism” all the time, she reminded her students that, believe it or not, Gadamer and Habermas are having a conversation not unlike the ones they have “on the stoop.” It’s just a conversation with a long, complex history. But, for her, the elitism rests with those people who somehow believe that her students are not capable of understanding the conversation in all of its complexity. Can I recommend an article? It’s called “Skimming the Surface: Critiquing Anti-Critique” by Benjamin Noys. You might be able to download it here:


  4. Thank you, Matthew and Glenn for the time taken and thought seen in your responses. I await further explication.


  5. Boynamedsue

    There is a lot in what you have written here but the title of the text seems to be the real issue and we can fix that easy enough: It’s a tongue in cheek provocation. If you happened to be familiar with past episodes, that would likely be more obvious.
    I would not assume to know what you need or make universal claims to that end. I think the metaphor of the Great Feast can lead us to putting together a pretty decent list of many things we would generally need in most cases, but other than that I am not selling anything.
    I thought I had more or less made that explicit in the text, but I may have failed!
    In terms of axioms, again, I would argue they are hinted at throughout the text but if you want to dig into this more and see Glenn elaborate an expression of axiomatic principles for non-buddhism, you can find lots of material at the non-speculative Buddhism site. Things get more complicated there, but there is also a lot to chew on. If you follow the link below, you can download the original pdf on this matter and there are axioms a plenty there. Feel free to ask if you have other perplexities.


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