Mind readers ahoy!

Context

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.

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76. IBP – Chenxing Han: Be the Refuge, Asian Buddhism in America

Asian and Buddhist and living in America: Does any of that matter? Those focussed in on practice and not much else regarding Buddhism might proclaim a resounding no. Others, all too aware of the tendency of western practitioners to ignore culture, and Buddhism beyond the meditation cushion might instead bellow forth with a resounding yes! Whatever your take, today’s guest Chenxing Han has written a book that fills a gap in our collective understanding, and appreciation of the role of Asians in making, shaping and living western Buddhism.
Be the Refuge is not merely another book obsessed with race and social justice, however. Those themes do appear but it is more than another product in the polarised times we live in. Yes, some of the buzz words and concepts are there, but this book is as much a work of poetry as it is a research project designed to illustrate the often sidelined role of Asians in making and shaping Buddhism in the West.

If more than two thirds of U.S. Buddhists are actually Asian American, perhaps it’s worth becoming more aware of them, right?

Be the Refuge is both critique and celebration, countering the erasure of Asian American Buddhists while uplifting their stories and experiences. The Oriental monk, the superstitious immigrant, the banana Buddhist: dissatisfied with these tired tropes, Han asks, Will the real Asian American Buddhists please stand up? Her journey to answer this question led to in-depth interviews with a pan-ethnic, pan-Buddhist group of eighty-nine young adults.

Weaving together the voices of these interviewees with scholarship and spiritual inquiry, this book re-envisions Buddhist Asian America as a community of trailblazers, bridge-builders, integrators, and refuge-makers. Encouraging frank conversations about race, representation, and inclusivity among Buddhists of all backgrounds, Be the Refuge embodies the spirit of interconnection that glows at the heart of American Buddhism.

www.chenxinghan.com/

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75. IBP – George Haas on the Practicing Life

Let’s get started!

Happy New Year to one and all and welcome to this new season (proper) of the Imperfect Buddha Podcast. Focussed on practice, this season engages Buddhist teachers, long-term practitioners, and creative innovators engaged in the practising life. Interspersed with regular interviews, this practice focussed season finally gets the podcast off of the couch and responding to the long stream of listeners calling for a practice focus.

We are also finally getting in touch with many of the guest suggestions put forth by you, dear listeners.

We have four episodes recorded already and I can tell you that guests have been generous and candid, and their struggles, insights and experience have already made me realise how important and useful such a personal line of inquiry can be.

Feedback as always can be posted at the usual locations. Suggestions for guests are welcome too. You can email the podcast at: imperfectbuddha@outlook.com

George Haas

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Thoughts on Practice: warming up for exercise

The Great Feast provides us with an infinite number of takes on practice. Great and lesser minds since time recorded have shared opinions, ideas, beliefs, assumptions and assertions on what practice is, and should be. Sometimes what those minds produced (or received), developed into a tradition, a pathway, an institution, a religion; or disappeared entirely, folded back into the sands of time, as our ancestors pushed onwards, most merely surviving, others attempting to construct a better world. The hardier remnants of this great wealth linger on today, and with them an ever increasing wealth of books, workshops, retreats, podcasts, apps and online groups proposing new configurations, recycled products, and a variety of attempts by living human minds to imagine and leap towards that which might come.

Because of all this, whether we wish to be or not, we are all consumers. We can view ourselves economically as such; many propose we do so. We could also view ourselves as beasts, as animals, as mammals feasting on the world. Our existence requires we devour parts of the world for our mere survival after all. So, why would it be different with knowledge, practices, or the fulfilment of the religious impulse? Sorry, was I meant to say spiritual, but not-religious? To feast, devour, consume; these are metaphors civilised folks sit uncomfortably with. Our animal nature has a long history of being dismissed, ignored or suppressed in the name of progress, civilisation, and the pursuit of a world apart from the horrors of our carnal nature. This creates a bind in us, of course. As we attempt to transcend our animal nature, we also transcend our intimacy with the organic world we are forever intimate with. We downplay our interconnection with the limitations of the animal-human body, the animal-human heart. Oddly, in our attempt to mark Homo sapiens out as distinct from the other animals, we dehumanise ourselves; all too often in projects of escape. To be human is to be of this Earth. To be interdependent is to be in exchange with all the things of this Earth; not operating as an aloof being apart, casting its thoughts and mental projections outwards or downwards.

Such a dualistic vision is a practice, and one I would argue is fundamentally dysfunctional. For some Buddhists, such a view will irritate: Watching the mind, seeing your thoughts, all of this language betrays a dualistic tendency. There are other practices too. Ones involving immersion, this is also a stream within Buddhism and its long-history of variant practices and modes of practice. It presents its own problems too.

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My Practice

How can I expect teachers, philosophers and academics to open up about their private, personal practice if I won’t do the same and lead by example? I’ve tended to keep myself out of the picture throughout the life of the podcast, and even the Turns were an act of service (believe it or not), as opposed to ego projects of self-congratulatory, insight porn of the sort you see constantly on Twitter, Youtube and Facebook.

Letting go of the personal is, in part, one of the great themes that runs through Buddhism. But there is a paradox at hand, and it is one that recalls our current age, and its concern with identities. No fear, don’t panic, I have no intention of going there; rather, I merely wish to suggest that the many Buddhisms give rise to their own dynamics of identities, non-identities, the sacred and the profane. The personal is sacred in many ways, and an essential bulwark against the trappings of collective identities, but perhaps we should appreciate its sacrality is always in passing. Paradox resolved.

As mentioned in the last podcast episodes, I will be embarking on a series looking at the personal side of practice with a range of quite different guests, many the Buddhist teachers I have been asked to interview over the years by regular listeners. This is an experimental season and it will be interesting to see how folks respond, what they share, and what we all learn from each other’s struggles with practice, and ideas about it. The critical element will remain but also, why not, autoarchaeology and insider-ethnography to mention a couple of highfalutin terms for something very simple.

There are two topics I should address before starting, however, then I can answer some of the questions I have pre-prepared for upcoming guests.

I will go first, so to speak. Start the ball rolling. Kick things off.

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