Practice Item #01

“It’s all imaginary anyway. That’s why it’s important. People only fight over imaginary things.” Mr Nancy  (American Gods, by Neil Gaiman)

There’s a certain sense of absurdity in writing these posts. I can’t explain it yet, but I’m sure it’ll make sense as the process goes on. The premise is that each piece be an invitation to visit the Great Feast & that each be rooted in the world of practice. Don’t expect detailed, philosophical exposition of what are complex themes. You must head further into the Great Feast yourself and follow your curiosity for that.

This is the first practice item. Each of which is simultaneously complex and simple. Part of navigating them well involves managing this seeming duality and noticing how one or the other can be more prominent as we develop a relationship with it as a practice space; a practice space that is experiential, and rooted in quality thought, individual and social, current and historical. Remaining sensitive to how the prioritisation of one, or the refusal of the other, can be a practice of control and resistance is also worth reflecting on. And this serves as a nice take on an enduring feature of the practicing life: always take opposites as relational working pairs that should open to other possibilities. Take their formulations, friction, symbolic role, and absurdity, as part of the practice material that is not a problem to be solved, but rather a landscape to be explored. Please remember this whilst reading on for I am not in the role of truth teller or guru.

Finally, this piece is pretty long. It’s difficult to elaborate on a complex issue without saying quite a lot about it and even so I have been brief throughout on points that would warrant many more words. I have divided the text into sections and if you like the work here at the blog, you may find it easier to read it in stages. That said, the whole is more than the sum of its parts and reading it as such will likely prove more fruitful.

The choice is yours.  

Item 01: No transcendence – banished to the earthly plane

“Have you thought about what it means to be a god? … It means you give up your mortal existence to become a meme: something that lives forever in people’s minds, like the tune of a nursery rhyme. It means that everyone gets to re-create you in their own minds. You barely have your own identity any more. Instead, you’re a thousand aspects of what people need you to be. And everyone wants something different from you. Nothing is fixed, nothing is stable.” Jesus (American Gods, by Neil Gaiman)

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82. IBP: Richard K. Payne on Securalizing Buddhism

From immanent Buddhism to cruel optimism, from secular subjectivity to the unconscious material running through your personal practice, today’s episode features a returning guest in the figure of Richard K. Payne who is here to discuss his latest work and the contributions made by many great authors thinking deeply and critically about contemporary Buddhism.

Published by Shambhala Publications, Secularizing Buddhism was released on the 3rd August, so if you like what you hear, why not consider getting a copy. It features contributions from Ron Purser, David L. McMahan, Bikkhu Bodhi, Sara Shaw, Gil Fronsdal and many more.

Richard K. Payne’s first interview with us on Critical Reflections on Buddhism Imperfect-buddha-podcast – 48-ibp-richard-k-payne-critical-reflections-on-western-buddhism

Links
The Imperfect Buddha site: imperfectbuddha.com
O’Connell Coaching: imperfectbuddha.com/authors-notes
Facebook: www.facebook.com/imperfectbuddha
Twitter: twitter.com/Imperfectbuddha

You need non-practice! (Audio)

Something like a provocation, something of an introduction; this audio-cast presents a recent piece of work over at the Imperfect Buddha site on non-practice for all those interested in how to apply the non- to the practising life.

Built on Complex world, Complex Practice and prior to a series on applied practice, this is the audio version of an elaboration of the opening shots of a revolutionary practice.

See what you think, do the warm up and get ready for the main meal.

Background music by Funki Porcini.

Accompanying texts;

Complex World, Complex Practice

You Need Non-Practice!

You Need Non-Practice!

Sales Pitch: Non-thought and non-practice constitute a set of antidotes to ideological entrapment and identity formation within the social and cultural apparatus of our age, and to the reactionary identities that make up the emotionally charged extremes of today’s dominant identity groups, and is an ideal companion to the practice of coming to inhabit the consequences of anatman, when explored at the Great Feast.

This piece mixes old and new insights in order to elaborate a more explicit understanding of how non-thought (non-contemplation), and non-practice can be a combined practice for working on the self and in a way that fits with well-executed explorations of anatman (no-self, not-self & other takes). This resource engages with the challenge of the social formation of selfhood and acts to resist inculcation into the paradigms of identity that are available to us in the social spaces that we inhabit, from dharma halls to social media tribes, from politics to activism, from intellectual life to practice life. Complex life, complex practice indeed. This piece is followed by a series of posts featuring insights, practice tips and questions for the interested, shaped by my own meddling, drawn from non-philosophy and non-Buddhism.

This first and longest post will also be available as an audio-cast.

Old Frank

To approach Francois Laruelle’s work on non-philosophy is to quickly find yourself in a world of new ideas, absurd linguistic demands, and complex manoeuvres intended to make non-philosophy a practice of itself. Laruelle is constantly striving to put his ideas into practice through his writing and this can make it a rather odd sort of adventure to participate in: His persona and cultural products can appear very slippery as a consequence and difficult to grasp. In a sense, Laruelle is challenging us to practice non-philosophy ourselves through his many works and in doing so discover its liberational capacity and immensely creative potential. In a funny sort of way, his work is an elaborate koan; the form of the writing is the expression of the act it describes. Despite appearances, non-philosophy, or better what emerges from it, is less complicated that it may first appear if we approach it as curious practitioners willing to take his ideas as invitations to enter specific kinds of practice spaces, not of the sort you might get from a koan, but no less enigmatic, or disruptive of our sense of who we are. Though not many of its proponents would likely consider it so explicitly to be a practice that can be harnessed towards the transformation of self, I will suggest otherwise throughout what follows.

For those without PhDs or membership of radical thought groups in Paris, Berlin, Philadelphia or New York, non-philosophy may initially appear as an insurmountable challenge yet many of its ideas are intuitive and will resonate once lifted from the strange codex Laruelle employs to defend his thinking from philosophers and the circular, sometimes insular, nature of philosophy. For those who are philosophically trained, Laruelle may be dismissed as yet another French charlatan producing intolerable prose, or a distraction from far better thought taking place somewhere else, or as a recycler of ideas already present in previous philosophers, and they may be right, but only in part, and as Vicky Pollard, would say, “Yes, but, not but…”. For Buddhists, he may appear as a waste of time, yet another western ‘philosopher’ who spends his days in intellectual masturbation, and whose ideas are of no use to us practical folks. That is one way to view him. In each case, however, to settle on such a reading would be to miss out on a remarkable opportunity that I have yet to find elsewhere.

Laruelle provides a means for picking apart the mechanics of identification with worlds of knowledge and practice. Worlds that end up, almost always it seems, capturing subjectivity and harnessing it to their own ends. So that when insight, freedom, or justice are sought through a given world of knowledge, say Buddhism or Progressivism, the practices and outcomes that result struggle to become other than images of liberation, wisdom, or equality, imagined ideals, if you will. This results in practices of performance in which the fantasy replaces the actual radical potential held within the knowledge world it was drawn from with the fantasy becoming a simulacrum, or in the realm of spirituality and religion, multiple holy simulacra ready to be purchased on the market of salvation as cures for the human condition.

My job here is not to convince critics that they are wrong or misguided about Laruelle’s project, or should be practising differently. I am concerned primarily with those folks who seek a third way to dichotomies and side-taking, and who feel something is deeply amiss in groups that demand conformity to modes of being that alienate the individual from their own capacity to think, feel and act for themselves. Additionally, my desire is to present non-thought and non-practice as fundamentally concerned with a topic central to practitioners such as Buddhists, philosophers, and spiritual practitioners, and even intelligent activists, namely that of human freedom, with particular attention to an aspect of freedom that has been neglected by these groups. The sort of freedom that is not an end in itself, but rather a practice that can be embodied or incarnated as an ongoing movement through the rich, complex, social and cultural human made world we all inhabit. It is a means for avoiding getting stuck in the way-stations that are endless in a life dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. I would argue that handled well, non-philosophy acts as an antidote to ideological entrapment more broadly. It doesn’t eliminate it or take us to some land where ideologies no longer reign, but rather provides a set of tools and principles, a style of thought, that creates wiggle room to allow us to become far more creative thinkers, phenomenologically diverse, and liberate us from the allure of becoming Buddha Zombies, Activist Mascots, Parroting Spiritualists, or whatever other identities are currently traded on the market of selves today.

Practised well, such thought provides a form of liberational practice that cannot be found so well articulated in Buddhism and only really echoes quietly in the potential of more radical philosophical, spiritual and religious thought elsewhere. Ultimately, non-philosophy as practice provides the means to allow the spiritual and religious to be reinvigorated with the potential that is inevitably lost when new practices solidify into ideological machines designed to produce subjects that adhere to highly predictable structures of thought, desire, feeling and being. This is the virus that inhibits traditions from practising what they preach; from producing awakened beings, for example, or truly independent minds capable of acting on the world, or birthing genuinely innovative solutions to the endless problems our species faces.

I recognise these are big claims, so I guess I’m going to have to try and illustrate how it all might look, in practice. Shall we toddle on?  

Continue reading “You Need Non-Practice!”

Simone Weil: Attention as Generosity

First off, I should admit to being a pretty poor intellectual, though any solid attention aimed at my writing would reveal my imposter-like habit of feasting on other’s idea. But that is how I am; I like to take a spoonful of something incredible, chew on it until it softens and melts in my mouth, so it becomes inseparable from my own body, my own ever-changing way of being in the world. It is then that I might honour its creator and think or feel something worthwhile, something fresh and unknown. We could steal a bone from Tara Brach’s world and call it radical eating.
This is the ideal of the Great Feast: we must all be generous diners, feasting well on the kindness of those others who have questioned and birthed this world in all its human sadness and glory into being. We are meant to be inspired, to be filled with revelation, but it need not be pointed to God, or the solipsistic pursuit of personal freedom, or the heady thrill of pop activism. Grace defines those who refuse the allure of the frenzies of our age, but engage carefully, to the point of mastering a soft touch, where needed, and a heavy blow when necessary; though in this man’s case, of the non-physical sort.
I am not sure I am an Anarchist despite Glenn Wallis’s rather seductive invitation to think of one’s self as such in his most recent book on the topic (check out the interview). I am too ignorant to make up my mind about the sort of political stance I should commit too when they all appear so imperfect and so deeply flawed. I am muddling through at best and seeking to participate where I feel most driven to do so. I am though always appreciative of Glenn’s careful and considerate thought and this piece on Simon Weil is a delight to read and touches on very deep themes that transcend much of the utilitarian discourse surroundings its material and insights. I recommend it. If Glenn continues to write so sweetly (in the dining sense of the word), his will be a feast worth dining at.

Our New Classroom

Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.

Simone Weil (1909-1943; pronounced vay) was an extraordinary person. If you do not know her life story, I highly recommend watching Julia Haslett’s moving and deeply personal movie, “An Encounter with Simone Weil” (at the bottom of this post). The movie opens with the filmmaker channelling Weil to ask, “What response does seeing human suffering demand of us?”

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