In an attempt to make more sense of non-Philosophy, and therefore non-Buddhism, I interview Irish philosopher and academic John Ó Maoilearca, the author of All Thoughts Are Equal, an exceptionally accessible introduction to the work of that pesky French philosopher Francois Laruelle, who we’ve been name dropping on the podcast for quite some time.
Laruelle’s work navigates an interesting paradox. On the one hand it can be incredibly straightforward, perhaps more so for those who have not been indoctrinated into philosophical thought. On the other, it presents a wide range of challenges to established philosophy and systematic modes of thought, including those found in Buddhism.
We talk about non-philosophy as a heuristic in this regard, therefore as a kind of practice that people can engage in, and experience certain kinds of liberation through. A practice, I would argue, that compliments Buddhist ideals and fits perfectly well into the practicing life for those intrigued by post-traditional explorations of Buddhist materials, notions and practice techniques.
In part, this episode acts as a preparation for grappling with non-Philosophy and so we unpack three of its most important concepts.
What makes Laruelle’s non-Philosophy so radical and so intriguing for the world we live in today?
The Democracy of Thought.
What are we to make of the democratization in an age of alternative facts, and the difficulty of distinguishing narrative and reality in polarized times?
Decision, sufficiency, and The Real.
The most important contribution John’s book makes to Laurellian thought.
“How do animals think? What does it mean to be at large? What is Buddhist Magic or even Tibetan Zen? These are questions posed by the three guests to follow in a rather lovely triad of interviews and conversations for the Imperfect Buddha Podcast; each one unique and diverse, each with a European guest, each tackling a topic that has long interested me: from non-Philosophy to Freedom in our age, from seeing Tibet without the romanticism, to the role of interpretation as a fundamental facet of existence. Mysticism, Fake News, and animals all get a look in too.”
Taken from this intro to the new season of a resurrected podcast. To be fair, it had never really been assigned to the tomb, but rather, was resting.
With three episodes being released back to back, this super short intro provides an overview of what’s to come and will help you to decide what to listen to.
“Kindness. The only possible method when dealing with a living creature. You’ll get nowhere with an animal if you use terror, no matter what its level of development may be. That I have maintained, do maintain and always will maintain. People who think you can use terror are quite wrong. No, no, terror is useless, whatever its colour – white, red or even brown! Terror completely paralyses the nervous system.” Mikhail Bulgakov
The current cultural eruption has led to a wide range of new and fascinating concepts emerging in common discourse, with the latest ones entering everyday language at a speed that is impressive and unheralded. We have one complex concept emerge to then be immediately superseded by another; concepts that actually need considerable and sufficient elaboration to be made sense of. Each would ideally receive sustained examination and critical engagement rather than be adopted as factual means for navigating complex phenomena.
When everything is political though, this is not permitted, or even considered necessary. In the battle underway, soldiers need weapons. They don’t need to know the history of the tool in their hands, the engineering that went behind it, the variety of weapons they might choose from, they just have to pick it up, aim, and fire.
If we lived in slower times, the dysfunction I speak of in this series might have been avoided. Better, wiser articulations might have emerged. Ideas and concepts might have been ingested and digested far more slowly. Kinks ironed out. Critique heard, refinements made, fallacies pointed to, and an appreciation for the limits of theory embraced. We might define such moves as forms of wisdom, rooted in the maturation of understanding through real-world application.
Practice ideally leads to theory evolving, mutating and eventually closing the gap between its inbuilt assumptions and blind-spots, and the reality of the wider world beyond its ideological boarders. But in accelerated and polarised times, this process has become unpopular, and we find ourselves instead in a politicised social landscape filled with sloganeering, attack and defence dialogue, and ideological assertions masked as facts. In politics, such behaviour may be forgivable, or even necessary, but in the practising life it presents a fundamental unease that cannot be swayed with a call to act on behalf of the good.
“They were arguing about something very complex and important, and neither of them could refute the other. They did not agree with each other in anything, and that made their argument especially interesting and endless.” Mikhail Bulgakov
Saturday, July 25th, 10am-2pm EST / 4-8pm Europe /3pm-7pm UK. Online via Zoom.
On Saturday, the 25th July, your truly will be running a workshop on rethinking practice at the Great Feast for Incite Seminars. The podcast provides more information on the event and Incite Seminars.
From the event page;
Western Buddhism and spirituality more broadly provide us with a rich menu of practices, messages and visions of the human condition and what is possible and even desirable to do, avoid, and strive for within a human life. Yet, as many of us have come to realize, these practices, messages and curative fantasies do not always live up to expectation. The overly prescriptive ideals of what it means to be human, what practice is, and what we should be doing with it all too often reduce the Buddhist practitioner to the role of a passive performer of tradition and can lead to a loss of faith, disenchantment, and the feeling of having been conned. Can critique and disenchantment lead us to creatively reclaim our sense of ourselves apart from tradition, and discover new lines of inquiry, practice, and ways of relating?
In this hands- and minds-on workshop, we will explore the possibilities of making a new relationship to Buddhist practice through the concept of the The Great Feast of Knowledge. This concept, articulated by Glenn Wallis, asks what happens when we invite any kind of thought, practice, insight or claim to exit its ideological bubble and interact with the great, vast planes of knowledge, human struggle, and discovery that sit outside the walls of its meaning-making apparatus? What might happen if we were to bring figures like the Scottish philosopher John Grey or the postmodern concept of hyperreality into our meditation practice? What would it mean to go on retreat with the ideas of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Martin Heidegger, or the work of Social Anthropologist Tim Ingold?
A key idea from Francois Laurelle that will be useful to us here is the democracy of thought, which served as an inspiration for Wallis’s Feast. Laurelle poses that all thought is equal, and for us that means that our own thought can participate at the feast if we can just muster up some courage. There is a price to pay, of course. You must expose your inner-world, and your private practice, your secret desires, needs, and fears, to the wider world and risk their disruption, and even destruction. Armed with epistemic humility and renewed curiosity, whatever happens, the Great Feast brings us back into the collective struggle of our species to come to terms with the human condition.
This experimental and explorative workshop may serve to help those who are disillusioned by the whole project of Buddhism, or the spiritual, to find a way forward that remains critical but infuses personal practice with new life. Post-traditional and non-Buddhist tools will be explored initially, though we may manage to make some our own in the process.
“What would your good do if evil didn’t exist, and what would the earth look like if all the shadows disappeared?” From The Master & Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov
The Great Feast Forgotten
Can the Great Feast of Knowledge save us from our worst excesses at this moment of political and reactionary ferment? I would like to think it could help. But it would require the regular diners to do their part and remind visitors of the customs of dining and etiquette practiced therein. The feast is at its liveliest and most heartening when everyone participating follows some basic guidelines.
Do tuck in! But remember not to shit in your plate. Piss in the corner. Punch the other diners for merely burping. Or take over the kitchen and enforce your own country’s god awful cuisine.
No, that will not do.
Here are some tips for decent feasting;
First of all, remember the critics! A good food critic is worth a thousand meals they say. Try the food for yourself as they might be utterly wrong in their judgments, but they are essential when evaluating a potential meal. The best of them provide unexpected insights, history, context, and appreciation for the hard work it can take to cook up a complex dish. And an insightful critic can help you avoid indigestion: A most common problem these days!
Secondly, dine with guests who know a surprising thing or two about the meal you’ve ordered. Always listen out for unexpected diners and see if you can hang with them for a while to learn more about ingredients and their origins. They bring variety to the monotony of the familiar and can make the real difference between a successful evening of dining, and a disaster of epic proportions.
Three, ask how the meal might be improved. Yes, you are entitled to your own opinion, and it may be you that surprises the company you’re in by offering up a refinement to the dish, reinvigorating a classic, or offer surprising innovation to alt-cuisine. Of course, you may also end up spouting bullshit, but here, someone will help you to note the bad odor in the air and change verbal percorso.
Fourth, don’t get stuck at the table. Move around, see what else is happening at the other tables and stop for a while to chat. The more social connections you build at the Feast, the more likely you’ll come back and dine further. It really is important to network you know.
Fifth (for now), pay attention to the quality of the ingredients. Sometimes the food has gone bad and you may not even realize it. Be sure to examine your plate carefully for signs of rotten food. Don’t be shy in sending your dish back to the kitchen if it’s clearly rancid. Do remember that some of the kitchen staff are new to cooking, and a bit of patience will be needed if they are to learn.
Sixth, don’t force others to eat when they are full. Remember digestion! To overeat, to eat too fast, to skip meals; these are all unhealthy eating habits and spoil the pleasure of dining.
Finally, try to share the conversation. Droning on about why your diet is the best of all and should be adopted by all the other diners is rude and presumptuous and most guests hate it.
Now, where were we? Oh yes, idling at the traffic lights waiting for part 1 to begin.
In a world of easy dopamine vices, it can be insightful to look up the meaning of words in a number of dictionaries and marvel at the variety of definitions given. Definitions that can at times be miles apart, unexpected, or differ in small ways that may be of upmost importance if precision were to determine the success or failure of a thing. This variety reminds us, in a small way, just how strong our tendency is to fix the world into easy categories, and simplistic definitions, and how much of a habit this is for us all. It reminds us how our simplification of the world causes us to miss its multiplicity, its complexity, its visible and invisible relationships, and the ever-present role of history in our present, even as we push on, trying to ignore or escape the past. For a word, as any linguist knows, tends to wriggle out of the boundaries within which it is placed; Take the word gay for example. And that’s just a word. How about a concept? Intelligence. Or philosophy or art? Post-modernism. A movement? Anti-racism. A religion? Buddhism. Or, how about that incredible mass of wriggly humans that we are, all wriggling together for thousands of years with varied pasts, presents, dreams and futures.
Such variety. Such a mix.
And yet, for some folks, too many of them actually, words, concepts, movements, people, and even the world itself, can be summarised rather simply, captured within a single phrase, narrowed down and placed inside a nice conceptual box, or even caught by a solitary word.
“Done and dusted,” they bellow. “Got that figured out,” they chime.
Really? One might reply. How interesting.
We could put this down to a number of causes. A lack of imagination might be one (if we were to be generous), intellectual poverty (if we were to be harsh), or epistemological immaturity: perhaps as a consequence of being waylaid in one’s learning, or as an expression of the joys of youthful ignorance (remembering that youthful ignorance can last a lifetime). It can also come down to a question of time in today’s frenetic and demanding world. We all need to know so much, and yet often lack the pace and rhythm of life to give knowledge the attention it needs, digest it slowly, reflect and mature our understanding turn information into more than mere data. Within the practising life, it would appear, all the same, that we have ourselves an eminently workable condition – learn, and learn some more, dedicate time throughout your life to learning well, make plenty of mistakes, fail, grow, keep on learning, and discover the limits of what you know, and then (and so importantly) the limits of what we know, all of us; including our favourite image makers and heroes.