74. IBP: Being at Large with Santiago Zabala

Santiago Zabala was once described as a most ignorant philosopher by the American philosopher Brian Leiter: An interesting take that one will need to interpret for themselves in listening to this conversation on fake news, the role of interpretation, freedom, and being at large. Santiago is not at all ignorant, of course, and might be better understood as a pluralistic thinker in the stream of European philosophy, thus accompanying living thinkers such as Slavoj Zizek, and Simon Critchley; philosophers who aren’t afraid to risk controversy by expressing ideas and opinions on all manner of topic, from film to Covid. Thinkers that Mr Leiter no doubt dislikes, in fact he considers poor old Zizek to be a charlatan and bigot! American Imperialism indeed!
Santiago is rooted in the hermeneutic tradition of philosophy and we discuss the role and unavoidability of interpretation in our relationship with the world, and the latest phenomena of fake news, online battles, and the wider sphere of social life, politics, and, that topic so fundamental to western Buddhists, freedom.
What is freedom today? What would it mean to use the concept of ’being at large’ to understand how we might or might not be free today? What does it mean to have a return to order?
We cover this and more in this conversation which stretches well beyond the world of Buddhism, but also philosophy, by looking at how society is evolving today. We discuss Santiago’s latest book, Being at Large: Freedom in the Age of Alternative Facts, but asides from his books you can also find his writing in The Guardian, The New York Times, and Aeon, to name a few.
This is the third in this trifecta of episodes signalling a return to podcasting for the Imperfect Buddha Podcast.

Continue reading “74. IBP: Being at Large with Santiago Zabala”

73. IBP: Buddhism & Magic with Sam van Schaik

This episode involves a conversation with the Tibetologist Sam van Schaik. Sam wrote his original PHd thesis on Dzogchen and the work of Jigme Lingpa and has been involved in the International Dunhuang Project at the British Library, where he currently works, and also teaches at the SOAS University in London. He also happened to write one of my favourite books on Tibet, called appropriately, Tibet: A History. Well-written, entertaining and informative, Sam’s overview of the history of the country that has lived larger than life as a place holder for all manner of western fantasy is a book with academic chops but aimed at a general audience. If you like Donald S. Lopez’s work on Tibet and Buddhism, this is one for you for sure. We discuss it as well as his book Tibetan Zen but the lion’s share of the conversation concerns his latest work on Buddhist Magic. Something of a companion piece to Tibet: A History, it looks at the role magic has played throughout the history of Buddhism and in the wider world of Buddhism today beyond Mindfulness, Secularism, and the cute fantasy that westerners hold that Buddhism is not a religion, but a philosophy. Such folks might like to wonder if the other world religions have ever made similar claims too. I get a story in about my first encounter with the Shugden Oracle in case you are interested.

Continue reading “73. IBP: Buddhism & Magic with Sam van Schaik”

72. IBP: Non-Philosophy with John Ó Maoilearca

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.

Topics include;

  • 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.  
  • Where non-philosophy is heading.
  • Henri Bergson & Mysticism.
Continue reading “72. IBP: Non-Philosophy with John Ó Maoilearca”

71. IBP: Podcast Resurrected

“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.

Continue reading “71. IBP: Podcast Resurrected”

The Great Wonkiness: Is it Real? No, it’s Hyperreal!


“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

Continue reading “The Great Wonkiness: Is it Real? No, it’s Hyperreal!”