6.2 Imperfect Buddha Podcast: Shaun Bartone from Engage Interviewed on Engaged Buddhism


Episode link: click here

This episode features a guest interview with Shaun Bartone, active in the field of activism in Canada and a follower of Engaged Buddhism, Shaun discusses why and how Buddhists could and should engage. We discuss the issue of diversity in Buddhism, including issues for minorities and transgendered folks. Shaun has been involved with different forms of Buddhism over the years and is currently on the board of directors of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.
See more of his work at the following links:

Buddhist Peace fellowship


(Review) Realizing Awakened Consciousness: Interviews with Buddhist teachers and a new perspective on the mind


Realizing Awakened Consciousness: Interviews with Buddhist teachers and a new perspective on the mind. By Richard P. Boyle. Columbia University Press, 2015.

(This piece was originally posted over at the Speculative Non-Buddhism site run by Mr Glenn Wallis. No doubt it will eventually receive a fair few comments there, so go on over and join the scrap.)

In Realizing Awakened Consciousness (RAC), Richard P. Boyle, a retired sociology professor involved with western Buddhism for several decades, interviews 11 western Buddhist teachers and attempts to develop a theory of awakening with a straightforward model for understanding its core characteristics that leaves Buddhist terminology behind. Divided into 17 chapters with the first 11 dedicated to individual interviews with teachers, Boyle draws on his own sociology background and the work of a range of popular academics. The second section, by far the more interesting, develops a theoretical model of awakening, heavily informed by sociological theory, a first as far as I am aware, along with insight and theoretical support from a number of prominent academics including; the neurologist Antonio Damasio, psychologists Alison Gopnik and Daniel Kahneman, the linguist Derek Bickerton, and sociologists Peter Burger, Thomas Luckmann and Anthony Giddens. The book ends with Boyle making suggestions for further research and an acknowledgement of the limitations of his model. What makes Boyle’s work stand out from the usual x-Buddhist fare is his understanding and elaboration of social reality and the social self, which moves discussion away from an overtly individualised model of the self and the usual droll discourse of the ego as the source of all evil. In this regard, there is a potential link to the work of Mr Tom Pepper at Speculative Non-Buddhism (SNB) and his own now retired site The Faithful Buddhist, whose ongoing and laboured critique of ideology and ideological blindness amongst Buddhists (and pretty much everybody else) has proven so enlightening. Secondly, Boyle eschews a model of awakening based on the superman and constructs his model in alignment with theories proposed by the academics above. Will it be yet another celebration of the sufficiency of Buddhism? Will it talk of the ineffable, perfect goal of perfect awakening? Let’s find out.
Boyle states that his goal in this book is to “take awakening out of the obscure and somewhat opaque world of Buddhist teaching and cast it in a form that could be communicated to anyone” (P.216). This seems like a positive aim. Boyle claims to have had an awakening experience himself whilst interviewing the teachers so we can assume that it is contagious! The list of teachers interviewed includes a number of prominent figures from western Buddhism; Joseph Goldstein, Stephen Batchelor, Ken McLeod, Gil Fronsdal, Shinzen Young, to name a few. I have to confess to being utterly disinterested in hearing or reading further personal confessionals regarding Buddhist awakening or enlightenment, especially when they fail to go beyond the limits of current discourse, so my comments on the first section of the book will be brief. Some of the interviewees are happy to describe themselves as awakened, others are not. The point of interest is uncovering patterns within the narratives provided by the teachers and then stripping them of any super-natural or superlative qualities. Boyle does this by picking out three common features in their awakening experiences. The interviews are fairly uncritical, though Boyle does admit this himself in his conclusions. In a way, the interviews reveal how much nothingness is present in these people’s experiences, which is to say, in using a Buddhist trope, how empty their experiences are, but also how little value such experiences likely hold, at least initially, for the wider public. They are certainly filled with positive changes for the individuals involved leading to a very high degree of well-being, which I do not think should be discounted, although the conditions for achieving such an uncommon state of being do seem rare and inevitably limited to those who can afford the time and resources to reproduce some of the conditions seemingly necessary for your average Joe to achieve similar outcomes. Boyle generally avoids the political implications of his project, although some pages are dedicated to a reflection of the social implications of awakening and a critique of American conservatives.


6.1 Imperfect Buddha Podcast: Engaged Buddhism & the apolitical trend


Banksy Buddha

Latest Episode: click here

We’re back! The Imperfect Buddha Podcast’s new episode arrives just in time for the New Year. This time out, we’re exploring Engaged Buddhism and the question of whether to engage or disengage. We discuss how Buddhism could provide tools and practices to support those engaging with the political landscape and activism but also how Buddhism often provides a means for people to hide out from the uncomfortable realities we see around us; the ones that cause endless amounts of collective suffering. We discuss practices that could help individuals and groups wake up from the apolitical stance that is so present in western Buddhist groups and discourse and look at how Engaged Buddhism too often concerns itself with the symptoms of the three institutionalised poisons that David Loy has articulated in his work whilst avoiding a genuine critique of the cause. Ken Knabb helps us on our way as does Loy and we even manage to get in some critique of Stuart’s favourite Buddhist group, Shambhala, as well as one of my least favourite new age capitalists, Eckhart Tolle.There’s plenty of banter and lots of constructive critique and practice suggestions, so jump in and give it a listen.

Happy New Year to one and all.


5.2 IBP guest Jayarava decimates rebirth & karma


The Imperfect Buddha podcast, episode 5.2 click here to go to the download page

In this episode, guest Jayarava hits the Imperfect Buddha podcast with some hard truths regarding the impossibility of rebirth & karma whilst drawing on the work of Sean Carroll & his own research into Buddhism. It’s not an easy pill to swallow but it may just prove liberating to those braver Buddhists willing to confront the finality of death. Whatever you end up deciding, it’s a fascinating topic and Jayarava’s insights are not easy to dismiss.
The interview is straddled by a very short discussion on the challenges of the material and Stuart shares his own destabilising reactions, which will no doubt be shared by many a listener.

RSS feed for those interested:


Show notes

I read through a number of Jayarava’s article at his site but the one that was key for me in our discussion of rebirth and karma is this ‘There is no life after death. Sorry.’


5.1 Imperfect Buddha Podcast: on the limits of Secular Buddhism, on Buddhism & academia


Episode Link to Soundcloud download: click here

RSS feed for those interested:


In this episode, Stuart starts with a short interview of Ian Lawton, documentary film maker, and they look at his latest project The Dharma Bum. We then get stuck into a discussion of the academic world of Buddhist Studies and Secular Buddhism, exploring the role academia can play in informing Buddhist practice. We also look at the potential limitations of Secular Buddhism in its guise as Protestant Buddhism and end by making recommendations on where to go next in order to be enlightened by the more accessible academics.

It probably sounds less fun than it actually is but in the process Matthew invents some wacky theories and Stuart finally sounds professional, so that has to be a plus.

Episode 5.2 will feature an interview with Jayarava, self-defined feral scholar, as a follow up and hopefully he will set us both straight on the role of academia in enlightening Buddhists.

Enjoy and leave feedback, criticisms, complaints and observations at our Facebook page, Twitter feed or even here.


Authenticity and the New Bristol Sound


James Martin, the recently deceased futurologist and founder of the Oxford Martin School at Oxford University, wrote a fascinating book back in 2007 called The Meaning of the 21st Century. It is one that I have recommended to my more curious language students over the years as well as to friends. In it, Martin lays out much of the research that had taken place at the Oxford department he founded concerning wide ranging facets of human life and the natural environment. One he tackled was the future of work and a key statement made is that very few people in the 21st century will have jobs for life, something we are already noting in many developed countries where once it was considered the norm. The outcome of such is that people will likely have a number of jobs throughout their lives but will also work different part-time jobs at the same time. My situation is a little like this and one of my many hats I wear weekly is that of radio DJ.

The consequences of the loss of stable life roles have not been so obvious and this is certainly true of the creative fields such as music. The creative arts have rarely guaranteed jobs for life but the new scenario for musicians has dramatically altered the modern musical landscape. Highly talented musicians seem to be ever greater in number whilst the opportunities to earn money and build a monetarily stable career from music have declined exponentially. This is forcing musicians to be creative in how they sell themselves and market their music and some folks in Bristol are finding reasonable success by combining different creative fields such as art installations and live concerts that throw up interesting and surprising results. Most are doing so whilst holding down a regular job or two.

The element of surprise has a role to play in engaging an increasingly fickle and distracted public with seemingly unlimited choice. Public space is more fragmented and at the same time artists are obsessing over the need to connect; not only to their own musical path but to a sufficient percentage of the public to make their musical efforts worthwhile. In the internet age the question of who is paying attention is a constant concern. Musicians are being forced to become better capitalists even though it must sometimes smack of sell out or feels inauthentic.

The theme of authenticity saturated the Bristol trip during interviews with a number of bands and singers active on the Bristol scene. Oh, did I forget to mention that I recently returned to my home-town of Bristol and whilst there carried out a number of interviews with a radio buddy and colleague? (more…)

The Imperfect Buddha Podcast 4.2: Tenzin Peljor is in the house!

tenzin-peljor-jpg3   Tenzin Peljor interview at Soundcloud

In this episode, we have our first interview at the Imperfect Buddha Podcast with the wonderfully insightful Tenzin Peljor, an ordained German Buddhist monk. Tenzin is no ordinary Buddhist monk, however, he is a crusader for clarity and right information, particularly in the world of Tibetan Buddhism, where he is committed to shining light on untruth. He runs two English language sites which provide a wealth of information and resources including interviews with noted Buddhist Studies academics, as well as exposes of the cultish behaviour that we discussed in our last episode. He is also one of the best informed individuals regarding the NKT and as an ex-member writes with great clarity in order to dispel the myths propagated by that group.
In this episode, he tells his story of his involvement with them and what it was that drove him to leave. We also discuss aspects of a monk’s life and explore important texts that help with leaving behind the western romanticism of Tibet.


Tibetan Buddhism in the West

Tibetan Buddhism: struggling with difficult issues