8.0 Imperfect Buddha Podcast: Ben Joffe on the paranormal, Tibetan Buddhism & the Ngakpa

To listen to the podcast episode click here

What do the Dalai Lama, the X Files, UFOs, Sex Magic, Tibetan singing bowls, Yeti-Monsters, demons, dharma, wizards, Tantra & Darwin have in common? Why, Ben Joffe of course. He was our latest guest on the Imperfect Buddha podcast and he had quite a lot to share. So who is he?

Ben Joffe is a cultural anthropology PhD candidate from South Africa whose research focuses on the anthropology of Tibet and Tibetan diaspora. His doctoral dissertation research is specifically concerned with Tibetan Buddhist non-celibate tantric ritual specialists, or ngakpa/ma (sngags pa/ma སྔགས་པ/མ), living outside Tibet. He is interested in how the esoteric knowledge and charisma of these long-haired tantric Buddhist wizards are being mediated, circulated, appropriated and contested. His research explores how this is taking place both as a part of the increasing globalization of Tibetan Buddhism, and in light of Tibetans’ efforts to make legible a Tibetan nation in exile and to both preserve and reform Tibetan culture as stateless refugees. His research examines how ngakpa/ma engage institutional and other forms of authority in exile, and the ways in which the expertise, charisma and activities of these specialists can be said to contribute to the forging of particular moral orders and imaginaries in situations of dislocation, change and uncertainty. As such, Ben’s interests include:


7.4 Imperfect Buddha Podcast: After Enlightenment, Coaching, Support & Ongoing Development


Imperfect Buddha Podcast: Episode 7.4


We recently finished the third in a 3-part series looking at Buddhist enlightenment. This series has been quite popular and it marks something of a way stage for Stuart and me. In our first episode, we explored ideas raised over at the Post-Traditional Buddhism site, in which a humanistic, non-dual practice approach was loosely married to the four stages of awakening. We looked at myths, language and identities and asked a lot of what ifs of Buddhist enlightenment.


7.3 Imperfect Buddha Podcast: super groovy Daniel Ingram interview


 Episode link click here

Some of our more critical listeners will no doubt scoff at the sight of another Daniel Ingram interview, but fear not dear listeners, the interview/chat was a good one and Daniel was a real gentleman of a guest. We discussed a range of fascinating topics that are ripe for critique and consideration. Give it a whirl.


In this last episode in the enlightenment series, we interview Daniel Ingram, the Arahat. Dan created quite a bit of controversy when he came out and claimed enlightenment a few years back. For listeners of our previous episodes, you will know that such a claim is loaded with all sorts of assumptions and implications. Dan joins us in stripping away many of the romantic myths surrounding the ideal of enlightenment and presents his pragmatic model of awakening. We also discuss the future of awakening.

Dan is the author of Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha and one of the most interesting characters to come out of the pragmatic dharma movement. He stirred up a great deal of controversy when claiming Arhatship and was instrumental in setting up the Dharma Overground; a site dedicated to exploring progress in practice in a lively, peer-to-peer environment and a location where folks make often dramatic progress in their pursuit of awakening.

In this chat, we covered the following themes;

1. Daniel’s coming out & the impact this had on the Buddhist community
2. His model of awakening and how it contrasts with the views we explored in episode 7.0
3. Exploding popular myths surrounding enlightenment & addressing taboos
4. The political implications of claiming, or not claiming enlightenment
5. Death & awakening
6. Evolving models of awakening
7. The degree to which individuals are willing to ‘get enlightened’
8. Supporting up and coming teachers
9. The future of it all
10. …and more.


7.2 Imperfect Buddha Podcast: Adrian Ivakhiv on Immanence



Click here for the podcast episode

In discussing enlightenment, it is necessary to consider the change in perspective that accompanies such a radical shift. We are beset by dualistic thinking and the way we frame our perspectives, our personal and impersonal experiences, is beset by this philosophical bedrock. So what are the alternatives to the subject-object dualism we inherited from Mr René Descartes? In the latest episode of the Post-Traditional Buddhism Podcast, we interview Professor Adrian Ivakhiv, who shares his thinking around an alternative perspective, one based on viewing the world as process and as always in relationship. This view has much in common with Buddhism in which a truly separate self has no place and impermanence and inter-connection form the basis for our experience. The metaphors that emerge from viewing the world in this way lend themselves to the abandonment of anthropocentrism. This coupled with greater concern for the ‘us’ over the ‘I’ leads us inevitably towards greater environmental concern and deep questions concerning co-existence not just between races and nations, but with the other living and non-living creatures that inhabit this Earth.

Adrian is a Professor of Environmental Thought and Culture with a joint appointment in the Environmental Program and the Rubenstein School of Environment & Natural Resources. His research and teaching are focused at the intersections of ecology, culture, identity, religion, media, philosophy, and the creative arts. He is the author of Claiming Sacred Ground: Pilgrims and Politics at Glastonbury and Sedona (Indiana University Press, 2001) and Ecologies of the Moving Image: Cinema, Affect, and Nature (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2013), an executive editor of the Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature, a former president of the Environmental Studies Association of Canada, and on the editorial boards of several journals including Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture, Green Letters, The Journal of Ecocriticism, and two book series in the environmental humanities.

Adrian’s interdisciplinary background includes work in the humanities, creative arts, and social sciences. Canadian by birth, his research on culture and environment has taken him to Kyiv (a.k.a. Kiev), Ukraine, and the Carpathian mountains of east central Europe, Cape Breton Island and Haida Gwaii off either coast of Canada, the U.S. Southwest, and southwest England. In a previous life as a choral conductor and ethno-psych-avant-garage-folk-punk-fusion musician, he performed at monasteries in Egypt, concert stages in Ukraine, and at the Canadian Parliament Buildings in Ottawa (honestly, once). When he isn’t teaching, researching, writing, or serving on committees (aargh), he makes music, hikes in the Green Mountains, eats Vermont’s artisanal cheeses, and reads The Nation, Grist, Spacing, and Ji Magazine. He has lived in Burlington since 2003. From his west-facing window he watches for Champ. He is the author of “Claiming Sacred Ground: Pilgrims and Politics at Glastonbury and Sedona” (Indiana University Press, 2001), “Ecologies of t he Moving Image: Cinema, Affect, and Nature” (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2013), an executive editor of the Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature (Thoemmes Continuum, 2005), and a former president of the Environmental Studies Association of Canada. His current writing projects include a book of popular philosophy entitled “Against Objects: Philosophical Living in the Shadow of the Anthropocene” and a book-length analysis and assessment of the environmental arts and humanities. He blogs at Immanence: EcoCulture, GeoPhilosophy, MediaPolitics (blog.uvm.edu/aivakhiv).

The sites below link to his work.

University website http://www.uvm.edu/~aivakhiv/

Immanence website http://blog.uvm.edu/aivakhiv/about/

Academia link http://vermont.academia.edu/AdrianIvakhiv

Review of Nothing: Three Inquiries in Buddhism

I read parts of this book last year and found the first section by Marcus Boon to be very interesting. It was refreshing to read an academic critique of Buddhism informed by Critical Theory. If you enjoyed the intellectual work over at Speculative Non-Buddhism, I’d recommend it.

Speculative Non-Buddhism

Nothing2Nothing: Three Inquiries in Buddhism
. By Marcus Boon, Eric Cazdyn, and Timothy Morton. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.

By James M. Cochran, Baylor University*

Marcus Boon, Eric Cazdyn, and Timothy Morton open Nothing: Three Inquiries in Buddhismclaimingthat their book is nothing: “So much nothing, so little time. This is a book made of nothings: with a smile and a quizzical frown, let us talk about nothing” (1). Yet, their book is also about something—a lot of “somethings,” often competing and in tension with each other’s something. Boon’s essay, “To Live in a Glass House is a Revolutionary Virtue Par Excellence: Marxism, Buddhism, and the Politics of Nonalignment,” begins the collection, looking at the ideologies and political dimensions of Buddhism. Next, in “Enlightenment, Revolution, Cure: The Problem of Praxis and the Radical Nothingness of the Future,” Cazdyn argues for a reclamation project…

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What does Buddhism have to learn from the evolution of martial arts?


Royce Gracie celebrating victory at UFC 01 in 1993

I was recently having a conversation with a teacher of Tibetan Buddhism here in Italy and I used an analogy in our conversation which I would like to expand on here to explain further the reasoning behind a post-traditional approach to Buddhism and the sort of ideas we are exploring in the Imperfect Buddha podcast.

The teacher made two standard concessions when we spoke about traditional Buddhism and the sort of approach I and others take. They were Authority and Tradition. Implicit in his discourse were three factors;

  1. Authority is a given and unquestionable. The guru/master holds authority
  2. Expectation others ought to recognise this authority as it is given, followers must act on blind faith
  3. History tradition is ancient and this antiquity justifies its position and guarantees the first two

Needless to say, I find such factors problematic and emblematic of the failure of western Buddhists to critically evaluate their own traditions. I will explore why developments in martial arts may offer a means to reflect on necessary change in western Buddhism.

Kung Fu is an umbrella term for Chinese martial arts and includes a multitude of variants that developed over the last centuries.  There are regional varieties and world famous styles such as Wushu, as well as innovation in the form of Jeet Kun Do, created by the martial arts legend that is Bruce Lee. Each style has its own legends and myths and until very recently each tended to define itself as the best in an enduring theoretical competition that included the other martial arts. Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris exemplified this in their 1972 film The Way of the Dragon, which culminates in a dramatic showdown between these two styles.

Before having to stop for health reasons, I practised a multitude of martial arts styles for twenty odd years so the amount of time I have dedicated to Buddhism and the martial skills is almost identical. The discourse of superiority has been near identical in both worlds. During the 90s, the members of Buddhist groups in the UK that I visited would point out that their form of Buddhism was the best, or the purest, or the most authentic in a very similar fashion to martial artists. This was expressed explicitly by over-eager followers but teachers would almost always be guilty of the same indulgence. Both Buddhism and Martial Arts come from the ‘exotic’ East with all its connotations of otherness so I guess it should come as no surprise that there would be some shared history in their reception in the West.

Mixed Martial Arts or MMA is the latest development in the martial arts and it started in the 90s, although attempts to combine different fighting styles have taken place throughout history they have never even come close to the cross training that is an integral part of this new approach to combat. MMA is a relatively new ‘sport’ or fighting concept that continues to evolve ever since the first Ultimate Fighting Championship aired in 1993. The original mandate of the UFC was to test the long-standing abstract debate between different martial arts styles in order to finally discover which was best. All styles would and could compete but they would fight for real, and with no holds barred. The first editions of the competition were pretty brutal for a variety of reasons, one being how bad so many of the fighters were in the face of a real fight, away from the imaginary spaces they had inhabited in their gyms. The arrival of the UFC signalled the end of such fantasy, and of a new dominance of pragmatism in the martial arts landscape. It is fair to say that if a traditional karate or kung fu fighter from any time in history and from any of the schools were to fight competent mixed martial artists today, he or she would lose.

The UFC went through various phases and as fighters came up against reality, many adapted. The first winner was a man called Royce Gracie who introduced the world to ground fighting, specifically Brazilian Jujitsu. Later wrestlers began to dominate and they were followed by kick boxers. As time went on, all of the fighters coming into the UFC, or other MMA contests, began to train in multiple styles, refining and experimenting to find the most effective methods, tactics and training to ensure they would win real fights in real competition. Rules were made to bring the sport closer to the mainstream and three styles became the basis for almost all fighters; Freestyle or Greco-Roman wrestling, Brazilian Jujitsu and a standing style that was Kickboxing, Thai Boxing or western Boxing.

MMA is a post-traditional approach to combat and it has changed the landscape of martial arts dramatically and irreversibly. Traditional martial arts still exist of course and they are likely going nowhere, although it is debatable whether some of the more abstract styles, which relied on a heavier dose of fantasy, will continue. Traditional martial arts are the basis for MMA and MMA could not exist without them but MMA is undisputedly the evolution of traditional martial arts. Even when karate based fighters have reintroduced lost techniques into the MMA cage or ring, they could not have done so without having the other styles as the basis for doing so.

Similar abstract myths to those once indulged in throughout martial arts gyms continue to burden discussion of the pragmatics of practice, awakening, change and social engagement in Buddhism. In a generic sweep across traditions, we might say that abstract, institutional discourse is not truly tested, the claims of teachers and long-term practitioners do not have to confront reality, romantic fantasy regarding teachers flourish and fantastical claims about the end results of a given path are held up as never-to-be-achieved goals. If we were to playfully compare the martial arts styles to Buddhisms, it could look something like this; Tibetans as karate practitioners (Buddhism at its purest & highest), Theravadan practitioners as Kung Fu fighters (The original and authentic), Zen could be Aikido (The simplest, most direct & minimalist), and so on. What’s relevant in the analogy is that each, when isolated, makes great claims and draws on a combination of abstract, theoretical sources and calls to authority, with very little real challenge. One claims history, the other evolution. One claims the highest teachings, the other the most direct, even as they feign mutual respect.

My view of Buddhism is that it is slowly approaching a similar process of change to the martial arts. The field in which the results of practice, belief and praxis play out is partially a public one. Discussions at sites such as Buddhist Geeks and the Secular Buddhist Association can be weighed against discussion, articles and comments at sites such as The Dharma Overground, Speculative Non-Buddhism and David Chapman’s Meaningness. Twitter plays its role too, less so Facebook, and academia is increasingly present in the ongoing discussion of what Buddhism is, what it can do, what it can’t do, and how it should evolve. A public arena in the form of an Ultimate Buddhist Championship does not exist of course and there is no UBC. Whereas all committed martial artists will likely know of the UFC, scores of long-term Buddhist practitioners in the West can be oblivious to all activity, debate and critique going on outside of their dharma centre walls.


7.1 Imperfect Buddha Podcast: “The Big Enlightenment Show”


Episode link. Click here.

Stuart & I have made what may be our most controversial episode yet. We tackle Buddhist Enlightenment© and its taboos and do what many Buddhists would likely consider sacrilegious. A few of the questions we tackle include;

  1. What is it?
  2. Who’s got it?
  3. Can it be understood, formulated in a way that could liberate the masses as a form of human practice?
  4. Why bother? Is it the shiznit?
  5. How would it look if unreliant on Buddhism?
  6. What could a secular, humanist outlook as the basis for reconfiguring it produce?
  7. Who are the top ten enlightened dudes?
  8. How can you spot a fake?

It’s the sort of material that could drive masses of keyboard warriors to start quoting their favourite Buddhist books or teachers in a furious, emotive rant against all that is evil, for the first time encapsulated in an hour and twenty four minutes of a Soundcloud download.

If you are brave enough, download or stream the latest episode and enjoy a rather interesting take on Buddhism’s ultimate goal. We had fun with it and raised as many questions as we may have answered, which hopefully one of our upcoming guests will respond to.

Come and get enlightened.

Come and listen to the Imperfect Buddha Podcast.