What is practice? This is the fundamental question driving the new season of the Imperfect Buddha Podcast, which is about to start its journey out into the world. Practice, initially, is intended to be understood here in its most basic form; as that which humans do. Stripped bare so as to be only minimally caught in one ideology or another, practice will start off simple and return as often as possible to the most straightforward of human acts.
My interest in human practice really starts with the rudimentaries of all human lives; eating, sleeping, speaking, shitting, resting, as well as perceiving, thinking, and feeling as our most intimate practices. Yes, I think it wise to consider these last three as practices in themselves; as acts we repeatedly engage in within boundaries and confines that allow us to distinguish this from that and give value, or not, to what is carried out habitually.
My challenge in part for this season is to convince guests to chart terrain in a similarly, minimally ideological vein, in spite of whatever ideological commitments they will bring to conversation as practising beings living practising lives. We should all expect regular failure; me, you, and future guests. The striving is important all the same. Thinking from and beyond the limitations of existing thought is a noble task. Feeling beyond the familiar and sticking to it is a revelatory endeavour.
If we can do this together, then all the better for it.
Because of this stripped down relationship with practice, I will be little interested in discussing the ins-and-outs of self-contained systems of practice, or their accompanying theoretical justifications, or the promotion of teachers or traditions. Rather, I am after the leaky corners where tradition is broken out of its own stories about itself and is required to be human again and speak beyond its own special categories. I am after the leaky moments where people’s ideas and feelings are disrupted, and their humanity shines through, or where such things are reconsidered after an engagement with a new or other world of thought and feeling and practice.
None of this means I lack respect for traditions and their wares. On the contrary, I find almost all Buddhist traditions fascinating. It is rather that a living practice is always a human practice and by being so it is messy, unpredictable and beset by the concerns of the time and age in which it is practised. It is to that horizon that my gaze is fixed and to that land of emergent and unknowing possibility that I am compelled to head. If such a journey attracts you too, then I will see you on the way over the next months, and we shall find out to what degree the conversations that follow effect the practising lives we all live.
Side Note One
I recorded an interview with Cleo Kearns for Incite Seminars that was rather wonderful. I am using the past tense because technical issues strangled it dead and time constraints have meant a second chance was out of the question. Cleo, however, deserves your attention. We had a riveting discussion of ritual, ceremony and practice and her workshop this coming weekend deserves your attention if you are in the Philadelphia area (Saturday, May 12th). She will be coming on for a full, regular conversation somewhere down the line and we will discuss the practising life in relation to religion, spirituality, Shamanism, Catholicism (that’s right, I’m not kidding), and Buddhism.
For now, here’s the link to the event: https://inciteseminars.com/ritual-and-resistance/
Side Note Two
The first conversation in this new series has already taken place. When opportunity knocks, well, you know the rest. I recently spent time in Rijeka in a three-way conversation with Ken McLeod and Hokai Sobol. Anybody paying attention to these two knows that they are both fully immersed in the practising life. They have also been past guests and already in those conversations the emphasis was on practice. The three-way format is a good one and I hope to make more such conversations take place. Conversing is always an art and I often fail to reach the fine art levels of discourse I would envision possible, but a practising life, if it is anything, is a reminder that imperfection is the nature of the thing. Within the imperfection we can find the human struggling and striving and playing out his or her life. Hokai and Ken are great examples of fellow humans committed to practice and coming to terms with it in the messy lived life. Both have disrupted their relationship with tradition and both are striving to make sense of the rich heritage they have grown up in with the challenges of the world we inhabit today. Our conversation covers much ground and many topics.
The shift from the theoretical to the practical is not total. Thought, theory, ideology, and identity all come along for the ride. For those with a more critical bent, I invite you to stay critical, but to do so from the perspective and experience of practice, even as you engage theoretically. I think you will find it more fruitful to do so and the thought that emerges as a consequence will be of a different flavour. Of course, you can do as you wish, but why not see these conversations and interviews firstly as a practice in themselves?
Wish me luck fellow travellers. On to terrain anew and places unknown.